The trouble with starting your tomatoes and peppers as extravagantly early as I have this year (yep, already sprouted and growing away. Keep up, keep up…) is that the awkward patch – those ‘too big for the windowsill, too cold to go out to the greenhouse’ weeks – will be worse, will come sooner, and will last longer. Already my babies lean to one side, stems weak and bending, threatening a fatal kink, as they search for more light than my kitchen windowsill can offer. It’s that annoying phase of trying to give these plants what they need to stay healthy yet not wanting to put them out to get frosted that has led me to sow them later in the spring, and hence have almost no tomatoes or peppers to show for it at the end of a cool and overcast summer.
Now obviously we are due a heatwave this summer that will bring bumper tomato crops to even those who sow their tomatoes in late March, but just in case, on the off chance that somehow doesn’t materialise, I’ve started uber early to give them the best possible chance of producing something, anything, pre-September, which is about the time my tomato harvests have been peaking these past few years. And I think I may have found my missing link. I took delivery of a patio mini greenhouse last month. Sturdy and beautiful, small enough to nestle into a corner of the deck without taking it over but with acres of space inside for seedlings. I actually almost just want to use it as a kind of display case, and fill it with ferns or auricular primulas in the Victorian manner, in fact I most probably will during the height of the summer when there wont be too great a need for it, but right now, there are more practical services it must be pressed into. It is my bridging greenhouse.
Of course, it was immediately taken over by my delighted children, who have moved into the bottom shelf wholesale (they can actually both crawl in at once. It’s apparently perfect if you want a really hot and sweaty cramped area to play in). We are in negotiations over the middle shelf: there is their extensive ‘Pebbles of Dorset and Cornwall’ collection to be housed after all. But the top shelf is all mine. While it isn’t in itself any warmer than the normal greenhouse (unless packed with children: good heat source) it is close to the house and in much more sun. Plus I am cheating and have bought myself a heated propagation mat to give them a gentle but constant bottom heat (I reckon I am going to start all my other seedlings for the allotment here too in little modules. Beetroot, parsley, sweetcorn, sweet peppers and later courgettes, basil cucumbers: they’ll find it irresistible). Warmer than the greenhouse, lighter than the windowsill. I have breached the tomato gap. How can it possibly go wrong? Obviously it can and very likely will. It’s much too early to put such tender plants into even a heated greenhouse now of course and I so my plan is to put them out each morning, so they can lap up the light, and bring them in every evening to keep them toasty, for a while at least. But that is a plan that has many potential pitfalls, the most obvious involving my terrible memory and the next hard frost. Then I wont be feeling quite so smug about my super early sowing.