How to heat your greenhouse on the cheap

At the latest gardening talk organised by Gourock Horticultural Society a lady member explained how she could heat her greenhouse quite inexpensively using just a few items of equipment.

She explained that she used an earthenware plant pot which she sat upon an earthenware saucer, on top of which she sat a candle and covered it with the pot.

She was amazed to find how warm her greenhouse was when she entered it and her heating did not cost her much.

This is something that lots of other gardeners might wish to try.

Tips like this are one of the great benefits of attending these fortnightly talks organised by Gourock Horticultural Society. Why don’t you come along and join them?

Purchase your seed potatoes

Seed potatoes are beginning to grace the shelves of garden centres up and down the country and today we feature some of the different types which are on offer.

Large bags containing about three kilos are good if you have a large garden or allotment. However smaller bags containing about a dozen seed potatoes are better if you only want to grow small amounts or grow in sacks or barrels.

Potatoes are classified into three categories – First Earlies, Second Earlies and Main Crop.

All categories are grown in the same way with the first earlies being planted late March or early April, with second earlies a couple of weeks later and crop during early to mid-May.

Seed potatoes should be planted in peat-free or peat-reduced compost if growing in sacks or barrels, but if planting outdoors there is no need to use the compost mentioned.

Place the seed potatoes into an old egg box with the eyes facing upwards - this is called ‘chitting’. Soon shoots will form and be visible. Doing this gives the seed a good start before planting.

Skins of seed potatoes vary in colour, with some white while others will be coloured. There are varieties which will be a mixture of colours, with examples such as two-coloured skins which are often to be found on the benches at flower shows.

In recent times some potato varieties sport coloured flesh and gardeners who wish to enjoy red, pink or blue flesh hues with their ‘mince and tatties’ will no doubt find this modern art work at the dinner table.

Seed potatoes should be planted several inches deep and a small amount of potato fertiliser can be added to the compost when planting.

Main crop varieties will be ready to harvest from September onwards and it is a good idea to read the labels on the seed potatoes to find out the best way to cook them, as some varieties are best when boiled while others are good for frying to make chips. Others are good for roasting while some large varieties are great for baking.

Some of the early potatoes are very useful in salads and a common type, by the name of Charlotte, is often used to grow potatoes for Christmas. In fact, D.T. Brown offer kits for this potato.

Among the early potatoes are several ‘well-kent’ names such s Duke of York and also Red Duke of York. Take a trip down to your local garden centre and browse round what is on offer.

Guaranteed success with snowdrops

While snowdrops are usually grown from little bulbs planted in the autumn and flower early in the winter, a more reliable way to ensure a year-on-year display is to plant snowdrops in the green.

Once the snowdrops have finished blooming they can be dug up and planted while they are still green and planted out in a fresh site.

Done this way they will bloom year after year with almost no maintenance needed. Many nurseries offer these by mail order and when transplanted they are winter-hardy and will give an inspiring display for many years. There are two types to choose from – the single flower and the double flowered. The choice is yours!

Our love affair with tomatoes

Growing your own tomatoes is something that is well worth the effort and there are so many different varieties to choose from both in size, shape and colour. Most tomatoes need to be grown indoors in this part of the world and while most of us have not got too much room in our greenhouse for too many plants we need to sow the seeds over the coming weeks.

Firstly, it is often a good idea to grow more than one kind. When you buy a packet of tomato seeds there will be a lot more seeds than you really want – or indeed need.

Begin by filling a seed tray with peat-free compost and then scatter the seeds as evenly as possible over the surface of the compost.

Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine compost and then give the surface a light misting of water and keep the tray at or slightly above room temperature or follow the instructions on the seed packet.

When the seeds germinate and the first true leaves have formed, prick out the seedlings into small pots or cell trays. Keep the plantlets evenly moist and in good light so they will not get too leggy.

There are many popular names such as Moneymaker, Shirley and Ailsa Craig and other Scottish names while the are others allied to overseas ,such as the Dutch, which is very popular.

There are small varieties like the cherry-sized ranging upwards to the large breakfast-sized ones which are ideal for stuffing.

Do not feed the plants at this stage, as you want the fruits and not the leaves. Keep the plants frost-free at all times and in good light and it is worthwhile hanging some yellow anti-aphid panels in the greenhouse to deter whitefly and greenfly. You can always tell the home-grown tomatoes by the nice rich minty aroma.