Now that light is starting to increase, it is time to sow some more of the greenhouse crops. I started my chillies in January, simply because they need such a long season, but I am putting a few more in this month too. And it is time to start the aubergines and the sweet peppers.
They don’t take quite as long a growing season but it’s pretty close, and they really need starting soon otherwise they won’t grow enough to mature, flower and produce their fruits this year. Starting them now will give you the best chance of producing a good crop of these beautiful glossy vegetables, one of the real treats of the growing year.
Light may well be increasing in leaps and bounds, but these plants also need heat, and there is not a great deal of that around at the moment even in the greenhouse. It is best to start all Mediterranean vegetables in a heated propagator indoors, where the temperature will be constant and relatively high – it means a bit of juggling of plants at the moment as there are so many crops that need heat. Once they have germinated they need to be potted up into individual pots and then to go out into the greenhouse in order to get as much light as possible, and stop them from getting yellowed or drawn up. But it is still very cold in the greenhouse, particularly at night. If you possibly can, keep them on a heated mat once they are out in the greenhouse too, ideally covered with a Perspex or glass lid to trap the warmth around them. This combined with the increasing light will help them to keep actively growing through these trickier months of the year.
I like sowing ramshorn peppers, simply because they are trickier to find in the shops and a more interesting crop to grow than the straightforward sweet bell peppers that you can find everywhere. This year I’m trying out ‘Nardello’, an Italian heirloom variety reputed to be the sweetest non-bell pepper, and ‘Marconi Rossa’, a very productive variety, from the Organic Catalogue. For aubergines I am trying ‘Green Knight’ from Suttons, which produces long, shiny green fruits. I will also, as I always do, order some grafted plants of aubergine ‘Scorpio’. Grafted plants are particularly vigorous and I find that this really makes a difference with aubergines, which I have had several bad years with in the past. There’s nothing worse than tending a plant all year only to find that it starts to fruit just as the growing season comes to an end, and this is really possible with aubergines. Grafted plants speed the whole process up. They are a good insurance policy, so consider ordering a few plants and then playing around with other varieties.
If you miss this sowing time, do look out for vegetable plants either in the garden centre or online. Online shopping for plants should be done now, before they sell out and so that they arrive sometime in March, but garden centres will be full of such stock then, so you can afford to wait a bit. Going for plants of these crops limits the varieties you can choose from substantially – garden centres grow a very limited range – but it also cuts out one of the trickiest gardening jobs off the year, and one with a high chance of failure or at least of producing less than perfect plants. Buying plants almost guarantees that you will start the year with healthy, sturdy plants with every chance of going on to crop well.