A year in the greenhouse

Follow the diary of a year in the greenhouse (more than one greenhouse, in fact!). Amanda Davies and Caroline Broome share their experiences of gardening under glass, and all the challenges that come with it.

An update from the Greenhouse in September

Hello Everyone,

My favourite month is here. I love the September skies, especially on a sunny evening. In the greenhouse over the years I have been lucky to keep picking tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers for the whole month and well into October. Unfortunately this year the new greenhouse tomatoes have succumbed to late summer blight. I am really not surprised blight has struck, it’s been wet and humid for a good few weeks, and it only takes 48 hours of 70% humidity to spread the disease. Even with good air circulation the dim light was taking its toll on the plants. No amount of weekly feed or careful watering could make any difference.

This is the first time I have had blight and it is devastating. I never got to try the white opal tomatoes as the plant shrivelled and died, the sweet aperitifs tried to fight it, but towards the end of first week of September the fruits were rotting and splitting on the vines.

We quickly stripped the greenhouse of tomatoes leaving just the black opal, as this tomato showed a lot of resistance and continued to produce healthy fruits for another few weeks, before it too started to split its fruits.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, the sweet peppers are still producing fruit even with the lack of bees to pollinate, a good shake of the flowers seems to do the job. They don’t want to turn red as there is not enough heat though so I have to be content with green ones. It’s been so dismal I think the highest temperature we have had has been 18 degrees Celsius. Nights are chilly too, on several occasions it’s dipped to slightly less than 10 degrees.

amandas-sept-greenhouse-1

My aubergines are thriving, I can pick a fruit (sometimes more than one) from a different plant each week. The last lot of radishes went to seed, so I am doing some more hopefully this weekend.

Things in the little greenhouse are picking up. My carrots have put on a lot of growth, I hope the colder weather will mean that I don’t get any carrot fly. the spinach beet has gone ballistic. It’s so quick to recover when I pick a few leaves for dinner. I have found though it’s best to not let the leaves get too big as they get a bit tough. Unfortunately I’m not the only one that likes the spinach there are a few sneaky green shield bugs hiding amongst the leaves. The basils are still growing, the Red Rubin is especially strong. Does anyone have some suggestions what I can use it for, as it’s too strong raw in a salad, it’s good for pasta dishes but I would like to try it in something different?

amanda-seeds

On the first of the month I sowed some seeds some have already germinated and I have included a photo (above), but the nights got cold quick so I think that I may have some failures. So far the Californian Poppies, achillea (yarrow) and sweet peas have germinated along with more basil for someone at work. However, I am still waiting for the pansy, godetia, laurentia and kniphofias. I spent ages with the old Dymo labelling machine making up the labels, as the old lolly sticks I used in the summer have run out. That’s after I used them a couple of times on each side. Also woodlice are partial to them and I don’t want them to overwinter in my pots, they can go in the compost bin or rotting hollyhock stumps instead.

The trouble is though this damp weather is starting to cause damping off, my compost seems to be turning a bit greenish. So I think other job for this weekend will be to repot my seedlings in fresh compost and try to water in the mornings instead of early evening. It’s dark by eightish now so it won’t be long before I will be coming home from work and not even going in the garden without a torch. Luckily my auntie has given my a huge candle lantern and candles to see my way.

amandas-sept-greenhouse-3

We are due some more gales and torrential rain again this week. I hope the new greenhouse stands up to it. I was hoping for a beautiful crisp autumn not an early winter!

What are your thoughts on growing Christmas potatoes? A few years ago I planted grow bags in September, by November the weather had turned so bad we couldn’t even get out after work at night to move them into shelter under glass. The leaves finally tore off after a major storm in early December but the potatoes were lovely? I ask as I am thinking of putting them in grow bags again using a red variety, but putting the bags in the big greenhouse from the beginning. Being hit by blight has put me off. I don’t know if the blight virus would still be in the greenhouse or if I will end up with blight anyway because of the poor weather. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

My new Thompson & Morgan autumn and winter, spring bulbs, and seed catalogues have arrived and I have started looking for interesting things to grow in the greenhouse next spring. The problem is I want to grow everything! I make a list and then check my seed box, half the time I have the seeds already, but I have forgotten about them. Like the bellis or rudbeckia . But sometimes an unusual variety or old fashioned plant will romance me and I know I will be on the website placing an order. Then I look at the special offers and end up buying something else. My last order was for Red Hot Poker ‘Traffic Lights’ (kniphofia) which I got, but I also ended up buying grasses. I picked lots of wavy ones. Unfortunately, I have to wait for spring to start the grasses off. I picked the grasses as our broom bushes seem to be dying off. That’s the thing with a garden, it’s never finished and it always evolves.

amandas-sept-greenhouse-4I am sorry for the slightly short blog this month, I think it’s because of the season drawing to a close. I was hoping to have more interesting things to say, but I’m in a limbo, this year has been nothing like our last few years, although I do like the challenge of these new conditions. What I had planned to write about in certain months had either happened earlier or not at all! But don’t worry I still have plans for the greenhouses in the next few months. Meanwhile I am going to find a new home for the dahlia one of my brothers bought me for my birthday a few days ago. I’ve stuck it in the little greenhouse as I don’t want it to get wrecked in the storm. I leave dahlia bulbs in the ground in the mild winters but this year guess where they will be?

