Storms and Mini Greenhouses…

So far…

We’ve had Storm Dudley, then Storm Eunice, and now Storm Franklin on the way, though there’s strong winds now (Sunday afternoon) with sudden gusts of heavy rain.

Friday’s Storm Eunice has been devastating for gardeners who’ve lost greenhouses and sheds, many too damaged to repair; also polytunnels that will need replacement covers. And the damage caused to the young plants and equipment inside them.

We were in the Amber warning zone, and only lost a small plastic bell cloche. More luck from the wind direction. It would have been a different situation in a Red weather warning area.

We can only plan ahead when there’s a storm due, and hope we’ve done enough. But reality, we may still lose.

* My Plan…
  1. Reduce the risk of flying debris. Weight down anything that could be caught by the wind and not only hit the greenhouse and topple it over, but rip the cover.

2. Limit the opportunities for wind to get inside from the bottom edge of the plastic cover. And position the greenhouse to provide full or partial shelter.

3. Use anything heavy in front off exposed surfaces. Any way to keep the mini greenhouse upright, as long as there’s no risk of ripping the cover.

4. Move mini greenhouse/s indoors- if space available. (Should be option 1. in severe storms.)

*This is only what I do for my location and weather circumstances. It should not be taken as advice on what you should do in your situation.

Left: Heavy garden chairs preventing greenhouses falling forward.

Middle: A length of polystyrene between the plastic cover and the bubble wrap filling the gap on the exposed ground side of the greenhouse.

Right: Shows how far forward the winds shifted the partially exposed greenhouse (today, Sunday). Roughly the same size gap as Saturday’s post-Storm Eunice, before I pushed it back against the wall.

This weekend has continued wet, with today’s rain forming puddles in any dip in the ground or paving.

It’s going to be muddy getting to the compost bin this week…

January in the Garden…

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Maintenance

January is a messy month in my north-facing home garden. But, there’s no snow this year so that’s a positive.

As I’ll be growing larger quantities of my favourite vegetables- split between the raised beds and containers, I need to bring the remaining fruit bushes into their new locations.

I also need to shift a set of small Gooseberry bushes into a new spot to increase the amount of light and sunshine they get, compensating for the loss of light from a replaced fence. They’re an old, sweet variety, that sadly I don’t know the name of.

The final must-be-done job is digging up the rhubarb patch, splitting up the crowns and replanting. But first I had to pare back the Holly that was overwhelming the space.

There are two upright stems remaining, and it will regrow, though I’ll be encouraging it to grow out higher up the main stem.

I’m now working my way through the debris, trimming the stems and thicker branches so they can be left to die and dry. Eventually, I may stack them one on top of the other to make a low edging fence for the borders, or use them in hügelkultur.

Holly branches waiting for removal…
Survivors

In early December I shifted the cold frame on top of one of the small low raised beds as it needed to be used as a temporary nursery, but the soil was wet and cold, and the Robin Hood Broad Bean seeds were not doing anything.

There were also the remaining Strawberry runners, and the Parsley plants that I’d grown from seed in the summer. I’d been growing three of the small plants alongside the last of the summer lettuce, but they hadn’t thrived. They’re now happily protected from the cold nights…

Strawberries, Parsley and Broad Beans under the cold frame…

They get a quick airing on better days. Come spring the Strawberries will be moved to a new position and the Parsley into pots.

There’s been a couple of surprises in the garden too.

A tiny lone Lettuce in the raised bed liner on the patio has survived from last year.

A small late summer sowing of Riccia Rossa Da Taglio Lettuce seeds grew well in the mini greenhouse and the plants were transplanted to the liner for near the kitchen salad leaves. There was one tiny plant left, too small to eat, so I left it, expecting it to die in the winter cold. It didn’t.

