Greenhouse leaves


Open the door and look right (and yes, that’s snow outside the plastic)


Now look left. You can’t see the front two beds, though. And sorry the angles make you seasick.

Welcome to my bonsai greenhouse garden. Nothing is allowed to get big, what with my compulsive outer-leaf harvesting. In the main, though I am growing vegetables in the greenhouse this winter, I am growing them for their leaves. Kohlrabi, shallots, beets: they may not be getting enough energy to make their bulbs, such is my fondness for their above-ground outputs.

Before breaking ground on the greenhouse, I seriously looked over the winter-approved list of hardy lettuces and salad findings, and, yes, I even planted these. But as I readily admit, I am not one to follow directions to the letter. My family, for example, really adores Amish Deer Tongue lettuce: it is a kind of cross between upright romaine and head-forming bibb lettuce, neither of which is especially cold-hardy. Nor is lime green leafy Grand Rapids, but I grew a lot of that too: we LIKE it is my stubborn answer. And you know what? They’ve both been okay in there, even if the mercury dips below 20* nightly.

In fact, everything is doing well. (I should clarify that my standards might be low: by “doing well” I mean “not dead yet.”) Nothing is robustly growing: there’s not been enough sun to make that happen. With the lack of sun there’s been a lack of heat, too. I have followed others’ questioning of heat-retaining methods like black plastic water-filled barrels, freshly manured hot beds, etc., to add to the greenhouse and I kind of scratch my head. Any plant will grow when its needs are met, and the top of any plant’s needs is sunlight, not warmth. I happen to live in a rather cloudy corner of the globe. Those clouds dump lots of snow on us, it is true, but those clouds also blanket us to keep us relatively warm. Global warming fears aside, this is a typical winter for us. Yes, it’s been chilly and dark in that greenhouse this last month or so, but the greenery is hanging on. I would say the secret to my success here is raised beds, deep/well composted soil, and a 24/7 covering of the agricultural cloth (Reemay), and not something high-tech.

The one botanical rock star of the greenhouse, though? Arugula. I transplanted a couple of my wildlings (they of the slim leaves and the yellow flowers) and planted a row of fleshy Italian salad arugula, too. I love arugula, but I stand alone in my admiration. So I have been making fairly decent warm-served pesto with it (warming it slightly in a pan before serving takes a bit of its bite out that my family finds offensive); thank you dear Cookiecrumb for the suggestion.

Other eager plants include mizuna, chard, radicchio, tatsoi, broccoli, and parsley. Perennial scallions have kept us in onion-y greens; they DO look sad, but just wait until the weather warms up. Cold-loving herbs, too, are having a field day in there. I have a huge, ever-expanding patch of chervil just crying out to be cut up and tossed with scrambled eggs. Even the thyme, rosemary, sage and marjoram in there have never really gone to sleep: they’re at the back of the greenhouse, uncovered, in the old herb garden that I didn’t have time to relocate.

So experiment, is my advice. Go with what you like, avoid what you don’t. Your greenhouse needn’t just be cold-approved mache, spinach and kale, but if you love them, it should!

12 responses to “Greenhouse leaves

  1. Please keep posting about the greenhouse! I will need the periodic nudges towards building my own, or at least putting covers over the raised beds.

    One herb I am fantasizing about daily is Salad Burnet…or Burnette…or Burnat, depending… but oh, chopped with shallots over fresh slabs of tomato and drizzled with a bit of evoo and sprinkled with rock salt and cracked pepper? man. I can’t wait for summer.

  2. You should be so pleased with yourself.
    Wait… You are!
    Very impressive.

  3. I think it’s fantastic what you are experiencing! I too have a hoop house, though we use three cattle stock panels lined up, bent in a u shape covered in plastic. It works well. We have been using this for several years for our laying hens and guinea fowl. They enjoy this warmer, out-of the-elements place to stretch in the winter months. It’s attached to their sleeping coop.