Until October,
Happy Gardening.
Love Amanda x

Update from the greenhouse

Hello Gardeners,

Hope you are all well and enjoying the summer, soon it will be a time for Harvest Festivals and Halloween. I can’t believe how quickly August is going. I apologise for the lateness of this blog as I try to get it out in the middle of each month, but we went on holiday. We got on an aeroplane and flew to sunny Scotland! We spent five days there and it was fantastic.

greenhouseOur greenhouses are at their best thanks to my brilliant friend Rachel who kept an eye on things. All the plants survived our mini break and we are still picking a steady stream of aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, radish, spinach, beet, lettuce and basil. I have given away bags of tomatoes to work colleagues as well as to family and friends. I have eaten fresh food every day since the end of July and it really does taste wonderfully sweet. It’s also quite interesting to have a salad consisting of four different colours of tomatoes, bright reds of a mystery cherry tomato, yellow sungolds, dark skinned Black Opals and orange Gardeners Delights. In a few days I shall be photographing and eating my first Green Zebra ones. I can’t find any White Opals, I am wondering if this is why I have some unexplained Cherry Tomato.

Currently I have a massive flying ant problem. Ant Powder is doing nothing, thankfully the sparrows are trying to help, but if anyone has any ideas on how to combat them organically I would be hugely grateful. Sticky traps seem to help but I don’t want the bees to get stuck by accident.

greenhouseSlugs and Snails seem to want to torment me at the moment. The number I have pulled off the glass outside is ridiculous. They seem to want to crawl up the glass and through the windows then slide down the canes. I even found a slug chewing a hole in the peppers and wood lice crawled out of a hole on the other side of the pepper. Do woodlice bore holes in them? I’m not convinced it’s them as I saw earwigs in there too. Earwigs nip pretty hard if you upset them.

On returning we spent two hours in the large greenhouse removing woodlice, picking produce, tying up stems, picking out side shoots and also cutting the very tops off the plants again. There are hundreds of blooms on the tomatoes and I don’t think the season is going to allow for them to turn to fruit. Because of the damp and humid weather here, there is a high chance of blight occurring. As soon as I spot any sign of it, the plants will be uprooted. Unfortunately we have not had the six weeks of sun that we had last year. I am really hoping for a warm September and a dry October. I am in two minds as to whether or not to grow Potatoes for Christmas. Two years ago we had the worst November storms and the crop really took a battering. They did supply us with potatoes but it was too wild to and dark after work to properly take care of them. I am reluctant to overwinter them in the greenhouse as again there is a good chance of blight.

Talking of big greenhouses, when we were in Edinburgh we visited the National Botanical Gardens. The place is massive. It took us five hours to walk around it, but I don’t think we even covered it all by then! It’s best to speak to the reception staff for the seasons highlights and to pick up the maps. It’s free to walk around the Garden and only £5 per adult to go into the glass houses. We had a 2-1 voucher so it really was value for money. However, I would gladly have paid an entrance fee for the Gardens if they charged, as it really is magnificent.

greenhouseThere are ten greenhouses in all. I have included a photo of the Victorian entrance and a picture of most of the greenhouse and its plan. It’s worth visiting just to see the giant Water lilies in flower. I could talk for hours about our trip away, but apart from the Botanical Gardens it would have nothing to do with plants, unless I can include, whilst out walking near Arthur’s Seat, that I never knew, once a Thistle has flowered it seed heads are super soft. I was slightly alarmed when my Uncle Ronnie picked a thistle and said rub it under his chin. I dare you to try it the next time you see one.

 

 

waterlily

Looking on the T&M website, I realise I haven’t got long to enter the Fuchsia and Sunflower competitions, I can see there is a category for unusually shaped veg, I wish there was one for massive peppers. The biggest one I have grown so far this year is eight inches. Can you beat that?

pepper

Meanwhile in my little 6 x 6 greenhouse, the spinach beet and carrots are growing rampantly. We have seen temperatures in the high teens so nothing has bolted. The pots of foxgloves are ready for pricking out and the new basil plants can be split and put into individual pots for winter cooking.

botanical gardens

Soon it will be time to bring the Christmas cacti, the spider plant and money tree back into the house once the nights start to draw in. I plan to start sowing my winter crops in early September but for now I’m happy to enjoy the last of the late sun, and plan another mini break, I think I would like to visit The Eden Project next as we have seen both the Welsh and Scottish Botanical Gardens. Is there an Irish National Botanical Garden? When we go to Europe it always astounds me how big geraniums can grow, and I love to see all of their native plants. Once in Ibiza I saw a field of poppies growing amongst the cereals and it was just beautiful.

Until next month,
Happy Gardening.
Love Amanda xx

“Shall I water the Triffiods?”

“Amanda…is…water…the Triffiods?” Yells Mark through the glass. I can’t hear him let alone understand what he’s on about. I’m down by the patio tying in a sunflower, its way over six foot and I have to stand on the steps. He is in the greenhouse with a watering can.