(I also transplanted one or two tiny Lollo Rossa lettuce, so my stray lettuce could be of either variety…)

It’s now covered by a small plastic bell cloche, and accompanied by a similar sized wild flower plant- there’s a couple of containers of wild flower plants nearby that I move around during the summer and left to self-seed.

I know the wild flower will survive, so I’m interested to see if the lettuce will too, and if it will grow to provide early lettuce leaves- with protection from the elements.

Holding on for spring…
Not long to go

The stack of plant pots awaiting washing are now being tackled. There’s big planters to do next.

Washing the pots to #reuse

And the reminder that spring will arrive whatever is happening out in the world…

Buds appearing on the Hawthorn…

A Review of My 2021 Growing Season…

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At the Start…

2021 was a big experiment year.

Two mini greenhouses to sow seeds and grow the plants on ready for planting out in a north-facing garden. It’s not an ideal situation, but studying which parts of the garden receive the most hours of sunlight across the day led to creating a central growing area, and the raised beds.

I started with one raised bed toward the bottom of the garden, made by my partner in autumn 2020. As I’ve been growing a small selection of vegetables in pots and fabric bags before this, the plan was to use the new bed for salad vegetables once the spring cabbage were cleared.

My first raised bed…

Early February two smaller home-made raised beds were added, allowing me to expand the growing space. Later in the summer, running out of room, I bought two small low level raised beds from B&Q.

Plus an area intended for the canes for the climbing French Beans. And the usual pots and fabric bags for other plants.

I had an assortment of seed packets from gardening magazines, along with the beans and salad leaves seeds remaining from 2020. Added to, on a trip to the Garden Centre, 2nd Early and Maincrop seed potatoes (Maris Peer, and Vivaldi) for growing in bags.

Failures or As Near As…

Let’s get the failures out of the way first…

Without the awful spring weather, my stubby Carrots may have germinated in the large hanging basket. Some of the seedlings appeared 6-8 weeks later, but they didn’t grow.

Maybe the hanging basket wasn’t the best container either…

The spring sowing of Boltardy Beetroot put out a lot of leaves but after four months the majority were not even golf-ball size. I started them in modules in the greenhouse and after planting out they grew reasonably, but weren’t a raving success. They weren’t wasted as the leaves were fabulous as salad leaves.

Celery and Celeriac. I had problems getting the seeds, and when I finally did it was really too late to work. I bought young plants late too. The Celery grew reasonably and I was able to use the thin stalks- froze them for using in casseroles.

Tomatoes, Tumbling Tom and Tiny Tim– they got blight, as many growers experienced in 2021. (Both were bought-in plants.)

Never Grown Before…

Outdoor Cucumber, variety Masterpiece. These were a complete unknown, I’ve never grown Cucumbers before, in or out of a greenhouse. I’m a complete convert and will grow them again this year.

I won’t sow them until mid-April, unless we have a good spring, as the lengthy period of overnight frosts last year meant the seedlings were at risk from the minus temperatures in the greenhouse.

It was Steve from Green Side Up, who uses hot-boxes in his polytunnel to protect his tomato plants, that inspired me to try a make-shift small version.

I bought a sturdy translucent plastic box with a secure fitting lid to hold the pots with the cucumber plants in. Compact enough to sit on the top shelf without blocking the front opening door flap, and allowing me to reach inside to remove the lid during the daytime, then closing it back up at night, before adding a layer of fleece over the shelf. It did protect the Cucumber plants from the minus temperatures.

Mini Corn, variety Snobaby. I love mini corn, but I rarely buy it because of the thousands of miles it travels to reach the supermarket. I’m the only one in the family who eats it, so growing my own was a practical solution. If I’d had the free greenhouse space I would have started the seeds in there, but had to sow direct outside instead. They were sown closer together than they should have been, but I still had a good harvest; enough to eat and more to freeze.

The plants definitely benefitted from the addition of a layer of fresh compost and chicken manure pellets when the tassels emerged at the top of the plants.

The final addition was 45 day Broccoletto. I will be growing this again in 2022.

