Two factors are colliding making your greenhouse a valuable asset. One is the economic crisis and the resulting need for people to earn more money or create their own jobs. The other is the increasing demand by consumers for produce that is fresh, locally raised, and as free of chemicals as possible.
Growing produce naturally in a greenhouse can be an intelligent response to both factors. An increasing number of people are learning how to reduce costs and increase the production of high quality produce in their greenhouses. Buying seeds, raising your own plants, and growing them directly in the soil can save you money. Heating costs, one of the largest expenses during cold weather, are being reduced or eliminated by using double and triple covers, using inexpensive local bio-fuels, and choosing varieties that grow and harvest well in cold weather.
Locating customers, before vegetables are planted, insures that your market will be there when the produce is ready. Customers can be local neighbors, residents in large apartment complexes, farmers’ market shoppers, independent grocery stores and restaurants, and office/businesses where large numbers of employees work.
Every year and every season I try new ideas to reduce costs and improve production. Some ideas are from other people and some are based on what I have learned from my own successes and mistakes.
If you are already experienced at producing vegetables in your greenhouse and selling them through the fall and winter, or if this is your first time, we have much to learn from each other. Please write to me here at Garden & Greenhouse Magazine and let me know what is working well and what is not. We can learn from the successes and failures of each other.
Here is what I am doing this fall and winter, some of it for the first time. I hope it gives you some new ideas to try. Some of the new ideas may not work as well as I hope, but working with nature is always an experiment, and I have learned a lot from nature.
My greenhouse is 30′ x 84′. As my spring plants were sold, I divided the greenhouse into 4 sections, approximately equal. I cleaned each and replanted. Due to continuous rains and very hot, humid weather, the planting season was delayed, but though a little later than planned, replanting of the greenhouse still proceeded.
The first, the northeast section of the greenhouse, I planted to 4 rows of Golden Cross Bantam sweet corn, an older variety of a yellow normal sugary hybrid. Hills of Hales Best Jumbo cantaloupe, also an old fashioned variety (my favorite), were planted between the two middle rows of corn. The northwest section is planted with 4 rows of Kandy King sweet corn with hills of honeydew melon between the two middle rows. I am hoping for a late crop of melons and sweet corn after the regular season is past. The two sections of corn will mature at different times extending the sales period for corn.
On the north side of the southeast quarter, sweet slice cucumber plants are planted in four short rows three feet apart (an extension of the corn rows). They are trellised with baling twine to a 17-gauge wire that runs the full length of the greenhouse just above the bottom board of the trusses. The rest of the section is planted in rows of bell peppers, transplanted in the summer, and alternated with edible pod peas, planted in September.
Because of the long, hot, rainy period, this was the worst spring for plant sales for me in 30 years, so all of the melon, cucumber, and pepper plants were left over and were already blooming and setting fruit when planted. As a result, I began selling vegetables in July, which helps compensate for the lost spring plant sales. Since many of my customers never bought plants and as a result never planted their gardens, they are buying fresh vegetables from me now.
The southwest quarter is planted in green beans in rows three feet apart. They are scheduled to begin producing by the end of September. Between them, also in rows three feet apart, Burpee Early Pick and Fourth of July tomatoes (my favorite early tomatoes) will soon be transplanted for a late fall crop. When tomatoes are ready to pick the beans will be finished and the plants removed, allowing room for picking. Tumbler tomatoes in baskets are hanging from the trusses and will produce first.
Along the east and west walls, the longest walls, are planted everbearing strawberries, Tristar and Tribute. I have a list of people to call when berries are available for them. I also have 2 Nicotiana white plants, which smell heavenly when dark, and a few broccoli, beet, onion, and radish plants, just for me.
After each of the two sections in the north half of the greenhouse have finished producing, the corn stalks and melon plants will be removed. Lettuce and spinach seedlings and large potted Swiss chard plants will be transplanted into each section. Late in the afternoon when very cold nights are expected, they will be covered with heavy weight, Gro-Guard UV row cover to trap heat.
The south half of the greenhouse can be divided from the north half with a piece of 6 mil plastic and then heated with a wood stove using wood from fallen trees. Excess heat will penetrate the divider providing some additional heat for the north half.
Using the wood stove will be a new experiment for me, so I will need to keep track of the amount of wood required to heat the south half of the greenhouse in cold weather. If feasible, I will heat through the winter. If not, I will remove the plants requiring heat in January and replant with greens until March.
Gini Coover is the author of The Natural Greenhouse, Growing Plants and Food for Profit. She has grown greenhouse plants and vegetables for twenty-eight years, selling retail and wholesale from her greenhouse and at the Athens (Ohio) Farmers’ Market. She promotes natural greenhouse production through presentations and workshops. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and the book can be ordered at SunandShadePublications.com.