Monday, March 21, 2011

My Top Ten Tips for Growing in the Greenhouse

As we are entering the growing season I thought now would be a good time to take a look at some tips for growing in the greenhouse. Greenhouses are great for starting off many crops, for giving some crops an early start and for some crops really the only way grow them effectively in more temperate climates. So, here are my top tips:

  1. Whilst your greenhouse provides a controlled climate for your plants, it can also provide a haven for pests and diseases. In order to prevent this make sure that you start the season with a clean greenhouse. Get rid of any weeds growing and clear out any rotting plant debris.
  2. If you have a soil border in your greenhouse, make sure that you rotate your crops as you would do in your vegetable plot in order to minimise the chance of your crops getting diseases.
  3. Give the windows a good clean with soapy water at the start of the season in order to maximise light. You may find that you will need to do this again towards the end of the growing season as the amount of daylight shortens.
  4. Whilst your seed packets will tell you to sow certain seeds directly outside, you may find that some benefit from starting in the greenhouse. For example, I usually start lettuce and other salad leaves in the greenhouse. It is worth experimenting to see what works for you.
  5. Use a propagator lid, a piece of glass or clear plastic placed over your newly sown seeds to provide them with a warm and humid environment to help them germinate.
  6. Be aware that during the summer your greenhouse will get very hot, so ventilation is vital. If you do not ventilate then your plants will wither and die. Also, weakened plants will be more susceptible to spider mite and other pests. Watering the ground can also help to provide moisture in the air and bring the temperature down.
  7. Water your plants! OK, this should be obvious, but it is easy to forget just how quickly your plants will dry out, particularly during the summer. The best times to water are early in the morning or into the evening when it is cooler. If you water in the middle of the day then you may find that the drops of water act as little magnifying glasses and cause the sun to burn your plants.
  8. For those plants that you are starting off in the greenhouse before planting out in the vegetable plot, make sure you harden them off before you plant them out. This means simply to put the plants in their pots outside during the day and returning them to the greenhouse over night. There are various schools of thought as to how long you should do this for, but I usually find four days works for me. Some people use a coldframe as a "half-way house" as they gradually ease their plants outside.
  9. Plants that are to stay in your greenhouse throughout the growing season will need feeding for maximum yield. As they stay in the same compost for several months there will come a point where there is the risk that can become starved of nutrients as the season progresses. The time to start feeding is as the fruits appear.
  10. Use your greenhouse to maximise the length of the growing season. It is a relatively controlled environment so use it to its maximum advantage - there will be some crops that you will be able to continue to grow inside even when the growing season is coming to an end outside. Salad leaves are a particular example.
Well that's my top ten anyway. I would be keen to hear if you have any more and perhaps you could share them here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Slow March to Spring

Whilst parts of the UK (some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland) have been suffering from a return to snowy conditions, here in Lincolnshire we have been having some beautiful sunny spring days. It has not been particularly warm, but the sun has been chasing away the grey of winter for a while and has been slowly, but surely breathing colour and life back into everything. It seems that there are little patches of snowdrops everywhere you look from verges at the side of roads, the banks of drainage ditches, gardens and other grassy areas. And then of course there are daffodils, which for me is a sure sign that spring is upon us.

This ought to signal the start of frantic seed sowing, but I have been a little concerned that it is still a little too cold and as my greenhouse is a little more ventilated than most I have decided to be more cautious than usual. In fact we have had a few sharp frosts over the last couple of nights, as if winter has crept back under the cover of darkness.

Not that I am stuck for anything else to do of course. I have continued to tackle the hedge. This is going to take me forever I think as I have a lot of hedge to do and it has not been touched in quite a while. As I am cutting back the height it will provide us with some firewood as a side benefit. Coniferous trees generally make for pretty poor firewood and takes a long time to be seasoned enough for burning, so it may not be ready until winter 2012. Still, no harm in planning ahead.

After an hour or so of hacking away at the hedge I decided to call it a day and spend some time generally tidying up the veg plot, before then before moving on to starting to clear a plot which will eventually become a herb garden - another big job which will take quite some time to complete.

At this time of year the only time I have available for the garden is at the weekend, the only alternative being to rig up some huge floodlights so I can get out there in the evenings! And of course I never achieve as much as I would like to as there is the small matter of children and a multitude of household tasks to be done. With each day though the hours of daylight get longer, and within a couple of weeks BST will be upon us and with it the opportunity to get out in the evening.

All we need now is for winter to be truly banished until later in the year and for the warmth and optimism of spring to take over for growing season to truly get under way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Growing Season Gets Under Way

Spring seems to be slow in getting going this year. It certainly looks like spring with bright sunshine and with a few early flowers bursting into life, but it doesn't really feel like it. I had hoped to make an early start with sowing this year, but I have been a little anxious about this as my greenhouse is not exactly well insulated so is rather on the chilly side still. Ventilation is certainly helpful in the summer, but not in early spring.

Nevertheless, I have made a tentative start. Here you can see that I have sown some herbs (basil and coriander), peppers and tomatoes. Out in the veg plot I also sowed some onion and shallot sets. I have decided to leave it at that for the time being as it is still rather cold with some frosts.

The condition of the greenhouse has not been helped by one of the goats escaping who then proceeded to chew on some plastic sheeting that I have just put up on the greenhouse to replace the missing window panes. I have no idea why she chose to chew on plastic when she had all of the greenery in the garden to choose from!

Also last weekend I brought out my rotavator to go over the veg plot - it started on the just the second attempt this time which is much better than usual. So I am all set and ready for more sowing. We just need it to get a little warmer!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Greenhouse Repairs, Hedge Trimming, Potato Chitting and Lots of Rain

This weekend just gone I had good intentions of doing loads of useful things in the garden. The main thing I really had to make a start on was cutting back the hedges. We have several hedges all of which are getting very overgrown and the farmer who owns the field next door is starting to complain as it is starting to impede access for his tractors onto the field. The last time it was done we paid someone to do it for us. However, it is getting much too expensive, so I have bought a hedge trimmer attachment with the intention of doing myself. Unfortunately funds won't stretch to a chainsaw at the moment so I am stuck with cutting back the height by hand. This is a job that is going to take a very long time, so I will just have to do a bit at a time. The field was a bit of swamp with the recent rain so it was difficult to trudge my way through the mud to get to the back of the hedge. After dragging round a wheelbarrow, a couple of saws, the hedgetrimmer and a ladder round to the back I started on the hedge and it immediately started to rain. I persevered for a while and managed to cut it back a bit before the heavens opened and I had to admit defeat for the day.

On Sunday, I decided to leave the hedge and to make a start on repairing our improvised greenhouse. First I cleared it all out and put the spent compost in pots and growbags onto the compost heap. Then onto the repairs. This involved nailing up lots of plastic sheeting where panes of glass have fallen out. I don't want to replace the glass, partly because of the expense and partly because the greenhouse overall is quite rickety and I think I risk losing the glass as soon as I put it in. I just about managed to finish the greenhouse repairs before the heavens opened again with torrential rain and hailstones.

With no chance of doing anything outside the only useful thing I could do was to put out my seed potatoes out in egg trays to start chitting. I usually put them in the greenhouse, but because it is still pretty cold and damp out there I have decided to start them off in the porch. This year the potatoes I have bought International Kidney (otherwise known as Jersey Royal if grown in Jersey) and Majestic, neither of which I have tried growing before.

A bit of a frustrating weekend overall, but at least I got a few bits done.