Gardening: Undercover lover

By Justin Newcombe

In case we don't get a long hot summer, Justin Newcombe gives his crops an early boost.

Raising your small plants in the warmth of a cloche or windowsill gives them a head start. Photo / Supplied
Raising your small plants in the warmth of a cloche or windowsill gives them a head start. Photo / Supplied

I'm just bursting at the seams to get into the garden. In the past couple of years work commitments have meant I've not been able to take best advantage of the crucial period of early spring. But after enjoying a sunny winter weekend in the garden a couple of weeks ago, I feel as though I've really got my gardening mojo back, and it's awesome.

Now I've completed my propagation house, I'm looking forward to filling it with some of my favourite plants. The ones I'll be focusing on are the ones that only just get growing by summer's end and to my great annoyance, only produce well if we get a nice long hot summer. Number one on my summer hit list are my chilli peppers. The capsicum family come on well in late summer and over autumn and it's a real shame to see most of my chillies flounder when the weather turns. What I need to do is get these puppies up and running a whole lot earlier, so my more advanced plants can make far more use of high summer than the smaller ones usually do.

I'll be using my new propagation house but if that's a bit much for you to build this weekend, you could go with a simple cold frame. I built one earlier this year.

If you have two or three raised planters, a cold frame should provide ample space for you to be able to raise your own plants. Some of you will be lucky enough to have a big windowsill with plenty of sun. A window sill works well, partly because it's lovely and warm and partly because the seedlings are inside and in your face and nothing is more depressing in a house than dead plants in your face. A window sill however, has one unfortunate limitation, and that is space.

There are always in-ground options such as a cloche which is a frame covered with plastic, set up in the garden. That works well, although I have had trouble keeping mine tidy. The easiest cloche I've ever made is using corrugated plastic sheeting over thin bamboo hoops which are stuck into the ground, with plastic covering each end. If you have only a few plants to worry about you may find something as simple as an upturned, cut in half plastic bottle will suffice. The plastic bottle works really well but don't forget to drill some breathing holes in the side otherwise you'll suffocate your plants. The bottle can be recycled or stored and reused to prolong the other end of summer.

That just leaves what it is I'll actually be planting. I've mentioned chillies and capsicums. I could plant tomatoes but I'm loath to force these as I'm always terrified of my garden contracting a serious blight outbreak. I've got some kumara in a pot of pumice which are starting to shoot away and will hopefully be ready to plant sometime around late September.

The plant I love to grow and eat, and which will benefit the most from using a propagation house, cloches or a windowsill is the aubergine.

- NZ Herald

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