Gardening in the ice and snow of Pennsylvania seems impossible until you try it in an unheated hoophouse. 2011 will be my third year of year-round gardening and this blog will be a journal and calendar of planting schedules, successes, failures and hopefully, a bountiful harvest.
Yesterday, I took down the hoophouse for the rest of the summer, until its time to put it back up in October. The tomato plants were almost hitting the top of it and it was getting a bit too warm and moist in there. Besides, the temperatures are in the 70s in the day and 50s at night. The tomato plants, which were started January 31 and planted in the hoophouse on March 21, are big and healthy with tons of yellow flowers and strong, thick stems. The tomato plants that were started on March 12 and transplanted into pots on April 2 are small and spindly. I know from experience that they will eventually catch up to their older cousins, and will produce fruit about a month later. Whether or not they will produce longer into the fall is to be seen. The nasturiums that were planted in the hoophouse are up and looking promising. Hopefully they will give the tomatoes some protection from pests and also give the garden some extra color.
View of broccoli netting
So what did I learn this year from the hoophouse? Well, I still think that the design of the hoophouse is the right one for me. I like that it fits right onto the raised bed frame. I also like having the zippers to open the hoophouse for ventilation and access. The 12 ml plastic is still holding up, although it is starting to crack by the zippers. Also, the stitching on the roof of the hoophouse has given way and I've duct taped it for the last two years. But really, considering that this thing has survived 5 winters with quite a bit of snowfall and then the heat of the early fall is pretty remarkable. I'd say that this experiment has been a big, tasty success! If I get around to it, I'll probably make a new one this summer, although I'll still use the old one as well, until it totally disintegrates. The hoophouse and has definitely extended my growing season and has been a valuable addition to my garden routine.
Slugs have been a problem in the hoophouse because of the high humidity, eventhough it is opened up everyday to air it out. It's been pretty rainy here, compounding the problem. I'm counting the days until I can take it off for the summer. But those darned old slugs ate most of the basil, half the marigolds !!! and I think the pepper plants too. It's hard to assess the damage because it is so packed full of stuff, I can hardly see the forest for the trees, if you know what I mean. I should have kept the seedlings on the windowsill afterall or sprinkled the soil with wood ash. A regular standing greenhouse would have been handy for the seedlings. The seedlings resting on the dirt were fair game for those slimey pests. They don't seem to bother the tomatoes and as you can see, the tomato plants are doing great. There are lots of flowers on the plants. The heirloom tomatoes have big, strange-looking flowers. Maybe there will be big, strange-looking fruits! Friends are coming around for their tomato plants and it seems that the cherry tomatoes are first choice.
We went to a local flea market (Rice's) in Bucks County where I bought some flowers, herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), zucchini plants and eggplants. I bought 4 zucchini plants, which will produce way too many vegetables for our consumption. The only other thing that I will probably have to buy this year are the pepper plants.
Today I couldn't resist and planted my other tomato plants out in the open garden. Afterward, I nervously covered them with row covers just to keep them a little warmer for the next week or so. The nights are still getting down into the 50s and might shock them a little too much. I put in some beans the other day and the peas are climbing up the supports. The broccoli are forming heads and it looks like we will have a bumper crop! The Swiss Chard that was wintered over is still producing big, dark green leaves and I wonder how long they can go on. Still no sign of the asparagus, although the weeds certainly are trying their best to take over the bed. Some of the lettuce is getting a bit long in the tooth and I hack at it every day and give it to friends and neighbors. Sunday, Mother's Day, is the official day to plant here as the weather has warmed sufficiently. Maybe I'll spend the day knee deep in the garden, doing what I like to do best.