A novice's guide to producing his own food

2011: The rise and fall and rise and eventual collapse of the greenhouse

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The greenhouse didn't survive the December storm

Looking back over the 2011, it’s clear events have been dominated by one thing – the greenhouse. Money, and even more importantly, time have been wasted on it.

My “big project” of the year was to grow my first veg in a greenhouse, and yet here I am at the beginning of 2011 without one, despite having built one twice and moved it three times. As you’ve probably guessed my year-old greenhouse blew down in the December 8 storm, and is completely unrepairable.

This is the second time it has blown over since I bought it in January 2011. The first time was when it was on the allotment. Then I thought I had lost it for good, along with the £459 I paid for it. However, it was salvageable and so I  brought up to the garden at home.

But, come December, it blew down again. Although it was in a much more sheltered spot, the winds were the strongest in 10 years, and the greenhouse was completely wrecked. However, as it was on my own property, I was able to claim insurance, and got most of the cash back. Good news.

I am still determined to have a greenhouse, and will put the cash towards a proper wooden Victorian lookalikey. This will cost thousands, rather than hundreds, but I am confident it will last. After all, we have two wooden summerhouses and a shed which weren’t at all fazed by the storms.

The fault with my greenhouse was a common one — it used polycarbonate sheeting. This is supposed to better than glass for the plants,  but the downside is it makes greenhouses so light they can’t withstand even moderate winds. After the last storms, it was suckers like me with polycarbonate greenhouses who lost everything, while glass greenhouses stood.

The lesson here is: don’t ever buy polycarbonate. I will never touch them again

But I must’ve be too negative, there was plenty to be excited about in 2011. The harvest (although not large) was at least consistent. Just about everything produced a crop which ended up on the table.

Let’s take a look at each bed  in turn.

BRASSICAS – The surprise hit. Last year, they were a disaster, and I didn’t get anything to harvest. In fact, I almost didn’t bother growing any this year, but I’m glad I did. The combination of starting the seedlings off properly in my greenhouse (yes, it was extremely useful when it was up!) and then covering the whole bed with ant-butterfly netting, meant everything grew.

It also hugely extended the harvesting season well into winter and into the new year. That’s a big improvement on last year when the plot was unproductive by October. Just this week I got a large basket of leeks, turnip and cabbage.

The brassicas mean my plot is still productive in January

I had planted half the bed with cabbage (half white, half savoy) and each plant grew to maturity. However, some of the white succumbed to rot or to being “blown” (that is when they get buffeted by wind and the leaves are loose, not tight). Most, though, were edible. That’s about 40 cabbages. Not bad, especially as I only planted them because I’d been given the seeds for free. Cabbages will become a regular from now on.

The same won’t be said about kale. I planted six, and, again, they all grew and were productive. However, the bottom line is simple isn’t a nice veg to eat. Nobody likes it, so I won’t grow it again. If someone knows of an excellent kale dish, let me know.

The turnip seeds were also free, and, again, that’s why I planted them. (By the way, I’m talking here about proper turnip, the purple and white veg about the size of your fist, not swedes, which Scottish folk call turnip). Again they matured, and there were lots of them. I enjoyed them, but could tell Sue really would have preferred swedes. So, I’ll grow them instead next year. It makes sense as we use a lot of turnip in the house (about one a week).

ONIONS  – Thanks to the greenhouse, the onion sets got off to a blistering start. I planted them outside in April, and the glorious weather saw them really take off. I felt I was going to get a real bumper crop. Astonishingly, even other allotmenteers were impressed. But, from June on, it was all downhill. They just didn’t get any bigger. Nearly all grew, but I suspect it was the weather that let me down. It just wasn’t hot enough.

I won’t do much differently in 2012 — just hope for better weather.

LEGUMES – The bed was two-thirds beans and one-third peas. Despite the beans being of the dwarf variety, they produced a good crop. The same can’t be said of peas — there was only enough for one meal. The problem behind the legumes this year is the bane of my life – weeds. I’d planted the rows far too close together, and subsequently was unable to weed them properly. Before too long they took over and the bed was a mess. This year, I’ll allow three or even four times the amount of space between rows, so I can squat down and weed them properly.

