Friday, 31 August 2012

What to grow in your Greenhouse


So you have a greenhouse.  Now comes the problem of what to grow in it.  Sure, you can think of all kinds of things you want to  try your hand at.  Probably some exotic things as well as the regular mundane things.  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Greenhouses are just naturally humid most of the time and not all plants like that.  A screened opening in the door plus a screened window at the opposite end will keep that down as much as you can expect but if you are not careful you can end up with plants too close together and with the dampness they can have problems.

What do you want to grow?  Make a list of those things and beside each item make a note of the cost to purchase these items and perhaps even a note of why you want to grow them.  It will also help if you make a bit of a sketch of the "ground area" of the greenhouse and draw in how much space each item will take up.  You might want to check out "Square Foot Gardening" as that is one way of making the best use of limited space.

Next you should study the list and decide which items are worth taking up the valuable space you have available, and how much of your space you have to devote to that planting.  Also think about how much of that particular crop you want or need.  And do you just want some good stuff to eat as it develops or do you want to preserve or store some?  Of course it depends on the size of your beds and your greenhouse, and also some people use raised beds that are not on the ground but are really raised up and easy to tend without bending over.  With this type of bed you need really good soil and it has to be fairly deep.  I have never used this type of bed as I prefer a raised bed with the bottom on the ground.  For ease of reaching to plant and weed my beds are 2' wide.

First on your list should be the items that cost the most to purchase and are your favourites.  Things like potatoes?  Well, one plant won't take up much room - if you have lots of room to spare, and early new potatoes are great.  However, they are usually quite inexpensive to buy and I don't think the extra flavour from home grown is that great that you should take up much room with them.  They do well out in the open and use up lots of space.

TOMATOES are high on my list.   You should be able to be picking tomatoes when store prices are still very high and even when they are lower in price they are seldom as tasty as home grown ones.  Remember they will need support and if you keep them pruned they will probably take up 2' of bed space.  If your rafters are on 2' centres like mine are, then you can put a galvanized nail or hook into the rafter and hang a string for the tomatoes to support them.  Lots of varieties, and when you look at the list you will see some are more "meaty" (less seeds)than others.  
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PEPPERS are another crop that is usually costly in the stores but you can grow yourself.  Keep  in mind they like lots of sun but are fairly low growing so I would plant them on the south side.  Do you like them hot or mild?  Long or bell?  I found yellow banana peppers grew well for me and were mild, not hot.
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CUCUMBERS are often favourites to grow as you can pick from a large choice  of varieties.  They also do well growing on strings hung from the ceiling/rafters.  I have found that many of the varieties sound good but will take a while to produce then give you an over abundance for a short time and then quit.  They are also quite inexpensive to buy.  Lots of varieties to try - long, short, round, burpless and more!
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CARROTS don't take up much room as you can plant them in between the tomato plants.  They are companion  plants to tomatoes so that works out well.  Pick the right variety and you can end up with juicy, crunchy sweet carrots that taste great.  The come in "normal" type like Nantes or you can choose "baby finger" type or even purple ones!  Many to choose from.

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BEETS do well in the open garden.  I grow some in the greenhouse but I think they do better in the open.  However, you can get them going quicker inside and have an early crop sooner.  And don't forget to try "cylinder beets" - they slice into nice diameter slices for pickles.  Then again you might want to try some of the other kinds...check them out!

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PEAS take up quite a bit of room, often get mildew from the humidity but I like to grow some as you can put them in very early.  Try some as soon as the danger of heavy frost is past.  On the coast I have started them as early as February with good success.  If the soil is still cool it would be wise to sprout them inside the house before planting them out.  You might find they tend to grow  much taller in the greenhouse than it says on the seed package.  My 24"peas grow to over 48" and for support I use wire mesh.  It sure is nice to have an early feed of peas!  Of course there are many different varieties of snow peas,  snap peas and shelling peas.
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STRAWBERRIES!   We like to have a small patch of everbearing strawberries in the greenhouse as you get fruit earlier and the birds don't get them.  They also taste better than the giant ones we get from California or Mexico.  And you know what has been put on them in the way of chemicals!
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CANTALOUPE can be grown but WOW!  do they ever take up space!  If you want to try them, I would suggest making a support rack against one wall and when the plant starts sending out vines just guide the vine onto the support.  You could put the support about a foot or two above the level of the dirt.  This also helps keep the fruit clean and away from "critters".  Let the fruit grow until it is to the stage when you can smell the aroma, then gently lift the cantaloupe up and if the vine comes off easy it is ripe.  And GOOD!  You will be amazed at how good vine ripened cantaloupe can be.  On the coast we need to choose an early ripening variety due to cool nights.
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RADISHES are something that grows quickly but they are inexpensive to buy and how many do you really need?  Instead of a row of radishes, try planting them with your carrots.  ???  Yes, they make dandy row markers.  It is hard to see where the rows of carrots are, but if you drop a radish seed every couple of inches they will pop up quickly so you can see where the rows are.  And talk about a lot of varieties!  Long, short, red, white, purple or pink - take your pick!
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BEANS do very well.  We grow some purple bush beans (they turn green when cooked) and find you can get about 6 beans in a 24x24 area.   Does that sound like not enough?  You would be very surprised to see how many beans you get!  You will need to pick them every few days as they do produce a lot and quickly.  Depending on how many people you are feeding you might want to do a few more plants but you can bag them in the fridge to accumulate enough for a meal.  For the two of us (Gramma and I) we can keep a steady supply on hand easily with just a few plants.  Many other varieties of green or yellow bush beans - even speckled.