“What?” I shout back. “I can’t hear you”

He says, coming out; can in hand, “Shall I water the Triffiods?”

greenhouse-aubergineHe means my Aubergines. During the last few days they have gone huge. The leaves are bigger than my hands and the purple flowers are opening. I grew seven seeds as my brother and auntie wanted some plants and then changed their minds, asking for just the harvest instead. I don’t believe in throwing things away and gardening friends had already made their plant choices so I hastily dug the four extra ones into the border next to the sweet pepper. I was saving that border for my cucumbers. I have grown aubergines in the old greenhouse and even this variety, but they have never grown this big a leaf before so early. I can’t wait to see how big the fruits might be. Usually they are normal aubergine size, I am hoping for something that looks like a baby seal this year.

greenhouse-tomatoesMy mum visits, she’s in the greenhouse inspecting the tomatoes, she asks what have a done to them. I haven’t done anything to them, other than the usual tie-them-in, pinch the tips, and feed them every ten to fourteen days. They too have shot up and Mark has had to pinch the tops as they have reached the roof as I can’t reach. The trusses on the bottom have fruits that are turning red, with about six to eight trusses on the stalk are at various stages of bud, flower, or tiny fruits. I ask her what she means, she says because her tomatoes are not that big yet. To be fair hers are outside in pots. The Gardner’s Delight are the strongest and most aggressive, they respond well to cutting and tying and I have even started to remove some of their lower leaves. The Sungolds whilst slower than last year are quickly catching up. The Black Opal and White Opal plants are forming flowers. The Green Zebra is my slowest tomato, but it seems happy enough.

 

greenhouse-radishPacked in between the aubergines and pepper are radishes. I recently read that the hotter the soil, the hotter the radish will be, I’m getting a bit worried as it’s baking in there some days, apparently you’re not meant to grow radish in a greenhouse in the summer months for this reason. Have you grown anything in the wrong season or in the wrong place by mistake? They were meant to go outside but the weather has been so temperamental I sort of forgot about them and now they are going so well I don’t want to disturb them. They take twenty five days and I wrote about them last month so they should be ready to harvest I don’t want them to go woody.

In the little greenhouse my onions are finally done. The turnip seedlings died because it got too hot, and for some reason the cucumbers have failed again. They appear to have rotted at the stems but I cannot see how as they were not overwatered. I usually go round with a mini fork to scrape back a little soil to see how wet it is underneath before watering. I did not damage the stems. There are no pests in there and everything else is thriving. Someone said to Mark that cucumbers don’t like the heat, but someone else said to me cucumbers love the heat and humidity. I did not keep the small greenhouse humid or excessively hot, so I have no idea what went wrong.

greenhouse-basilThe basil trial is well under way. Both the Lemonade and Rubin germinated well. The Rubin was showing faster growth, but the Lemonade soon caught up. They are ready to go into bigger pots before replacing the Radishes in the large greenhouse. It’s really hard not to just tear a leaf off and munch on them as they smell delicious. The Rubin smells like fresh deep basil should, but the Lemonade one smells like a lemon, basil and something sweet but not sugary. It’s really hard to explain, I would say the best thing to do is buy a pack and grow it for the scent alone.

However, my pride and joy at the moment is an olive seedling. I bought the seeds about three years ago and each time they have not germinated. Not that there is anything wrong with them seeds I just don’t think we have had enough heat. This year however I might be lucky. Mark did say “An olive? Do you know how big they grow?” Yes I do, I have been to Italy and Greece many times. They are slow growing. I think it will be many years before it becomes a beautiful gnarled tree, I do not expect any fruit from it ever as this is Wales – but if I can have an olive tree then I can have a little bit of the Med right here at home.

Next month we are visiting Scotland and our guesthouse is next to the Royal Botanical Gardens I have a two for the price of one ticket and I cannot wait to visit their glasshouse. We were hoping to visit Jimmy’s Farm in Ipswich where T&M have their trial garden but as I have several hospital visits in non-local hospitals and not a lot of annual leave left we are not able to go. I know the farm is open on the weekends but as it’s a six hour car/train journey from home I would ideally need time to rest before going back to work. I am looking forward to the photos that I hope people will post on Facebook of their visit though.

Now who can I ask to look after my Triffods whilst we are away?

Until next month.
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda x

An update from the greenhouse

Hello Everyone,

I’m writing this from the best seat in the world, well maybe not the world but definitely the best place in my world. I’m on the bench in the front garden surrounded by the warm setting sun, bird song, the bumbling of bees and an occasional rustle of wind through the poppies, lupin and corncockles. On each side of the bench are pots of nicotiana and linaria, and hanging baskets of violas, pansy and fuchsia. I have a cup of cinnamon and hazelnut coffee and a small bowl of cherries, what else does a girl need?

It’s hard to believe its June already, we have reached the summer solstice. It’s a year since my dad passed away, and the greenhouse and garden have kept me from being too downhearted. I have harvested my potatoes and can proudly say that T&M were 100% correct in saying you get a bigger harvest from their potato grow bags than from other larger ones. I harvested almost double the weight from putting single potato in each of the five bags than I did from a large bag with five potatoes sown in it. I used Charlottes for both types of bags. I also grew a large bag with five redskin potatoes which were either a Rooster or a Desiree just to see if there would be any difference in the bigger bags, but again although each spud was bigger I had less volume overall.

potatoes in the greenhouse

In the small greenhouse there is a steady turnover of radishes, peas, amaranths zinnias and the Aloe Vera’s waiting to be moved to bigger homes outside. Terri kindly sent me some Basil Lemonade Seeds and I cannot wait for these to grow. Its zesty lemon flavour should taste amazing with strawberry jelly and fresh strawberries set in it. It may even taste great in a glass of water or frozen in ice cubes on a hot summers day. My next trial will be to compare how well Lemonade grows to Basil Red Rubin.

seeds in the greenhouseNow is the time to start off foxgloves undercover for next year’s display. I am off for a week so will be sowing Foxglove Alba, as well as raiding my seed box for late summer sowing plants. As I discovered, gardening makes you think ahead, but sometimes there is so much to do, that I forget to look ahead and then look at seeds in my box in September that says sow April to June. Although the way the weather is here I can probably get away with sowing them in early July. Last year we had six weeks of constant sun from the 10th of June, this year it’s looking more like six days altogether if we are lucky.

