Saturday, 30 April 2011


Today has not been good. All night and all day, the wind has gusted remorselessly. Strangely, it's sunny and warm - the wind is from the east. I don't know why that is, but its effect is all too obvious: destruction of what's there, prevention of what's planned, and a darkening of my mood. I've not been in the best humour for some time now, not entirely sure why (nor is this the place to go into it), but the wind is the worst weather for it. I would rather anything but this - it's threatening to continue the destruction of the old greenhouse, blasts sand and cement (both of which I'm using a lot of right now) into my eyes, and worst of all, has done a lot of cosmetic damage to the outdoor tomatoes.

That is, the plants that live outside in the day. There isn't anywhere light enough indoors, but I've had to bring them in early in order to protect them. Too late: they are wilting, and many have dead leaf tips. I had wanted to sell some, but I can't now. It's not devastating, as they will survive and recover, but it is galling - to see plants you've raised from seed, tended diligently, watered, fed, repotted, and moved back and forth to give them the best conditions. I want to scream, swear, and thrash about - not because of this specifically, but a lot of little things (a deeply painful back, thanks to much heavy lifting, a sense of being utterly alone against the elements, the general wearing-down of life, that I've discussed before) have conspired. I'd love a relaxing evening, but my sister is coming - she texted me the day before yesterday, totally out of the blue. I haven't even spoken to her in a couple of months, so it'll be good to catch up, but she's very fussy and I'm not in the mood.

However, the new greenhouse stands unmoved by the weather so far, partially glazed, with a new, level, solid paved floor, and the first tomato plant (the 'Jaune Flammée' that first got flower buds) is in its half-growbag, in the corner, and looks very healthy. So long as there are no cold nights before I get the job finished (still a half week away), it should be fine. That's something, at least.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Moving fast

A quick update on the garden. Today I fed my tomatoes for the first time! Not strictly following the rules, I suppose - I saw good-quality tomato feed in the local discount store, so I got some, and the three trays of plants (around 50) that have been outside in the daytime (except yesterday when it was too cold) needed a boost, I thought. Several plants have flowers forming now, and you are meant to start feeding around the time of the first blooms I think (or maybe when they start to 'set', i.e. when tiny fruits form). I have to say, I thought they'd stopped growing appreciably, but when I brought them in the day before yesterday, I realised the largest were nearly knee-high! That was a shock - they are absolutely big enough to plant in their final positions already, which is on time in fact (I set the dates in my computer's calendar), but it's amazing nevertheless.

My brother visited for the past couple of days. He has a car, so I was able to buy 8 grow-bags, in preparation for the finishing of the greenhouse towards the weekend (work was halted for his visit). I haven't decided yet how to divide them up - they are meant for three plants (which is too meagre), but I will either split them, or use one per plant (I need to try both). Maybe a combination, to see which is best over the season.

Spinach, chard, shallots, broad beans, peas, flowers and weeds grow apace - a great deal of weeding, digging, planting - and a little harvesting - are the order of business in May. And my next building project: an outdoor pizza oven!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Big plate chicken (大盘鸡)

For a food blog, I haven't written much about the stuff recently! To be honest, I've been concentrating on the garden, and unusually for me, I've not been flicking through cookery books for a good few weeks. Well, I've dug out a few in the past couple of days, but this recipe doesn't feature in any of them.

In fact, this is another recipe I owe to my brother - in a manner of speaking. The last time I visited him in London (to help him move into his new flat), he recommended we visit a restaurant he'd been to before. It was unusual - focusing on the cuisine of Xinjiang, the largest and least Chinese region of China. My brother and I have long been fascinated by Central Asia and the Silk Road, so it was perfect. A review had appeared, I think in the Guardian, and had attracted the attention of my brother's colleagues. He went, and liked it, despite the spiciness and exoticism of a lot of the food.

We went, and had "big plate chicken", much the best main course according to my brother. Incidentally, I tried tripe for the first time - skewered, char-grilled, and spiced. It was flaccid and bland. But the chicken was great - rich, hot, copious. It turns out, this is the definitive dish of the region - a fusion of Chinese and Turkic. Effectively it's a chicken and vegetable stew, with spices and noodles. Potatoes and rustic, hand-drawn noodles hint at the harsh simplicity of landlocked peasant food, and the Chinese influence is felt in the inclusion of soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, Sichuan pepper and star anise. Like most of my favourite recipes, it can be altered to suit many tastes, and a lot of the ingredients are optional.

