13 August 2014 By Billy Hawkins
In view of our on-going relationship with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and that our greenhouse now sits in the Director’s garden, we occasionally have the opportunity to answer a plea from one of our customers when they come to us for help getting started with their own “growing under glass”.
It may come as a surprise to learn that not everyone who buys an Alitex is a confident gardener, which is why we like to help as much as possible so that you can get the most from your greenhouse. As every gardener knows, learning from your failures is important, but putting the right foot forward in the first place is sometimes easier done with a bit of a helping hand.
On the Kent / Surrey border our client had decided he wanted to grow edibles in the greenhouse and the garden. Luckily we were able to call on the services of Christopher Ryan, Head of Exotic Greenhouses at Kew, who kindly went to the home of our client where they spent a good morning going over the basics, with Christopher sharing his experience and knowledge.
Amongst other things our client is an historical author and the factual side of the life cycle of plants and gardening appealed. Christopher started right at the beginning with the cultivation of seedlings in the greenhouse, where the key seemed to be how to best maintain them and the importance of the correct temperature for growth. Heat triggers germination, but patience will create stronger seeds, so not too much heat!
Judging when to take the seedlings into the cold frame in terms of weather and the strength of the seedling was vital. Most plants will be ready to plant out by mid-May or when the temperature has got to 10-15 degree Celsius. If in doubt, don’t put them out, but each plant should appear strong and have developed a number of leaved spurs. Again, pay attention to the type of plant, not everything will thrive outside, however by sowing radishes and carrots directly into the soil at the same time from mid May you will have 2 successional crops.
Preparing the ground with a good mulch where your plants are to be sown pays dividends. Follow advice in books and on the back of seed packets to get it right and then rotate your crops each year to replenish whatever has been taken out of the soil by the previous year’s crop, thereby balancing the pH of the soil. Nitrogen may be taken out of the soil with one plant but put back in by sowing green manure.
Tomato growing in the greenhouse: some top recommendations from the top – Christopher that is.
Don’t plant more than 5 plants together as the air needs to be free to flow around thereby increasing the yield. (Our client is experimenting with exotic Italian tomato plants from seed with a view to making pasta sauce.)
Christopher stresses the need for big heavy staking - it is important to ensure the good health of this type of plant (including beans, chillies) and obviously to support the plant as the fruit mature.
Advice from Christopher on Companion Planting (and maximising Planting Space).
Our client was very interested in these ideas as a means of controlling pests both in the greenhouse and garden and getting the most from the garden. Christopher recommended the following as great companion plants:
Marigolds with tomatoes which in turn are under planted with basil. Try planting beetroot and spring onion together or spinach and chard for colour. Another idea is to under plant winter crops eg. sprouts, with beans. An easy idea to copy is to simply plant the cut and come again lettuce in the cold frame through the colder snaps of spring for a great supply of fresh greens early in the year.
“The learning was an amazing experience”, says our client who has been spurred on to plan the entire life cycle of the plants he proposes to grow. “Chillies will be grown in the greenhouse – 3 varieties of varying heat, and generally I feel much more au fait with what I’m doing…I’m also more confident of what I should be wary of in the greenhouse in terms of pests.” As Christopher explained, “Diagnosing the pest problem early and keeping the atmosphere just right is essential – warm and moist as opposed to warm and dry, should keep a control on greenhouse problems. Hanging a thermometer in the middle of the greenhouse certainly helps get this right.”
In recounting the visit from Christopher, our client was full of enthusiasm – lots of notes were taken and the idea of recording what is going on in the garden from year to year is a great way of working out what to try next year. “I’m keeping everything in My Growing On folder from Alitex to provide me with inspiration for next year. It has been a great start to my greenhouse growing.”
For more information about the relationship between Alitex and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew click here.