Thinking ahead, I am looking for veggies I can grow in the greenhouses from November onwards. I am wondering if spinach, beet and possibly turnips are any good in the greenhouse. Have you any suggestions or have you growing any winter hardy veg in the greenhouse? We get some cracking winter sunshine and the last few years have been very mild.

greenhouseIn our “mahoosive” greenhouse, as my mum calls it, I have fruit and flowers on nearly all of the tomatoes, even through lack of sunny days they are about four feet. The only two that are a bit slow is Green Zebra and Black Opal, the Sungold, Gardeners Delight and White Opal are rampant. I have also put half dozen radishes into a spare corner of the greenhouse as the soil was bare where an aubergine inexplicably gave up the ghost. They are sprouting well, fingers crossed for tasty treats. There is a family competition on as my Uncle Derek has produced radishes the size of golf balls that taste amazingly sweet. I do not plan to compete with that. Do you have friendly or fierce competitions with family or friends, or grow anything unusual in your greenhouse? I would love to know.

As the months progress, I am learning so much more about the differences between my greenhouses. Firstly I understand my smaller greenhouse as having it for a number of years, I understand its capabilities. One thing that is clear though, it gets a lot less sun than I originally thought. I know it’s a great place to germinate seeds from January to early November. I know I can grow tomatoes aubergines peppers or chillies in its border and get a tasty crop with just watering three to four times a week. Secondly, the big greenhouse and I are only just getting acquainted. I realise that I chose to write a blog about my journey with this one from start to finish, but I hadn’t a clue what I was letting myself in for! So I apologies to you in advance for accidentally killing any of my plants or getting things wrong or dodgy photos, but I am only halfway through my journey and the road is a bit bumpy.

greenhouse

Whilst the greenhouses are almost side by side, the door to the big one is on the longest side of the small one so the aspects are completely different. It is ten foot, stretches from North to South so the sides get the sun from East to West the whole day. Also due to us being at the top of a hill our neighbours gardens both next door and opposite roll away from us, so the bigger greenhouse is about a foot or so on higher ground than the other one meaning the sun takes longer to go behind our bungalow giving it a distinct light advantage. The borders are a lot wider so I could have planted a bit denser which would have reduced the need for almost daily watering as I have too much bare soil. This will be rectified by the basil but it’s useless for lettuce as it’s far too hot in there. I was watching Monty Don’s Small Garden Big Dreams the other night when I realised I had a hot house instead of a greenhouse. Maybe next year I could try watermelons they like the heat don’t they?

It takes me a lot longer to complete my tasks in here not just because of the size of it, but because I spend ages thinking about light & heat, pollinators and just looking at my plants. I consider what I would like to grow, do I have the time to grow it now, or is it something for winter or even next year. I’ve even been known to take my I-Pad and a chair into the greenhouse and listen to the T&M radio pod casts whilst simultaneously writing my blog on the pretence of just checking the greenhouse. At the end of the evening I say goodnight to my plants and hope no one else hears me. It’s funny how I can totally switch off in there, and sometimes do my best thinking too. I do not regret in any way buying a second greenhouse. The only thing I am worried about is you reading a blog from someone who appears to not have a clue, but with six months to go before the end of the year, and with help from T&M’s customer service, online videos and guides and Facebook posts and their customers comments, I hope that I can learn loads more about my new greenhouse, and share it with you.

For now, Happy Gardening until next month.

Love Amanda x

The greenhouse is OPEN

Hello Everyone,

Hope you are all well? Spring has sprung; the days are getting longer and warmer weather (hopefully) is on its way.

It’s National Gardening week, and I am so chuffed that I can now, in my best Pembrokeshire Welsh accent say “I declare the New Greenhouse OPEN ! ” Not because it’s National Gardening Week, but because Mark and I have finally completed the construction of it. We have even moved the water butt to attach another hose kit so that we can collect rainwater from both greenhouse roofs. As you can see from the photo there were a lot of panes of glass to install, sixty, in fact. It took three hours as the clips kept pinging off the glass and one of us would have to look for ages to find it. I am sure some of them are still in the Rose and Herb Garden.

greenhouses

greenhousesWe have put top soil and compost into the borders the path has been laid, the edging is done, and we have even erected the new shelving, the shelving was the easiest job out of everything. One of my aunties gave us a giant lightweight wooden lantern and we have hung it from one of the beams along with a glass wind chime from my mum. I don’t think they will stay there once the tomatoes and other veggies are in place, as, even being only five foot one and a bit, I keep banging my head on them.

As yet the part of the shelving is still in the old greenhouse as I have had so many seedlings to transplant, I am sort of moving things between them until I know what is going where and when. So far in the new greenhouse I have one set of shelves a mini spade, trowel , fork, and plant feed pellets, five pots of overwintering, soon-to-be-moved-out pots of Strawberry Sweetheart’s, seven bags of potatoes, two large blue terracotta pots of sunflower “Colour Parade” and stocks “Sugar and Spice.” I am wondering if this might be a good planting combination. I want something to take the attention away from the sunflower stalks for a while.

