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Sian Napier

13 Jul 2023 13:52

Part 9: A throwback to the beginning of the season

 

The diary of a greenhouse gardener

 

This year I’m going to get organised ...

This is my first full year growing in the greenhouse and as mentioned above, I intend to be a lot more organised this year. I want to learn from my earlier mistakes. After clearing out all the old tomato plants, the first job on my list was to use the raised bed for over wintering salad leaves. I topped up the raised beds with fresh compost and liberally sprinkled the salad seeds over the surface, and despite their being many frosts, they germinated very quickly. The resulting plants have been providing me with fresh salad since February.

In addition, I chose a lovely selection of tomato seeds, courgettes, cucumbers and various other vegetables to germinate. I also wanted to grow some cutting flowers and annuals as well as Cosmos purity and Ammi majus.

1. Plant support

One aspect of growing tomatoes which I greatly underestimated was how much support they would need. The canes which I used initially, became totally inefficient under the weight of the fruit and the tomato plants ended up leaning haphazardly on their neighbour with the subsequent growth becoming a bit of a tangled mess. Lots of the tomatoes ended up being hidden in the jungle and were wasted as a result. This year I plan to use taller stronger canes for support and to remove some of the side shoots to give room for the tomatoes to develop. I also need to tie in new growth regularly to prevent the stems becoming bent and unmanageable.

2. Too many trusses of flowers

My second mistake was that I allowed far too many trusses of flowers to develop on each plant. Depending on the type of tomato that is being grown and the length of growing season available, it is advised to stop the plant from growing higher by pinching out the main stem when four to six trusses have developed. This gives the fruit more chance of ripening.  Not me though…each new set of flowers seemed like potential for more tomatoes, I found it hard to sacrifice even one truss in order to gain ripened fruit. So, at the end of October, I had a jungle of tomato plants full of unripened green tomatoes. To ripen the fruit, I stripped most of the leaves from the plants to allow more sunlight to reach them and this did work to some extent. My plan was to use the green tomatoes to make chutney should this fail. Which it did, as an unexpected sharp frost turned the whole lot, the fruit and plants to a soggy mush. They all ended up in the compost to be recycled for the future. Hopefully the growing season should start much earlier this year, giving me more time to train the plants properly.

3. Read instructions carefully

Read labels before buying chilli plants. One of the budget supermarkets were selling magnificent chilli plants last summer. They were lush, healthy and laden with fruit and a total bargain at over less than half the price of the puny ones being sold in the local garden center. When ripe my eldest son and I decided to use one to make an authentic curry. One mouthful and our eyes were watering, mouths on fire and our lovely curry inedible. When I inspected the label on the plant, it said “hottest chilli in the world”. I doubt that is true, but they certainly beat me. I shall be choosing a couple of medium and mild varieties to grow this year.

Time to get started.

I spent a very productive afternoon cleaning out the greenhouse, removing all the frosted plants, dead flies, and cobwebs, ready for a new growing season. The raised bed was topped up with fresh compost, where I sowed a selection of mixed salad leaves to enjoy in early spring and to my delight they germinated quickly despite the long succession of frosty nights.

 

Sowing the first seeds of the year…

This is my first full year growing in the greenhouse and as mentioned above, I intend to be a lot more organized this year. I want to learn from my earlier mistakes. After clearing out all the old tomato plants, the first job on my list was to use the raised bed for over wintering salad leaves. I topped up the raised beds with fresh compost and liberally sprinkled the salad seeds over the surface, and despite their being many frosts, they germinated very quickly. The resulting plants have been providing me with fresh salad since February.

In addition, I chose a lovely selection of tomato seeds, courgettes, cucumbers and various other vegetables to germinate.  I also wanted to grow some cutting flowers and annuals as well as Cosmos purity and Ammi majus.

