The greenhouse soil has worked hard in the summer heat, and needs a bit of love before planting the next lot of crops out.
Create space in the greenhouse
There’s no need to pull summer crops out – if they’re still producing leave them in and pave the way for the new by freeing up space at their base. Prune off older lower foliage from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and aubergines. They need the extra light and airflow anyway on these shorter, cooler days – the extra light to ripen remaining fruits and the fresh air to mitigate fungus and whitefly. Pluck off all the yellow, ratty, pesty or diseased leaves and any leaves that are shading flowers and fruits. Keep training them along wires/trellis/stakes.
If space is at a premium, cut tomatoes off at the base, leaving the nourishing roots behind in the soil, and hang the plants upside down in the greenhouse or on a porch where they’ll continue to ripen. There is of course a slew of green tomato pickles, sauces et al to get stuck into. There will at some point be fried green tomatoes on the menu. My fav.
Remove greenhouse crops that are no longer producing.
Bring back the moisture!
Next step is to ready the soil. Begin by sussing soil moisture. Check it with this easy test. If its dry (and chances are that it is), you’ll need to rehydrate it to get those microbes back where they belong before feeding and planting.
Give soil a good soak then re test it. Soils that are really dry will look wet on top but remain dry as a bone beneath. In this case, water again, until puddles show, then rest it for a few hours or over night and repeat until your soil test shows you its perfectly moist. This can take 3 or 4 or 5 even soaks.
If soils beyond dry and gone to the dark side, water will run right off the top. Make shallow drills with your finger every ten centimetres or so along the bed to crack the hydrophobic surface. Water the drills a few times, resting between each, before watering the whole bed. As the water pathways re open and clay particles swell, the soil will start accepting water again.
Feed it up
Nothing beats a fresh layer of compost. Spread it on as thickly as possible – atleast 2cm in a greenhouse.
If you don’t have enough for a good layer, no worries just tag team it with other sources of fertility. Options abound, heres but a few to get your creative juices flowing
- A spade of compost for each new plant and crimson clover (nitrogen fixing greencrop) and phacelia (greencrop) seed sprinkled on the uncomposted bits between.
- Scrounge all the sources of fertility you have to hand – rotten manure, homemade compost, bokashi, worm castings, the wormy soil beneath the firewood pile or beneath fallen leaves – mix it altogether and spread it on. I call this cheats compost and its as good as the real thing.
- Boost a thin layer of compost with a generous sprinkle of full spectrum mineral fertiliser
- A spade of compost for each seedling and trenched foodscraps or bokashi or seaweed in the un composted gaps.
Boost the microbes
Soak the prepared soil with something to stir the soil life into action. This little pre plant booster is so very good, especially if your soils dried out. I love EM + hydrolysed fish or seaweed. You use whatever you have to hand – worm wees, activated compost tea, liquid comfrey or molasses and whole milk – which as simple as it sounds, is awesome. And easy. Dissolve 1T molasses in warm water and stir it into a 50/50 ish mix of water and organic, whole milk.
Seal all the goodness in (and provide a heap of organic matter to boot) with a delicious homemade mulch . The icing on the cake.
There’s heaps of cool things you can plant in the autumn greenhouse. It depends on what you want to eat and what the temperature is at yours. Its super handy for quick leafys like lettuce, bok choy, gai lan or spinach if you need them. For sure they’ll grow outside, but not as fast as they will inside in the warmth.
I’m planting out salads, basil, celery and beetroot. I’ll hopefully get some spuds going in buckets sometime soon. Celery, because going under cover prevents rust. Basil is a punt worth taking – if it suddenly gets too cold and comes to nothing, ah well! Salads are going both inside and outside – that way I’m covered no matter which way the weather goes. And if its mild and both go off, visitors will be winning all the way.
I’ll toss a mustard, buckwheat and phacelia greencrop in the rest of the greenhouse, beneath tomatoes and all as a soil cleanse and a pre cursor to the chickens arriving late May-ish. They’ll scratch the greencrops into the soil, poop all over, hunt bugs and generally have a ball in the warm + dry and on some fresh ground.
And dont you worry, all crops will be tucked safely away behind birdnet pegged to the overhead wires.