Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Better late and early

Greenhouse gardeners can be guilty of wishing the year away. No sooner than it’s autumn and we are wishing it was spring with barely a second thought to poor winter.

And when it’s spring, well there’s so much to do, it’s summer before we know it.

I’m as guilty as anyone, always looking ahead to the next season and planting and sowing with the hope of a harvest sooner than usual and one that lasts. But if there’s one rule or thing in gardening that should be changed or at least reconsidered, it’s this obsession with early crops. Of course if the greenhouse provides a crop out of season this is even more valuable to the gardener or grower as the equivalent crop in the greengrocer is twice the price, but sometimes we get so carried away with all the early sowings, that we forget that a late crop is just as valuable.

The seed packets don’t always help, they appear to lay down these strict rules about when a seed should be sown and although this is invaluable as a guideline, it’s not set in stone. It gives the parameters for when you will get the best from your seeds, but it doesn’t allow for the exceptions. Take cucumbers. This year I sowed lots of mini cucs for summer salads, they were doing so well until a greenhouse snail, lurking in the framework munched all but about two plants. Disaster. According to the seed packets I was pushing it timewise to sow some more. Fortunately I love breaking rules, just to see what will happen. A late sowing of cucs now finds my greenhouse full of fresh new vines, sporting tiny cucumbers with the promise of a generous harvest, while my early sown plants have cropped and cropped and are now running out of steam.

It doesn’t always work and every year is different, but if you’ve still got seed left after your main sowing, then sow some more a bit later. You can do this with most fruiting plants, but you run the risk of late summer problems such as blight on your tomatoes or the icy fingers of Jack Frost cutting anything frost tender to the ground. But at least you have greenhouse protection.

Take a risk

When you have a greenhouse you have the ability to extend the growing season at both ends, but also the chance to extend the cropping season. It doesn’t matter if you only have one pack of seed for each plant, just sow a few, it might mean lots of small batches of seeds, but if you label them well it doesn’t matter. So rather than put all your seeds in one sowing, stagger them, experiment and push the boundaries a bit, it’s how we learn about plants and you never know you might stumble across a better way to grow something we’ve all been growing in a particular fashion for years.

Money Saving

In the long run a greenhouse will save you money and keep you and your family better fed. This autumn, save some seed from some of your greenhouse plants. Tomatoes and peppers are the easiest and will provide you with masses of seed to use for your own sowing experiments next season. Pepper seeds are easy to harvest and dry. Tomato seeds need soaking in water for 3-4 days to remove the glutinous coating, then just separate each seed, place it on kitchen paper and allow to dry. Write on the paper the name of the tomato and you can even sow the seed with little paper squares next spring. The resulting plants might be slightly different, but you’ll still get a crop and you never know what you’ll discover. Turn your greenhouse into a garden laboratory, involve the kids and see what you can learn. You never know you might have fun at the same time. You’ve got to admit the greenhouse is a great place to spend a few hours and even if it’s raining you won’t get wet.