Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Getting it on in the Greenhouse - Or Trying To

A photo of Shannon SaiaHave you ever really wanted to do something that you know you shouldn’t – something that goes against all the laws of nature?

Yeah, me too.

 I mean, if you read gardening and suburban homesteading blogs you’ll start to recognize that there is a certain thread of Puritanism out there. I mean things like how you’re not “supposed” to grow hybrid plants because you can’t save the seeds. I understand that seeds are power. I’ve read The World According to Monsanto. And yet, I can’t resist planting Packman broccoli from Big Box every year because it matures so fast! I have broccoli months before I might otherwise have it.

And then there’s the whole peat moss thing. You’re not “supposed” to use peat moss as a garden supplement because it’s an unrenewable resource. I get that. I do. It’s just that peat moss is the one way that I know to lower my soil ph, and it takes me so long to acquire little pieces of scientific gardening knowledge like that that I’m reluctant to toss this one out the window and start all over again trying to figure out how to lower my soil ph.

And then there’s the mother of all foodie/suburban homesteading commandments – you’re not supposed to eat foods out of season. Which I imagine extends to the one that I have finally summoned up the courage to break – you’re not supposed to grow food out of season. But the truth is that I buy blueberries in winter. There. That’s right. I said it! I also buy peppers and strawberries and apples and bananas, and eggplants and zucchini and – let’s face it – I’m already a debauching suburban libertine.

So this year, I decided to go for it. That’s right. I got a greenhouse.

Here it is January, and I’m on my way to fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants and peppers, all out of season, and just ripe for the picking! That, my friends, is suburban homesteading power! I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t get a little depressed at this time of year? Sure I am still harvesting broccoli heads and side-shoots from my 18 broccoli plants that are in the ground outside. Quite frankly I’m harvesting an unbelievable amount of side-shoots. After harvesting the main heads off of my Packmans back in November I left them in the ground figuring I could go out there a few times and cut at least enough side-shoots to feed a six-year-old who would rather eat a hot dog, and I did do that, a few times. But then in December both the six-year-old and I got sick with some nasty bug, and then at the tail end of that, right before Christmas, we both came down with the flu, which is to say that I didn’t set foot in my garden at all for every bit of four weeks. So when I went outside a week or so ago to see if there was any broccoli to harvest, imagine my surprise to find that said Packmans had put out “side shoots” the size of the heads on my Di Cicco.

 See? This is what I’m saying. Packman rules!

Not to mention that a quick peek up under the skirts of my Brussels sprouts showed me that I did manage to have some sprouts that could be harvested, though I have yet to do it. I am still battling the last lingering signs of illness, plus it’s been wet and foggy outside for what seems like forever now. So who came blame me for throwing my heart at my new lover? I have a greenhouse!

The thing is, though, that it’s still in its massive and heavy cardboard box down in the corner where our Christmas tree was standing, and it’s still ankle deep in Christmas gifts that have yet to be distributed, since, as I said, for Christmas (and New Years) my daughter and I both had the flu. It’s been too wet and muddy and just generally crappy outside to set the greenhouse up. Plus, I doubt that I can do it by myself. So while I do, in fact, have a greenhouse this winter, I’m not exactly  growing tomatoes or anything else in it.

 And yet all is not lost. Prior to getting this walk-in greenhouse (6’ x 8’) I acquired a small, four shelf “greenhouse” on wheels which I placed proudly on my back deck in a spot that doesn’t even begin to get enough sun, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Still, I optimistically started a winter salad mix of lettuces and baby greens down in the cellar under the growlight, in a low plastic tub with holes drilled in the bottom of it for drainage. It seemed like it was going to work. The seeds all came up! Then after a few days in which I actually remembered to go downstairs and water them they began to look a little yellow. And could I find my new bottle of fish emulsion anywhere? No I could not. So eventually I stopped even watering them because I felt guilty and frustrated about the lost fish emulsion every time I saw the yellowing little seedlings, and now I think it’s safe to say that they’re all pretty much dead, and carrying that tub of dirt back up out of the cellar and figuring out what to do with it is just something else that I have to do.

That wasn’t my only seedling experiment though. It occurred to me that maybe it was a bad idea to start the seeds inside in the warmth under a grow light, anyway. I mean, these were winter greens I was trying to grow. Even in the little upright greenhouse they were probably still going to have plenty of winter days where the plastic cover might keep it heated to about forty. So I filled two more, smaller plastic tubs with seed-starting mixture, skipped the hole-drilling part, since I couldn’t do it myself and my husband wasn’t around at the time, and tossed in some seeds. One tub got Spinach, the other got Chard.

Lo and behold, they came up! They came up beautifully, in fact. Their long, slender, vibrantly green first leaves reached up towards the sky like a congregation with their arms raised in a hallelujah!

And then nothing happened. It’s been a few weeks, now, in fact, and nothing has happened. It’s like they’re frozen there in time – not dying, but not growing either. What the heck? I haven’t been setting any world records watering them, but then having been inside that plastic cover the soil is actually still fairly moist. Maybe they’re not getting enough light. I can’t remember the last time we had a sunny day around here. But I kid you not, these little seedlings have been out there in suspended animation for like a month. I suppose it’s progress. I mean, it’s further than I got with the winter lettuce mix in the cellar.

I guess the confession here is that I don’t really know what to do with a greenhouse. I mean, I don’t know what to start in it. Or when to start them. Does it need to be heated? It probably does if I want to grow bananas. Probably not if I want to grow spinach. And then as far as the tomatoes go, my husband pointed out that it’s not just a matter of temperature with them; they also need a certain number of hours of sunlight every day which is just not possible to give them in the middle of winter, even a relatively mild winter like we seem to be having.

So, there’s a learning curve here. Check back with me as I stumble through this one. In the meantime, I think I’ve learned one thing, that yes, you can start seeds right in the greenhouse. It’s not much, and maybe I could have Googled that information and saved myself the trouble of my failed experiments, but then that wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun, would it?

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My Books, Confessions of a Vegetable Lover and More Confessions of a Vegetable Lover are available on Amazon, in both e-book ($.99!) and print!

cindy murphy
1/20/2013 6:43:52 PM

Hi, Shannon. I've always wanted a greenhouse, too. Realistically though, it'd be difficult to find a place to put it; our yard is way too shady. I suppose I could rip out the perennial garden that's right up against the sidewalk in the front yard - it's nice and sunny there, but I kinda like the garden, and also like to see what's going on out my front window. Then there's the sunny side of the house - the only problem there is currently the driveway and garage occupy that space. Somehow, even though it involves the use of power tools, I think Hubs might have objections to ripping out the garage to erect a greenhouse. Sorry to hear you and your daughter had the flu - there's some nasty stuff floating around out there. Hope you're both feeling much better now.


s.m.r. saia
1/20/2013 12:59:56 PM

N. Dave, I am with you on the GMO!!!!!!


nebraska dave
1/17/2013 2:22:38 PM

Shannon, none of the nurseries here have fall vegetable plants. Hmmmm, could be an income niche there. I may have to buy some broccoli plants but I would really like to be able grow them myself. I guess I better start reading up on how to do that. I think for my area the broccoli seeds are planted indoors in the middle of February. I really don't have a problem with hybrids. It's just that the seeds are a one year seed. As long as the plants are available, use them. They do seem to be better and stronger plants. GMO plants? I'm not so sure that we should be meddling with DNA. Have a great hybrid day.