I am really looking forward to the T&M Sunflower competition, not that the blue pot combo will be entered as a photo, I have a totally different plan that I hope will work, but sorry, I can’t share that one with you! All of the above plants are being hardened off at the moment, but our weather is still a bit unpredictable. Last week we hit twenty two degrees Celsius only for it to drop to nine degrees by the end of the week. We haven’t had any frost but the winds have been blustery and cold.

greenhousesAfter looking after me last month and doing the hard graft, last Saturday was a chance for Mark to do what he loves the most, joining his friends from the club on a metal detecting rally, this meant I had the garden to myself! Selfish I know, but I love this quiet time, just the birds singing, and insects buzzing, I spent a good half hour just walking around the garden, seeing what was in bloom, and what needed attention. I then decided to construct a pea wigwam using canes and string, the garden peas have really shot up. Next I transplanted some mini plugs and earthed up and fed the spuds. My friend Rachel arrived with a selection of tomatoes she grew from seeds, including White Opal, a wise man once said “A generous Gardener is never poor.” And I totally agree, so in return for her gift, she had a pot of baby lettuces from me. This wise man’s saying has now become a motto for me, I love sharing and swapping plants with people. For a long time I admired my next door neighbour’s poppies, one year he was getting rid of some them and he gave me a slab of the root cuttings, he said “I don’t know if they will grow my girl, but bury them in the ground and see what happens.” They did grow and they get stronger every year. What’s the best garden swap you have had?

I possibly may have germinated too many seeds, I have at least two hundred Amaranthus seedlings, I bought them from T&M a few years ago and they are beautiful. I love the burgundy leaves, and it’s worth growing them for the foliage alone, but come midsummer they will produce a soft feathery spike that can stand up to anything the weather throws at them. Each year I collect a spike of seeds and keep it to sow the following year. The seeds are loved by the birds too so I have to be quick. I held back and only planted around ten radishes; this is because I don’t know if I like them. I haven’t eaten them since I was a child and I was convinced the little red thing in the salad bowl was a cherry and I had to have it before my brothers, so I put the whole thing in my mouth and it practically blew my head off. We were having lunch with some people and I was too polite to spit it out. I never tried radish again, Mark likes them though so I am giving them a go.

I also have a second sowing of peas, fifty or so sunflowers, seven aubergines, and some Zinnias that I had free with a magazine. I also have 300 mini plugs. HELP! I am not very good at thinning out seedlings; I tend to keep them all potting them on and give them away when they are bigger.

greenhouses

I received five plug plants from Terri at T&M of Fuchsia Garden News. I potted them on straight away as they were so robust that the roots were trying to escape through the packaging almost. It’s quite exciting that there is a Fuchsia Festival, I have learned so much about these shrubs from the information on the website.

greenhousesWriting this blog has made me realise I need a plan. Each evening after work I have spent an hour in the greenhouses potting on, watering, or plant labelling but it’s on the weekends that I really have to pull my socks up and do some serious work. I usually try to dedicate an afternoon just for gardening. My diary helps as it has a section to list my to-do tasks but I think a more detailed plan is needed, so a sheet of A4 paper and a pen is needed. Do you plan what to do in the greenhouse, or do you just get on with tasks in hand?

I am hoping that by this time next month I will have even more greenhouse news to share with you. Fingers crossed that the tomatoes are big enough to be put in their final beds, with their growing frames neatly installed, I hope that the aubergines have got bigger, that I have eaten my first lettuce leaves with radish or white onion and cheese sandwiches. The rhubarb whilst not in the greenhouse should be ready for pulling, and I can stew that to make a jelly or just have it with custard. This is why I love gardening, the anticipation of what’s to come. Is there anything you would like to see more or less of in my blogs? I love having you feedback, please send me pictures or comments on how your greenhouse/garden is doing. I would be really interested in what you have achieved.

Until next month,
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda.

The good the bad and the ugly – update from the greenhouse

Hello Everyone,

greenhouseWhen I started this blog in January, I promised you the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, this month is the bad and the ugly. Things had been running smoothly. The frame of the greenhouse was completed, the window vents installed, the soil was on order and the seeds were germinating on the kitchen windowsill and in the smaller greenhouse. Then I went and caught viral labyrhinitis. A middle ear infection that makes the world spin round, and not just a little bit either, three solid days of not been able to stop the movement. It’s impossible to do even the most simplest of tasks such as get out of bed without falling. I can’t walk to the bathroom without help and I can’t even read as a tiny bit of eye movement makes it 100% worse.

greenhouseA trip to the doctors for some anti sickness medication nearly kills me. I spend the next week staring at the walls with sunglasses on. The second week I start to feel better, because I am partially deaf it’s taking a really long time for my balance to readjust I have on and off dizziness and can’t go anywhere on my own, I must be feeling better though as I remember my lettuce seedlings, I have three pots of them in the kitchen. Mark transplants one lot to the old greenhouse borders and we give the rest away. I decide to get my gardening fix by reading some of the other Thompson & Morgan blogs. I am amazed by Michael Perry’s trek across the Sahara Desert for Dementia, the flowers he has photographed are amazing. I would love to have that kind of stamina, but right now getting across the room is a challenge.

