When you think of a chilli farm the rolling landscape of South America might be the first picture that comes to mind. But did you know there’s a chilli farm right here in the north-east?
Clare Brown, a former soil scientist, is just the woman taking on the challenge, although, given her first harvest, it is one she has excelled in.
Seeing thousands of fruits come off of her plants in her first 10 months of business has been extremely rewarding for the entrepreneur who lives outside of Johnshaven near Montrose, where she runs Mearns Chilli Farm.
At her property she boasts a small holding with a polytunnel which she has transformed into her chilli paradise. But with the recent plummet in temperature, it is now Clare’s home that is housing her plants to ensure those flowering late have the best chance.
The 50-year-old germinated her first seeds in January 2021, put up her polytunnel in March and then the plants went into it in June due to the colder May.
Growing around 20 varieties which feature a range of mild, heatless chillies to extremely hot chillies, Clare has something to suit all taste buds and is keen to educate the public about how not all chillies are scorching hot.
Originally from Devon Clare has been living in the north-east of Scotland for the past 25 years after securing a placement for her countryside management degree.
She said: “I did my countryside management degree at an agricultural college so a lot of the modules were plant growing-based. A lot of my job was to deal with uplands management, but I was still involved in other projects like greenhouse experiments and growing plans, understanding soils and roots and how plants take up nutrients.
“I want to educate people on the misconceptions that they are all hot and get people to try them. It is a combination of that, and having a small holding and wanting to use the space to create a business that resulted in this.”
Chilli peppers may not be native to the north-east of Scotland, but Clare has yielded a promising crop which she only intends will get bigger as the business grows.
Fascinated by their origins, Clare’s collection is also something she will continue to add to – with both hot and mild chillies.
“They are really fascinating plants,” she said. “I’m interested in the origin of the species – which is South America; Bolivia and the Peruvian hills of the Andes – and how they have spread around the world, evolved and have been bred, too.
“There are so many varieties of colours, shapes, flavours and heats. People don’t understand them very well. They think chilli and immediately think heat when in fact there’s plenty of mild ones to choose from as well.
“I must have harvested thousands of individual fruits from the plants. Some have generated more than others. I’ve had a bumper crop of jalapenos and of poblano which is virtually a heatless chilli and is widely available in the southern US. It has been super popular with people as it is impossible to get them here.
“The hot and super hot varieties come on at the tail end of the season – they are still fruiting now for another month or so.”
From the milder sweet banana and the Bulgarian carrot, to the very hot ghost peppers and chocolate habanero, Clare’s harvest can last around six months from June to November for fresh chillies.
The hotter they are, the longer they take to come on, so it is her fiery peppers that are fruiting just now.
Teaming up with other businesses including Richies Chill Sauces and Mearns Marmalades, the chilli farmer hopes to partner with more local firms and sell her stock in more local shops in the near future.
She added: “Praveen Kumar in Perth also took some of my chillies. They have a large farm in India where they produce tonnes and tonnes of them. I’d love to have a look at that and be a chilli tourist!
“I’m stocked in five local farm shops – Sillyflatt Farm Shop in Inverbervie, What’s for Tea Tonight near Marykirk, Farm to Table near Laurencekirk, Nature’s Garden in Montrose and Mad Potato in Aberdeen.
“I went to a farmers’ market in Montrose and Stonehaven which went really well. I will be at the Caledonian Railway near Brechin for their Polar Express event the three weekends before Christmas. I’m now drying, powdering and flaking chillies so I’ll have dry produce there.”
Looking to install another polytunnel and greenhouses next year, the fruits of Clare’s labour will be shown in the upgraded bounty she will boast with the additional growing space.
She also looks to launch an online shop and sell seeds and plants, too.
“The greenhouses will be really useful as I’ll be able to have a single variety in each one. That opens up the possibility for breeding and producing seed.
“If you’ve got a lot of varieties in the same polytunnel, you might have bees going around and end up with cross pollination. If you harvest you won’t know what that seed has been pollinated by.
“I’d like to increase the volume I can sell so I can sell larger quantities to businesses like Singularity Sauces who I’ve been in conversation with as well.”