What I learnt from my gardening adventures last year tells me that the time is just about right to sow seeds for the nightshade family- tomatoes, aubergines and peppers both hot and sweet.
Here's what you need:
Potting Soil- Shalimar or Desert group are the ones I come across the most.
Seed Trays or you can use paper cups, egg cartons, small yoghurt pots with drainage holes punched out or even toilet roll tubes. I use seed trays simply because they are reusable from year to year and also do not get blown away by the wind. When you sow seeds in small pots, the seedlings have a chance to develop good, strong root balls. When you transplant or 'prick out' your seedlings into bigger pots, you give your plant a chance to grow strong and sturdy rather than leggy and weak.
Seeds- This is by far the most fun part- choosing your varieties. Last year, I just picked whatever I could find in the supermarkets. This year I have indulged myself and ordered seeds from online catalogues from the US and UK. I was also quite keen to try some varieties from the subcontinent and have managed to get hold of a few.
Last year I used the Franchi tomato seed packets for a general salad tomato variety and for plum tomatoes, the Roma variety. Both grew extremely well and produced prolifically.
This year I have got Moneymaker & San Marzano.
Moneymaker is a heirloom, open-pollinated variety extremely popular among home growers. The fact that it needs insects like bees to pollinate the flowers is worrying me now since I have never seen any around. I bought too much into the whole heirloom thing I suppose but time will tell if my plants attract any bees.
San Marzano too is a heirloom- a popular Italian plum variety, apparently the greatest sauce tomato in the world! It is meaty, with few seeds and less water content than other tomatoes.And that's the idea since the family loves pasta so much and I am a bit bored with sauces from jars.
Last year I grew Yates Black Beauty bought from Dubai Garden Centre. They were a resounding success. In fact I had so many healthy, fruit bearing plants i didn't know what to do with them.
This year we are trying Bharata Star, Anamika, Violet Prince and Black Beauty.
As you can see I got tempted by quite a few aubergine varieties while seed shopping. Both the flowers and fruits are so pretty- I had to get them in various shades and sizes.
Last year, I didn't have a lot of success with The California Wonder and Jalapeño peppers that I tried to grow. The reason may have been overcrowding of the plants and thrips, a certain type of bug that affects chilli and rose plants.
This year I have got varieties from the subcontinent as well South East Asia-Indian Jwala, Thai Chilli, Sweet Pimiento and Bell Pepper.
Let's see what happens. I do use a lot of chillies in my cooking, especially for flavouring the oil for curries before throwing the onion and spices in. So really hoping I get as prolific a crop as I have heard other growers do!
How to go about sowing
1- Soap and rinse your seed trays.
2- Scoop out potting soil into the small pots. Pat it down and water evenly with a watering can until soil is moist but not soaking wet.
3- Push down in the middle of the soil surface with your finger and drop in one or two seeds into each pot.
4- Cover lightly with soil and water again.
5- Keep soil surface moist at all times.
6- Germination should take somewhere between 7-10 days at around 21- 34 C.