The greenhouse in early summer

6/14/08: It’s an issue of timing: the big things going to seed need time to do so (leeks, left; beets, right; parsley, rear right) and the little things need time to get big.

I spend a little more than a usual amount of my worry-energy worrying about the soil in the greenhouse.

Without the cleansing benefit of fresh rain and direct sunlight, the soil in the beds will eventually need to be replaced. Hopefully, I will not have to do this for another couple of years, but yes indeed I do still worry about it. I water from the hose and I can definitely tell that the top layer of soil is getting mineral stains: either the water itself, which is pretty “heavy” with iron and calcium, is leaving this stain or the soil itself is leaching it out. Either way, it will eventually affect the soil fertility, and it is something I need to keep an eye on.

A partial answer to this would be to gather rainwater to water the beds. I do this, on a hackneyed basis; in winter and early spring, melted snow or fresh rainwater are the only way the garden gets watered. The heat of summer means I need a lot more water. Until we get a load of rainbarrels lined up and connected, the hose is the way to go.

Another partial answer would be to mulch as intensively as I do outside in the main gardens to conserve that water. Let’s just say I am afraid to do that. We have slugs and sowbugs aplenty in the greenhouse: they do lots of damage to new growing things, so I really do not want to encourage them further by making their lives any more cushy than they already are.

Big tomatoes (rear), slug-eaten Cranberry bean seedlings, and a handful of clover seed

So here’s my partial answer today to the fertility/soil quality question. I underplant the tomatoes with beans, and then underplant the beans with a sowing of white clover. The clover and the beans are both nitrogen-fixing legumes: nodules on their roots make nitrogen, a plentiful airborne element, readily available to the soil, especially after the plant dies. (Green manures generally are in the bean family for this reason: the other things I use (oats, rye) are used for their sheer mass of greenery that the heavy clay soil needs.) It becomes a matter of timing, then, for what I do in the greenhouse in spring/summer: tomato plants first (planted into their permanent places at the beginning of May), beans planted in early June, and now once the beans are tall, the clover. The beans will get harvested and the tomatoes will get harvested and pulled out and then I will till under the clover and bean plants, add more compost and grass clippings, and then plant out everything for the fall/winter.

Right now the peppers and eggplants are not tall enough to be undersown with clover. Bean plants are too tall to underplant with these two.

Oh, and reason #859 why I love this greenhouse? It’s shaving a month off of the first tomato harvest! The early and determinate plants of Bellstar Paste are just loaded with fruit right now. Great for instant gratification gardening, I will admit.

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11 responses to “The greenhouse in early summer

  1. What kind of Clover seeds do you use? Not the ones for the lawn – corrrect?

    I like the clover idea. I could use some clover for the sheep too. How are the sheep at the school? Anyone lambing yet?

  2. Hi WF: actually it is the kind found in some lawns. It’s the white clover, which is low-growing. I got mine at Pinetree Garden Seeds but you can get it at feed stores too. Our sheep are old ladies! They’re 8 and 7, mother and daughter; no babies to be had.

  3. Is there a way to open up the greenhouse to rain and such in the summer, or do you find you use it now all year long?

  4. I can’t use the grass clippings from the lawn mower this summer because we found poison ivy growing in our lawn (a whole other hair-raising, angst-causing story). So I’m at a loss as what to use to mulch my garden — and there’s a million little maple seedlings growing in it due to the trees in our yard & all the rain we had so far. All I see at the garden center are the big bags of chopped up bark. Would that be good for a vegetable garden?

  5. El,
    Is the reason for raised beds in the greenhouse your clay soil, or are there other benefits to raised beds in a greenhouse?

    And Artemesia, I’d try straw as a mulch. You might be able to find it at a farm supply store. We get ours in the fall from a farmer who grows rye. Poison ivy, ugh! Good luck with that!

  6. Hi Jules! The plastic could be removed every summer, but I would rather it was permanent; moving it would be something of a pain. We have a hold-down system that might possibly tear the plastic were we to remove it. As it is, I thought it might be fun to try to grow things in there when it gets really hot. Downside? Need to water a lot!