The first tomatoes and chillis

The first tomatoes that I sowed were Moneymaker, along side some chillis called Fresno mixed, they are supposed to be a medium heat, not like the volcano hot chilis that I grew last year. The chillis were sown directly into pots, the tomatoes were sown into a seed tray. I filled the seed tray with potting compost and the seeds sown evenly over the surface. A 5mm layer of compost was sprinkled on top and this gently pressed down to allow the seeds to have good contact with the compost. A gentle watering using a rose on a small watering can meant that all the seeds were adequately irrigated without the seeds all being washed into a corner. A recycled pane of glass from one of my clients’ old greenhouses was then placed on top of the seed tray and pots to act as a propagator.

Seedlings

The tomatoes started to germinate at about 10 days, despite there being several overnight frosts, which was pleasing. Once the seed leaves started to touch the glass, it was removed and the seedlings allowed to develop. They grew very nicely and once they developed their first set of true leaves they were carefully potted up into separate pots with fresh compost. I used a dibber to make holes in the fresh compost in order not to damage the delicate roots, handling the plants by their seed leaves or, cotyledons so that the fragile stems also remain intact. The reason for potting the plants individuually is to allow room  for growth, for both the roots and the leaves. Seed trays are usually too shallow to allow for adequate root development. Going forward I will probably sow fewer seeds, as I ended up with seventeen tomato plants of the same variety. However, this was an an opportunity to give the spare tomato plants to clients and neighbours.

The chilli seeds were not nearly as successful. There were only six seeds in the packet and only one of the six has germinated. I suspect that growing conditions still remain a little cold and overnight frosts havent helped, despite the extra protection.

 

 

Other vegetables

Meenwhile I’ve sown three more varieties of tomato, some cucumbers and courgettes. The cosmos and Ammi majus had a great start as well as the sweet peas. I am visiting the greenhouse to check on the plants daily, maybe more. To be honest, I go out with my morning coffee, if I’m home midday, I eat my lunch out there, and I do have to to say goodnight to them all.

Unwaned guests

On a completely different note, I was given some pelargoniums by one of my gardening clients, as she likes to change the theme of her summer pots every year. Each plant was dug out of large ornamental pots and I eagerly took them home to my greenhouse with the plan to overwinter them. When I went to pot them up, however, I discovered that the soil contained several Vine weevil larvae.

The vine weevel larvae live in the soil, and merrily much their way through the base of a plant, and we only notice when the plants foliage withers and dies because it can no longer draw up water and nutrients. These little blighters then grow up to be adult vine weevels which have a lovely time eating the leaves.

They are also capable of laying 300 eggs which turn into larvae , and so on. They are commonly found in potted plants which we buy in as summer bedding from growers and nurseries, but they can also infest our borders too. Luckily the larvae and insects are usually predated by other insects or birds when in a border. Whilst in a pot, they are protected, so its worth being vigilant when buying plants,  and checking for early signs of wilt.

 

Avoiding pests and diseases

I would always recommend employing good soil hygene techniques when potting on in the greenhouse. Don’t reuse compost many times as that allows the build up of pests and diseases and the soil will be leached of essential nutrients needed for healthy plants. Keep an eye out for white grubs in your compost and get rid of the whole plant and thoroughly wash out your pots.

It could have been a disaster if these little critters had infested the greenhouse, luckily I spotted them in time. The plants were destroyed and my chicken had a lovely time cleaning up the compost.

Coming soon …

On a much more positive note my daughter gave me some lovely flower seeds for mothers day. MY next project is another cuttings bed. It’s a really exciting time in the greenhouse, right now, full of potential!

1 Comment(s) on this post

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Chris Sneller

16 Nov 2023 10:44

Hi Sian
What is the size of your plant house ?

Om Sian Napier

Sian Napier is a freelance garden designer and gardener with over 15 years professional horticultural experience to build beautiful garden spaces for her clients using plants to create movement, texture and all year season colour and interest.

Follow her journey of living with a Gabriel Ash Greenhouse and learn about different aspects of growing through the seasons.

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