The Greenhouse Diaries Entry #2: Surprise and Circulation

The chronicling of the greenhouse is underway. If you are new to the blog this week, catch up with our new gardening series in Entry #1 here. For everyone else who is all caught up let’s carry on to week two of news from the growing greenhouse.

It’s only been seven days since our last post but already there is much to discuss on both the good and bad fronts. First off, we’ll start with the food portion since that was a big reason to build a greenhouse to begin with.

We harvested our first bowl of arugula last Sunday and ever since, it and the nasturtiums have been adorning our plates all week long. Here, they were a part of last Sunday’s brunch of eggs cooked in foccacia bread pockets…

The tomatoes ripened! In just one week they went from a zesty shade of green apple to sunny golden orange. We were curious to see if these indoor growers would taste the same as the ones we enjoyed in the garden all summer, and much to our delight I’m happy to say they tasted equivalent. Which means they tasted fantastic. Sweet, soft yet slightly firm, and just as juicy as their summer counterparts, these two beauties ended the week on a sweet note.

Grown from seed purchased from our favorite seed company (A true review! They are not a blog sponsor.) these tomatoes were determined to grow regardless. Producing fruit the size of large marbles, we grew eight plants of the Sun Gold Cherry varietal this summer. Some reached monster heights of over 10′ feet tall and they produced a couple of big handfuls every other day from August-October. The branch grown in the greenhouse was from a stem cutting. It was our first experiment to see if the cutting would root in water, which it did, and then immediately it went to flower. A little bit of hand-pollinating with a paintbrush, and two weeks later these two tomatoes started forming. They grew so quickly, we never even had a chance to plant the cutting in actual soil. These are just growing and flowering in a jar of water. Isn’t nature amazing?

Next in the ripening department is the Numex Lemon Jalapeno pepper. Because of the timing last spring of when we moved to 1750 House, we started our seeds and our garden beds pretty late in the season. The pepper plants didn’t have a full chance to grow, bloom and then produce mature peppers before the cold autumn weather settled in, so we pulled the three strongest from the ground and potted them for the greenhouse.

This summer, we had a big struggle with slugs in the garden beds so you can see the leaves are quite chewed through, but the plants continued to flower and persevere regardless. In the greenhouse, they look a little raggedy, but they are still growing so we are encouraged. Unintentionally, we may have stunted them a bit when we moved them to the greenhouse during their early post-flower days as they are now producing smaller fruit. But nevertheless, one pepper so far has turned yellow, which means in theory, it is ready for picking even though it’s just a little pip of a pepper. I’m going to leave it on the plant for a few more days to see if it grows any bigger – otherwise, we’ll pull it and see how it tastes.

Our last vegetable of the week that’s really taken off is the broccoli. It sits closest to the door, which is the coldest part of the greenhouse and since broccoli prefers cooler weather, this seems like an ideal location. From last week to this week, the floret has grown taller and wider by about an inch in both directions and has a new companion shoot growing up next to it. Like the peppers, the broccoli also suffered through slug season, but for every leaf that the slugs ate, a new leaf grew in its place. All summer I loved the broccoli’s optimism. In the face of slug defeats, it was the ever-present cheerleader that kept encouraging us to keep going.

On the flower front, the highlight of the week was Liz Lemon. For long-time readers of the blog, you’ll remember Liz from her indoor orchard stories. The last time we checked in with her on the blog was in November of 2020, when she was a Southerner living in the city and looked like this…

A little while after that photo was taken, she showered us in lemons (three!)…

But things took a bleak turn when we moved north. The indoor orchard, cultivated over six years of Southern city living, had many casualties. Avi the Avocado (age 6), Grace the Grapefruit (age 4). Jools the Date Palm (age 2). By the time, we loaded up the truck and moved a thousand miles away from the southern sun, we were down to two plants – Liz Lemon and Pappy the Papaya. Neither were thrilled at leaving the heat and humidity of the South. To put it lightly, Liz especially was NOT a fan of the new 20-degree weather, or the weekly snowfalls or the five months spent in a cottage on a lake in wintertime Pennsylvania. She lost every single leaf but three and was down to two twigs – just a skeleton of a body.