The Rest…

All sown/grown on in the mini greenhouse except for *

All but the radish in this bed, were sown and grown on in the mini greenhouse, then into the cold frame until ready to plant out.

Lettuce: Lollo Rossa, Valmaine, and Mesclun Mix.

Climbing French Beans: Blue Lake, and *Cobra / Dwarf French Beans: Speedy.

Peas/Mange-Tout: Hurst Greenshaft, and Oregon Sugar Pod.

Spring Onions: Pompeii, and Ishikura.

Runner Beans: Hestia (dwarf type for growing in containers).

Radish: French Breakfast, Scarlet Globe*, and Cherry Belle.

Spring Cabbage: Wheelers Imperial. (Durham Early sown in 2020 for 2021 harvest.)

Herbs: Mint, Parsley, Thyme, and Borage, and Chives.

Flowers: Dwarf Stocks, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, Teasel, Sunflower, Pansy, Swedish Marigold, and Nasturtium.

Blue Lake French Beans still growing in mid-October…
Bought in Plants…

Cauliflower: White Excel. (Six plants from B&Q’s veg range.)

Celery: Green Utah.

Celeriac: Giant Prague.

I’m surprised how much I did grow in 2021. Underplanting and placing a few plants in gaps in the raised beds and fabric bags worked well.

The regular supply of salad leaves for nine months of the year was especially pleasing. I need to plan the winter lettuce for 2022.

2022’s layout will be better planned, and I’ll keep a note of weights/quantities.

As long as I can resist nibbling on the Mange-tout and the French Beans before they reach the kitchen…

(There’s more pictures of my 2021 plantings on my Gallery page.)

Mini Greenhouses: Pros and Cons…

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Do you want a greenhouse but not got the space for a standard version. Or you aren’t sure if a mini greenhouse is for you? Then read on.

You could opt for a Growhouse. `An aluminium or wooden construction with safety glass. There’s different sizes available; freestanding or designed to be against a wall. Costs vary, as does the design and heights.

Some retailers list mini greenhouses as Growhouses in their search options, which can be confusing. And there’s many variations on the height and internal layout of the mini versions too.

In a cool spot in your garden, you could even use it as a substitute cold frame- if needed.

My mini greenhouses are from the lower end of the price range. At the time of buying my choices were limited- due to ongoing trade disruptions caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

Both of mine are an upright frame. Each section slots into place on top of the one below, then finally the two roof arches front and back. The plastic cover has ties at the corners, and access is via the zipped front opening. There’s a tie inside and out at the top of the front panel so you can roll it up and tie it in place to allow ventilation.

A three-tier mini greenhouse

Spend time browsing the options available in your price range. Check if your local garden centre stocks them. Consider the size, and the materials, as they will require maintenance in a similar way to a standard greenhouse- washing inside and out being an essential, especially pre-spring.

Positioning. This will depend on your garden and the surrounding area. Are there large trees that cast shade? Tall buildings? Is the garden sheltered or exposed to high winds? The position of the sun across the day for what you want to sow and/or grow on will influence the positioning.

What surface will it be placed on? Avoid standing it directly on the ground unless you’ve got a solid base to place it on. And weight the greenhouse down to provide stability in windy weather.

As 2021 proved, summers can be wet and cool. Can you easily access it in sudden hot or bad weather to open or close the front panel?

Whichever type you install, take the time to fine tune your plant care regime. What additional things can you do to help your seeds and plants thrive rather than fail?

(I speak from experience on the fail side. Summer 2021, I opened the greenhouses in the morning, all was well. The day was dull and expected to stay that way. I went out, and later in the day the clouds cleared and blazing sunshine hit the greenhouses; the temperature inside rocketed and a tray of young lettuce seedlings died- I’d forgotten to apply the make-shift shading [a white net curtain]. I never forgot that, and my next sowing of lettuce was protected.)