    Hey Artemisia. Mulch is usually what you have a lot of. Save your leaves this fall; you can use them too. Ali is right; you can use straw but just make sure it’s not treated with anything. As for poison ivy? I have a very special pair of gloves that I use to unearth the stuff. It’s pretty easy to figure out how it grows underground, you just need to find the “mother” vine and trace it outward. My experience with the stuff has taught me to recognize it at 50 paces, I swear. I have been known to use a bottle of poison ivy poison for the really pernicious stuff, though. I didn’t feel bad AT ALL about using it; I couldn’t defeat it otherwise (the vine was 3″ in diameter at the base).

    Yep, Ali, I use raised beds because our clay soil is so icky. I figured this helps me three ways: one, smaller amount of dirt to remove later if I have to; two, it keeps warmer in winter and drains easier; and three, pure aesthetics. I like my little wood boxes. Actually, it would be nearly impossible to grow root crops in there if I didn’t use raised beds. Or anywhere, frankly. Temperature is key though in the winter. The beds under the reemay are a good 5* warmer than the cold hard pathways at night.

  7. clover seems to be on a rampage this summer in my region. It is everywhere!!! My garden is full of it, and I have been weeding like made to get it all before it goes to seed. But the little flowers are so cute, I am almost tempted by them to let them live! Beautiful greenhouse…

  8. Stacie, clover is a GOOD thing! It’s only the lawn industry that thinks it’s bad: they can’t come up with a broad-leafed herbicide that DOESN’T kill the stuff. It was a whole marketing shift in the 1970s. Most lawn mixes had clover in them too because it was so great for breaking up the soil and adding what grass needs. So, don’t give in to the marketing gimmick. Yeah, it can be a weed if it’s growing where you don’t want it but really it’s good stuff not bad!

  9. Hi El,
    I’m a late comment here, but wanted to pass something I read recently on to you. Ann Lovejoy is a Washington State super gardener and in her book The Ann Lovejoy Handbook of Northwest Gardening: Natrual:Sustainable:Organic, she passes on a bit of organic gardening grossness.

    A friend of hers has had great success with pests by collecting the little offenders and blenderizing them. She recommends buying a cheap blender at a garage sale or whatever, putting the offenders in, adding water and blending. Then the death juice can be put in a spray bottle and sprayed around all beds and even on leaves.

    The friend says he has such success with this method that he only needs to do it once and the slugs stay away for the whole year. (If I remember right…it might be for the growing season.)

    I know it’s harsh and terrible, but it’s supposed to work. I tried beer traps to no avail. This method is said to work with insects and other pests too. Good luck with your pest control and greenhouse soil.

    Oh, and I wonder if a compost tea would work in your beds? Maybe some chicken poo that’s been “brewed” for a few days in some water and then poured over the beds in addition to some other amendments…seaweed??

  10. Hi Jennifer! I have Ms Lovejoy’s Gardening Tips and Ideas and she suggests the same thing in that book. I do enjoy reading her tips but dang if I employed them all my gardens would be a frightful mess with tons of helpful repurposed household items strewn around. I think the one thing that is holding me back is the notion that I need to collect enough to blend. The slugs come out at night and the sowbugs though numerous are rather tiny. It’s only really a problem with them when the seedlings emerge. Our slugs, too, are nowhere near the PNW scale of superslugs: you probably have larger pill capsules in your medicine cabinet. I do use a form of compost tea, too. Seaweed, well, we harvest the algae out of our frog pond and put it in the compost. I think with the soil it’s the salt/mineral buildup that will do it in, so I just need to keep my eye out to its getting “exhausted.” Just pays to be observant, I guess.

  11. hi,
    i would like to know with temperature around 35 celsius in d environment so the temperature more high in the green house i am loosin all the leaves its like i am left with only stem.i have been watering my plants nd as el says i have placed them a lil high from ground to cut down heat nd i use sprinklers to cool the green house but nothin is workin.what will u guys suggest me?

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