Tuesday 4 November 2008

Greenhouse story

I became the owner of a greenhouse this year for the first time in my life. I should have blogged about it in April and never got round to it, but better late than never.

For me, much of the appeal of greenhouses is the smell. And the memories evoked by it. The aroma of warm tomato foliage takes me straight back to my grandparents' garden in Colchester, Essex, where my grandfather (left) had a magnificent greenhouse in the middle of the back garden, a real focal point and centrepiece. He was a passionate gardener who grew flowers and vegetables and was particularly skilled at growing tomatoes. The garden was laid out in the classic English suburban style with what Alan Titchmarsh calls a "centrifugal lawn" with straight flower borders all around it (edged with geometric precision) and vegetables grown in a separate out-of-the-way area at the bottom end. As conventional as the design may have been, it was entirely his garden. He created it when he bought the house as a new-build in 1928 and nurtured it for the next 50 years.

I was 10 when he died but I never really knew him because he didn't talk much. He was a shy person and communicating with kids was not his forte, so I never really had conversations with him. I mainly knew him through his garden. I remember him showing me how to water plants, and how unimpressed I was when he told me to water the soil around the plants rather than just chucking it all over the foliage, which was a lot more fun. His garden was larger than the one we had at home and provided pleasures I'd never experienced before, such as sticking my hands into a big pile of grass cuttings on the compost heap and marvelling at the warmth inside, and the smell of the shed where his tools were kept, immaculately cleaned, oiled, sharpened and cared for (I wish I'd inherited that gene).

But the most intense memory is the smell of that greenhouse. It was an old-fashioned wooden one on a brick base, and it smelled of warm oiled wood mingled with the tang of tomato plants. I love that smell.

And now through the generosity of my parents I have one of these wonderful things in my own garden.

The site I chose for it was a neglected patch at the bottom of the garden. When I moved here in 2004 the garden was full of overgrown fruit trees and bushes which hadn't been pruned for years. I rejuvenated them (mostly successfully) but didn't know what to do with the piles of dead twigs, so they got dumped in a corner. And there they stayed until I got round to clearing them out and bringing the ground back into cultivation.

Clearing the site ...

And here it is.

I dithered for ages over where to go to get a greenhouse. There are lots of big stores around but I don't like the big chains ... I don't want to encourage them in their vile march towards total market domination. I don't shop at B&Q any more since they built a huge superstore a couple of miles outside town. I'm pissed off at the way these big corporations selfishly feck up the greenbelt with their loathsome warehouses and it's now impossible to get there without a car (the previous store was on the edge of town and within modest walking distance). I also find it a truly hateful shopping experience. The new superstore is vast and daunting and it's really hard to find anything. The staff are mostly hapless shelf-stackers unable to offer much help. Fellow shoppers are stressed out and bad-tempered, and the vast line of checkouts is like being shoved through a cattle market. Or a rugby scrum, when it's busy. What's really ironic is that the range of stuff they sell is not much bigger than it was at the previous shop, it's just bigger stocks of the same stuff, piled up higher on the shelves where you can't reach it anyway. I invariably find myself fighting back tears from the horribleness of it all. So I don't go any more.

I turned to the internet, and found what I wanted. Europa Manor make a 10' x 6' greenhouse which had exactly the spec I wanted and very good value for money. Even better, Europa Manor is a division of Eden Greenhouses which happens to be based within 5 miles of where I live. Buying local didn't make the delivery any cheaper but it did mean I got it in 5 days instead of the usual 2-5 weeks. But the difficult part was finding someone to put it up. Nobody advertises themselves as a putter-upper of greenhouses. If you look in the Yellow Pages you find dozens of companies wanting to flog you a greenhouse and install it at extra cost, but nobody offering to put one up which you've bought elsewhere. We tried several garden maintenance firms but it took a while to find one who would take it on, and it was pretty expensive. But we got there in the end.

The first residents moved in ... mostly tomatoes and peppers, plus a few peas waiting to be planted out. Yes that is a watering can you can see in the background with a bit of hosepipe running down from the guttering. It works a treat when there's overnight rain, it's just nicely filled up by the morning.

So I now have an enormous learning curve ahead of me. I already discovered this year the issue of grey mould. Yuk. That was partly because of something else I was experimenting with, which was allowing the tomatoes to grow freely. I had read that unpruned tomatoes are stronger and less vulnerable to blight. The greenhouse was probably not the best place to try it out, because by the beginning of August they were growing out through the roof and I could no longer get into the greenhouse at all. It also didn't seem to make any difference to the blight. All the greenhouse tomatoes were blighted, but it did spread a lot more slowly. And because the indoor fruits were about a month ahead of the outdoor ones, I got a much bigger and better crop from them anyway.

The frustration I have now, of course, is that the greenhouse is not big enough for more than eight or ten tomato plants, so I have to be ruthlessly selective with whatever I grow in there. Not easy when I have a backlog of Lycopersicon goodies I've collected in the last few years and some of my own breeding projects too.

Last dregs of blighted October tomatoes. The big ones are Copia, a variety I ordered from the US which didn't ripen fully in the climate here but fortunately still looks and tastes excellent when it's slightly unripe. The small round ones are my Marks & Sparks escapee, Green Tiger, which tastes fabulous and also takes this year's prize for blight-free abundance.

