Hartley Magazine

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How do I get ahead in the greenhouse?

Greenhouse Seedlings

Jean Vernon is starting the year with fresh intentions, determined to be prepared to grow and ready to sow

For me 2021 was a very difficult year. I’d thought 2020 was bad enough but nothing prepared me for the rollercoaster ride of 2021.

I won’t go into details; it was personal, vile and extremely distressing. Somehow I managed to put a brave face on most things. I finished my second book, honoured my deadlines and work commitments. But when it came to the garden and greenhouse it was almost a total disaster. I missed peak sowing and growing of flowers but especially my vegetables. Instead I relied heavily on my perennial crops, which admittedly filled quite a few gaps, and apart from one seed sowing session for salads in spring, my only other greenhouse crops came from donated plants and one mail order disaster.

Community spirit

Cherry Tomato ‘Honeycomb’

It’s funny how good deeds have a way of rewarding you. In the midst of food shortages in 2020 and the COVID lockdown I’d made a real effort to grow more from seed and share it with my local community. Pots and pots of courgettes, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were passed around to newbies and neighbours. It was a no brainer to me; I love growing, had plenty of seed and was fortunate to have compost too. All in short supply for many others. As the traumas of 2021 unfolded, sowing and growing were casualties, daft really because they are extremely beneficial for my mental health, but just functioning from day to day was a struggle and thinking about harvest and summer produce was very far from my mind. A kindly neighbour furnished me with a dozen tomato plants. And these at least have produced a decent crop. I can’t remember a year when I didn’t have wigwams of beans, courgette gluts and salad galore, except this one. My single salad sowing produced a salad a week. Enough leaves to create a bowl of leaves of delightful taste and aroma. But that was it.

Get ready

Greenhouse Lettuce

This year is going to be very different. And that’s because I am ready. I am ready for whatever it throws at me, I think. I’ve made some sound preparations too because my raised beds are clear and ready for the new crops. I’m laying a thick layer of leaf mould over the top of the raised beds; I’ve got a pile of garden compost to add too, so everything that gets planted has the best possible start. I’m tying up the raspberry canes so I can move around the plot easier.

The herb cuttings in the greenhouse are ready to pot up.

The perennial kale and leeks are still producing valuable greens. There are seeds, seedlings growing in the greenhouse and my seeds are here already, so no out of stock alarms for me. Well, as long as the dog doesn’t chew them up again.

What’s new?

Greenhouse Wild Rocket

Like every gardener I like to try new things to grow and this year I’ve taken a leaf out of Mark Diacono’s book Veg Patch and ordered Kai lan seeds. It’s a type of Chinese broccoli. Mark describes it as “an untidy cross between sprouting broccoli and asparagus.” Apparently you can eat the leaves, stalks, stems, flowers and flower buds. Sounds perfect for adding to pretty much anything. I’ve got seedlings sprouting in the greenhouse and I can’t wait to taste it myself.

Last year I relied on the generosity of neighbours to furnish me with tomato plants. This year I’m actually going to grow mine from seed. I saved some precious seed from a tomato taste test from Lubera – my favorite was Honeycomb, a golden orange small tomato with a flavour burst like no other – a rich, sweet, tomatoey taste. But there are hundreds of different tomatoes big and small, greenhouse or outdoors that you can choose to grow.

Why seed

Seed is the cheapest way to feed your family and fill your garden. And I have no excuse because I have a fabulous glasshouse; a big garden, raised beds and I work from home. Plus I’ve been sowing and growing for …. Ahem …. Quite a number of years! But the other thing about seeds is the choice available. There are hundreds of thousands of variations of our favourite plants all sold in little foil packets of seed. It’s like a pick and mix for gardeners and because it’s affordable you really can indulge a few passions.

Choosing seed

Greenhouse Salads

I’m not going to shout about one seed supplier over another, but what I will say is shop around. Unless you have need of the pictorial seed packets that adorn displays in the garden centre, consider the smaller seed suppliers and specialists. Look for unusual, heritage seeds, organic seeds and small suppliers that offer something different. Look at the amount of seed per packet. Some specialist seed varieties, especially highly bred cultivars may have just a handful of seeds. You might find it more economic to choose something a little less exclusive. But of course it is often quality over quantity. Experiment and remember you will find plenty of growing guides online. So just have a grow.

Seeds galore

While you might not want to sow 250 seeds of the same thing this year, most seed does keep if you store it cool and dry. But think about sharing seed with other gardeners, it might mean you can grow a greater range of varieties by splitting the packets. Things like runner beans are ideal for this. Or why not grow more than you need and share (or even sell) the surplus with your community. Plants stalls always need plants and you can help raise vital funds for your favourite charities. One of my friends saves seed from her own garden and shares packets at Christmas in her Christmas cards. So I’ve got a stash of flower seeds to sow and grow for my pollinator pals too. I’ve never been so ready for a growing season and that kind of fills me with fear. What could possibly go wrong?