POTATOES – Some bugger pinched a quarter of my crop. The salad potatoes were snaggled by someone who pulled each plant out of the ground, and collected the spuds still hanging on. All I was left with was a handful of very large potatoes. As for the other potatoes, they grew reasonably well, but the harvest wasn’t great. I was hoping for more as I’d put seaweed into the soil thinking it would produce a spectacular crop. But it didn’t. I guess I’m going to have to blame the weather again. I’m pretty sure I did everything right. I had been hoping for spuds that would last of a third or more of the year. Instead, it was about a couple of months.

ROOT VEG (AND COURGETTES)  – Despite being reasonably successful last year, carrots were a very poor crop. I planted half a bed with carrot seed, but again was greedy, and planted the rows too close. Once more, the inevitable happened and weeds took over, choking just about all growth. This year, I will plant far fewer, but make sure they are managed better. Carrots were perhaps my biggest failure, especially as they had been such a success the previous year. A step back, but lessons have been learnt.

The beetroot and courgettes, though, were very great. The poor summer seemed to have ruined everyone’s courgettes, but I planted mine later, and they were fine. I put them in under a plastic cloche, and they quickly caught up, overtaking the “competition”. I’d even noticed that my courgettes were better-looking than the winners at the Dundee Flower Show, and it has made me toying with the idea of entering this year.

The beetroot were also a great success, and I’ve got jars of fantastic-tasting chutney and pickled slices stacked away. I’ll not change anything for this year.

LEEKS – For the second year, I’ve grown leeks in a spare part of the plot away from the main beds. I didn’t have time to feed the soil properly, but the leeks still did reasonably well even if they were smallish.

FRUITCAGE – The strawberry crop was decent, but the experience was unsatisfying. Despite thinking I was on top of the weeds, it too soon took over and choked a lot of growth. Although were had nice fresh strawberries all through summer, I feel I would have gotten more if it wasn’t for the weeds. Unlike the carrots and legumes, it wasn’t spacing that let the weeds flourish, rather it was because I hadn’t dug the bed over properly in the first place, and, as strawberries are in the ground all year round, there wasn’t a chance to rectify the matter. So, in preparation for this year, I have dug out all the strawberry plants and bunged them in other plot while I give it a good digging over. The truth is, the rack weed is so thick and knotted, I’m surprised anything grew. This year will be better.

SALAD BED – This was a last-minute thing in the space where the greenhouse should have been. I basically just sprinkled lettuce, rocket, spring onions and radishes in the ground, and up they popped. It was great experiment, and I will give it a proper go in 2012.

TOMATOES AND CUCUMBER – We’ve now left the allotment are in the greenhouse back home. Despite it’s demise, when it was up and working, it did a great job. I got a wonderful crop of tomatoes and cucumber. And because the greenhouse was in my garden I was able to water everything as required.  Sue loved the fact that she could just pop out into the garden and pick tomatoes for her lunch. The only thing I’ll do differently next summer is make a better job of restricting the tomato plants’ growth, so they put more energy into producing fruit.

As an experiment, I had bought six grafted tomato plants, so I could compare them with the infinitely cheaper option of growing them from seed. The verdict? If anything, those grown from seed were more productive, and so I won’t buy grafted gain.

(AND FINALLY) THE BEES – A great year. I got 35lbs of honey from two hives very early on. Not only was I surprised at such a healthy haul, but other beekeepers were also taken aback as few had gotten any honey at all. I also gained an extra colony, so had three to take up to the heather. The trip to Glenesk proved to be less lucrative, though, as I only managed to harvest 3lbs. It is, however, 3lbs of the finest honey I’ve tasted. I love it. The trip to the glens also meant the bees could build up their own stocks, and they’ve gone into the winter with plenty of food. This year, I hope to get five or six hives, and (with a bit of luck) I might sell a jar or two at the Dundee Flower Show.

So, there it is – my year on the allotment. Weeds have again proved to be a major menace, but I’ve got new strategies in place, and feel confident they’ll make less of a mark in the months ahead. The new greenhouse should arrive in March. Can’t wait to get involved in that. It’s going to be another interesting year, with lots to learn and do. Bring on the good weather.

One thought on “2011: The rise and fall and rise and eventual collapse of the greenhouse

  1. Knowing the year everyone had work-wise, this looks like a hell of an achievement. Well played sir!

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