It’s a hard life being an amateur chilli grower, and February is the hardest month of all.
Because February, of course, is the month when the little darlings get planted. Or should it be March? Or even January? It depends a bit on which packet of seeds you read, but one thing’s for sure: chillies need both light and warmth.
Neither of which is much in evidence in the conservatory at Dixon Towers, which faces north west and lets in draughts like the Titanic let in water.
So what we need is a controlled environment. And that means a visit to IKEA to buy a chest, which we know before we set off is called an Apa. And it also means a conversation with a member of staff who isn’t keen to tell us where we might find said Apa in the flat-pack aisles at the end of the store, and who instead suggests we track it down in the children’s section.
Which, what with it being a Saturday afternoon, is knee-deep in tinies, hell-bent on obscuring the product from the paying customer.
So it’s back to the staff member, who is at last persuaded to look up the Apa on his terminal and divulge its hiding place among all the other flatpacks (what is it, some sort of trade secret?).
Home again to build the chest. Pause for speculation about why IKEA Allen keys are never up to the job.
Finish chest with aid of electric screwdriver, stand back and admire.
OK, now for the heat. Place horticultural mat in bottom of chest. Drill hole for wire in end. Remove plug, pass wire through hole, re-attach plug.
Pause to reminisce about the good old days when you had to buy a plug whenever you bought a new appliance.
Crack on with it, Dixon. We need light. Assemble fluorescent fitting and switch, in contravention of every wiring regulation known to man.
Fix gaffer tape to inside of lid. It doesn’t stick. Apply two coats of PVA glue to lid. Pause overnight while glue dries. Attach more gaffer tape to lid, fix light fitting to gaffer tape with double-sided tape. All seems well.
Place seed trays on mat, turn on mat and light, close lid and await results.
Important scientific discovery. Fluorescent light fittings give off heat. Seed trays give off water vapour. Gaffer tape does not stick to PVA-impregnated hardboard in warm damp environment.
Light fitting falls off, missing trays by a whisker.
Off to the DIY shop to buy industrial-strength pipe brackets. Drill holes in lid, attach brackets, dangle light fitting from same. Sorted.
By this stage the budget is so out of control that if any chillies do emerge in August (or July, or October), the unit cost will be on a par with expensive luxuries like saffron. Or even printer ink.
Then Mrs D sucks her teeth judiciously and asks “Don’t plants need air?”
Resist temptation to debate transpiration with someone who clearly knows more about it than you do.
Open the lid a crack, leave the chillies to do their stuff.
They’ve had all the help they’re going to get.