Trial and Error in Greenhouse Growing: Lessons from My Disaster

Seeds starting to grow

Trial and Error in Greenhouse Growing

My water wand blew up in the last brutal storm of the season when water froze in my greenhouse. No one was expecting that cold spell but then again we live in a Northern climate and a wintertime greenhouse garden is usually cold. I should have known better.

Every day of growing food in my greenhouse is a happy day for me but I guess I should wait to turn the water on until I turn on the heat. Funny thing is, the plants were all fine but the watering wand is busted and needs to be replaced.

Gardeners are busy starting seeds, prepping soil and washing off the inside of their greenhouses as the sun gets higher every day. Seedy Saturdays and catalogues are supplying unusual seeds to grow and I think that’s great because growing unusual vegetables is the job of home gardeners.

Commercial farmers grow the same money-earning, cost-efficient crops annually while home gardeners grow wild and wonderful plants in our gardens and greenhouses. And if my informal survey during last week’s home and garden show was accurate, it’s vegetables home growers want to raise in their greenhouses this spring.

Testing Out Quinoa Plants

Trying seeds or plants you have never grown before is a challenge but a challenge is good – right? The first year I grew Quinoa I thought, “easy-peasy.” What could go wrong?



Right out of the gate I was in for a surprise when the seeds sprouted and looked like common lamb’s quarters, a weed.  That’s when I did what I should have done right from the start. I researched Quinoa and found out it is closely related to the weed we see everywhere in our back yards and alleys.

But for a plant that looks like a weed, my biggest surprise is that Quinoa is not deer-proof.

I planted it both inside and outside my fenced yard and the plants grew up 3 meters (9 feet) tall inside the fence, giving the south side of my greenhouse much-needed summer shade. But where plants were exposed to deer? They were barely 30 cm (1 foot) tall.

But the real learning curve came at harvest time.  When my Quinoa was in full bloom I went away for a long weekend – okay– maybe it was almost a week.  When I came home the plants were falling over from heavy September rains and seeds were sprouting while still on the plants. Sometimes it is not the planting of new or unusual things that causes the most grief, but the knowledge of when to harvest plants so you actually fill your larders with stored food.

So my first crop of Quinoa was a disaster.

What I learned from gardening disasters

But it did help me grow as a gardener and this year I am visualizing Tuna tenderloin lightly seared in my own home-grown sesame seed. I will start the plants as soon as the seed arrives even though I know nothing about them.

But if you do want a bit of free advice let me tell you about fennel. It has overwhelmed me with its many seeds and the plants are now growing everywhere in my garden both inside and outside the fence. It is completely deer proof.

Gardeners everywhere are lucky if their greenhouse is already installed because their options for food growing are wide and deep.

But remember, for home gardeners with a greenhouse it is not always about growing year-round but about eating your own homegrown food year-round. And as we roasted butternut squash for supper last night I remembered that important point.

You don’t have to harvest everything fresh every day. Some things like tomatoes can be stored in your freezer until sliced paper thin onto pizza. Other things like squash don’t even need to be frozen to be stored. Any cool space works. And Quinoa? It will store for months if you don’t go away in the fall just before it is harvested.

I can replace my watering wand but nothing replaces the feeling of being in your greenhouse on a cold and windy day when the sun is shining on your soil and your back as you pause for a moment to look at all the possibilities your home greenhouse brings you. Ah – I’ll have to start earlier next year.