Peppers and tomatoes – time to sow

It’s time to sow the sweet peppers and tomatoes. Here’s how I do it.

I love, love, love sweet red peppers! And love, love, love cherry tomatoes. I can eat them like sweets. Picking them off the plant, warm from the sun, and popping them in my mouth is just the best!

However, we need plants first. If you have a propagator, now is the time to clean it up, and switch it on to warm up ready for your seeds. If you don’t have a propagator do not worry, you can make a suitable environment very easily.

Sweet peppers

Sweet pepper seeds ready to sow
Sweet pepper seeds var. Dulce de Espana

The seeds are easy to handle, so you can sow exactly how many you need. This variety is Dulce de Espana, a long, red, sweet pepper, similar to the Romano ones you see in the shops.

First of all, prepare a container with some multi purpose compost. Add some perlite if you have it, don’t worry if not. Fluff up the compost a bit to get out any large lumps. I have some small reusable seed trays, but you could use a yogurt pot, for example. Just make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.

I should explain, perlite is a white gritty substance which can be added to compost to open up the texture. It aids drainage so the seedlings don’t become too wet.

Seed tray ready for pepper seeds
Seed tray with perlite and compost mix

Ready to sow

Flatten the surface of the compost with the bottom of another container, piece of card, whatever flat surface comes to hand. Spray the compost with a water sprayer so it is slightly damp,not wet. A very fine watering can rose is a good alternative.

Place a few seeds on the surface, a couple of centimetres (1/2 to 1 inch) apart. I cover mine with a sprinkling of vermiculite but you can also just use a sprinkling of compost.

Vermiculite is a product that helps to retain water and lets in light. It is very useful at seed sowing time. I spray water on the vermiculite to ensure it all comes into contact with the seeds nicely. Also, vermiculite is extremely light and this will help keep it in place.

Pepper seeds on the surface
Seeds on the surface
Seed covered and labelled
Seed covered and labelled

Now, if you have a propagator, place the seeds in there. They like temperatures of between 20 and 25 degrees to germinate.

If you don’t have a propagator, you can place your container inside a small, clear plastic bag and tie it closed. Place it somewhere warm and light. I used to place mine on top of the fridge in the kitchen. Always warm and light, just like a propagator. Check them daily and once you see the first sprouts, remove the bag or take out of the propagator to grow on somewhere light but slightly cooler.

Pepper seeds in the propagator
Peppers and tomatoes on the right, flowers on the left

What about tomatoes and chillies?

So, I follow exactly the same process for tomatoes as the conditions they need are more or less the same. If you want to grow hot chillies, again the process is the same. All plants like heat once they are established, so if you don’t have a greenhouse, grow your peppers and chillies indoors. Most tomatoes can be grown outdoors, however I found I had better harvests from the tomatoes that grew in the greenhouse.

Do you have any questions or any hot tips on peppers, chillies and tomatoes?

Garden update Monday 18th February

A little late this week, sometime life is just life isn’t it! However, this month is for sowing seeds and pruning.

The weather seems to be settling down a bit now, with more sunshine and less storms. This is great and means more garden time. It is still quite breezy but that is what sheds are for. I love potting away, sheltered from the elements in here.

Inside little violets' shed.
Inside the shed

I have sown the first seeds, including the sweet peas I soaked in the last post. Also, some pak choi (var. green revolution) and shallots (var. zebrune). The propagator in the spare room has been cleaned up and switched on to warm up. The tomato and chilli seeds are going in there imminently.

Sweet peas, pak choi and shallots
Sweet peas, pak choi and shallots

Elsewhere in the garden I checked on the fruit bushes. I have gooseberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blueberries and kiwi. All of these were new last year and all planted in containers. Many soft fruits do well in containers, including this selection. I bought all my soft fruit here.

Sadly the kiwi didn’t make it for some reason. I suspect it dried out when we were on holiday for two weeks last year, and never recovered. The gooseberry I am crossing my fingers and hoping. It was defoliated twice last summer due to caterpillar infestation. They munched through it in a matter of hours. I pruned a twig or two to see if there was any green wood inside, and there was. So there may be hope yet.

A little light pruning

The redcurrant and blackcurrant needed light pruning only as they are young bushes. I removed any dead or diseased looking wood, and any crossing branches. This helps with airflow around the bushes and reduces the chance of disease.