"Big plate" chicken • Dàpánjī • 大盘鸡


  • chicken
  • potatoes
  • onion/spring onion
  • bell pepper (Capsicum)
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • tomato (tinned, fresh, or puréed)
  • oil
  • chilli (fresh or dried)
  • soy sauce
  • Shaoxing rice wine/sherry/beer
  • noodles
  • star anise
  • Sichuan pepper
  • Xinjiang spice mix*
*This spice mix is a combination of cumin, Sichuan pepper, black pepper, salt, chilli powder, ground ginger, and garlic powder, ground together. Alternatively, just add toasted cumin seeds, salt and pepper to the main stew, and extra chilli if necessary.

  1. Peel and roughly chop the potatoes. Finely slice the onion or spring onion. De-seed and chop the pepper. Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or large pan. Fry the Xinjiang spice mix, or substitute spices, for a minute, to release the fragrance. Add the chicken, and brown for several minutes. Add the potato, onion, garlic, pepper, chilli, and ginger, and cook for another few minutes - do not allow to brown.
  3. Add a generous glug of rice wine and soy sauce, a spoon or two of Sichuan pepper, two or three star anise, and the tomato. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and chicken, and bring to the boil.
  4. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for two hours or more, until the potatoes are tender, and the chicken is well cooked.
  5. Add the noodles. Fresh noodles can be added straight in; dried should be rehydrated according to packet instructions before adding. Serve immediately.
notes and substitutions
  • I use chicken on the bone. Today I jointed a whole chicken, cutting it into ten pieces - halving each breast, separating the wings, the legs and the thighs. You could use chicken legs, thighs, breast, or any combination - but meat on the bone will take longer and add more flavour (and it's more authentic).
  • Most of the vegetables are optional, except the potatoes. I added carrot today, but used no onions. Any colour pepper is fine, though I believe green is most common.
  • Any oil is acceptable, as the strong flavours will overpower even something assertive, like extra virgin olive oil. Peanut and sesame are most authentic, I suppose.
  • The noodles are traditionally handmade, rough 'la mian', or pulled noodles. I've done a simple wheat and water noodle, but today I used prehydrated egg noodles for speed and simplicity. Coarser noodles work best. You could omit them, and serve it as it is, or with bread.
  • I rarely use rice wine or any alcohol - it's not essential, though will obviously add some complexity. White wine, sake, or even a dash of mirin might work as alternatives.
  • I often add a little sugar, especially if the chilli levels are too high. The spices can be adjusted up or down to your taste. I do recommend tracking down star anise and Sichuan pepper (unrelated to black pepper), however - both are widely used in Chinese cooking, featuring in five spice mix (along with cloves, cassia, and fennel seed).
It's a great dish for cold weather - rich, warming, satisfying. You can make in in the oven or a slow cooker, too - after the ingredients have been pre-fried. Slow cooking in particular renders the meat incredibly tender.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


The first broad beans are flowering well - and no sign of blackfly (yet)!

We've been very lucky with the weather this spring, though I fear we may pay for it later. It's been very dry, often sunny, and unseasonably warm on and off for weeks, as I've mentioned in previous posts. The plants are loving it - everything has bloomed and burst into leaf a week or two earlier than last year (when we had another miniature heatwave in April). The lack of rain hasn't been a problem here - heavy clay soils, and rapid growth (mainly of weeks) have kept the soil moist. I've tried to capture it with my new camera, but to be honest there's been so much going on, I've missed a few key things, like the plum and pear and apple blossoms in local gardens (including mine), and no doubt the blossom and wild flowers down the local woodland gardens (I keep meaning to go and harvest wild garlic; I need to get a move on if I'm to make it this year).

There was rain, finally, on Friday night, after a week of building heat. My thermometer registered 41.5ºC in the old greenhouse, and that's missing half its roof, walls, and door! The first batch of Cosmos is now in there, and thriving, and it's been joined by a few shallots I've yet to plant, nasturtiums, and sweet peas - I haven't got on with clearing the ground for them yet, and I've been too busy buying wood for the new greenhouse to have got grow bags (I have to bring everything home on foot, so it's a slow process). Indoors, everything is thriving - new arrivals include the first pumpkins and summer squash, which have germinated over the past couple of days. Three trays of tomato plants are now living outdoors during the day, but now the heatwave has passed (Saturday brought more temperate conditions, and night-time temperatures are set to go quite low for the foreseeable future) they need to be brought back in at night. Still, the first flowers are growing on one of the 'Jaune Flammée' plants; this is an early variety, but flowers in April is just nuts - I can only assume it's a favourable sign.

