Hartley Magazine

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All is good down in the greenhouse today

All is good down in the greenhouse today. Too good. It doesn’t seem right: at this time of year, for the last few years, the greenhouse has been a murky mass of frozen and rotted stems, the door almost frozen shut. I’ve barely dared to go down there for fear the icy blast of the opening door would finish off the poor struggling specimens clinging to life within.

Emerging Sweet Peas and Broad Beans

But right now there are healthy broad bean and lettuce plants, and emerging sweet pea seedlings. A few plants put in there to overwinter are actually overwintering, by which I mean they are still alive, and even growing slightly. It was warm in there yesterday, and I left the door open for a few hours, in case it gets stuffy. It’s odd. It lures me into feeling like it is early spring, and I am almost merrily setting about sowing new things. Almost, because I can’t help the feeling that we are being lulled into a false sense of security, and this winter that we’ve all been waiting for is hiding around the corner, holding out for our most vulnerable moment, when we finally let down our guard, sow some seriously ill-advised tomatoes and leave the greenhouse door open. If I whistle while I work it is a slightly off-key nursery rhyme that suggests trouble in store. If it were a film you’d be shouting ‘don’t sow the seeds!’ and hiding behind the sofa.

But I have tempted fate and sown some micro leaves. It’s not actually such a major risk – a tiny strip of coriander and a tiny strip of rocket – and it wont be the end of the world if they fail to germinate, or if they germinate and get frosted or rotted to death when winter finally shows up in late February. After the horrors of the past couple of years I am woman enough to cope with the death of a row of tiny seedlings. I have no idea how long they might take to germinate in this godforsaken corner of the year, but in summer they would be up and ready for eating within a couple of weeks, perhaps two inches tip to root, and packing more punch per square centimetre than their grown-up selves ever would.

More foolhardily I have also planted some potatoes in pots in the greenhouse, inspired almost purely by the fact that I got hold of some ‘International Kidney’ seeds, the variety better known as ‘Jersey Royal’ (but only when grown in Jersey, take note) and that I know that on Jersey they start planting them in January. I planted mine in the base of four big pots, three to a pot, and will cover the tops with compost each time they peek through, hoping that is enough to keep any frosts out. If it isn’t I can actually go to any lengths to keep them frost free, them being moveable. I could wrap them in blankets, or pop hot water bottles under them on particularly chilly nights. And that’s the beauty of growing them this way and why you mustn’t even think about putting them in the ground now (unless you live on Jersey): almost total control. I could even move them inside the house if this terrifyingly harsh late winter that I am taunting into being with overly optimistic planting and sowing finally decides to rear its head.