The next blog I read is from customer service advisor Graham, he recycles interesting items to grow plants and herbs in. I left a post on his blog and he kindly responds with a suggestion of what unusual fruit I can grow in an old colander. I know I’m on the mend, when I order some mock strawberry seeds for said colander. It’s the weekend before I return to work after two weeks of being unwell; I call my brother and ask him about the soil delivery for the greenhouse, we haven’t put the glass in as we are still waiting for him. He says he hasn’t forgotten, he also tells me he is getting a lean to greenhouse himself to teach his daughters to grow tomatoes, I am really excited for him and promise him plenty of plants.

greenhouseI am all motivated and set myself the tasks of starting of my potatoes under cover and also the
Begonia Apricot Shades which arrived sometime during my illness. I find the potato kits are different to ones I have had before, whereas before I had a massive potato bag to plant 5 tubers, this kit has a 12-15inch bag for a single tuber. This is so much simpler as it’s easier to measure out the Chempak fertiliser for one potato, and also very easy to carry a smaller sack once they germinate and need to be moved outside. It can help to prevent overcrowding and the possible spreading of disease. I follow the instructions, and plant up the Charlottes, I am really excited to see how they compare to a bigger grow bag I have of 5 Rooster potatoes. Included in the potato kit are 5 packets of salad veg, including more lettuce, because the lettuce are so easy I am going to give them to my brother for my nieces to grow. The begonias take no more than five minutes to pot up, and once I place them on the staging I take ten minutes to look at how the rest of my seeds are doing. It’s not good, I realise that my aubergines and dahlias have damped off; a disgusting green slime covers the soil. I have no option but to start again with them. Thankfully my garden peas are okay, but I feel like I would like more than 6 plants so I plant a few more in extra pots.

My first week back in work and I am shattered. I still get dizzy so it’s still challenging to go up the steps to the greenhouse. I have to ask Mark to carry the full watering can as I can’t balance to do this. I stare at the new greenhouse and feel annoyed, I say to Mark, well my blog is going to be a bit dismal this month. He cheers me up by taking me to the DIY store to look at the cost of paving slabs for the path in the greenhouse; we also look at wooden edging that may be used to hold back the soil. He makes a start on setting a hardcore base for the path.

I am really hoping that April will be a better month, in terms of my greenhouse actually getting finished and having a more interesting blog for you. Yes there have been a few setbacks this month but luckily it’s still early in the season. The aubergines I planted last week have germinated, so have the peas, I have started off my sunflowers and my potatoes are showing tiny green leaves.

That’s the thing with gardening; it gives me hope, that even when things are going a bit wrong, with a bit of planning, they can be put right.

Until next month,
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda

An update from the Greenhouse

Hello everyone!

Firstly can I please say a big “Thank you” to everyone who has read my blog and given feedback. I must say I was really worried that no one apart from my mum would read my blog so it’s really nice to hear from everyone.

In this month’s blog, I am enclosing some photos of the construction phase of the greenhouse. We have been really lucky in that so far the weather has been much the same as last year, generally between one and six degrees, with rain (sometimes heavy), South Westerly winds and hardly any frost. On the thirteenth of January we had all four seasons in the same day. Lovely spring like drizzle in the morning, warm but not quite summer sun just before lunch, followed by a sudden temperature drop and wintry sleet in the afternoon, and then a beautiful autumn sunset. Have you experienced anything like this in your area?

a year in the greenhouseUp until the back end of January we only had one day when the temperature was zero degrees after nine in the morning – this was great for me as I have been able to get out on the weekends to do some gardening. I work full time in the week, and the nights aren’t quite light enough to go out when I get home. Unfortunately I have only been able to plant my Thompson & Morgan Speedy Mix Salad Leaves, in pots on the kitchen windowsill, when they germinate, they will be pricked out and moved to my old greenhouse. I have selected the tomato seeds to sow next month Gardeners Delight and Sweet Aperitif, and have I been planning what else to grow from seed. For definite I will be growing Aubergine Enorma, and some Sweet Bullhorn peppers.

I haven’t decided what flowers I will grow yet, but every year I grow dahlias and a single variety of sunflowers sharing them with my brothers for their children to grow. It’s brilliant that 2015 is year of the Sunflower. I may just have a sunflower festival in our garden and grow Italian Whites, Russian and/or Mongolian Giants and some Teddy Bears. I also like the look of the Maximilas sunflower. Has anyone had any success with this perennial?

That’s the best thing about winter gardening for me; the planning. Choosing the things I want to grow and ordering them via the catalogue or using the website or having T&M vouchers to spend in their January sales. As well as looking back on last year’s successes and failures, and watching for signs that a new season is on its way.

I ordered my new greenhouse in late November, from a reputable company online, they gave me a delivery date of the Seventh of January, as this was when they were would be delivering in our area. I was happy with this as with Christmas and everything, it was something to look forward to in the New Year. Next we visited a local building supplier to order blocks to mount the base, and a ton of 6mm dust to be delivered on the same day. Both companies kept their agreement and delivered on the day. (We won’t need the whole ton of dust for the greenhouse, but that’s the quantity it comes in so we are going to re-lay the patio area so nothing is wasted.)

