Gardening, Gardening Year, Greenhouses, Grow Your Own, How To, Kim Stoddart, Planting

I keep hearing what a harsh winter we’re going to have this year. It’s even been dubbed Freezageddon by some commentators, which is a little dramatic if you ask me. None-the-less, whether it is going to be the coldest winter in 50 years, or indeed just ….cold, having a greenhouse or polytunnel in which to grow over winter is very handy indeed.

For a start, even when there’s thick snow on the ground all around, you’ll still be able to dig out (and pick) some of your vegetables from inside. For a badly behaved gardener like me who loves gardening and doesn’t like having to wait till spring to get active again, I couldn’t imagine doing without.

Cleaning the Polytunnel
Be sure to keep your polytunnel clean over winter

Growing inside enables you to naughtily extend the growing season, carrying on that bit longer and starting earlier in the year. It boosts results from harder-to-grow, warmer climate craving produce no matter where you live and what the seasons throw at us.

Plus on a rainy day (and let’s face it we’ve had a fair few of those recently) you can still happily garden away protected from the elements.

Even the smallest, unheated polytunnel or greenhouse can make all the difference. While extra tricks such as using ground cover to warm the soil, using a cold frame for extra protection and an inside heating system will expand your opportunities even further…

Here are just a few of best things about growing inside:

Earlier planting

Peppers, aubergines and chillies in particular need a longer growing season and the professional growers I know all start them in January/February for a bumper crop.

Tomatoes and cucumbers also benefit from being inside, even the hardier varieties and especially here in West Wales.

Everything in fact can be germinated and planted out just that bit earlier…

Growing more exotic varieties

There is much more room for experimentation and growing a wide range of exotic and rather exciting plants that you might otherwise not have tried. Melons, sweet potatoes and okra are worth trying and more sensitive, heat-loving fruit trees such as cherry, lemon and lime and peach really benefit from being kept inside in pots over winter. Although the citruses will need extra protection if the thermostat does indeed plummet as predicted.

Later planting

If you’ve been a bit slack with some of your planting and maybe missed your usual planting dates, it doesn’t matter when you grow inside because seedlings will have that bit extra time to catch up. As long as it’s not too late and the plant has established itself (before the shortest days) it will remain intact (and fresh) for a lot longer than during the summer months. Some of the best for lazier, later planting include spinach, rainbow chard, winter salad leaves and cress which all shoot up quickly given half the chance.

So don’t fear the weather doom-mongers. Yes, they could be right but come rain, hail, snow… whatever climatic conditions are thrown at us; with just a little outside protection you can ensure that you and your produce are warm enough inside, which is where it counts.

Kim StoddartKim Stoddart is a gardening writer for the Guardian and blogs at www.getbadlybehaved.com.

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