The blueberries still have some leaves and looked fine, so I will only top up their container with some fresh compost. Blueberries do not like ordinary compost, they like the soil to be ericaceous. This means that it is slightly alkaline. This type of compost is easily available.

Lastly, the raspberries were pruned to the ground. I have an autumn fruiting variety that fruits on the same years growth (primocane). Pruning right back will stimulate new growth. The other type of raspberry, summer fruiting, will produce fruit on last years growth (floricane). This type should be pruned in autumn, taking out only the canes that fruited that year. They will look brown. Any green canes should be left as they will fruit the following year.

What else is going on?

The spring bulbs are doing well. The primroses/primulas continue to flower well, tulips and puschkinia are making an appearance while the alliums continue to sprout.

I noticed that my small bee and bug hotel has been occupied all winter. The residents must be tucked up safe an warm in there. It took a little while for it to be noticed, but it got noticed!

Bee and bug hotel
Bee and bug hotel

It is getting near the busy time for us gardeners, what have you been up to so far this month?

Garden update Monday 11th February

So, the weather has been typically changeable and unpredictable and mostly very, very windy! Storm Erik tried to wreak havoc, but it didn’t do more than a little tomfoolery in eastern England. (Like blowing off a chimney cover!)

Nonetheless a few things did manage to happen this week. I decided what tomatoes to grow!

I narrowed it down to these four choices.

Tomato seeds
Tomato seeds

From left to right:

Gardeners delight – an old favourite of many gardeners, reliable large cherry tomatoes with a good flavour.

Yellow delight – this is a new variety to me, yellow, pear shaped fruits. Taste – we will have to wait for the verdict on these but I am looking forward to them.

Gigantomo – I bought these as a bit of fun really, to see if I could grow a whopper! The taste, again, unknown.

Orange Paruche – these are by far my all time favourite tomato. Very sweet cherry tomato, not acidic at all, and early ripening. They also germinate very well.

The heated propagator is warming up slowly, and the seeds will be placed in there until they germinate. Then they can be grown in cooler conditions, like a sunny windowsill.

Fragrant thoughts

I’ve never had a lot of luck with sweet peas. That may be because until last summer I did not have a greenhouse, and I don’t have any south facing windows in my house. Any seedlings that I had would go leggy and weak and were not worthy of planting out.

So, this year I hope to be more successful with a greenhouse. I am also soaking my seeds to help them germinate.

Soaking sweet pea seeds
Soaking sweet pea seeds

The reason for this is that the seed shell is hard, and soaking them for 24 hours or so softens that shell and makes germination easier.

Just 12 hour later they have swelled up nicely.

Swollen sweet pea seeds
Swollen sweet pea seeds

The process is easy, soak a square or two of kitchen towel in water and place in some kind of tub. I used a small plastic food saver tub. Place some seeds on the paper (try to stop them from touching), cover, and leave somewhere warm for 24 hours. If your tub doesn’t have a lid, cover the seeds with another damp piece of kitchen towel, or place the whole thing in a small plastic bag.

You can then sow the seeds. I am going to try some in toilet roll tubes, and some in root trainers. Sweet peas like to put down deep roots and toilet roll tubes are great if you don’t have deep pots or root trainers. I am trying both as a little experiment. I will use ordinary multi purpose compost mixed with a little perlite to open up the compost structure. Seeds generally don’t like to site in wet soil so the perlite will help with drainage. Toilet roll tubes are also degradeable, and you can plant them straight in the ground without disturbing the young roots.

Is there another way?

There are other ways to help sweet peas germinate. One is to “nick” one end with a sharp knife. The other is to file one end of the seed until you just break the shell. I am not convinced I have a steady enough hand or the patience for these methods, why make like any more difficult?

Is spring on the way?

Who knows, the tabloid press would have us believe another “Beast from the East” is coming next week.

But for now, there are a few little signs in the garden.

Crocus in the lawn
Crocus in the lawn

Some pretty little naturalised crocus opened up to say hello. This is amazing considering how windy it has been.

What have you done this week? Remember any progress no matter how small, is still progress.

Garden update Monday 4th February

Here on the border of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire we avoided the worst of the weather last week. This was to the delight of some and disappointment of others.

It did, however, allow me some bonus time in the garden. I was very happy about this as I was expecting to get very little done due to the impending weather crisis. I needed inspiration this week. Spending a couple of hours in the winter sun does give me a real lift.

