By Melissa Kipe
There’s nothing quite like going into your own personal Eden in the middle of winter. That’s what I thought when I finally got to enjoy my own hobby greenhouse. We ate greens that year into the end of December and it felt quite decadent. Greenhouse growing had been a dream of mine for years. I was instantly captivated by Elliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest. I just knew I had to have one of those at my house. After several years, a class on extended harvesting, and one move later, we ordered the metal bows.
Building Your Hobby Greenhouse
Having a handy husband is a bit of an advantage because he was undaunted about putting together our 15 x 45 hobby greenhouse. It takes much more than metal bows: there’s plastic, wiggle wire, wood framing and doors to consider. But even if you don’t have the “handy advantage,” there are many small and simple models you can construct. My husband likes things neat and trim and even if a shoddy greenhouse could grow just as luscious a salad, it would be hard for him to be happy about that.
Our hobby greenhouse doesn’t have any heat or fancy fans, and it grows quite well into December (we live in zone 6). Everything that survived gets a nice quick start, as soon as the sun starts showing up longer and spring approaches. Think of an unheated greenhouse as God’s refrigerator that costs you nothing in electricity.
Preparing for Your Winter Harvest
It’s important to research and plant things that like the cold like salad greens. For instance, tomatoes aren’t a good choice unless you just want to extend your season. Contrary to what you might think, there are quite a few veggies you can grow in the cold season for your winter harvest. Many greens get sweet and buttery in winter that taste way too strong in summer.
My favorite two sources for seed are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Fedco Seeds. It is important to buy quality seed, otherwise, you are wasting your time and money. Not all seed packets are the same quality, and it pays to find a source you love and trust.
Soil Makes a Difference!
We grow directly in the ground. Our soil is clay and at times even soupy, consequently we don’t grow much during our regular spring flood. Thankfully we have had much success and improvement by adding leaf compost; that’s how we ended up with such large carrots! Greenhouses offer a lifetime of profitable growing, so be kind to yourself as you are learning the ropes. Take heart—even some of the weeds you might not get around to pulling are still eatable!
It’s really rather amazing what is possible with these outdoor structures. I brought in a single carrot that weighed more than 1-1/4 pounds this week. You have never had a sweet dessert until you have had carrots in your winter harvest! In contrast, our spring/summer carrots from the garden have a distinctly soapy taste. And even when your salad freezes it can thaw and still be good!
Melissa Kipe and her husband, a handy carpenter, live, love and learn with their tribe of six boys and one girl in Central Pennsylvania. Since there is never a lack of projects going on, she has plenty to write about!