Planting a Greenhouse
I tend to divide vegetables into three broad categories – those I love, those I can’t abide and functional vegetables that I’m nonplussed about in their own right but which are essential flavour builders, such as carrots and celery. I guess I’m quite lucky in that there aren’t too many vegetables I don’t like. Swede (rutabaga), or turnip as we always called it when we were kids, is one of them. Boiled onions (especially if swimming in a white béchamel sauce) and puréed carrots will both send me running. But for the most part I love vegetables and I try to eat as wide a variety as possible.
I am constantly shocked at how expensive most vegetables are here in Lithuania. With no Lidl and Aldi competing to keep prices down or taking a hit on essentials like vegetables to get you through the door, many vegetables are prohibitively expensive, especially in winter. I recently saw small courgettes (zucchini) on sale for €1.20 a piece. Of course courgettes are currently out of season and I would expect them to be more expensive than they are in summer, but that’s a price I simply can’t justify on a regular basis. Instead, I stick to native Lithuanian vegetables which would have been harvested last autumn and stored over the winter months, such as white cabbage, onions, carrots and beetroot. I can see why many traditional Lithuanian dishes are based around these humble vegetables.
Now that winter has passed and the ground is warming up I am looking forward to a broader range of vegetables. I plan to plant small quantities of a wide selection of vegetables and large quantities of those that I use most often. When they are ready for harvesting I will freeze, dry and can as much as I can so that next winter we can survive mainly on our own vegetables and avoid the ridiculous prices in the supermarkets.
Many of my favourite vegetables grow indoors and now that I have my shiny new polytunnel I plan on planting them in abundance. I started my preparations back in January when I carefully selected seeds for varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chillies that I thought would best suit our needs. I planted them early and tended to them carefully and was very happy to have about 40 tomato seedlings, 20 cucumber seedlings and a good selection of pepper and chilli seedlings.
When Arūnas finished construction on the polytunnel back in mid April I left the seedlings out in the tunnel to harden off before planting. The weather was mild during the day and cold but not freezing at night, so I was sure they would be fine. I’m not sure if it was from the cold, over watering or a homemade fertiliser I made with banana skins, but most of my tomato seedlings died. I was really disappointed as they’d been growing for over three months.
As luck would have it our neighbour is also planting a greenhouse. We got to chatting and she told me that she was getting tomato seedlings from her aunt and asked if I would like some too. Naturally I jumped at the chance and was bowled over the next day to receive a tray of 12 tomato plants as high as my knee. Those of mine that had survived were still only a few inches tall, so these were massive by comparison. I also went to my local market and bought a few huge cucumber and pepper plants for the exorbitant cost of 60 cent each.
Eager to get an early crop I planted them all straight away and strung them up to the roof of the polytunnel for support. I am absolutely delighted to see tiny cucumbers appearing already and a few flowers on both the peppers and the tomatoes. I can see one pepper developing so I know I’m off to a good start.
I don’t really know what I’m doing and am learning new things every day. I spotted a little green bug on my tomatoes and the good folks on Twitter and Facebook helped me identify it as a nymph (sub adult) cricket. While crickets themselves are useful in a greenhouse as they eat other bugs, the nymphs are actually a pest as they eat leaves. After a quick Google search for a deterrent I have been spraying my plants with a garlic-onion-chilli concoction that will supposedly keep the nymphs away. While I have still seen one or two since I started spraying (which I carefully gathered in my hands and set free outside), the damage to my leaves has certainly halted. I also have a large number of ants and some spotting on my tomato leaves – if anyone has good, chemical-free solutions to these problems I’d be really delighted to hear them.
A watched pot never boils, as they say, so while I’m waiting for my greenhouse goodies to ripen I’m working hard on my outdoor beds. I’ll post an update on those shortly.