Here’s the pros and cons for my type of mini greenhouse. You’ll see that some aspects appear in both.

PROS

a) Capacity: with three or four shelves you have flexibility. You can remove a shelf (and place it on top of one of the others temporarily) to give additional head room for a tall plant. There’s room for multiple seed trays and plant pots.

b) Easy to move. The light construction allows one person to move the greenhouse by themselves- always consider your personal health and safety when moving any structure or equipment.

c) They heat up quickly in the late spring/summer months.

d) Good light transmission- in the right location.

e) Positioning on lower shelves can help slow down the growth of excess seedlings. (Don’t neglect them, they need to be returned to the top shelf for maximum light and heat, but you may be able to slow them for a week or two to spread out harvesting times if you’ve sown too many seeds in one sowing.) See **

f) Size- If you only have a small space, a patio or balcony, it’s ideal.

CONS

a) Easy to move. You need to weight the greenhouse down to stop it getting blown over in high winds or gales.

(I have three to four bricks on the bottom shelf of each greenhouse- against a wall providing partial shelter. On top of the bricks I’ve created a shelf with a raised back and sides, which reduces the wind toppling the greenhouse from the base.)

b) After continual exposure to sunshine and rain the material ties you use to hold the rolled-up front flap open can break. (You can use plastic type pegs to hold the flap back, but make sure there’s no sharp edges that could rip the plastic cover.)

c) High temperatures inside and out in hot summers. In direct sunlight the plastic cover will get hot so be careful. As with a standard greenhouse, provide shading during hot summers.

(Old net curtaining allows light in but diffuses the burning effect on your tender plants- experiment to find what works for you. I also sprayed a fine water mist inside the roof of the greenhouse and over the net curtaining, when the sun was in direct line with them and the temperature was too high.)

d) A cold spring. The regular night-time minus temperatures experienced in spring 2021 in the UK, made extra protection for the plants inside the greenhouse essential.

(I used DIY propagator lids over the seed trays and pots. I used polystyrene packaging between the internal sides of the greenhouse and the trays to create another barrier between them and the cold external surface. Finally I covered the shelves with 30gsm fleece. The temperature inside- during April 2021- went down to -2 to -3 degrees on a number of nights, but the early plants were okay*.)

e) During the growing season you need to check your mini greenhouse daily- and more often during the height of summer.

*Any tender summer plants like tomatoes or peppers etc would be better indoors in the warmth.

** You need to regularly turn the trays of seedlings or plants to stop them growing toward the light and becoming lop-sided and leggy.

Conclusion

Still willing to give it a go?

There’s two items that I’d recommend you buy.

A greenhouse thermometer that gives you both day and night time temperatures, and humidity- it doesn’t have to be expensive.

And a notebook. Keeping a record of when, and what you’re sowing. How long has it taken to germinate. Temperatures, especially when frosts are due. You can adjust your sowing times for particular seeds next year, if needed.

If you’re not convinced you can start seeds and grow on plants in this type of mini greenhouse, then please have a look at my Gallery page.

I’ve been taking numerous photos during 2020/2021 to show what’s possible. I hope this small selection of images will encourage you to try growing flowers, vegetables and herbs in your own mini greenhouse…

Welcome to my Gardening Adventures…

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Winter may appear to be an odd time to start a website on gardening with a mini greenhouse, but there’s a reason for that.

After the inconsistent summer we’ve all experienced in the UK during 2021, the darker evenings are a good time to review the highs and lows.

Have I had failures in the garden and the mini greenhouse this year?

Yes, and every gardener experiences them. The vital lesson is whether we give up or learn from them, then try again, even if that’s next year.

If you started growing in 2021, and found it a struggle, you’re not alone. Don’t be put off. The weather next year could be different again, and those plants that didn’t do well this time, may be the star of your garden or veg patch in 2022.

I’ve had 19+ months of using mini greenhouses. Now, it’s time to begin to share what I’ve learnt…