Most greenhouses are used to grow fruit, but usually it’s tomatoes. I can’t think of many greenhouse growers that don’t have a few tomato plants growing and fruiting over the summer months, but that’s not really the fruit that I mean. I’m talking about the fruit that you eat with ice cream, custard or cream and the fruit that is so tasty, delicious and organic that you can pick and eat it straight from the plant before it even reaches the kitchen.
Sadly many greenhouse owners overlook the benefit of assisting their glazed growing house to produce fruit as well as veg. We are not talking pineapple pits here, but actually why not, if you fancy growing them? It’s entirely possible and you don’t actually need a pit of horse manure to do it, but you do need some heat. If that’s too ambitious (but a challenge is a good thing), then instead start with the fruit that is easy to grow and gives you an earlier crop or some other benefit.
Those lucky enough to have a lean to glasshouse that rests against a stone or brick wall can take advantage of the storage heater effect of the wall to raise and train wall fruit such as peaches, apricots and nectarines. But even without a wall, these fruit can be grown as dwarf trees in containers or even trained along the greenhouse structure. The beauty of growing these delicious fruit in a greenhouse is that they are better protected from the fungal problems that outdoor plants are exposed to and the early flowers are protected from spring frost.
The greenhouse environment encourages the flowers to form and open earlier, but of course the down side is that the flowers, now inaccessible to all but the most inquisitive passing bee, must be pollinated by hand to ensure a good crop. Unless of course you have a compact tree in a container (preferably on wheels) that can be moved outside during sunny days and returned to the protected greenhouse for the colder nighttime temperatures. This works well in my garden and the early foraging bees adore this source of nectar and can be seen covering the pink open flowers with their furry, buzzing bodies as they gather pollen and nectar for their hives. It’s a great, natural way to feed the bees when there is a real dearth of flowers in the garden. In fact it is so successful that the small branches are soon covered in hundreds of baby peaches that have to be thinned out to achieve fruit of a decent size. It’s worth it just to have the early peach blossom that form like little party frocks all down the stems. Such a pretty spring like emblem at a time when the garden can be bare.
Strawberries are a perfect greenhouse crop, especially if you have benches and staging that will support the weight of growing bags. You can bring them into the greenhouse in January and February, grow them on, crop them under glass and then move them out into the garden for the rest of the season. You’ll get an earlier crop that is protected from most pests and the fruit really does benefit from the extra sweetness and flavour that comes with homegrown fruit, especially when it’s such an extortionate price for the equivalent in the shops. You might only have a small bowlful a day for a few weeks, but if they are organic too they are almost worth their weight in gold. Pollination is a consideration, as the flowers do need the tender touch of bees and other pollinators to form the fruit. By summer you are bound to have the greenhouse windows open regularly to allow bees free access, but do check for trapped bees in the evening, especially bumble bees. They can exhaust themselves trying to escape and if it’s early in the season, the larger queen bees need to get back to their nest to feed their babies. In an emergency you can revive an exhausted bee with a tiny drop of sugar syrup. It might be enough to save not just its life but also the lives of the whole nest and next years’ generations too.