Can you see it? The first, tiny truss of flowers nestles in the centre.

The second greenhouse, meanwhile, is looking good. Today I am cutting the roof battens (which I had been mentally spelling 'batons', until I read about roofing) to size and shape, and will screw them into the frame later. I need to paint the whole frame before I attach the polycarbonate panels, and I haven't yet finished repairing the wall it's built against - and I need to do the part above the roof line before I put the roof on - or I won't be able to reach it (this is something I've learnt from my experiences with the last greenhouse project). It's tough to stop myself starting the 'glazing' now, just to see how it will look, because although it may feel like I am progressing faster, I have to do things in the correct order if the structure is to last and look good.

The wall is yet to be stripped of ferns and recoated, but the first four battens are up! (Note, they aren't attached to the wall, they are 'floating')

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Dark days, sunny days

A quick post. I've had a bad day today. Without going into details, I have suffered with depression for all my adult life, on and off. Today was a bad day. It was sunny, incredibly warm (for any time of year, let alone April), but I could face going in public - even being in my garden made me feel very uncomfortable. I did go out, but all I could manage was weeding. I wanted to go to the timber yard, and Wilkinson (for cement), but I couldn't. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

The last couple of days, however, I did get a lot done. If I'd managed to get cement (I bought the last Wilko's had, and they've not restocked since) and paint, I'd've done more, but as it was, I managed to level half the new greenhouse site, prepare the wall as much as I could, and erect the corner posts and one end wall frame. The polycarbonate sheeting arrived, so once I've finished the frame, I will be able to 'glaze' it in half a day. I am being good, and putting the whole frame up (minus the door), and painting it, before I put the 'glazing' on. I learned a lot last year, building my first greenhouse (a much more complicated project), and that, combined with using a mains-powered drill (not a battery one) and a staple gun (more on that in a future post), should cut the work down a lot.

Anyway, the weather is set to stay unseasonably warm (like, 10 degrees above average for the time of year) for the foreseeable future, so I will hopefully meet my goal of planting out my first tomatoes next Monday.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Housewife's Lament

The folk song 'The Housewife's Lament' could have been written for me! But of course, it's for everyone who has to do their own (or somebody else's) housework. I thought about it again as I inspected the slug and snail damage on my crops, and saw weeds springing up all around the garden. Coming indoors was no better - there always seems to be a sinkful of washing up to do, no matter how much or how often I stand there and scrub. Having to keep up a whole house alone does grind you down. I sometimes think about those men who go from home into a long-term relationship, without living independently in between - their mothers, then their girlfriends or wives do the domestic work for them, so they never know how much of life is drudgery. I'm very lucky to have a house to myself, of course, but I think people who don't live alone often fail to see there's a flipside. If I don't want to clean, nobody will do it for me - the dishes will sit, the rubbish will fester, the dust will stream down. That's the essence of the song, an endless, meaningless, soul-destroying strife with decay.


The heatwaves continue! BBC Weather is fairly unreliable for my location, and I think this is because it's set for the centre of town, which is on the coast. Here, just 1100 metres inland, it's often quite different - warmer, drier, and much less mist and fog. Having two south facing gardens helps (how is that possible? Well, the front of the house faces south, and the back garden slopes upwards, so gets almost as much sun, especially at the top). Having said that, the 5-day forecast looks so good, it's worth sharing (max day/min night temps): 14/9, 17/7, 16/8, 19/10, 22/11. Those are respectable summer temperatures here, where the sea moderates heat and cold alike (I suppose the night-time temperatures will be a little higher in a month's time). So far in April, there's been nothing close to a frost here - last frost dates being very important when growing tender vegetables, as I am. The reason for this is apparent in the pressure and wind stats: high, and blowing gently from the south-east. A couple of weeks ago I read that air was coming up from the Sahara, bringing dust, something which happens a couple of times a year, apparently. Well, I haven't noticed any dust (or particularly colourful sunsets), but the air is warm. Light winds make a big difference, too - especially on the coast.

