Green thumbs get a head start
Lifestyle: Local gardeners preparing to make move to their greenhouses
Friday, Mar 10, 2017 05:13 pm
Gardening season is already underway at some homes in Okotoks.
Seeds have been sown and tender shoots of green are starting to emerge, tended to by greenthumbs getting an early start on their gardens.
Cheryl Taylor’s been at it for a couple months already. The seedlings now growing in her home were planted in January and she’s almost ready to take them out to her greenhouse when she turns on the heat this month.
“As much as I can, I start with seedlings,” she said. “Right now it’s tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and actually next week it will be cucumbers and squashes, and things like that.”
An avid gardener most of her life, Taylor maintains an extensive garden infront and behind her Okotoks home, but that’s only one part of the bounty she cultivates each year. She uses a greenhouse to get a head start and to grow plants and vegetables that wouldn’t normally thrive in Okotoks’ climate.
Greater variety, an extended growing season and protection against the elements are all benefits of maintaining a greenhouse for Taylor and others who use them to complement their personal gardens.
“We live in southern Alberta and that is a great reason to have a greenhouse, particularly for what can be tender crops at times like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers,” she said.
Taylor’s been using a greenhouse for five years now, but she’s planning to do the move early this year.
“This will be the first year we will put plants out deliberately as early as we are in mid-March,” she said.
Taylor’s first greenhouse was used by a friend before it was opened to her to use. Close to 500 square feet in size, it was a dream come true to have such a large greenhouse, she said.
“It was a full glass and wood greenhouse construction,” said Taylor. “It was a little worse for wear when we got a hold of it, but we cleaned it up and planted for two years in there.”
She currently uses a greenhouse on a friend’s property outside Okotoks. It’s smaller - about eight-feet, by 10 feet in size – and it’s full come summer.
“We pack it,” she said.
Taylor also plants a garden outside the greenhouse when it’s warm enough to outside to grow, but the plants in the greenhouse remain indoors.
Some plants fair well, and even taste better grown in the soil outdoors, she said, but others prefer the warm environment inside the greenhouse – particularly tomatoes.
“Prior to getting access to a greenhouse I’d given up growing tomatoes outside,” she said. “Some years it would be great and I would have them in large black pots and they would be great. Other years, by the end of the season you’d wonder why you put all the effort in.”
Okotoks resident Susan Russell’s tomato plants are already two inches tall after starting life in her Okotoks home. She too is getting ready to take them, and the other plants and seedlings growing on her dining room table out to her greenhouse.
Last year was the first time she and her husband Colin used a greenhouse.
Susan said it was a good complement to their extensive garden, which boasts a variety of different roses, a bounty of fruit trees and vegetables and, soon, a garden railroad.
“It’s fun having a greenhouse for a change, you can grow some things you can’t outside,” she said.
Last year, Susan started in March, taking her plants out to her greenhouse during the day and bringing them back inside her home at night. She used a solar-powered heater during the day to help keep the greenhouse warm and eventually, as temperatures rose, she added a heater during the night.
“This time last year I think we were already taking them outside in the day,” said Susan. “One day, it was like four degrees outside and with a solar heater and the sun itself I kept it at 20 degrees all day until the sun went down.”
She moved some plants outside and planted them in her garden later in the spring, but left her tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in the greenhouse all summer.
There was a learning curve, even after decades of gardening. Susan said she did a lot of research into insulation, building materials – glass or poly-carbonate fibre, and finding an appropriate heater for a greenhouse.
The couple chose a greenhouse with poly-carbonate walls to withstand summer hailstorms. She said the greenhouse would often get so warm, they had to open the door to let it cool off sometimes, while she also had to buy a special cover to mitigate the intensity of the sun’s rays due to Okotoks’ high elevation.
One of the biggest lessons she learned was the importance of cleaning the greenhouse in the fall.
“It is a bit of a breeding ground because it’s so warm and moist, particularly for molds, so at the end of the year you have it cleaned,” she said.
The effort paid off, and she saw the benefits early. After starting her beet plants out early in the greenhouse and then planting them outside once temperatures improved, she was able to start harvesting beets, traditionally a fall crop, as early as June.
As for Taylor, she grew so much she sold some of her excess crop at the Creamery Market last year and donated some to the Okotoks Food Bank.
She’s taken her efforts in new directions beyond the greenhouse in recent years, raising chickens and turkeys and she’s looking at adding beehives.
More than a way to grow her own food, Taylor said her greenhouse has also become a place of peace and quiet.
“I love the atmosphere inside of a greenhouse, as well,” she said. “It’s the warmth and humidity on one of those crummy days where we get snow in late June, for example. It’s the atmosphere. The fresh green plants, the smell of the dirt.”