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Organic Gardening

Seasonal hows and whys


Winter Sowings


Potato Planting


All About Asparagus

Attracting wildlife

Controlling slugs

DIY Potting Mixes

To dig or not to dig?

Home grown workshops


Winter sowing

Tomatoes and peppers, both sweet and chilli ones, need a long growing season to produce ripe fruit and a temperature of between 15 and 20° C to germinate. This means sowing them in a seed tray (space the seeds widely, sowing twice as many seeds as you’ll finally need) and growing them with artificial heat to maintain the correct temperature night and day. Start sowing from the middle of February.
If you have a greenhouse with an electricity supply an electric propagator is the simplest solution. It will have a thermostat to keep it at the temperature you select and your tomatoes or peppers will get off to a good start.
Their cotyledon leaves are elliptical, with a distinct point and a groove down the middle, the true leaves look like miniature versions of the big plant. When they have four true leaves you will have to get them out of the seed tray and pot them on and that is where the problems start. It will still be cold and they will still need heat, but your propagator will be jammed with deserving cases. Unless your greenhouse is heated they will suffer when there is a hard frost, tomato leaves take on a purple tinge to let you know they are struggling.
Put a layer of bubble wrap on the bench or staging and put on it a deep tray (baker’s tray type) filled with earth or sand. Set the pots with the baby tomato and pepper plants on this and have a cloche of more bubble wrap to put over them at night. It really does need to be taken off during the day as they need lots of light and would get too hot on a sunny day. Keep them well watered, watering in the mornings if you can. Plants sitting in wet compost cope less well with a night-time drop in temperature.
You can do all this on a windowsill, though it is difficult to give the plants enough light to stop them becoming leggy. If you are turning plants round to expose different sides to the light remember not to always turn them in the same direction: they can twist themselves off their stems as they grow to follow the light!
A January sowing of sugar peas, in root trainers or short lengths of guttering, will ensure a welcome crop of sugar peas in May. Calabrese and cauliflowers can also be down in January, potted on and planted out for an early summer crop.