When we finally found the 1750 House in spring and became official New Englanders, I thought a summer spent in the warm air and sunny backyard garden would be Liz’s cureall. But nothing happened there either. All around her pots of daisies bloomed, the okra headed skyward, the tomatoes blushed rosy red and gold. Even Pappy flourished and became so content with New England life that he sported his first flower in August…

But Liz was not following suit. Out of ideas as to how to fix her, a repot and a move to the greenhouse seemed like the final attempt at revival. There, for more than two months, she just sat there on the shelf with nothing changing. And then this week, magic happened. At long last, Liz has come around. She sprouted five new leaves and two sets of flower buds. Just like that. Practically overnight.

Like an early Christmas gift, I was so excited, I took her inside for a portrait. Holiday magic comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes around here. And it is never what I think it might be. Two years ago, we had holiday magic in the form of a lost cookie recipe found thanks to Ken and Cindy. Last year, it was a bevy of snowstorms one right after the other. This year, our holiday magic comes with lemons.

The other happy campers these days are the geraniums, which are growing more and more leaves each day. Here’s the growth spurt from last week to this week…

But for all this growth and joy and magic of this second week in December, there has been a challenge to contend with in the greenhouse too. The sage came down with it first. And then the tarragon. Powdery mildew.

This can happen when there is not enough air circulation in the greenhouse. Along with winterizing the greenhouse, I also should be adding a small fan just to move the air around. When the daytime temperatures are warm enough (above 60 degrees) of which we, surprisingly, have had a few recently, the heater can be shut off and the greenhouse window vent opened, and that usually allows for adequate air circulation.

But now it’s too chilly to open the vent. Ideally, I’m trying to keep the daytime temps in the greenhouse between 70-75 degrees and the nightime temperature between 55-65. There are only three settings on the heater 1, 2 & 3 with 3 being the warmest. Depending on the daytime temperatures outside and the amount of sun on each particular day, there is usually a bit of fiddling around with the heat settings once or twice a day to keep things balanced. The warmer it gets in the greenhouse, the higher the humidity gets which then welcomes pesky problems like powdery mildew, scale bugs and funguses. Just like life in the outside world, life in the greenhouse is a continuous adjustment of care and considerations. I treated the sage and tarragon with an organic garden-friendly fungicide, so hopefully, that will clear things up. More on that next week.

Today there is a possibility of 2-4 inches of snow. Although we have had two nights of flurries already this month, the storm tonight will be our first accumulation of the season. Like sending a baby out into the world for the first time, I’m anxious and excited to see how the greenhouse will manage when enshrouded in a snow blanket. Will it remain warm and cozy and fragrant with the scent of honeyed perfume all season long or will it be too delicate of a creature to stand up to a strong New England winter?

Katharine with her husband E.B White and one of their furry friends.

I looked to the garden writer, Katharine White who inspired this series, for advice. She lived in Maine and was used to snow and winter and caring for flowers and plants in the off-season. “Outdoors, nature is apt to take over and save you from many a stupidity, but indoors you are strictly on your own,” wrote Katharine. It was not exactly the reassurance I was looking for.

When you move into a new (old) house in a new state with a new agriculture zone, there’s a lot of waiting and seeing and observing and guessing all buoyed by optimism. Next year at this time, we’ll know a lot more about the capabilities of the greenhouse in cold weather. But for now, here’s to hoping that the wild and willful nature present inside the greenhouse at the moment will suffice enough to save us from any serious stupidities of our own doing, at least in this first snowstorm. More on that, next week.

In the meantime, cheers to the Christmas magic of Liz Lemon, to the nasturtiums who look like little kids lined up at the window waiting on the first flurries, and to our first impending snowstorm. Hope your week brings some unexpected joys this week too.