Tuesday, March 06, 2007
PEOPLE IN GLASSHOUSES
March roars in with a gust. The wind blows as if exhaled from the jaws of a fiendish dragon. Blustery winds are part of life in Aberdeen. Hang out the washing to dry, and the wind may not only blow away your underwear, but also the legendary washerwoman. Wind or no wind, the vegetable garden waits for my attention. The best place of refuge from the wind is the greenhouse --- built like a bunker to withstand the worst gales. Standing inside, you can't feel the walls move even in forty mile per hour winds. These days it's 40 degrees outside with a wind-chill, but as soon as the sun appears the greenhouse warms up to where you're sweating. Before long the vents open automatically to let some heat out. I can sit in a comfy chair and read a book, or look at the small pots with tomato seedlings, onions, coriander, eggplant and green peppers. They bask in the heat and give off a plant aroma. On another shelf a hundred or so potatoes sprout little shoots and wait to be planted. Soon the shelves will spill over with pots and trays with every vegetable to keep the kitchen supplied, and flowers for the house. By April, the ground outside should be warm enough to set out potatoes, carrots, turnips, dill, rocket, lettuce and so on. The climbing peas are already in the polytunnel, our head-start department. In May I'll bring a load of dung into the greenhouse, dig over the earth that forms the floor, and plant the heat loving plants -- tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos, zucchini -- just about everything that grows outside in Texas.
Last November Amber and I assembled the greenhouse over a couple of long weekends. It arrived as several packages of aluminum bars and tubes, several piles of glass, a bucket of nuts and bolts, and a thick book of cryptic instructions. I assembled the skeleton on concrete piers. In forty degree weather (and a windchill) Amber lifted the four foot panes into place while I secured them and pounded in the plastic glazing strips. Not that we were masochistic. November is a windy month, and we had to pick a weekend when we and our glazing wouldn't blow away -- a cold frosty weekend. When our hands grew numb we revived with some hot tea, paged through the instructions to work out the next step, and heaved more glass.
Not only does the greenhouse provide sanctuary from the cold, but our garden water supply. Few Scottish houses have an outdoor spigot, so you gather water from your greenhouse roof into a water butt, and use it for your watering.
It's evening, and after checking the forecast, I decided that it might freeze tonight, and lit up Wee Willie Winkie. That's the nickname for the greenhouse heater, a small heater that runs off a propane cylinder. With its pilot light and thermostat, the heater keeps the night temperature above freezing.
Not luxurious accommodations, says Ailsa Craig (that's the tomatoes), but they will do.