Seeds of success: There is a host of tomato varieties, including the aptly named Moneymaker
This is the month for those with green fingers to buy seeds and knock £100 off their annual shopping bill.
But in planting tomato and pepper seeds this year, it is about far more than just saving money. It can be therapeutic to develop gardening skills and this practical pursuit is a recommended activity for helping to beat stress caused by lockdown.
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Having a large enough garden to accommodate a vegetable patch or greenhouse is useful – but not absolutely necessary. All that is really required to get started is space on a kitchen window ledge.
Guy Barter, chief horticulturalist at the Royal Horticultural Society, says: ‘This is the perfect time to plant seeds for tomatoes and peppers – and a window sill is often the ideal place to start them off.’
He recommends planting seeds in a heated propagator, which warms the soil sufficiently to trick plants into thinking spring has arrived early. Electric plug-in propagators can cost as little as £20, but Barter believes a better option is one with LED ‘grow lights’ which mimic sunlight.
These cost £50 or more. He adds: ‘Shallow seed trays are ideal for a propagator. With tomatoes, use seed sowing compost and consider covering with a thin layer of vermiculite, which is a natural mineral that retains water and should help with the germination.’
This germination process should begin in a week when the tomato seedlings start breaking through the soil.
Soon after, the plant can be put into a four-inch-wide pot. There, it can be nurtured until it has a few leaves showing and is about eight inches in height. It should then be repotted into a 12-inch container – or tomato grow bag. Those planting seeds now might be able to put their tomato plant into a greenhouse or outside by May.
There is a host of popular tomato varieties available in garden centres such as Gardener’s Delight and the aptly named Moneymaker. But also consider unusual varieties. Online dealers such as Plants of Distinction enable gardeners to order without leaving their home – with the seeds posted to them. Tomatoes come in all colours – not just red, but green, yellow and even ‘sinister dark flesh’.
Sarah Missing, of Plants of Distinction, says: ‘This year has been challenging with some rare tomato varieties not available due to import restrictions. But that need not stop you having some fun. For example, our oddly shaped Tomato Banana Legs are selling like hot cakes – while tasty cherry tomato favourites such as Golden Cherry and Sun Cherry Premium, are also popular.’ Prices for such seed varieties start from about £2 for about a dozen but they can yield three kilograms of fruit per plant. Shoppers can pay more than £5 for a kilogram of vine grown tomatoes – so you can save as much as £100 off six plants.
Growers are not just saving cash. They can also enjoy the fruits of their own labour with the crop much tastier than supermarket tomatoes. When it comes to peppers, anyone looking for something to spice up their cuisine should consider colourful options such as Pepper Spangles – coming in white, purple, orange and red. These cost £2.75 for a packet of ten from Plants of Distinction, plus £2.95 in postage.
The Carolina Reaper is considered to be the hottest pepper on the planet. Seeds can be purchased from a specialist such as South Devon Chilli Farm. A pack of 20 costs £5, plus £1 postage. Peppers are versatile too. At the end of the season, any not eaten can be used to make pickles and sauces.
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