As I have already mentioned, we live in Northern Alberta which means shorter growing seasons and unpredicatable weather changes. As a rule, in-ground planting is not recommended until well into June and we usually see frost mid August. Because of these issues, we have adapted our growing season by utilizing greenhouse gardening whenever possible. We have a stand alone mini greenhouse that usually gets set up indoors to start the mass of our seedlings towards the end of April, and we have a greenhouse beside our garden plot that is home to about half of the tomatoes and peppers we will process each fall.
Firstly, I will admit that I tend to be a "rough & tumble" gardener. Meaning so long as the finished result is a beautiful, productive and healthy plant...I'm less then fussy about how it got there. We recycle a lot of items in our home and repurpose them, and this is perhaps most noticable in my greenhouses. Everything from ice cream pails to paper egg trays is given new life and new purpose each growing season as I start all the varieties of seedlings that will eventually fill our gardens. Toilet paper tubes, cut in half width-wise, make excellent starter pods for fussy vegetables that don't like having their roots disturbed during transplant, and recycled salad or lettuce domes are perfect mini greenhouses designed to allow sunlight in and prevent moisture from escaping. I can honestly say that I have not bought plant containers in many, many years for the simple fact that everyday items that we often have laying around can, with a bit of ingenuity, become efficient containers. I don't own fancy watering cans, I use old buckets, and all my garden markers are reclaimed wood that I've decorated/labelled.It's not fancy, but it is effective and the end result is always the same. Beautiful, productive and healthy plants!
Secondly, we try to ensure that the majority of our large crop items are seeded from the previous years plants. Basically we hold back a percentage of our produce for regrowth the following season. Tomato seeds are easily harvested if you find a particularily hardy variety resistant to pests and drought. Similarily, saving a portion of your potatoes for seed potatoes to be used the following year will eventually ensure a high quality potato that is non-GMO and guarantees great results in your growing climate. Many herbs can be put into smaller containers and brought inside to a sunny window, but some are just as easily seeded each year. Dill and chives can spread easily but allowing them a specifiic spot in your garden and helping them reseed will mean that year after year you have a continuous supply. A bit of planning and forethought can have you harvesting seeds from your own garden too.
Check out these adorable seed envelopes. Super easy to create out of any recycled paper.
The key thing to greenhouse gardening is maintaining warmth and moisture levels that support healthy plant growth thru the various stages. For example seeds in soil, prior to sprouting, require a modest amount of warmth and plenty of moisture in the form of condensation. We don't want the soil drying out and we aren't creating a bog. It's a happy combination of the two. As the sprouted plant begins to grow, we can adjust the amount of condensation (more specifically the air flow) and the amount of light exposure it receives. Ideally we want natural sunlight and dark cycles, however Spring in Northern Alberta has long dark hours and so we often help with lights to ensure the plant gets the necessary light needed for good growth. We also rotate the seedlings so they aren't "reaching" for the sun and to prevent them from growing crooked. As they mature, we transplant some to larger containers (depending on whether they will be in-ground plants or potted for the patio or outdoor greenhouse). It is easy enough to tell they need to be transplanted when they soak up constant water or they are literally tipping over. The balance between knowing when to start your seedling and when you will be able to get them planted is essential as you do not want any getting root-bound while waiting, and you also don't want to feel overwhelmed and forced to put them out to early. We start the majority of our seedlings indoors then transplant them and move them to the larger greenhouse for a bit before they go to the garden beds. We often have to regulate the temperature overnight, but this ensures the plants are hardened off and adapted to as much of their new natural environment as possible and prevents overly stressing them during the transition.
In the same way, we utilize the greenhouse in the fall as well to elongate our growing season, again monitoring overnight temperatures. During harvest, fans and temperature control create a perfect location to store vegetables after pulling them while waiting to be processed or stored in the cellar. Lastly, we choose to use the greenhouse for winter cold storage for yard decorations and patio furniture...because it stands to reason that come next spring at the earliest opportunity (likely the first snow-melting, above zero day) you will want to pull that stuff out and enjoy some outside time!
If you have any tips or questions, head on over to our forum and get the discussion rolling. After all...it's almost greenhouse season!