Trash for my garden
My dish drainer is slowly filling up with a new toy for my garden, one which I'm very excited about. To most people, it looks like I've taken to collecting bottomless milk jugs and pop bottles. All with the lids still neatly attached.

Which I suppose I have. But they are so much more than bottomless milk jugs and pop bottles. They are homemade versions of an ancient gardening tool I cannot pronounce. That I had not even heard of two weeks ago. But now that I'm immersed in seed catalogs and gardening books, I learned about the cloche and decided I, too, must absolutely have one. Or a dozen.

These are the coolest things for hopeless people like me who live in unpredictable climates. The climate zone map on the back of the seed packet can't even decide what zone I'm in...a wee little pocket of zone four in the midst of a sea of zone five. Our last frost date can be anywhere from mid-April to early June. And there are a lot of beautiful Spring days, with the birds singing and the trees budding and flowers blooming luring you to just go ahead and plant those tomatoes. After all, what could possibly happen after three weeks of it being in the seventies? Who would ever guess that you would get not only a light frost, but a hard freeze? 2007's late freeze even claimed one of our trees, not to mention a fair percentage of the harvest across Nebraska.

So each Spring, I'm torn between the beautiful weather whispering "Go ahead. Plant something. It'll be alright," and the calendar that says, "Uh uh, no way." It is barely February and fifty degree weather and greening lawns have begun to whisper to me. Nebraska cannot figure out whether it wants to be part of the frigid north or the temperate south.

Anyway, here enters the cloche. The mini-greenhouse. Placed over the seed when planted, it warms the soil to give you a jump on spring planting, much like starting the seeds indoors, but without the annoying necessity of transplanting. With the lid removed, it provides the necessary venting to keep from cooking your seedlings in the heat of a spring day. With the lid on, it retains the heat from the day to protect your seedlings from a bit of frost overnight. And if a freeze is expected, a tarp or blanket thrown over the whole lot acts as a second barrier, helping keep those precious first little sprouts snug as tomato in a greenhouse all through the night.

And if this spring goes like most springs around here, it will be quite possible that I'll have my first harvest of radishes and early lettuce before my calendar even says it is safe to plant.