(Sorry the photos are so naff, I never have learnt the art of indoor photography…)
Its very windy here today. Not the kind of windy that the poor people of Queensland have just lived through, or as wintry as has hit the USA and Canada in the past few days, but the silver birches were dancing and swaying in the wind like demented hula girls. I took a quick “blustery day” walk up to the allotment to check that the compost bins hadn’t blown away but decided it was an ideal day to stay inside and do some preparation for Spring.
Last year MIL treated me to a small heated propagator. Designed to sit comfortably on a windowsill, it takes up to 7 quarter size seed trays or the equivalent and came with a full complement of these plus ventilating propagator lids to keep the moisture in. I love it, and with the addition of capillary matting growing things from seed instantly became much easier.
This was Before Greenhouse, but I was allowed to use a cheap plastic shelving unit in the Dining Room in front of the south-facing patio doors to grow seedlings on. This gave me plenty of room, but the light levels were still surprisingly low, particularly early in the year, and many of my seedlings grew leggy while waiting for space in the coldframes outside.
Now that I am lucky enough to have a greenhouse to play in, the plan is to start at least some of the seeds off in the windowsill propagator and then move them to the greenhouse once they have germinated. This will provide them with much better light than they ever got in the greenhouse, but of course is useless for the tender seedlings, things like half-hardy annuals, chillies, tomatoes etc., at least until May. In any case, seedlings need a period of weaning off the pampered heat of the propagator before being turfed out into the (unheated) greenhouse. There is no longer room for a shelving unit in the Dining Room, and in any case they are now in use within the greenhouse. What to do?
I have a blanket chest in my study that I have been happily using as an extension for my (very cluttered) desk. It is underneath the south facing window that the propagator sits on. The blanket box itself is useless as it is too low, but happily none of us had yet got around to putting three large plastic boxes up in the loft.
It turns out that they are almost exactly the right height to bring three gravel trays up to windowsill height. Lined with pristine capillary matting, white side up to reflect the meagre light these grey days have to offer, this makes a promising start. At this point there was a gentle fizzing in my brain as I half-remembered Alys Fowler creating a cardboard-and-foil arrangement. The idea was to capture and bounce light back towards seedlings to help them stand up straight rather than turning into little corkscrews as they reached for the light and were then turned round to correct the lean.
Having happy memories of using sticky back plastic, washing up liquid bottles and loo roll centres to create things because Blue Peter showed me how, I decided to re-connect with my inner child and get the scissors and cardboard out. (For those of you who did not grow up watching Blue Peter, it was – and is – an iconic BBC children’s television programme that always seemed to have a “make this from bits and pieces you will have to ask your Mum to save for you” spot. I loved it, and so, years later, did my sister, and my Mum always managed to say “Thank you” when one or other of us presented her with the latest misshapen creation. This is where the phrase “Here’s one I did earlier” came from, because they always started doing a stage and then pulled out a completed version. Cheating, I always thought.)
I made the happy discovery that the type of box you get wine delivered in – not the standard 12 bottle size but the more greedy 15 bottle size – is perfect. The gravel tray sits neatly inside, the “walls” are tall enough to bounce back a fair amount of light but still make it easy to reach inside, and as we love our wine, we have plenty… I originally intended to line the boxes with foil, but this felt like a waste when I came to it, so I used white paper that had already been printed on one side, which we have stacks of for “rough” use in the printer.
I’ve no idea how much difference it will make, but at least I now have somewhere to nurse seedlings before casting them out in the cold for the next stage of hardening off. I will still be able to stroke them regularly, not a peculiar fetish, it encourages thigmomorphagenesis, a natural change in plant growth resulting in stockier, stronger plants. Watering will be easy too, thanks to the capillary matting. Its not exactly an attractive arrangement, but the addition of a pretty cloth disguises the ugly plastic boxes and I will probably find some wrapping paper to disguise the outside of the cardboard boxes.
Not a bad way to spend some time on what has been a grey and very blustery day. Of course, I now have some room in my propagator, and I had a delivery of lots of exciting seeds yesterday…