Sowing and growing chillies is one of the highlights of the gardening season for me. Some years I have gone quite chilli mad and had up to 44 plants growing, entirely filling one of our greenhouses. This year I plan to be far more sensible with the chillies, though I have lots of sweet peppers instead.
Chillies, peppers, and aubergines benefit from a long growing season and can be slow to get going, particularly the aubergines. We often sow in February but this year wanted to start a bit earlier. I know some gardeners begin even earlier than we do. There is, though, a limit to how early one can start the plants unless there is a protected environment in which to grow them on until the last frost has passed. I am often rather too eager to plant out but getting caught by a late frost is not a pleasant experience; at best growth will be checked and the plants will sulk for a while, but at worst they can be damaged or lost entirely. It is perhaps the wiser course to sow at a more cautious time and plant out when there can be confidence that conditions will not be hostile to continuous growth.
My sowing method is a little odd, I suppose, and something I only do for chillies and peppers. I like to soak the seeds overnight as I have found in the past a tendency for the seed leaves to become firmly entrenched in the dry seed casing, to their detriment. Soaking the seeds appears to alleviate this and might possibly be beneficial to germination as well, though I cannot say for sure as I have not trialled soaked and unsoaked seed side by side. Armed with a pair of tweezers and an improvised dibber courtesy of a lonely chopstick, I sow the individual seeds with some care into compost warmed ready in a heated propagator.
My initial plan to sow three varieties of chilli fell by the wayside when I uncovered four packets of seed in my untidy study that I had no recollection of buying let alone stashing away. The seed is old, well past the time when it should have been sown, so I am not expecting great things, and perhaps nothing will germinate. However, where I normally sow in individual pots, for these I deposited the contents of each entire packet into a small seed tray in the hope that just a couple of them might germinate. I have the packets of fresh seed from my original plan to fall back on if there are no signs of life in the seed trays in a couple of weeks. It is nice to kick off the chillies early but there will still be plenty of time to sow a second batch at the end of January or beginning of February.
Sowing this year we have five chillies: Padron, the Spanish tapas pepper; Joe’s Long Cayenne, a long thin red fruited cayenne pepper; Golden Cayenne, a new one for us, appearing to be a yellow variation of the cayenne pepper and possibly a little hotter; Hungarian Hot Wax, one of our old favourites; and Gorria, the Basque chilli pepper, with a fine flavour and ideal for drying.
For sweet peppers we have two bell peppers, being red and yellow forms of Quadrato d’Asti, of which the yellow is, I think, particularly fine. Similarly, we have red and yellow bull’s horn types, Corno Rosso and Corno Giallo. We also have three of the smaller, thinner fruited sorts: Dolce di Bergamo, Lombardo, and Friggitello. We have grown all of these before but not side by side so it will be interesting to evaluate their performance and fruit quality later in the year.
We are growing two aubergines this year, which we also started with the chillies and peppers. I quite like aubergines but CT does not so there is no point growing too many. Last year we grew a conventional elongated purple fruited sort but nothing so plain this year. We are sowing Turkish Orange, a new variety to us, bearing small round orange fruits with some green striping, and Rosa Sfumata, a rather attractive sort with white skin and pale purplish flushing and some darker streaks.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we are starting these seeds in a heated propagator set to 25°C, which we have indoors so that the temperature can be maintained whatever the weather is doing. Once germinated, though, we will move them to a heated propagator in one of the greenhouses. The temperature indoors is more suited to germination whilst the light levels are a little better outdoors for growing on.
If everything germinates, I will have some fun trying to find a home for all of them, but, in my view, you cannot have too many pepper plants. Unless conditions are most favourable the yield is not always great, so a good quantity of plants is handy. I am not fond of most green peppers; there are a few varieties which produce quite reasonable green fruit but in general I find them rather bitter and somewhat unpleasant, so I will be looking to maximise the amount of ripe fruit we can achieve, and for that the cooperation of the weather is quite important. I would be disappointed to end up with a barrel full of green peppers at the end of the year as there are only a few dishes in which I like to add them.