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BRASSICAS can be grown inside where the dreaded cabbage moth won't get to them but you can end up with club root and really - are cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli that expensive?  
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Don't be afraid to try different things but remember to check to make sure things are compatible.  There are lists of COMPANION PLANTING available online.  And I found out the hard way that some things should NOT be planted after others have been planted in that area.  Strawberries are fussy about that I believe.

NOW - get out the seed catalogue or go online, check out varieties and see how long each one takes to mature.  Buying plants works good but often the choice of varieties is limited.  Possibly you can find a place to start a few plants yourself inside the home. or maybe a heated garage with a window.


Thursday, 30 August 2012




Everyone (I hope) knows what tomatoes are and most people really enjoy them.  They can be one of the most satisfying things to grow.  Home grown always taste the best.  When you look at the tomatoes in a grocery store it is hard to believe there are some 7,500 different varieties grown.
The picture above shows red tomatoes but in reality there are different colours of tomatoes.  
Some are very dark colour and some are yellow.

When looking to grow tomatoes, you have to decide what size tomatoes you want to grow.  If you want big ones for slicing you need a variety that promises large fruit.  Very large ones are good for  slicing but smaller ones are sometimes better for general use and small ones may be better for you if you are going to can/preserve them.  For eating out of hand or in salads many people prefer to grow cherry tomatoes.

One important thing you have to consider is what size plants you want to grow, and that often means you have to figure out how much room you want to put aside to grow them.  And I don't mean just how much space they take up but also how tall they will get.

For tomato plants that don't grow really tall, you have to look for "determinate" varieties.  This means they will grow to a genetically pre-determined height and then stop growing taller.  Then there are determinate varieties that will grow very tall.  Would you believe as much as 25 to 30 feet?  I kid you not!  In commercial greenhouses they often have strings going from floor up to the ceiling, over a pulley and back down to the floor.  A friend of ours grew them this way and as the plants produced fruit and it ripened, they would pick the fruit and when the fruit area on the plant got too high from the ground they added to the string (one end attaches to the ground or plant and the other end is tied off aside to be lengthened as required).  The plant would sag down, leaves trimmed off the lower area and the stem coiled around the bag of shavings he grew the plants in.  Each time the plant grew it was lowered so the "working area" of the plant was at comfortable height to deal with.   It was a hydroponic operation - not what everyone likes, but it is mass production.

Determinate Tomatoes
These varieties are  popular and are often allowed to "grow wild".  By that I mean they are not pruned and will send sucker shoots out at the joint where a leaf grows out  of the main stem.  You will get more tomatoes but generally they will be smaller than indeterminate types.  You can prune them and I believe they produce slightly larger tomatoes and a bit earlier this was.  Tomatoes that are not pruned will have a lot of side shoots that develop into vines like the main stem and each side shoot will produce tomatoes.  They are hard to stake up so are often just let grow and kind of fall over.  They often get to be a tangled mess of vines and tomatoes where some get hidden from view and can start to rot.  Many determinate tomatoes are used in pots on patios.

Indeterminate Tomatoes
These are the ones that can grow and grow and grow.  As long as there is light and heat they seem to be happy to keep producing.  Oh yes, and they must be pollinated - either by insects like bees or you have  to get out with your little soft brush and "tickle" the blossoms.  To keep these plants from growing into an unmanageable tangle you should nip off the suckers.  Those little shoots that keep coming out at the junction of leaf and main stem.  If you start some plants early in the season you can let some suckers grow until they are 3 or 4 inches long then nip or cut them off and put them in well moistened soil and they will send out roots and develop into nice plants.

