Editor’s Note: For 20 years Rosemary Fitzpatrick encouraged area gardeners in her column in the Homer News, the Kachemak Gardener. She took a break, but is back this year with one goal in mind: to help you realize your gardening dreams.
I have been doing serious thinking about those of you who want a greenhouse. You are in two different camps: those who have a visceral need and those who think it would be entertaining to putter around in the greenhouse. Very different camps, indeed. I have never addressed the latter, never taken you seriously — how rude of me. I apologize.
My neighbors bought a house that came with a greenhouse. Now this couple are only marginally interested in gardening. And I have learned an important lesson from them in the greenhouse arena. They putter. And why not? There is the greenhouse, why leave it empty? Why not put something, anything really, into it? Why not just see what happens? And why, oh why, knock yourself out doing it?
If you find yourself in a similar situation, go ahead and put that greenhouse to use. Buy commercial potting soil, fill whatever container you have handy (five-gallon buckets are the norm), buy your starts at a local nursery and enjoy your tomatoes /cucumbers/summer squash/basil out of your very own greenhouse.
If you are not so fortunate to have a greenhouse in situ, go ahead and buy one. They are locally available and some are quite lovely. If you are handy you could make one. Those constructed with discarded windows are ever so charming. Keep in mind that ventilation is important. Tomatoes do not want the temperature over 90 degrees.
I try to keep mine in the 80s, but that can be challenging, even with a fan and vents. Unless you consider last year — when the temperature never went anywhere and tomatoes were few and far between. There you have it — no telling.
You will need to pollinate the tomato blossoms. This is so simple it’s almost embarrassing — just shake the plant. Ignore anyone who tells you to take a paint brush and go from blossom to blossom. Goodness, how tedious.
There you have it, inhabitants of Camp 2, putter on.
Then there are those of us in Camp 1. I am a member of this one, never having puttered a day in my life but am slowly appreciating its virtues.
I turned on the heat in the greenhouse April 1. This is a small structure about 8 feet by15 feet, double-walled rigid plastic of some kind, with fan and two electric heaters that make HEA ever so happy. They also make me happy and right about now that is a major mental health factor. The temperature drops as low as 35 degrees, but everything seems to appreciate not being in the house and too warm. And there is nary a soul who can argue with the produce that comes out of this greenhouse.
There are those who do not heat at all. They opt to keep their seedlings in the house longer and move them out when the weather is more stable. One gardener friend covers her plants with floating row cover during the night to give them a tad more protection. It works.
Every fall we remove all of the compost in the 3-foot-by-3-foot-by-8-inch deep bins and add fresh compost. That way the greenhouse is ready to go in the spring. This is also why I am reluctant to plant peppers directly into the bins. I like red bell peppers, but they take forever, truly forever, to ripen. The days have gotten short and the temperature is dropping like a rock and there I am — waiting for the peppers. No more. They go into pots and then into the house to finish off what they started. I would rather have my greenhouse bins ready to plant in the spring than wait around for peppers in the fall.
There is more to a greenhouse than tomatoes. I have all of my seedlings out there right this very moment. Granted the tomatoes, cucumbers, artichokes and some flowers were all started under lights in the house the beginning of March. But once I heat the greenhouse I am out there starting all of the vegetables and more flowers. They love it out there. They love the light and the cool (OK — cold) nighttime temperature. They are truly happy.
And now you know, yes I do start everything from seed myself. You do not need to do this. Buy your starts, really. You will find everything you could possibly want and then some and they will be beautiful plants and save you lots of hassle and allow you more putter time.
But for those who really want to — get a move on it. Our planting out date, depending on your elevation, is May 31. You need to get your seeds started six to eight weeks before that date. Circle it on your calendar.
Now, we need to talk about keeping a gardening log because, if you are going to, you need to start now. I find it handy to remember where I planted what from year to year so I can rotate my crops. You do not want to plant the same thing in the same place year after year. Move them around.Make a chart and use it.
I used to keep a log of bloom times of the perennial beds. Why? I don’t really know. It changes every year. I think my original intention was to know what to plant next to what so I could create lovely combinations. Joke. I see an empty spot and I stick a plant into it. Simple. For me. Might drive someone else nuts.
But, and here I go again, it’s my garden — not “someone else’s.” As the season progresses hold that thought — you garden for yourself.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.