Using string and broken canes, Mark then pegged out, the trench he would be digging. We decided to do this after delivery In case anything went wrong with the purchase. A few days later and he had dug the trench, and that’s when I realised the enormity of our project. I could have paid extra to have a greenhouse installation team do the hard work for us, but as Mark had erected the smaller greenhouse he was happy to do this one too. I have every faith in him as the original greenhouse stood up to ninety mile an hour winds in March last year. It twisted and bucked, but I only lost two panes of glass due to a solar light being plucked from the rose border and hurled into the air. The light hit the lower pane and the top pane slid out after it.

a year in the greenhouseThe block laying turned into a nightmare, due to heavy rain our clay soil was unworkable as it stuck to everything it shouldn’t. Hands, feet, spade and clothes. Also we knew our garden was on slope and totally uneven and stony but one edge (the tenth foot part of the trench) had to be dug nine inches lower than its opposite side to compensate for the gradient. Each block had to be laid, and then spirit levelled, adjusted, and then measured again. There was no point in trying to lay the blocks in a line and then measure and adjust after, as it would have got even messier. But finally on the 21st of January the block laying was complete and the base secured in position. We then let the ground settle before the next phase.

Phase two, is think ahead. Where to get topsoil for the borders of the greenhouse? I have got homemade compost and will probably buy in some extra, but if we can put in some topsoil it should improve the soil structure. A phone call to my brother and the issue is resolved. Also as mentioned in my previous blog, I hate failing, and it suddenly occurred to me, that it would be just my luck for the first time for something to go wrong with my tomato plants. I had a nightmare vision of doing a blog of the new greenhouse with nothing growing in it! Again T&M came to my rescue, as in conjunction with a well known magazine they were offering six free tomato plants for just £3.20 postage and packing, as well as cucumber plants at a reduced price. I quickly ordered them along with a different offer of a free potato kit, again just paying P&P.

Phase three, the constructing of the aluminium frame, and what happens? The weather turns. The mild drizzly days are replaced by beautiful blue skies but dropping temperatures some really hard frosts and icy winds. Mark has worked outdoors all of his life, but there was no way I wanted him to freeze for me so I just said “So long as it’s constructed by the end of March I am happy to wait. After all I have the other greenhouse and I can keep the plants in there, in pots until then. Besides, it’s too cold for seed germination just yet.”

a year in the greenhouse On the Seventh of February the weather broke, ironically this would have been Dad’s 70th Birthday, to take my mind off it we decided to keep active. So after grocery shopping and lunch it was time to construct the greenhouse.

The plans looked simple enough, there were a suitable amount of images and a short note stating that anyone can be reasonably expected to build the greenhouse, so long as the instructions were followed and common sense applied. I freely admit my building skills are more destroy-it-yourself than do-it-yourself, so I volunteered to be teas maid, leaving Mark to it. I just pottered around the garden and did some chores. Mark started by moving the car from the drive and laying out each section of the greenhouse in turn. Using the guide and carefully noting the number of screws, nuts and bolts needed, he started with the back panel and moved onto the sides. Each section took about twenty to thirty minutes. He constructed the door, and then said “I’m just going to put the rubber seal around the door, and I’ll do the roof tomorrow.” The seal was fiddly so Mark used a drop of Silicone spay to help ease it on to the aluminium. It was getting too chilly for me, so I went indoors. After an hour I was beginning to wonder if there was a problem as it was now late afternoon and beginning to get dark, Mark was still outdoors, I thought that sealing the door would be simple, so I sneaked to the bedroom window and was totally shocked to see all of the greenhouse frame attached to the base and the roof completed.

a year in the greenhouse

Mark decided, he might as well finish the job. I am at a loss as how he could manage to put it all together on his own including the ten foot roof brace. He says he just bolted the brace to one of the short edges, leant it on an attached side panel, and then bolted the other end on. He says he also had to stand on a breeze block to reach the holes as at five foot ten he wasn’t quite tall enough. If it was me I would have needed a ladder. So we have almost finished the building, we have decided, it will be easier to mark out the borders and put in the topsoil and path inside the greenhouse before the glazing goes in, firstly because of the amount of soil we need to put in there, as it will be frustrating going in through the narrow door with the barrow, and secondly I am clumsy, and will probably end up putting the spade through the window by accident when unloading the stuff.

a year in the greenhouse

I am starting to get really excited as I can visualise a warm July day, collecting trugs of produce and sharing them with my family and friends. In the next few weeks I will be starting off my tomato and potato plants. I have done some early sowings of aubergines and garden peas, they are currently sitting in their pots silently splitting their shells and slowly emerging through the compost. My speedy salad mix in the kitchen germinated in four days, they are growing strongly and will soon need to be pricked out. Hopefully by this time next month the glazing will be done, the soil prepared and if I am lucky be tasting my first Mizunna lettuce.

Until then, Happy Gardening.

From Amanda.

A year in the greenhouse – Amanda

Hello everyone, my name is Amanda and this is the first of what I hope will be one of my many blogs for Thompson & Morgan. I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. It’s situated at the top of a hill and literally a five minute walk from the Cleddau Estuary. Being so close to the Irish Sea means that we get mild temperatures in the winter, however we also have to cope with the very strong salt-laden westerly winds that can blow up at any time of the year.

I started gardening later in life, for a few reasons, they are in no particular order but I would like to share them with you.

