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Gayton-based gardener Jamie Marsh tells you which seeds you can sow now

Here’s the first Jamie’s Little Allotment column of the year, with Gayton-based gardener Jamie Marsh...

January to me is not just the start of the new year, it’s also the time to plan what I want to grow in the allotment and where to put it.

I never used to be a planner when it came to sowing seeds, it was just: “I’ll sow some of them and some of those.” Then deal with what I’ve got later.

Seeds to be sown now
Seeds to be sown now

This normally meant way too much of one thing and not enough of others which generally means having to buy more expensive plug plants later in the year rather than growing them from relatively inexpensive seed.

But to be completely honest my seed storage box is a bit of an utter mess at the moment. After the year of sowing, I never put them back in the correct place or don’t record if I’ve used the whole placket. So, I don’t know what I have or haven’t got.

It might seem a little geeky but I’ve got a spreadsheet with every packet of seed on it and how many (roughly) are in each packet, and obviously if I updated that as I went along, I wouldn’t be in this predicament but I am so a good sort out Is needed. I’ll get onto that this week and let you know how I got on.

Keeping seeds warm in the 'hot house'
Keeping seeds warm in the 'hot house'

What I’m going to tell you about now is very controversial to lots of gardeners. So many people think sowing seed now is just not the done thing, But I think if you can, why not?

The reason I say if you can, is because you will need to do it slightly differently than if you were doing it in the spring.

Firstly, let me tell you what I sow at the beginning of January. Chillies, peppers, and aubergine I think do well if sown nice and early. They all love a really long growing season and can take up to 21 days to actually germinate so getting them going early in my eyes is a good thing.

So, the main things which are different about sowing now and not later in the year are mainly heat and light, Obviously, normally you would sow your seed maybe in a nice warm greenhouse or potting shed, but we haven’t got that in the middle of winter so the options we have are indoors on a windowsill or outdoors with either grow lights and a heat source.

Indoors in the windowsill can still give you a few problems. Chilli seeds love a nice warm 20-21 degrees to germinate which is possible on the windowsill, but the main thing to be aware of is how cold it can get at night on there when the curtains are closed and the central heating is off.

I’ve done tests and on cold nights between the glass and curtain, it’s got down to 2/3 degrees which is no good. But if you do manage to keep the temperature high enough for the seed to germinate the next problem is enough light. There’s a massive difference in the light levels on a windowsill, especially between north and south-facing windows.

If you were to try and start chillies off in the house you need to choose a south-facing window, but you might find it starts to get leggy, which is a term we use when a plant is looking for the much-needed light and stretches to find it, making the plant long and spindly with few leaves. It is possible to use a leggy plant but it’s not ideal.

The next way of germinating chillis seed is with artificial light and heat. I’m very lucky that I have built a small shed in the corner of my garage which I call my hot hut. I have a few racks with grow lights on them.

Now, my lights aren’t the posh style LED type grow lights but are the older style fluorescent tube ones, which I know are not as efficient but they act as my test source as well, because they give off enough heat just as a heated propagator or electric heat mat would.

Sowing chillis peppers and aubergine seeds is no different to the majority of other seeds. I fill a seed tray three-quarters full of some nice seed-sowing compost, then give it a good damping down with my spray bottle and simply lay seed on top.

I think chilli etc are big enough seeds to place exactly where you need them, thinking about pricking them out in several weeks’ time. Once you’ve placed the seed in the tray on the damp compost just sprinkle a fine layer over the top so they are all covered. Then wait up to 22 days for chillies.

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