So, what's happening? Despite the weeds, the garden is a good place to be now. I put pots of tulips around, to bring some colour against the green of nettles, strawberries, shallots and so on. The first variety, 'Candy Prince', bloomed from mid-March - I'd planted them last autumn. The rest I stuffed into pots before I flew to Iceland, early February, but they grew fast, and started colouring as the first pot faded. 'Purissima' were the least exciting variety, so I thought - I bought them for 30p a bag in the local super-discount store because I couldn't pass up such a bargain. Three bags, three pots. They are, in fact, gorgeous - pale cream, yellow inside, glowing things in low light, on cloudy days and at dusk. 'Blue Diamond' are short, double, paeony-like blooms in rich magenta. 'Shirley' are off-white, speckled with pink, especially round the petal edges. I love them, but they aren't fully open yet. Finally, 'Angelique' haven't started blooming yet. I tried to pick varieties that would give a long season - and I'm already determined to have more next year.

The broad beans have started flowering. Turnips, sown nearby, have germinated. I've squeezed Calendula in wherever I could. No sign of life from Jerusalem artichokes, which is worrying. If they don't come up, I'll put something else there. Strawberries are coming into bloom, as are the raspberry canes, the cherries are in full sway, and the grape vines are bursting into leaf. I get the impression everything is early this year - comparing photographs taken now and 12 months ago, the perennials seem a good week ahead in 2011. And of course, I got started on sowing much earlier, too, so the garden by June should be looking great.

And today, the first batch of tomatoes, those chosen few plants I will keep and grow here, have gone outside - to soak up the sun (and free some windowsill space), and acclimatise to outdoors (even though I hope to put them in the new greenhouse). The largest have what I think are tiny, embryonic flowers, which is startling, but I may remove them as some growers recommend, to allow the plants more energy to grow larger. On the other hand, the temptation to get an earlier crop is strong...

The chosen few: about 15 large, strong, healthy tomatoes, soaking up the sun.

The sunny weather priorities: finish the wall against which the new greenhouse is going, build the greenhouse (the polycarbonate 'glazing' panels have been ordered), and tackle those weeds! Oh, and sit in the sun, reading and drinking coffee and wine.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Taking stock

The front windowsill: tomatoes, castor beans, chayote, Lobelia and Nicotiana

We had another heatwave this weekend. I was partially bedridden with a bad cold, but yesterday I forced myself out, to take advantage - I needed to start repairing the wall against which my second greenhouse will stand. Well, I started last year, but right at the end of the summer, and the weather stopped me finishing. This wall is old, old as the house (approaching 100), and facing west, it gets a lot of weather damage. I painted it the best part of a decade ago, but the bricks are rough from frost damage, and the mortar had almost completely crumbled away in places. So I'm doing what I did to the similarly-damaged house walls last summer: scraping, brushing down, then filling up with cement ('exterior filler'), and painting to leave a rough but weatherproof surface.

The wall has to be dry before I start, and takes a good day to dry, so I need long periods of dry weather to attempt it. That's why, even feeling as rough as I did, I was at the top of a ladder, with a hawk (the flat tray on which you mix and hold plaster) and a pointing trowel in hand. I got enough done to feel some satisfaction, and a bit of digging, levelling, and sawing through the ancient privet I intend to finally eradicate this year.

Anyway, the heat was surprising. We're lucky here to get two consecutive plus-20ºC days even in midsummer, so in April it's a real bonus. It was even warm enough Saturday night to be outside in a t-shirt after dark. Sadly, the weather broke, and this morning it has rained a lot. But that's okay, it contributes to the fast growth we've been experiencing, the green that's taken over everywhere. Meanwhile, indoors, things are getting difficult. I have more plants lacking a place on the windowsill than squeezed on there, and some are starting to suffer from a lack of heat and light. So I'm going to set up a table in another room, that gets a little light, though is nowhere near a perfect solution. I simply need to get the greenhouses fixed up - not too easy without a cordless drill (the one I used to build the first greenhouse last year sadly died over the winter), but I'll have to make do (another reason I need dry, fine weather. (The preceding paragraphs were written on Monday; the following are from two days later - hope that's not confusing! I've been pretty ill).