The first reason is for my physical and mental wellbeing. As I was born with a congenital heart disorder, and didn’t want to pick up any germs, I was a little scared of gardening. Especially as a youngster – but over the years I have realised gardening is actually very beneficial. It’s a great form of exercise, it is approved by my cardiologist to help maintain a healthy weight, keep muscle tone and improve lung capacity. It helps to reduces stress, it gets me outdoors, even in the winter, and I can enjoy super fresh fruit and veg, knowing exactly where it comes from and how it was grown. Which is to say, two minutes from my kitchen and mostly organic.

I’m not sure if using water from our four foot fish tank to drench the garden is classed as organic because of the colourings that go into fish food but the plants seem to like it. I do not water the plants that are eaten raw, just the potatoes, rhubarb and pretty flowers. Has anyone else used water from a fish tank to feed their plants? I have a feeling that I read something that said goldfish water is a good fertiliser, but I can’t remember where I read it.

a year in the greenhouseThe second reason I garden is because I wanted to learn a new skill.  I didn’t think I would be very good at growing something from seed or cuttings, and I hate failing at things, but without trying I would always be wondering if it was something I could have done. Luckily Thompson & Morgan have handy growing hints and tips on their website and their products always come with detailed instructions. I started off with simple seeds like sunflowers, sweet peas and asters, then progressed onto mini plugs of more tender plants and tomatoes when I got one of those plastic pop up greenhouses. I now have a 6×6 horticultural glasshouse. After eight years or so I can now say I am okay at growing things, but I still consider myself to be a beginner. Does anyone else feel this way?

For example I can grow peppers, aubergines and tomatoes from seed every year without encountering problems. Yet, every year without fail I kill my cucumbers before they are more than a foot high.

Two years ago I tried to grow carrots, the slugs had them. Last year I beat the slugs by moving the pots around constantly, but the carrots were so small, (even though the leaves were huge) that not even a carrot fly could go to the trouble of nibbling on them. It was pretty pathetic. This is why I still feel like a beginner. I have a lot to learn.

The third reason I garden is because of tradition. My paternal grandparents ran a farm so growing crops is in our blood. Whilst my maternal grandparents worked on the land and recycled everything before it became trendy to do so – they were also fantastic cooks and grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in their garden at the back of the house and to me were able to create magical food from a surprisingly small number of ingredients. If we wanted a pudding after our meal we were told to go and eat the raspberries or suck the nectar from the nasturtiums.

Whilst the farming grandparents allowed us the freedom of playing in the barns, walking the sheep dogs, helping harvest potatoes or go running and sitting in the fields, the village dwellers who only had a small garden allowed us to collect ladybirds and caterpillars and grasshoppers and study the insect world for ourselves, so long as we didn’t break the dahlias or peony or roses in the front garden. We never played in the back; I guess we were too scared of damaging grandpa’s regimented rows of produce. Both sets of grandparents taught me lessons I would like to share in future blogs.

a year in the greenhouseThis tradition of growing is the real reason why I want to be part of the blogging community.  Almost two years ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I wasn’t as close to him as my brothers were as my parents divorced when I was thirteen, but luckily through gardening we were able to mend our relationship. Before his illness became too aggressive I told him I was growing potatoes in a grow bag, being a farmer he thought this was the funniest thing anyone had ever told him. He said it wouldn’t work. I saw this as a challenge and gave him daily telephone updates of the potato progress along with taking photos on my phone to show him when we visited on the weekends. I didn’t realise how pleased he was until I overheard him telling his health visitor that I had fantastic food growing in the greenhouse as well as tasty spuds.

As his health began to fail he kept asking me if he could buy me another greenhouse for Christmas, I told him it was too expensive a present and that he needed to keep his money for heating, especially as the cancer had spread to his spine and shoulder bones. I tried to keep his spirits up by having a potato growing challenge – I would grow potatoes again in my grow bags if he grew two in a large plastic pot. After thinking about it he agreed saying he was wrong to say potatoes in sacks would never grow. Sadly dad died in June 2014 two weeks before our potatoes were ready. I inherited the plastic pot with them in it and at first I didn’t want to eat the spuds as that was the last thing he grew. In the end I knew he, like my grandparents, would be mad if I let good food go to waste, so ate them and they were delicious.

Dad also left us a little bit of money – I am not someone who has to have the latest tech, or have to spend it straight away. He didn’t leave us a fortune but it was enough for me to buy a new greenhouse with, it’s a 10×6 one. He also wanted me to be like his father and keep a diary of my gardening year. I have kept diary for most years but they have just been about random bits of daily life. I had no idea my granddad kept a diary of his life and farming methods, just before dad died I had the pleasure of reading the ones he had translated from Welsh from the years 1973, 1974 and 1975. So, forty years on I want to honour my past, be grateful for my present, and look forward to my future. I want to write about a year in my new greenhouse, covering everything from its construction to first fruits. I want to record everything from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs.

My actual diary is a physical paper journal where each day I will record things like when the greenhouse was delivered, how many blocks were laid for the base, the weather, things in bloom, and the cost of compost, anything greenhouse related. I sourced my diary on the Internet as the one I wanted includes sections for each week to record things like to do lists, weather patterns and interesting gardens to visit. Each month I will give you a concise update on my progress; I will include photos of significant events, and write some hopefully interesting things. In return all I ask is if you could share some of your gardening moments with me? Please leave me anything from comments, to hints and tips to improve my gardening, or pictures of your own plot. I promise I will try to respond to each one.

Until next month – Happy Gardening!

From Amanda.

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