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Although it may seem a little premature to start on your seeds when your plot is probably still under a thick layer of snow, it is well worth starting a few things off before the sowing madness of February arrives.
Of course you are going to be limited as to what you can grow this early on but indoor sowings of onions and pepper varieties are just the thing for getting your eye back in.
January is the ideal time for growing onions from seed. Sow them into either plugs or a seed tray containing a good quality John Innes ‘seed’ compost. Give the seeds a light covering of the same compost and gently water them in. Germination of onion seeds will take between 14-21 days but they will need to be kept at a temperature of about 19-21C during this period. This is important as higher temperatures can inhibit germination.
Once the seedlings get to about 1 ½ inches high they can be transplanted into individual 3-4 inch pots, but make sure that the tiny bulb is not covered by the compost. In a couple of weeks - once the new seedlings are well rooted into their pots - they can be moved outside into a cold frame to harden off. A few weeks more and they will be ready for planting out into their final position.
Plant the seedlings in early spring into a sunny position that has a rich, well drained soil - preferably it would have had plenty of well rotted compost dug in to it the previous autumn. Keep them at about 5in apart and add a dressing of general fertiliser just before planting.
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This covers most of the varieties for northern Europe if you wanted to grow them outside. Starting them off early as a protected crop is essential because if you waited until after the last frosts the resulting summer season will neither be long or warm enough for them to crop decently before the onset of winter.
Sow your pepper seeds - adequately spaced - into either plugs or a seed tray containing John Innes ‘seed’ compost. Top them off with another 1/2 inch of compost then gently water them in. It's important that the seeds remain moist until they germinate and as such will require adequate ventilation to prevent fungal rots. If ventilation is poor you may need to spray your newly germinating seedlings with a liquid fungicide once a week to protect them.
Once germinated – this will be normally between 7 and 24 days - pepper seedlings will require plenty of light, in fact for optimal growth they will need between 12 to 16 hours of light a day. If the weather isn’t yet suitable for planting outside then they will need to be placed onto a south-facing windowsill but remember to turn them daily to keep them from acquiring a permanent lean.
Once the seedlings have produced four leaves they will be ready to prick out into individual pots, but you need to be careful so as not to damage the fragile root system. The safest way is to gently hold onto one of the sturdier leaves while using either a pencil or slim dibber to lift the roots as intact and undisturbed as possible. When re-potting, use either a standard multipurpose compost or John Innes ‘No.1’ or ‘No.2’ potting compost.
Grow them on for another couple of weeks and they will be ready for either the greenhouse or for planting directly outside into open ground once the threat of frosts is over. Make sure you choose a location that is in full sunlight and - if you have it - mix in some mushroom compost or other organic compost to help keep the soil fertile and moist.
For more information on growing peppers click onto:
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