So how many plants am I harbouring now? I though I'd do another list, to compare with this one a fortnight ago.

Basil seedlings, ready to be pricked out

Indoor plants and seedlings as of Wednesday
13th April:
  • 305 tomatoes
  • 24 beetroot
  • 61 chicory
  • 14 okra
  • 14 calabrese (broccoli)
  • 15 Delphinium
  • 7 melons
  • 142 basil
  • 1 chayote
  • 36 aubergines
  • 46 Cosmos
  • 24 Eschscholzia
  • 32 castor beans
  • 13 shallots
  • 19 nasturtiums
  • 14 mixed herbs (dill and parsley)
  • 12 sunflowers
  • 8 cabbages
  • 6 peas
  • 5 beans
  • 20 chillies
Total 818

Today I sowed the first pumpkin ('Uchiki Kuri') and summer squash ('Crookneck'), and potted up the okra; later I'll do the 'Sub Arctic Plenty' tomatoes, which are living up the their reputation and growing fast. I expect I'll hit 1000 plants by the end of the month...

Thursday, 7 April 2011


I think it's worth mentioning another love of mine, both in gardening and cooking: fruit. Specifically, soft fruit - though which is my favourite, I couldn't say; it's a close contest between raspberries and redcurrants.

I grow both, as well as gooseberries (theoretically a red dessert variety, but it always gets attacked by sawfly before it can ripen properly), white- and blackcurrants, and strawberries. As you can see in the picture above, the raspberry canes that grew last summer, and overwintered as drab, brown whips, are bursting into leaf now, and it won't be long before tiny flower buds start appearing.

In fact, these are a supreme example of serendipity. Most of my back garden was overrun by brambles a few years ago - it's a south-facing slope, that was crowned by a large Holm oak tree until it collapsed in a gale. With sunlight free to bathe the soil, and nobody around to stop them (I lived away at university, then in London), blackberries took over - reaching six feet high. When I moved back here nearly three years ago, I began carving out a space amongst them - now they are all but gone. However, the most surprising discovery of the summer of 2008 was something else growing in the bramble patch - similarly arching, prickly, with leaves that a casual observer might not distinguish. But the fruit was different - maturing earlier, to red, not black. Raspberries! They must have come from a seed - maybe in bird droppings. They not only held their own against the blackberries, but were actually winning. The following year, I pruned selectively - leaving the raspberry canes alone. I ate so much fruit - handfuls in the sunshine.

I dug some out, and left them in a bucket, meaning to replant them when the ground was cleared. I didn't, and thought they were all dead. But I was wrong - the canes in the bucket rooted through into the ground beneath, and the slope produced more canes the following summer - tiny sections of root must have remained. Last year I was more conscientious, and tied them into a framework of bamboo canes. I cut down the old ones once they were spent, and tied in the new ones (being summer raspberries, they fruit on last year's wood).

I gathered so many last year, I couldn't keep up - I gave some away to friends. This year I expect even more, as they will be fertilised and kept free of weeds. I thought I'd share a 'recipe' I hope to use them in - I doubt there will be enough for jam (which I make, but never use), or even sorbet - but cocktails are another matter (though most will be eaten fresh). Here's a drink I've made for years, which has proved popular with friends - a great, unexpected combination.

Mrs Robinson
adapted from Diffordsguide


  • raspberries
  • bourbon
  • lemon or lime juice
  • sugar syrup
  • soda water
  1. Muddle (squish) a handful of raspberries in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add a double shot (50ml) of bourbon, one measure (25ml) each of juice and syrup, and fill the shaker with ice cubes.
  3. Shake; strain into a glass with crushed ice.
  4. Top up with soda water.
notes and substitutions
I suppose other whiskeys and whiskies would be fine, but bourbon has a great flavour profile, which works really well with the fruit. Simon Difford, who originated this recipe, adds crème de frambois (raspberry liqueur), which is good, if you can get it (major supermarkets should stock it) - add a shot. Mint could be added with the raspberries, for more aroma and complexity. To be honest, it might be easier, if you intend to make a lot of these, to purée the raspberries in bulk, and add the sugar syrup and citrus juice to them to make a pre-mixed juice/syrup. Don't use a juicer - too messy. Just soften the raspberries in a pan with a drop of water over a gentle heat for a few minutes, then pass through a sieve. The balance between sugar and acidity depends on your taste, and on the fruit itself - keep tasting until it's right.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


The first hint of flowers appearing on my oldest broad beans

March was mild and dry. Round here, the past week has been much more changeable - some strong winds (doing more damage to the greenhouse), plenty of rain, and temperatures up and down. Today it's settled down again, and for the next few days, it's set fair - perfect for what I have planned.

