Friday, July 25, 2014

The Greenhouse Effect

Nestling at the bottom of the garden, squashed between the fence and the vegetable patch is our greenhouse. It’s been through quite a bit in the time we have had it - footballs smashed through it, glass blown out during storms, numerous coats of Coolglass applied and removed – and it’s looking a bit worn these days: one pane of glass is held together by tape and the door has to be practically picked up to get in or out; but it is probably the most valuable piece of technology we own.

If a vegetable can be started off in the greenhouse it hugely reduces the risk of failure due to frost or pest, so pretty much everything we grow starts here: carrots, leeks, beetroot, sweetcorn, pumpkins, squash and brassicas begin life in trays or pots before being planted out at the allotment. Potatoes, garlic and onion sets are obviously sown straight into the soil, as are parsnips which never survive transplanting. And crops for the kitchen garden at home – broad and runner beans, peas, courgettes, lettuce – all start out on the greenhouse shelves to keep them clear of mice and slugs in their early days. Only radishes, rocket and spinach are sown into the soil.

Once the seed operation of late winter and spring is over, the shelving is cleared and the greenhouse becomes a jungle of summer produce. There was a time when we planted sweet pepper, aubergine and plum tomato plants but, even in the greenhouse, their fruits were slow to reach maturity and we decided to concentrate on faster growing plants – cherry tomatoes, such as Sweet Million, and several varieties of cucumber – that we could eat at the height of summer, rather than in September. A small corner is given over to Cayenne pepper plants to feed the family chilli addiction.

I cannot remember how much our greenhouse cost but I know that we got it at a cheap price in the winter from an ailing DIY and garden chain. It was a painstaking process assembling it, and it is a job for more than one person, but it has been worth it as the heart of our vegetable growing for the past eight years.

Greenhouses are generally available at no cost on Freecycle or the Friday Ad if you are prepared to dismantle and re-assemble yourself.

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