    This year, after devouring Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest we decided to give it a whirl and build a tunnel for plants. I got most veggies started too late but I knew it would be an experiment. My question is “do you have any troubles with rodents and what do you do about it?” All my mache, spinach and lettuce is gone. My leeks have been topped. Boo. Hiss

  4. Kelly, well, heck: I will keep nudging. This has been fun, the documentation, frankly. Oh and can I say the salads are great: the taste is so mild (not anything harsh/mustardy that can happen if it’s too hot in your summer garden) and crisp. And I’ve looked at salad burnet too and decided “nah” because as far as cucumber-y stuff, I have plenty of borage (which self-seeds, and has beautiful blue flowers).

    CC: Pleased, yeah, but trying not to gloat. If you could see our snow you wouldn’t be able to help yourself either.

    Chris, thanks for commenting! It’s great to hear from others who’re also experimenting too! But regarding the rodents: I had heard that voles were huge problems, and considering how many of them we have in the regular garden slash around the farm I was worried. So I buried a foot wide strip of 1/4″ hardware cloth all the way around the greenhouse between the baseboard and the pipes. Can I tell you what a pain that was to dig up? It was murder. But hey, I guess I can say it worked! I also worried about mice coming in from the building this thing butts into, so I put a ton of steel wool into every hole I could find. So far, no rodents (knock wood). I think the raised beds must help too: nothing at nibbling range unless they jump up for it. It’s funny: exactly what you’re describing is what I am making for my mobile chicken tractor for my meat birds this year.

  5. Oh, wow! I would be sitting out there with oil & vinegar and a fork.

  6. Oh…. a greenhouse. I think the closest I’m gonna get is a few small row covers for some of my beds this next fall. I’ll have to live vicariously through you.

  7. El: I eat bowls of arugula with a splash of balsamic vinegar and nothing else. Love it, love it, love it. I hated it for ages and then one day just loved it. The same thing happened with cilantro and radishes. That’s why I tell folks to just keep trying it. Tastes change suddenly, inexplicably, in an instant, and the love is as intense as that first love as a teen.

  8. Meg, well, a glass of wine is how I harvest πŸ˜‰ but now you’re giving me the idea that I should at least have a salt shaker in there for tomato season.

    Mia, I did the row covers the year before. It worked well, until the snow collapsed it! But it’s a reasonable alternative. I’m just a greens pig, so I got greedy.

    Pattie: I know! I used to hate blue cheese. My mom told me I would finally be an adult when I started to like it. Adulthood set in at age 35. But I think with veggies there’s something odd that happens when they get old. Really fresh things? Dang, I will even eat a raw turnip out of the ground (and have).

  9. This is a great post. Is this not a great post? It’s a great post. Ah – Arugula caused me to scratch my head, endangering my already fragile baldspot marginal areas… until I looked it up and realised it’s what we call Rocket in the UK and then it made perfect sense. I eat more salad in the winter than I do in the summer – I love the richness and variety of flavours.

    I’m preparing a book about hoophouses which will be published next spring. Would you mind awfully if I send you a copy of a questionnaire about how you use yours? If you’re ok with that drop me a line at hedgewizard1 at, we’ll be sending them out in a couple of weeks.

  10. Hedge: Hah! Arugula = rucola (Italian) = roquette (French) = rocket (you silly Brits). Sometimes it helps to be armed with some Latin. But I have no idea why we call it “arugula,” likewise, broad beans for us are Romano (flat-podded mange-touts) and not Fava beans, which are your broad beans. And don’t get me started with the calabrese/broccoli distinction! We don’t grow your purple stuff in this country, though I do because I am a contrarian.

    However, I am game for the questionnaire. I’m sure you’ll write an entertaining book on the subject, or, well, you should!

  11. It’s amazing what you can do in a greenhouse. You’ve hit on some of our favorite greens as well. I can’t get enough arugula, yet every time I turn around it seems I’ve run out of seeds. Same thing with mizuna. And we’ve done very well with other mustard greens. But I like the peppery bite, even adding young mustard leaves to the salad mix. Makes me more determined to revisit my plastic tunnel next winter.

  12. Hah, Ed, arugula is one of my mad self-seeders out in the herb garden. I seriously can’t control it if it’s allowed to go to flower. Somehow, though, this is not a problem with me πŸ™‚ Mizuna, like spinach, seems to really like the cold weather. I do hope you revive your tunnel this fall, long season be damned!

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