Indoors or outdoors?
Most garden tomatoes are grown outdoors, but growing them in a greenhouse has many advantages and a few disadvantages.  
ADVANTAGES-  You can start them earlier, they are protected from hail, you can work on them in any kind of weather comfortably, and they are protected from predators.  On the coast we are plagued with blight that comes with the rain.
DISADVANTAGES- You are probably limited for space, therefore the number of plants.  Cost of a greenhouse can be a problem too.  (See my blog on greenhouse building)  I sit here pondering what I can list as another disadvantage.  Some people think the ones grown outside taste better but I have not found that to be the case. Ahhh yes!  You have to be careful what varieties you choose as some are more susceptible to various diseases etc. and don't do as well inside.

I have been growing tomatoes in a greenhouse for many years and one of the varieties we like for large fruit is "Super Fantastic" which has quite large fruit.   Another one that has slightly smaller fruit and does well in the greenhouse is "Vendor".  It has a sort of heart shape, being slightly pointed on the bottom (blossom) end.  

Speaking of "blossom end", one of the main problems people have with tomatoes is "Blossom end rot" and one of the causes is lack of calcium and/or inconsistent watering.  Also affected are melons, squash, pepper and eggplant.  There are a number of ways of adding calcium.  Some suggest the addition of lime but I prefer to use "Diatomaceous Earth.  You can purchase in in many garden shops but it is much more economical to buy it in a Swimming Pool Store.  It is used to filter water.  It is non-toxic, made from Diatoms.  (google it!)  Another thing that I find to be very good for tomatoes is Mushroom Manure.  This is the residue left over after mushrooms are grown.  It contains no weeds and is organic in nature.  When planting my tomato plants I dig a hole quite deep and put a couple of trowels of MM in, cover with a bit of soil then put the plant in.  And I like to plant my tomatoes quite deep.  If you start with a plant about 6" or more high, I would nip off the leaves near the bottom, leaving only a few small leaves at the top and bury all the bare stem.  The plant will send out roots all along the stem & you will get a stronger healthier plant.  If you find the plants at the garden shop are quite lanky don't let that scare you.  You can do the same thing - bury the stem.  If the plant is quite tall, say 10 or so inches, you do it a little differently.  Dig a sort of a trench to one side of the hole, put in your MM and lay the plant on it's side with the leaf part sticking up through the ground.  All the stem underground will develop roots and give you a great plant.

How do you support your plants?  Tomato cages work for smaller plants but if you get a really loaded plant (lots of fruit) they just won't cut it.  You will have to support the cage with small poles or strings from above.  If you are growing them in a greenhouse you can use the rafters to tie your strings to.  And if they are indeterminate plants be prepared for the plant to grow to the roof!
I find staking strings (I use binder twine) to the ground next to the plant and tying the other end of the string to a rafter works best for me.  As the plant grows I simply guide the plant around and around the string.

As your tomatoes ripen, watch for that nasty blossom end rot.  It is hard to detect until you turn the tomato to see the underside or blossom end and if you are unlucky you will find a part of the tomato is a bit caved in and turning black, soon to rot.  Cut the tomato off and discard into your compost bin.  If you see some tomatoes cracking as they ripen, I would suggest picking them an sitting them in a cool area to ripen, checking daily to make sure they are not rotting.  That works for normal size tomatoes but if you are growing Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes you may find they are a bit susceptible to cracking as soon as the start to redden.  To avoid this I find picking them when they are not quite ripe and not cracked then laying them out in the cool.  They ripen and still have good flavour.

Tomatoes don't store well and go bad quickly.  WRONG!  This only applies to ripe ones.
If your growing season ends with lots of green tomatoes, sure you can make Green Tomato Relish and if you go to I am sure you can either find the recipe there or Jax will get one for you.  But if you prefer to keep eating great tasting garden tomatoes you can wrap your green ones in newspaper and put them in boxes until they ripen.  We used to do that but found that they did just as well by putting them on a shelf in a cool place on either cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper they would ripen just fine.  The advantage to doing it this was is you don't have to unwrap then re-wrap the tomatoes every few days.  You just go to where they are and pick the ones that have ripened.  Some will probably start to rot due to a blemish you didn't notice but at least they don't damage others beside them. (leave at least 1/4" between them when you lay them out!)  
And if you want tomatoes all winter long, then you get seed for "Long Keepers".  That is the name of the variety and I have had them stay good through the winter into spring.  As a matter of face I once had a couple that didn't want to ripen even when put in a warm area or after I moved them to my heated plant starter box.  I was going to put them in the compost (I am not fond of fried green tomatoes)  but cut one open first and found the seeds inside had started to sprout!.  I picked out the seeds and planted them in starter pots and soon had dozens of new plants.  I had so many I took some to the food bank.  The reaction there was "what are we supposed to do with them?" so I told them to give them to the people so they could grow some food themselves.  

