Gourmet Gardener: Getting spicy in January
Our Gourmet Gardener, Tara Kate Linnane, looks at new beginnings in the garden in January...
January is the beginning of the gardening year – it’s fresh start, new energy and time to dream up plans for the season ahead. If you are interested in picking and using fresh home grown produce later in the year, you have to plan your journey from plot to plate now.
Depending on what crop you want to grow, there are different times to sow different seeds. Some crops take much longer to mature before they're ready to harvest, therefore you must start them off earlier. Chillies are a good example of this. You don’t need a greenhouse or polytunnel to grow chillies – they can be successfully grown indoors in the warmth of your home, sitting on a sunny windowsill.
There are a wide variety of chilli plants to grow, from sweet and mild to the eye watering hot, and everything in between. I have said many times before that chillies are my favourite thing to grow because I can use them in every meal, and once the growing conditions are right, they can fruit heavily, providing a lengthy harvest period.
Chillies, once harvested ripe, can be stored in the freezer without affecting the flavour. Also, the plants are so decorative when laden with fruits of all shapes, colours and sizes.
Sowing chilli seeds
1. Soak chilli seeds overnight in warm water before planting,or, gently sandwich between sheets of damp kitchen paper, place in a plastic bag and leave in the airing cupboard for a couple of days to improve germination.
2. Chilli seeds love hot weather so, if you have the facility, grow in a greenhouse; but they will do perfectly well in a pot on the kitchen windowsill for a bit of extra heat.
3. Sow chilli seeds as early as possible (January for the hot varieties).
4. Sow seeds in small pots and very shallow (about 5mm). I also like to use old takeaway containers or punnets. Transfer to a larger pot when true leaves have developed. Try not to touch the forming roots when re-potting to prevent damage, always prick out using an instrument like a pencil to scoop under the roots and then hold the seedling by the leaf.
5. Water regularly but don’t allow the soil to become waterlogged. You can cover the seed tray with vermiculite if you have it, but it is not necessary. Vermiculite helps with water and heat retention, both of which the chilli seeds love. It can be purchased in garden centres.
6. These plants take a long time to mature and flower but towards the end of summer you will have handfuls of chillies to use in the kitchen.
Trust me, they are worth the wait! I will be making some videos on how I sow my chilli seeds and they will be available on Instagram, so make sure to check them out and grow along with me over the next few months.
If you want to try, pick up a pack of chilli seeds and take progress pictures tag @twopeas_inapolytunnel / hashtag #GourmetGardener if you are on Instagram to share your progress. I am looking forward to seeing everyone's gardening journeys this year.