A little disappointment

Firstly, I had to plant some spring bulbs. I had forgotten about a bag of mixed bulbs. I discarded some of the bulbs. sadly. They had gone mouldy. This was my fault as I left them in a padded envelope with no ventilation.

Fortunately, I salvaged most of the bulbs, and I have a few more pots which will hopefully bring some glorious spring colour.

There are Puschkinia (Russian snowdrops), Daffodils (Tete a Tete), Ipheion (mixed), and Fritillaria (Uva-Vulpa) in various combinations.

Pots with spring bulbs
Pots with spring bulbs

Then, off to the local garden centre I went, as I felt an urge for instant gratification. The garden seemed drab. I needed colour, and I needed it now. As I had a voucher for £4 off a £20 spend, what more justification did I need?

So, voucher in hand, I added these beautiful primroses to my basket. In addition followed some daffodils, irises, tulips and snowdrops in the green. This means that they have already started to grow.

Primroses
Primroses

Admittedly, I felt a little naughty for buying them. However should the worst happen and my own bulbs fail to grow, I will have some colour in the garden this spring.

One thing I do like is to have choices and back up plans. Putting all your eggs in one basket runs the risk of disappointment.

Getting on with it

I have a lot of seeds. These are just the vegetable seeds. I need to trim this down a bit!

Many seeds
Many seeds

I simply don’t have the physical space to grow everything here, so I will narrow this down to maybe one third. There are a few duplicates in there and some I may will never grow. These are often freebies bundled with other things that I did want to keep. There are a handful of vegetables that I
really dislike. For example squash, celery and aubergine will never feature on my plot.

Once I have decided what to grow, the seeds need to be sorted into sowing months. I sort my seeds by the first month given to sow. The beauty of nature is that if you forget, have a failed batch or simply don’t have time or space, another later sowing will catch up.

Fortunately, many seeds can be sown over a period of months. This is great for things like peas and carrots where you want to stagger your harvests. There are only so many peas you can eat at once. And they don’t usually feature for breakfast!

Don’t panic!

There is still plenty of time to buy seeds and decide what to sow. Many garden centres are having a clear out and you can pick up packets of seed for 50p or less. Often they will have a year or more left to sow them. I would advise to buy only the freshest seeds for parsnips however. They are notoriously bad for germination and old seeds are almost certainly going to fail.

Nonetheless, I find it exciting to make plans for the year ahead and think about the delicious results to come.

What are your seed plans?

Seedy thoughts

Preparing for the growing year means you have to make a few decisions. I have to make a fair amount of decisions! I spread out all the seeds I have onto the kitchen table, and I was more than mildly surprised.

Vegetable seed collection
Many seeds

There are more seeds than I can grow by far. My evening will now consist of agonising over which ones to grow and which ones will remain in the box. Maybe. I do think plans have to be flexible, as you never know.

For example I bought some sweet pepper seeds, from a reputable source. All but one failed to germinate. The one plant that grew produced a single solitary pepper! This was my first attempt at sweet peppers and I had no other seeds to try. Feeling despondent, I did not bother buying any more pepper seeds that season. The following year I invested in some more, hoping it was simply a bad batch. I was right, the new seeds germinated much better and I grew five healthy plants.

There are many reasons why seeds don’t germinate, and it isn’t always anything to do with you. Some seasons are just better than others. Some seeds have to be fresher than others. Sometimes the conditions are just not quite right.

Now, I prefer to have a selection of varieties so I have a back up plan. Or if I change my mind. Or if I simply cannot resist the feeling you get when you see the little green shoots pop their heads up above the soil for the first time.

Little packages of loveliness

Some seeds are small, uninteresting and nothing to get excited about. Other seeds are fiddly and a pain in the rear to handle. Others, are just delightful to look at!

Runner bean seeds
Runner bean seeds

These are just common old runner beans (or pole beans). I don’t know the variety, but they have the standard bright red flower and long beans. I have saved the seeds every year and these must be the fourth generation of seeds I have saved to grow the next year. They are just gorgeous!

It still amazes me that something so small contains everything to grow a brand new plant, flowers, and the edible results . It’s also a very frugal way of gardening and brings great satisfaction knowing that you raised the plant, and will continue with its “offspring” year after year.

So, I will try and reduce the number of seeds that I plan to grow. I will let you know what I decide on. Watch this space!