WITH the Great Dorset Chilli Festival celebrating its 10th year, it's time to sow your seeds and get ready to compete.

Organisers have launched a chilli plant competition, with judging to set to take place during the popular festival on Saturday, August 1, at St Giles Park in Wimborne St Giles.

Two classes are available to enter: class one is for the calico variety of chilli, with variegated leaves and deep purple fruit; class two is an open class for any chilli plant variety.

There will also be a chilli fruit competition, where entrants who do not want their plant judged can bring a single chilli from it instead.

The competition is sponsored by the Dorset vegetable seed company, Sea Spring Seeds, as well as the Longleat-based Simpson's Seeds, both of whom hold a huge range of chilli seed varieties.

Trophies and rosettes will be awarded to winners, as well as £50 vouchers from Stewarts Garden Centres of Christchurch and Broomhill.

Despite the cold, January is the ideal time to plant chilli seeds in order to achieve productive plants come the warmer summer months. Not only do the plants make attractive windowsill features, but fresh homegrown chilli adds the perfect kick to a meal.

The Great Dorset Chilli Festival will take place on the first weekend of August. The two-day specialist foodie event celebrates the popular world of chilli peppers, from growing chilli plants and sampling chilli sauce, to enjoying spicy international street food and watching the chilli-eating contest.

If chilli isn't your thing, a range of stalls will be selling everything from hand-painted ceramics and jewellery to garden ironwork and beautifully crafted wooden chopping boards. Rather than focusing on heat and spiciness, much of the food at the festival is all about flavour.

To kick-start your chilli-growing conquest, festival organisers are giving away 20 packets of Calico seeds. Email your name and address to info@greatdorsetchillifestival.co.uk to request yours.

For more information about the hottest weekend of summer, visit www.greatdorsetchillifestival.co.uk