The amount of growth outside and in is incredible. The earth, which even in mid-March was barren, covered in dry and dead grass and small shoots, is now clothed in green. Mostly it's unwelcome - bluebells, couch grass, pilewort (lesser Celandine), dandelions - but my plants, the leaves, roots, fruits and flowers, are thriving too. Grape vine buds are breaking, trees are covered in blossom (my own fan cherry opened its first blooms today), the shallots in the back garden have put on up to six inches of growth already.

Indoors, things are just as manic. The vestibule (a small, partially glazed room between the front door and the hall) is brimming with plants - and I fancy the atmosphere in there is richer and more invigorating than before (more oxygen? Highly unlikely). By the weekend, I need to have found room in the garden for nearly a dozen broad bean plants, half a dozen cardboard tubes of peas, another 25 shallots or so, and whatever else I can rush out to make more room inside. Tomatoes now number over 240 - with all fifteen varieties growing fast. The first melons and sunflowers sprouted today, joining chillies, numerous castor beans, and Delphiniums. Bananas and Nicotiana are still no-shows - I may try again with the latter, as I really want some in my garden this year.

It's suddenly possible to imagine how the garden will be another couple of months down the line - rich, green, fecund. I should be picking my first beans and peas, leaves, turnips, and maybe carrots by then - and seeing the first small, green tomatoes swelling under cover.

And I made my first significant harvest of the year - but more on that in a few days.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Silly Season

Calendula seedlings, straining to be transplanted from their plugs

April has dawned. If March was busy with sowing, it was a walk in the park compared to the next few weeks.

I started well; my academic work was done on Thursday as planned, and I spent yesterday having lunch, a couple of drinks, then shopping and attending a concert with a friend. It was a great day, completely different to my normal life, which recently has settled down into comfortable cloistered quiet.

Back home now, I have an almost insurmountable number of garden-related tasks to do. All the March sowings (with a couple of notable exceptions, as I mentioned recently), are proper baby plants now, and most will need repotting in the next week or two. Meanwhile, I keep buying more seeds! Some were planned purchases - I didn't see any point in ordering corn, pumpkins, or cucumber seeds until April/May, because I couldn't sow them any earlier. But plenty of others are impulse buys - not outrageously so, in the sense that they don't fit in the with general scheme - but I keep remembering or discovering plants I love, and want to grow. This week, it's basils. I have already sown normal Genovese basil, and some mammoth basil seed my sister gave me (both are now sprouting), but I love every kind, and yesterday three more packs of seeds arrived - 'Dark Opal', cinnamon, and Thai. I don't have a problem getting basil to germinate, and indoors, on the windowsill, they thrive - a tray of plants will give a handful of leaves almost every day for three months or more. But outdoors, it's another matter - they die almost instantly. A huge mollusc population, and less-than-Mediterranean summer temperatures probably don't help. This year, I'll try again - but I expect to have to keep them in the greenhouses at least.

The oldest tomato plants are getting pretty big now

It wouldn't be right to end without mentioning the tomatoes. Every variety has now germinated - the last ones came up overnight - and the population mentioned above has easily met my expectations - a few laggards will probably take it to around 240 in the end. That's not counting the cuttings I'm hoping to take - having read a few months ago that the side shoots will root and produce healthy plants, I knew I'd have to try it. That could foreseeably double my numbers - but I'll only do it on a large scale if I have mass deaths/I sell out all my spare seedlings. Incidentally, I have a huge waiting list of friends and family for free plants now - including the friend I spent yesterday with, who has a greenhouse that's stood empty for years. I had idly considered installing plants there last year - before I built my own - but the distance was prohibitive (it's about 2 miles away - good exercise, but more walking than I'd want to commit to for three or four months), especially for daily watering. But it occurred to me that a self-watering system could be rigged up, and in fact my friend was very positive about it, so she might tend it too - I'd give her half the produce, say. What with all the other greenhouse crops I have - melons, cucumbers, okra, chillies, and more - I need all the space I can get!