With the thought of extending our short growing season, I built a modest-sized greenhouse and equipped it with a wall-mounted gas heater. The idea was to lengthen the season on the front end by doing what most folks do with a greenhouse– start a few plants from seed.
Much to my delight it has turned out to be much more than a place to start a few transplants.
The first couple of years I used it solely for the purpose of seeding tomatoes, peppers and some flowers. It allowed me to start getting outdoors to “garden” towards the end of March, instead of late April or even into May. Then, gradually I started thinking of other garden-related things I could do in the greenhouse. The first thing that came to mind was using it to make holiday wreaths and centerpieces, which I had been doing in my garage. This meant I could start working in the greenhouse in early November and finish up just before Christmas.
About late February the next year, when cabin fever became unbearable, but the sun was shining nicely and water was dripping off the icicles that formed under the gutters, I realized it wasn’t too bad out in the greenhouse. In fact, the sun beating down through the woven poly actually heated the greenhouse up to about 70 degrees. The heat penetrated every fiber of my being, unlike the intermittent heat from the gas furnace in my house. With this thought in mind I decided to hustle the house plants out for a little re-potting and TLC (I think houseplants can get cabin fever too!)?
So now I was utilizing the greenhouse starting in February through to June, and then back in it in early November to make my holiday fare. I began to consciously think it would be nice to utilize the greenhouse each month of the year, if possible. So to use it all summer I started lettuce in window-box type containers in late June and set them under a bench in the greenhouse so they wouldn’t get too much sun. I also grew a few tomatoes and peppers in pots inside the greenhouse, trying my best to water them every day. I installed an overhead fan for air circulation and covered the poly with a dark shade cloth so it didn’t get too hot inside. A misting system installed to root cuttings helps to further reduce the heat in the greenhouse and provide a more humid environment, while giving me one more thing to do in the greenhouse during the summer months.
So now the only period during the year I wasn’t in the greenhouse was late August until about late October. A good harvest of rough neck garlic gave me an idea. Why not dry the garlic in the house starting in late summer and bring in a few things, like pumpkins and squash that might succumb to a frost if left out in the garden. The culinary aroma of the garlic in the greenhouse mixed in with the garden produce had me thinking another thought: why not add to the mix of garden aromas by picking some herbs and hanging them in the greenhouse? So I hung bunches of oregano, sage and basil from the cross bars. I don’t think an Italian kitchen could smell better! I also hung flowers to dry that I pick from the garden and some wild places near my home.
Since I quit my day job and started freelance writing full-time I have a little more time on my hands. I’ve started doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but never seemed to have time to do before: harvest and dry the seeds of native trees, shrubs, heirlooms and wildflowers. I now enjoy relaxing in the greenhouse in September and early October as I sort through my seed harvest. If I’m so inclined, I’ll write a few lines.
You southern gardeners may not appreciate this, but anytime you can sit outside in chilly October or March, albeit in a closed-in (transparent) structure like a greenhouse, and not shiver is a real bonus. This is what I can look forward to now that I’ve found additional uses for my greenhouse.
So there it is. It is possible to garden just about year-round, even here in the chilly north. Okay, it may not be like gardening in sunny Orlando, but it sure gives me more time to enjoy my favorite past time.
How do you cold climate gardeners extend the season with your greenhouse?