If your greenhouse is like mine at the moment, it’s full of tubs of French beans, pots of tomatoes, planters with cucumbers, courgettes and masses of salads. I’ve even been sowing a new batch of seeds late in the season to keep everything growing.
If you read gardening books and seed packets you always get the impression that there are strict rules to gardening. That’s true in many ways, you do need to ensure you provide the right conditions for things to grow, but I also believe there are 101 ways to do the same thing. Gardeners are usually very generous people, especially when it comes to advice, but don’t take everything you are told as gospel. Every garden, every greenhouse and every gardener is different; just as each plant has different needs and characteristics.
If you want to learn more about plants and gardening, try pushing the boundaries a bit to see what happens.
There are some things we can’t control and one of them is pollination. Although I’ve always pollinated my tomatoes by hand rubbing the pollen from flower to flower to boost the harvest, especially early in the season, I cant reach all the flowers. But there are some flowers that are designed to be pollinated by bees; these include peas, beans and all related plants. I do grow runner beans and French beans in my greenhouse, I find that the plants are easier to protect from slug and snail damage, and crop earlier than those outside.
To ensure pollination the windows of my greenhouse are open all summer and during the day the door is open too. Ventilation is a vital ingredient to a healthy greenhouse, but it also allows pollinating insects to come and go freely. Watching a little bumblebee climbing inside the flower of a bean is fascinating. It’s a precise action that involves agility and sometimes determination. Their prize is some nectar, tucked deep inside the flower and as they move inside the flower they transfer pollen from anther to stigma within the flower and from flower to flower too, carrying out the vital task of pollination. Bumblebees very rarely sting, and when they do it is in extreme circumstances, e.g. if you accidentally squash one. This makes them the ideal subject of study for children.
Set the kids a project over the summer holidays to see which flowers attract bumblebees and which are magnets for honeybees. Take up the challenge yourself. Help them to understand learn about the importance of bees and to look closely at these little furry creatures so that they do not fear them. Show them the tiny beans that form within days after a bee has visited the runner bean flowers and get them to help ensure all bees and beneficial insects can escape from the greenhouse over the summer.
Looking at gardening through the eyes of a child is fascinating, they notice different things, they question and they observe. Make gardening interesting and your children will absorb far more than you can imagine. A greenhouse is a great place to learn about life and a wonderful classroom for everyone.