Anyone with the luxury of a greenhouse in their garden will know the benefits of growing vegetables in a greenhouse: the extra warmth helps extend the growing season of some plants, increases yields of other, and allows you to grow plants that wouldn’t survive outside, not to mention it being a dry gardening haven when the rain clouds open.
With that in mind, here are five of our favourite fruit & veg to grow in your greenhouse, along with a few more unusual plant suggestions to experiment with.
If you only grow one thing in your greenhouse, make it the tomato. Nothing tastes as good as a fresh, warm tomato eaten straight from the vine. They’re one of the easiest plants to grow: germination rates are high and, once established, they can even cope with a little neglect – a good watering tends to bring back to life all but the most withered specimens. Compact, bushy plants need very little attention – let them ramble and fruit as they wish – while those that grow from a tall stem need only minor tasks. These include pinching out any shoots that appear between the main stem and leaves; staking them before they get too tall and wobbly, and snipping off the tip when summer is waning to concentrate activity into fruit ripening. Like most greenhouse plants, giving them an occasional feed will give them a boost and tomato satisfaction will be yours.
One to try: One of the main benefits of growing your own greenhouse tomatoes is the huge variety of seeds available. This year, along with a few of our favourite red-skinned varieties, we’re trying out the darker ‘Black Russian’ for distinctive looking salads.
As with tomatoes, a major advantage of growing your own chillis is the huge range of varieties available – from the mild tapas-friendly variety ‘padron’, to super-hot nagas, and everything in between. Anyone with a greenhouse will have the maximum range to consider as even those chillis marketed as outdoor varieties are likely to be even more productive if grown in a greenhouse. Germination can be a little more erratic than tomatoes, depending on variety, so sow plenty more than you need. It’s also worth starting as early as possible – many chillis are a bit sluggish to get going or need a long time to ripen. Thankfully, garden centres and markets have an increased range of potted chillis available for anyone wanting to skip the sowing stage. Once established they’re easy to grow and like regular watering (just be sure not to soak them too much).
One to try: ‘Aji Lemon’ is a chilli that thrives in the greenhouse, developing into a large bush that throws out hundreds of bright yellow chillis that pack a moderate punch. The chillis taste great and are a good variety to dry and store, allowing you to take full advantage of their huge yields.
Cucumbers are another easy vegetable to grow in your greenhouse, needing little more than regular watering and an occasional feed. They love to climb and ramble so give them some tall canes for a leg up, tying their stems to the support for encouragement. When they’ve got nowhere left to crawl, pinch out the tips and wait for the fruit to ripen. However, don’t be alarmed if some of your cuces shrivel and fall before they’ve even got going – these will be the males and it’s the females that produce the goods. Keep a regular eye on the cucumbers when they start to swell – you’ll be surprised at how well some of them manage to hide and they can go from nearly-ripe to big and bloated in a few days.
One to try: Long, green cucumbers aren’t exactly hard to find or expensive in supermarkets, so why not try something a little different? The variety ‘Crystal Lemon’ produces lots of round, yellow fruit that are just as sweet and crunchy as any of its green cousins.
It is possible to grow some varieties of melon outside in the UK, but they can be sensitive souls and really prefer undercover warmth. Even in the comforts of a warm greenhouse they often show reluctance to grow if the conditions aren’t perfect, but with most plants you should get at least a couple of fruits to enjoy – and having grown them yourself and allowed them to ripen naturally they’ll be the best melons you’ve ever tasted. Like cucumbers they’re part of the cucurbit family, so they’ll climb in a similar fashion. They’re much more likely to thrive if planted in good compost in your greenhouse and given a few decent feeds, and you’ll also need to show some patience while waiting for them to ripen.
One to try: Last year we had good results from the variety ‘Emir’, a small round melon with deliciously soft, sweet flesh.
While lettuces, herbs and many other salad leaves are generally easy to grow indoors and out, they can be a bit fussy with temperatures. Too cold and they won’t bother; too hot and they’ll bolt to seed before you’ve had a chance to tuck their leaves into a sandwich. Greenhouse owners get the option of more regular salad growing – you can get started inside the greenhouse whilst it is relatively of other plants, before sowing more outside during summer and then finishing off with the final flourish in the glass-paned comfort of the greenhouse as autumn turns chilly. The biggest threat to a decent salad crop is wildlife, especially slugs and snails, which makes the greenhouse an even safer environment to nurture their leafy goodness.
One to try: Basil is much more of a sun-worshipper than most herb crops, so will love a long stint in the greenhouse, and you may be surprised at just how large the plants become. It’s hard to beat the classic ‘sweet green’ variety but if you’re looking for something different then consider ‘summer surprise’ – the surprise being that the leaves are purple!
Are you just starting out with growing vegetables in a greenhouse, or are you a fully paid-up member of the Good Life gang? Have you tried growing any of these plants yourself? Let us know your suggestions for great plants, fruits or vegetables to grow in the greenhouse in the comments below.