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 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.