Gardening: In January?

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What’s growing in January? Well, two things that gardeners are beginning about now are peppers, and sweet potatoes. Some people seed eggplants at this time too. Some wait until they start their tomatoes. As peppers aren’t native to anywhere near here, they take a long time to get going, and they need a long season. They’re also terribly susceptible to cold. You cannot direct sow pepper seeds in Eastern Ontario and get peppers. They need to be started indoors, and they need to be started early. If you don’t have time, place, or inclination to grow pepper plants from seeds, you can buy them at any garden centre. There are usually other gardeners selling pepper plants they’ve grown from seed, as they are overrun with plants come end of May.

Peppers like heat. They need heat. They will not germinate without a steady supply of heat. Some people germinate them in trays made for growing seedlings, by putting them on top of heat vents, or in a very warm room, or on top of the older refrigerators. Those of us who have too many cats and old drafty houses rely on heat mats. Heat mats are amazing! Some people can germinate their seeds and grow seedlings on their south facing windowsills. Some of us who have old houses with thick walls and north facing windows rely on grow lights.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on grow lights. The fluorescent lights marked as 6500 or the LED lights labeled “daylight” work fine. Keep the plants close enough to the light that they don’t get “leggy”. Using a soil-less mixture, such as Pro-Mix premium all-purpose, will help germination, and help to ward off some of the problems brought on by potting soil. Some types of peppers can take more time to germinate than you think they should. Have patience. Granted, sometimes you will get seeds that won’t germinate at all, but usually, if you give them just a bit more time, they will pop up. Don’t over-water. Cats and seedlings don’t mix.

Sweet potatoes do not grow here without some serious dedication. They need a long season, and a lot of heat. If you enjoy a challenge, and you have some extra space, give them a try. You take a sweet potato and put the end in water. You can suspend it in a cup with some toothpicks. The idea is that the sweet potato will grow roots down into the water, and sprout up. Once the sprouts are a decent length, you cut them off the sweet potato, and put them in water to root. Make sure you have a sweet potato with a shorter growing season. They can’t be planted out until the soil is warm, so usually at the beginning of June. A lot of growers will mound the soil, and cover it with a tarp to get and keep it warm. Now is time to start sprouting the shoots.

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