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of varieties.  Some are new and some are heritage types and you have to read about them to decide which is best for you.  Are you going to make sauce?  Then you should consider Roma types.  They have less juice and need less processing to get them to sauce stage.  If you are to preserve them for use in things like spaghetti sauce then the size is not really important but remember it is easier to peel large ones than many small ones.  Gramma Janet stews tomatoes with peppers, onions & garlic.  If you are going to preserve them to use as we do - a bowl of stewed tomatoes for lunch (with cheese & vinegar) then small ones (larger than cherry tomatoes) are good and you can cut them into quarters to fit the jars nicer.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Greenhouse - Part 2

Greenhouse - Part 2 
How it looks 4 months later

 May 20th - The beds are filled with purchased soil, pavers laid in the walkway to keep it tidy and clean.  Door has been added.  four tee bar fence posts in the shape of a tee pee are for pole beans.  Raspberry canes are planted in far bed, strawberries in middle bed.  Tomatoes are in the greenhouse.

After a month the tomatoes are growing nicely.

Bush beans first on left, then beets and carrots, more bush beans and then at the far end, peas.  The peas are Green Arrow, supposed to grow 24" high but they hit the roof.

In the outside beds, the squash are doing nicely, the scarlet runner beans are climbing, and the volunteer potatoes are thriving.  (sprouted potato peels from the compost bin).  

2 Weeks Later - It is amazing how much everything has grown...

One month & 3 days Later - The squash are taking over !!!  It totally choked out the smaller plants and corn and climbed up to the roof.  After it went another 4' across the roof I finally had to start trimming it all back!

 Inside the jungle I found a number of squash - this one was the largest.  As you can see in the picture below, it is now over 10" across.
 The vines have started dying back and have been severely cut back.  In the pictures below there are about 6 squash in the pathway plus the 3 roof climbers and 3 more on the ground .  Not bad!

TOMATOES!!!  Dozens of tomatoes and we have been eating lots of them!
One of my favourite varieties is "Super Fantastic"...  Tried and true!  You will notice the cherry tomatoes at the left and carrots between the tomato plants.  Companion planting, Carrots and Tomatoes get along very well.  The red saucers - well, Lee Valley Tools were offering red plastic sheeting to use as a mulch and claim they tested it and it improved yield by 20% better than plain plastic mulch.  I don't use plastic mulch but I put plastic plates down to help reflect red light up to the plants.  Can't say how much it helped because I didn't plant any without the plastic.  However, we are pleased with the crop!

Other Stuff in the Greenhouse - 
I won't bore you with more pictures but our purple bush beans (they turn green when cooked) are producing a bumper crop that I share with the Valley Seniors and other friends & family.  The carrots didn't get as big as I expected but it might be the variety.  I planted one Everbearing Strawberry plant to see how it would do and also see if I could get a runner or two from it.  Well, it produced a few berries and about a dozen plants on the runners.  
The peas produced nicely, our cylinder beets were good, some made into pickles and more to come.  Our Egyptian onions are doing great.  The main plant has more sprouts around the edge which means more seed onion next year, and the half dozen seed onions I planted are now a couple of inches tall.  I will harvest the seed onions from the stem tops in the next few weeks and will plant them out to use as green onions (they develop quickly).  If you have never heard of these onions they are also called "walking onions".   Google it!

If you build a greenhouse I hope you get as much pleasure out of it as I do out of mine, and as much produce as well!  


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Building a greenhouse (without going broke)

Build a low cost Greenhouse 

Over the years I have built a few greenhouse "on the cheap" - aka - inexpensive.  I learned a few things the hard way and if you are looking to build one perhaps I can offer a few hints.

SIZE - Decide ahead of time how large of a greenhouse will fit your needs (of course) but also keep in mind that to keep costs down you have to plan to use basic material sizes.  What I mean is, plan on using say a 2x4 8' long instead of 8 1/2' long - because that extra 6" means you have to buy a 10' 2x4.  Big difference in the cost!

