My Very Own Seedy Saturdays

What a lovely time of year here in Wales. No, not the current weather… stop looking out of the window… but the fact that I can now turn my attention once more to growing things. Not only ordering seeds, but also actually planting.

The beginning of February may seem early, but with my propagator removed from the loft, yesterday I was able to make use of all those toilet roll middles I have been saving for months and get my hands dirty.

Newly sown in February 2013

Newly sown in February 2013

Those new to gardening often read the seed packets and think that you can do no better than sow everything at the earliest possible moment, but those of us with a little more experience know that it may be prudent to wait. Sow too early outdoors and seed can rot, or germinate but not grow because it’s too cold, or grow very slowly and therefore be susceptible to pests and diseases. Hanging on and planting a few weeks later can produce more vigorous plants that romp away faster than the early plantings. Sow too early indoors and your seedlings can become weak and leggy before the conditions outside are favourable for planting. It’s a bit of a balancing act.

However, there are some things that really benefit from an early start. These are usually plants that are destined to be coddled for the whole of their lives – things like peppers (sweet and hot). So, yesterday I planted Lipstick sweet pepper, Lemon drop chilli, Alberto’s Locoto chilli, Roma tomatoes and basil. The lid is on the electric propagator and conditions should be good for germination… in fact capsicums germinate much more reliably when warm.

My interaction with seeds hasn’t stopped there, though. I have been frugal with my seed-buying this year. Last weekend I inventoried my left-over seed from last year, compared notes with a friend and we have coordinated purchases… sharing our surplus and reducing waste. I was so taken by this idea, that I’ve also set up a seed swap via Facebook for people doing the diploma in applied permaculture design.

Lots of seed does go to waste each year, and lots of people have surplus saved, so seed swaps are a great idea. You can get involved either online or in person. Patrick of Bifurcate Carrots blog fame runs a seed exchange network, for example. There are also  lots of local events, for example, near me the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers have a Seedy Sunday coming up in March (just waiting for confirmation of the date), and there’s one at the Welsh National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre on 23 March as part of their Eco-fair. For something in your area, just search on the internet for ‘seed swap’ plus your location and you’re bound to find something. And don’t worry if you don’t have seeds to exchange – a small donation is usually fine; in addition, swaps aren’t direct, offers go into the pool of seeds available, so you don’t have to arrange a mutually beneficial one-to-one transaction.

Chilli festival

In this strange year for crops it appears that we are about to enjoy a bumper crop of chillies – a visit to the greenhouse reveals a veritable chilli forest, including healthy plants with flowers and fruit in abundance. None are ripe yet, but they are starting to change colour.

Mainly Lemon drop – you can see the green unripe fruit amongst the leaves

I have been trialling varieties for a number of years now, and have finally identified ones that do well in my greenhouse here in west Wales. I only grow two*, both from The Real Seed Catalogue. The first is Lemon Drop – a slender fruit that ripens to a beautiful lemon yellow colour and has a reasonable amount of heat and a slightly citrus flavour. This variety is good for drying for use over the winter.

A forest of chillies – purple flowers on Alberto’s Locoto

The second is not, in fact, a different variety but a different species, it’s called Alberto’s Locoto (not sure of the scientific name). Alberto’s Locoto is a great plant – it’s a perennial and so you can keep it going for a number of years. When you do need more you can simply save seeds yourself –  because it is a separate species, it doesn’t cross with any of the other capsicums and so it breeds true. It is a lovely plant – hairy leaves, purple flowers and bright red fruit when ripe. And finally, the chillies are good to eat – they reliably have a decent amount of heat, unlike some chillies I have grown in the past.

Which reminds me… it’s worth noting that all capsicums/peppers/chillies are perennial and, with a little care, they will survive over the winter. Like many vegetables, we treat them as annuals and replant each year, but I have had some very successful crops of peppers in a second or even third year. You can either keep them in the greenhouse (as long as it doesn’t get too cold) or bring them into the house or conservatory (if you have one). Just keeping a couple going is worthwhile if you don’t have much indoor space, as they will crop earlier the following year than newly planted individuals.

-oOo-

*In fact it’s not entirely true that we only have the two varieties; we also have the Hungarian Wax peppers, which we are now referring to as Russian Roulette peppers. We were given the seed and will never grow them again, because their flavour is so unpredictable. I had been led to believe that they started sweet and got hot as they ripened up. This is a lie. Some are hot, some are sweet, the age, colour and plant of origin are not correlated with the flavour at all. As a result Mr Snail-of-happiness and I had the hottest risotto (possibly the hottest dish) I have ever made last week because I naively put two green Hungarian Wax peppers into it without tasting them first. It was impossible to taste any of the other ingredients and we needed some chilled Sauvignon to help us recover! (what an excuse)

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