Keeping a greenhouse productive is a bit like spinning plates, there’s always something that needs some TLC and once you’ve got your plants in flower and about to fruit you can’t afford to neglect them even for a day or two.
By August some greenhouse crops have sung their swan song, been harvested, eaten and anything left over has been relegated to the great compost heap in the sky. Things like broad beans, many salad crops and early sown root crops grown in planters in the protected climes of the glasshouse.
But just as in nature when one plant dies another grows to take its place, in the greenhouse we need to keep sowing and growing to ensure a continuation of crops. It’s important to make the most of all the available space to reap the greatest rewards from a greenhouse environment.
Many plants are at their peak with tree like tomatoes heavy with ripening fruit, cucumbers clambering up to the greenhouse eaves, curling their tendrils around the vents and framework to support their developing fruit. These need constant attention to prevent a stop in production. Cucumbers in particular need regular harvest or the plants simply stop producing. Tomatoes can’t be allowed to dry out, or the fruit may split, drop or even develop blossom end rot.
With school holidays upon us, some gardeners harness childhood enthusiasm and encourage their children and grandchildren to help around the garden and greenhouse. Sometimes this doesn’t pay off and attention to detail may be lacking, but for some little ones the opportunity to have some responsibility and to care for a living thing is just what they need to boost their self-esteem and keep them occupied. Don’t use them as slave labour; instead get them active and involved in growing in the greenhouse.
For very young children, grow mustard and cress. It’s a failsafe crop that they can grow and eat within a couple of weeks and doesn’t need too much attention. Take a few seedlings and pot them up and grow them into full-grown mustard and cress plants. It’s fascinating for a child to see a large plant grow from a tiny seed.
Soak a few runner bean seeds in wet kitchen roll inside a jam jar. Watch the roots appear and the shoots appear and the new plant start to form. Don’t discard the bean plant, plant it out in the garden with a support frame and if we get a late autumn you should get a small crop of beans in about 6-8 weeks.
It’s never too late to sow a pot or two of salad crops and this is something children can relate to easily. Not only are the seeds quick to germinate, but also they will be familiar with the cellophane packs of salads in the supermarkets. Give them a challenge. Get them growing mixed salad leaves and buy the crops from them, minus the cost of the compost, the pots and the seed. Not only will they learn about sowing, growing and nurturing plants from seed, but they will also learn a little about business, time management and economics. Hopefully they will also enjoy eating something they have grown and want to grow more.