It was also a great pleasure to try growing chillis for the first time. One of the highlights was the bright yellow and curiously gnarled Lemon Drop, which is supposed to be lemon-flavoured but to me tasted more like peaches. Hot spicy peaches! It was a treat sliced up in a cheese sandwich and I'll definitely grow that one again.

Ripening Lemon Drop chillis. Hot, but in a fruity and flavoursome way rather than just blowing your head off, and better than anything you can buy in the supermarkets.


Kath said...

I wouldn't be without my greenhouse - looks very similar and is the same size as yours. My parents gave me the cash for it too! I got it from a small nursery in the area - who had a putting-up man on hand for an extra charge.

It's invaluable for peppers and I do get much better results from tomatoes grown inside. It's useful in winter too. I put hardy varieties of lettuce in there - and start off a few spuds in Jan/Feb in bubble-wrapped flower-buckets. Oh, you are going to have SO MUCH fun!

Robbiegirl said...

My dad gave me his old greenhouse that he wasn't using!

We had to borrow a van to get it here, Michael and his dad put some concrete slabs down for a base, then me and my dad put the greenhouse up.

I've been really glad of it this year - my outside tomatoes have produced exactly nothing with the lack of sun and the blight.

I need some staging like yours I think, because I found it hard to squish 6 peppers, 6 aubergines, 8 tomatoes, 4 chillies, one cucumber and 3 melons (which didn't do anything at all) in there.

Where did you get the yellow chillies and Green Tiger toms from? I'd like to grow them myslef next year...

Bishops Homegrown said...

Great Post Rebsie. From experience I know that being a greenhouse owner and grower puts a farmer/gardener in an entirely different world where nearly anything is possible. You made a very sound purchase as well I may add, very nice greenhouse!

Joanna said...

Great project Rebsie ... and thanks for the tip about the hosepipe and the watering can, so simple, so obvious, and so not done here ;) but from now on ...

Love the look of that big American green tomato ... the people who run the Whistlestop Cafe have a blog, with the famous recipe for fried green tomatoes - better than green tom chutney any day


Celia Hart said...

Nice addition to your garden! You'll not regret it. Even when it's pouring down you can potter about in the dry and feel you're 'in' the garden.

I think the dull damp summer caused all sorts of mould and stuff this year. But I didn't need to put up shade netting!

I obtained some plastic shelving - not pretty but it's practical and has made a huge difference to how much I can pack in to our greenhouse for over-wintering!


naturewitch said...

Hi Rebsie
Great greenhouse! What a lovely addition to your garden.
You've been awarded, by the way. Feel free to participate (or not) as you wish. xx

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Thank you all. Indeed after one season with a greenhouse I'm already wondering how I ever managed without one.

Anna, I'd be happy to send you some seeds of Lemon Drop and Green Tiger, I have plenty spare. Lemon Drop originally came from Real Seeds, but Green Tiger is not available to buy anywhere. It's a great variety and I'd love to see more people growing it. If you want to contact me at "seeds" (at) "rebsiefairholm.co.uk" with a postal address I'll send some off to you.

VH, thanks for the tip about January potatoes. I will definitely try that! God I love potatoes.

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

Kokopelli is organizing a tour in Europe for Tom Wagner in September/October 2009.

Tom Wagner is the very well know creator/breeder of so many wonderful varieties of tomatoes (Green Zebra, Banana Legs, Green Grape, Vintage Vine, Green Sausage, Green Bell Pepper, Lime Green, Schimmeig Creg, Brown Flesh, Verde Claro, Gold and Green, Greenwich, Elberta Girl, etc) and of many varieties of potatoes ( Viva el Sol, Adirondacksen, Azul Larga, Awol Dude, Nordic October, Baby Banana, Skagit Valley Gold, etc.).

A few pictures are available here: http://www.kokopelli.asso.fr/campagnes/tom-wagner-obtenteur-tomates.html

Tom is 63 years old and has been breeding tomatoes since he is 8 years old. In the span of 56 years, he has created hundreds of varieties of tomatoes and potatoes, including potatoes totally resistant to blight.

He is working presently in USA with 100 000 lines of potatoes.

The first 2 days-workshop will take place on September 22/23 in France (close to Tours), Chateau de la Bourdaisière, hosted by Prince Louis Albert de Broglie who developed a conservatory of 650 varieties of tomatoes 13 years ago with our collection. The themes of the workshop will be: varietal creation of tomatoes and of potatoes, their selection, their resistance to diseases, etc.

Would there be any organization in Germany, Austria, Swiss, Spain and Italy interested in organizing other workshops with Tom?

We are programming a full month for Tom, so there is plenty of time for him to travel around, teach and visit other people involved in seed saving, seed production or breeding.

For the moment, Tom is fully scheduled in between September 12 th and October 5th. He is giving lectures and four 2-days workshops (2 in France, one in Belgium and one in Switzerland.

All answers welcome in French, Spanish or English.

Best wishes


Dominique Guillet

Association Kokopelli en France

Site personnel: Liberterre

Annadana en Inde

Kokopelli Seed Foundation dans les Amériques

Caleb Adewole said...

I found your blogs interesting. I am an experimental farmer in Abeokuta, Nigeria. I have also been able to develop an hybrid maroon-coloured maize in my own farm here Nigeria. I want to know if you can help in the area raising and multiplying it for use in the making of popcorn.
I have the 2 cobs photographed and I am willing to send them as an attachment if you you so wish. I am preserving them also.
Thanks so much for your help.
Caleb Adewole.
Thanks for your help.