MATERIAL - You don't really HAVE to build a greenhouse out of glass.  Or acrylic panels.  If you go to a garden centre you may find one that has "greenhouse plastic" to cover the roof and walls.  Very expensive. And the  first time I covered mine with that expensive plastic it cost something like $125 for enough to cover it.  And to make matters worse, it never came close to lasting the 5 years it was supposed to, but cracked and deteriorated in certain areas that I think must have been because the supplier had it stored with the end of the roll in the sun.  My previous greenhouse was 27' long, which was a mistake as I never thought about the length of  plastic I would need to cover it.  25' would have been just fine and the plastic that I used was available in 100' rolls.  You DO NOT need to buy the expensive stuff - go to the lumber yard and buy a roll of  6 mil VAPOUR BARRIER.  It is protected  with ultra violet inhibitors to stop reduce sun damage.  (Don't ask me why vapour barrier in the walls has to have ultra violet protection!)
Locally, here in Duncan, I can get a 102" x 59' roll of 6mm Clear Poly Film for about $36 (plus tax).
Larger sizes like 120" are available too, but of course they cost more.

DESIGN - You may have a choice of free standing or "lean to".  My previous greenhouses were free standing but this time I was able to save a lot by doing it using the south facing wall of a storage shed as one wall.  You may be able to do a similar one using a solid fence as one wall, perhaps 6' high fence plus an addition to get it high enough to have a sloped roof.  The pictures below will give you a better idea of what I am trying to explain.

BASE - You need a base for your walls and raised beds.  In the past I have used concrete but it means a LOT of work and expense.  However, it is much more permanent.  This time I used pressure treated landscape ties.  They now make them with safer chemicals but you can also line them with plastic to keep the chemicals away from your soil and plant roots.

I  designed it so the beds would be 24" wide inside - easy to reach the whole bed that way.
Shown is the wall of the shed and the start of the raised beds.

This shows the final height of the raised beds.  The sheet of plywood leaning against the wall is 3/4" pressure treated to prevent it rotting.  I split the sheet of plywood lengthways and used it as a barrier to protect the wall of the shed from the dirt & moisture.   Plastic can be stapled to it to separate it from the dirt to prevent chemicals from touching the soil.

I decided the greenhouse was not large enough for all I wanted to plant and I also wanted to plant pole beans and raspberries so I added outside raised beds.  The left one is 24" inside by 8' long.  The right width for a row of raspberry canes.  I tried to keep the dimensions in multiples of 24" as the landscape ties are 8'.  The middle bed is 4' and is for strawberry plants.  The right hand bed  is off size being 5' inside as I wanted the right hand wall to match the wall of the greenhouse.  I am finding the 5' is OK but a LONG stretch when weeding and planting.

View of the greenhouse framework.  The shed is 16' long which fit very nicely for material lengths.  The width of it is 92" in order to have 2 beds of 24" plus the width of the landscape ties and also that fits in nicely with the rafter length of a bit under 8'.  The outer wall a bit over 4' high for two reasons - first to keep the roof slope the same as the shed and secondly the thickness of the top and bottom plate of the wall section.

The nearly finished project.  This gives you an idea of how it looked and I later added a door with a screened opening and at the other end a window with a screen.

I won't try to tell you exactly how much it cost (can't remember, my memory isn't what it used to be) hahaha
However,  it is fairly easy to do rough calculations once you figure out the size you need.  Also, prices vary a lot from one area to another.

In my next blog I will post some pictures of how it turned out and what it looked like as things grew over the summer.

Happy building!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Getting my feet wet - so to speak!

Getting Started with a BLOG
Recipe for Pickled Beets

Jax (my granddaughter) has talked me into doing a gardening blog - I am brand new to "blogging" so bear with me if I screw up - please...

I guess the idea of "Gardening with Gramps" came about due to Jax & I talking about our gardens.  She thought I could pass along ideas to other people  through this blog, so I will do my best.

Please keep in mind that I live on Vancouver Island (banana belt) where it is usually warmer and wetter than in Hinton or the prairies.  Some things done here will likely have to be done differently where you are.

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Today, August 27, 2012, I found out Jax has "inherited" a supply of beets, and they are "cylinder beets".  These often have other names like "Formanova" and others but the shape is very distinctive.

These beets don't get as large in diameter as normal "globe" type beets and may be a bit milder in flavour but they are excellent for slicing for pickles.  It is simple to have beet pickle slices all nice size rather than trying to cut a very large globe beet into chunks.  

For anyone interested in pickling beets, it is quite simple and does not require a lot of fancy expensive ingredients. Below is a recipe passed down from my grandparents

                                                PICKLED BEETS

                                                            1 cup sugar
                                                            1 cup vinegar

Boil beets until tender.  Peel & cut into slices or chunks & put in Jars.  Pour liquid over.  Put one slice of onion on top and then seal.

OR: try only 1/2 cup sugar to see if that is what you prefer.

The above recipe provided by Granny (Edith) and Grandpa (Albert) Drew