FROM GROW-RACK TO RAISED BEDS: Planting out – PPP2014

Mid May has arrived so nighttime-frosts are no longer a threat now. Time to move out the 100+ chilli plants we had growing indoors to their final destination at Prinzessinnengärten Berlin.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaHVNfMOdLQ%5DVideo documenting our plant-out on May 17 with some epic music.

Almost three months have now gone by since my last post. In the meantime the Princess Pepper Project has continued to make some serious progress. Yesterday we finally took an important step on our roadmap towards creating a jungle of 100+ pepper plants from 70+ varieties right in the middle of Berlin. All the plants that Onkel Hotti had been nursing over at his place near Leipzig plus the ones I had been bringing up here in Berlin finally ended up in raised beds at Prinzessinnengärten Berlin.

In the months prior to planting out the grow-racks and window-sills in our homes got increasingly crammed with fast growing chilli plants. With 16 hours of artificial light per day and room temperatures steadily in the low to mid 20 degrees Celsius the peppers kept throwing out foliage and roots at quite an impressive rate. We didn’t really fertilise the plants but simply gave them a mix of regular compost, 15% wormcastings and 10% Perlite as a substratum to grow in.

During that time the grow-list kept changing marginally because we had to replace some varieties that just wouldn’t germinate with comparable alternatives. Some friends of Onkel Hotti’s from the Hot-Pain forum were also kind enough to provide us with some extra seedlings when they heard about the project (thanks again, guys!).

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBqEB9vpafE%5DGrow-rack and window-sills crammed with chillies in early April.

At Prinzessinnengärten, the communal garden where we carry out the project, the plants will now continue to grow in two different environments. We’ve put most of them into raised beds out in the open while the chinense varieties, for the largest part, went into a greenhouse. After all, annuums, baccatums and pubescenses cope quite well with the changeable Berlin climate. Chinenses on the other hand do need some warmer and steadier conditions in order to produce an acceptably large yield.

The concept of raised beds is quite ideal for growing chillies. At Prinzessinnengärten they use grid-walled plastic crates with measurements of 40cm x 60cm x 40cm (height, width, depth) as containers for the beds. Two of these crates are being piled on top of one another so each raised bed is about 80cm high, 60cm wide and 40 cm deep. The basis for each bed are 20cm of rough chaffs from plants and wood. This layer is covered by about 20cm of semi-finished compost topped with another 40cm of fully mineralized compost. For long-term fertilisation we enriched the top layer with pellets made out of dung and food-scraps that have been fermented, dried and compressed.

The idea of the raised beds is to keep the beds composting themselves throughout the season. The ongoing process will ensure a steady supply of nutrients for the plants and will also heat up the soil. What causes these effects is the microbial activity inside the soil that continuously transforms the organic substances into a mineral form which eventually makes the nutrients available to the plants. This activity also generates heat as a by-product, keeping the roots nice and warm even during less sunny days. Chillies really do like to have warm feet so this side-effect of raised beds helps a lot to encourage rich growth.

M310001990 raised beds organized in three double rows filled with outdoor chillies.

We’ve placed the smaller varieties into the beds in the foreground of the image above, while the ones we expect to become huge over the next couple of months (like the baccatum and pubescens varieties) have gone into the backmost beds. With regard to the course of the sun this arrangement will prevent the bigger plants from overshadowing the smaller ones. If you take a closer look you can also make out yellow hoses running through the beds. They are part of an irrigation-system hooked up to the big rainwater-tanks in the back which will facilitate appropriate watering throughout the season.

In spite of its considerable dimensions the Princess Pepper Project is only one small segment of what’s happening at Prinzessinnengärten. Herbs, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes and much more can be found on the premises, too, all grown strictly organic and with a passion for biodiversity. A great spot to hang out is the tree-lined central area where people can sit, relax, socialize or have some drinks and food from the nearby bar and restaurant.

So after Onkel Hotti and I had gotten all of our plants into their final growing-spaces, the kind folks at Prinzessinnengärten invited us to a yummy little meal skillfully cooked from their own garden-grown ingredients. Bear’s garlic pesto, carrot squish, celery salad and rhubarb compote were just some of the niceties on the plate. So if you like chillies, organic gardening and/or good food I strongly recommend you pay a visit to Prinzessinnengärten if you happen to be in Berlin right now or during the summer.

M3100025Garden-fresh goodness: a plateful of niceties served at Prinzessinnengärten.

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