Biodiversity is at the heart of their project and they are continually planting new trees, shrubs and wildflowers in order to encourage wildlife and pollinators into the orchard.  Seven years on and they’ve now gained a reputation for growing chillies and herbs.  These are sold fresh in season and they also have a range of delicious jams, relishes, smoked & dried chillies, all of which are handmade on the farm and available all year round (subject to availability).  You can try out these products from NeighbourFood and some are also available from The Village Hub in Drymen.

“We didn't start out with grand plans to grow chillies and herbs as our long term aim is to produce craft cider from the orchard we planted in 2015. It’s a slow process waiting for the volume of apples to make this economically viable, so we needed to find crops with a faster lead-time and our two large polytunnels enable us to grow some more unusual crops and also extend the growing season. In addition to chillies and herbs we have several peach trees, a fig tree and a grape vine - all with varying degrees of success. It’s about experimentation and fun as well as business.

But right now the chillies are our main cash crop and in cooler climates this is an annual cycle which starts in February with seed planting. The young seedlings are then transferred from a heated propagator to a small heated polytunnel and come late April they are ready to be trensferred to the large unheated polytunnel. All our growing is in soil and we don't use chemicals or pesticides preferring to encourage natural means to control aphids and the like. Every year we marvel at the work done by worker wasps and many other natural predators which do a great job for us. When watering our chillies in the summer months there will be hundreds of wasps busily chomping on the aphids whilst happily dodging the water spray and not at all interested in the odd human with a water hose. We’ve even noticed that some have an afternoon siesta on the chilli plants which always makes us smile (we're extra careful not to spray these wee guys).

Harvesting starts in late July and continues right through to early December if it’s not too cold. The plants are then composted and the whole process starts again. One of the challenges when we started growing chillies was finding out which varieties do well in our setup. Many of the painfully hot chillies do not grow well in cooler environments therefore we needed to select carefully. For us it’s not just about how hot a chilli is, flavour is equally important. Fortunately there are a myriad of varieties available although sourcing good quality UK seed this year was more difficult than usual as more hobby growers during the Covid lockdown were buying up the seed. This can only be a good thing and it has forced us to experiment with some new varieties of chillies and herbs so it will be interesting to see how they perform this year - watch this space. Hopefully with lockdown ending soon all these new chilli growers will continue and the seed suppliers will up production again next year.

Gary McAlpine

For updates on what’s happening at Foragers you can find them on Facebook or Instagram or visit their website Foragers.scot