The Winter Greenhouse

mustard winter greencrop

Every autumn I sow a mustard greencrop in the greenhouse beneath the still growing tomatoes and peppers. Mustard for soil is like lemon juice for livers – a deep cleanse, (or biofumigant if you want the techy term).

I don’t chemically sterilise my greenhouse soil or go through the rigours of emptying it all out and filling it with fresh stuff. I treat it the same as my outside garden and rely on crop rotation, weekly biological sprays, loads of fresh compost and mustard to keep my soil hearty and well. The potential for problems in the artificial environment of a greenhouse is high, so even if the season has been trouble free I still clean up with mustard to put my best foot forward.


Come July, when the mustard is thigh high and the tomatoes and peppers are done its time for the chooks to do their bit. I open the wee door in the back of the greenhouse, and let the chickens amongst it. A fresh adventure, clean ground (so important for top chook health), a dry warm place through the cold months and a tonne of fresh bugs is fair trade for incorporating the mustard into the soil, weeding, gobbling hibernating grubs and leaving behind their soil building doings.

chook on greenhouse clean up duties

Chickens are an amazing labour force. Its worth it to integrate them into your food garden in as many ways as you can. Rotational runs in vegetable, fruit and native gardens that are connected to your chook house keep life easy. All I want to do when moving the chooks is open a gate.

chook weeder

You need to protect the crops that you don’t want them to ruin with high cloche hoops and birdnet, or cleverly crafted temporary fencing. In the berryhouse and greenhouse, I screen off the no-go-zones by pegging one of my fruit tree bird-nets to the overhead wires and laying a few planks along the bottom.

By August the mustard greens are shredded and turned into the soil for a hit of nitrogen and a load of humus building material which makes for stronger crops to follow. Hello beautiful soil!

chooks in the berryhouse

After the greenhouse the chooks are let into the berryhouse where they’ll weed beneath the raspberries and currants in their constant hunt for bugs and genetically driven desire to shake their booty. This leaves the greenhouse free for its annual scrub down. Because, believe it or not, its time to get ready for spring.

Creeps up on you, doesn’t it?


  1. Hello Kath
    Thank you for all your sound advice and encouragement.
    I too always planted mustard in my fallow beds, to cleanse the soil, until I read the book ‘Mycorrhizal Planet’ which told me that mustard, and some brassicas, inhibit the growth of mycorrhiza which we now know are so vital to the health and well being of plants and trees
    . Can you comment on this please? Kind regards, Yvonne.

    • For me its about all things in balance Yvonne. One sowing a year as an autumn cleanse and I’m a happy chappy, there’s no way I’m sacrificing brassicas 🙂 The key thing is to garden in the way that feels right for you. happy gardening Kath

    • In response to the mustard / mycorrhizal thing, I have read that trees and perennials prefer a fungi dominated soil, whereas annuals prefer a bacterial dominated soil…therefore the inhibition of fungi by brassicas not a problem. I could be wrong though that information is a few years old!

      • On the job my friend! Yes fungi for trees … woody type mulches et all, bacteria for vegies… compost made with soft leafy stuff. Not outdated, bonafide 🙂

  2. Julia O’Sullivan says

    Hello Kath,
    When you put your chooks in you tunnel house to eat all the weeds, do you still feed them pellets and wheat or just let them eat the plants and bugs?