As a pioneer in the Growing Dome® greenhouse industry, Growing Spaces® provides a wealth of knowledge to its Growing Dome owners! View other greenhouse tips on our blog or here are a few greenhouse gardening hints to make the most of your investment.
Cover Cropping | Soil Testing | Crop Rotation & Companion Planting | Organic Composting & Vermiculture | Irrigation | Pollination
Gardening Tip #1 – Cover Cropping
To ensure healthy soil quality throughout the growing season, it’s important to keep your beds planted with a cover crop if you don’t have anything else planted at the time. A ‘cover crop’ is the general term for any ground cover that adds nutrients to the soil. Generally speaking, a cover crop adds Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) to the soil as these are the three nutrients that need to be most bio-available to your crops. Once the crops reach about 6 inches tall, turning the material back into your soil will provide even more nutrients for future plant uptake. Some examples of cover crops include rye grass, beans, and oats. You can purchase cover crops in bulk at any seed supply or gardening store.
Gardening Tip #2 – Soil Testing
It is good practice to have your soil tested at least twice a year. Starting from a simple pH kit, these tests can measure every aspect of nutrient balance in tired soil. This is a vital prerequisite to soil amendment if you wish to provide optimum growing conditions for plants. There are several at-home test kits available on the market, all with varying reliability. If you’re looking for a more precise measure of soil health, it’s recommended to send in a soil sample to your local university laboratory. Often your local extension office will offer the service of sending your samples to the lab for you.
For reference, western mountain soils often are alkaline. See our soil amendment blog for recommendations on balancing pH. Below are a few links to places to get your soil tested. **Note: Growing Spaces hasn’t used any of these tests ourselves, yet. They’ve been compiled through recommendation. We’ll let you know what we find out!
- University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory
- Colorado State University Soil, Water, and Plant Testing Laboratory
- Grow Organic Resource Guide
Gardening Tip #3 – Crop Rotation & Companion Planting
Proper crop rotation takes into consideration what each of your crops adds and extracts from the soil. For example, by alternating between crops that add and extract Nitrogen to your soil, you’ll ensure that the Nitrogen levels are balanced throughout the growing season. A part of effective crop rotation means knowing companion planting, ie: which crops grow well together.
Gardening Tip #4 – Organic Composting & Vermiculture
Your soils Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium balance can often get severely depleted by year round growing. Good compost added throughout the year will replenish your soils mineral content and allow for much healthier and pest-resistant plant life. The compost pile is best put in a container with 3 to 4 sides with some sort of bottom to prevent ground leaching, drying out, or over-watering. If the pile smells too strong, there could be too much nitrogen. Remember not to put animal products in your compost (except eggshells and manure!). It’s also helpful to chop your ingredients into finer pieces to break the compost down faster. Some common compost items include green leaves, vegetable waste, worm castings, algae from your pond, coffee grounds, egg shells, dryer lint, manure, and a small amount of pine needles and wood ash. The end result of your compost should have a rich and dense hummus-like texture. If your compost is taking a long time to finish, chances are there is not enough heat build up to be destroying disease and weed seeds. The most common reason for this is not enough green material in the pile.
Composting at high elevation and/or in dry, arid climates is often challenging. In order to successfully achieve healthy compost, the temperature of the beds should stay at an average temperature of 70-90 degrees. If you don’t care to compost your own scraps, many landscaping companies sell compost in bulk. A more practical solution to ensure your soil is staying healthy throughout the season is to have a vermiculture bin inside your growing dome. The difference between vermiculture and a regular compost pile is that vermiculture has worms actively added to it and is in a fully closed container. Here’s how to get started!
Gardening Tip #5 – Irrigation Systems
One of our most common questions is regarding what kind of irrigation system is the best. We feel that mini sprayers and soaker hoses are the way to go. Both systems seem to work very well, however the disadvantage of the mini-sprays is that in the summer, plants with big foliage tended to block the spray and prevent it from watering the whole bed unless you vigilantly trim back the protruding leaves. In the winter I generally water every three to four days and in the summer every one to two days. I would definitely obtain a moisture meter as often when the surface of the soil looks dry it is in fact quite moist lower down. It is only germinating seeds and young seedlings that need surface moisture.
Gardening Tip #6 – Pollination
People often ask how plants that need pollination have that happen inside the Growing Dome. The most common way is for insects that come into the dome, such as bees, to perform this function. For this reason we recommend not putting screens on the windows. If you need to prevent animals such as mice or chipmunks from entering through the windows, we recommend a 1/4 or 1/2 in hardware cloth that allows continued air movement.
Some plants such as cucumbers, melons, and squash require hand pollination. The way to do this is to 1st distinguish between the male and female flowers. The female flowers always have a swollen base right under the flower petals, whereas the males do not. Pick a male flower and peel back the petals to reveal pistil which should be covered in pollen. Carefully open the female flower and pollinate the stamen inside. If pollination does not happen, the baby plants will only grow to a small size, wither and fall off. You can always tell if the pollination has been successful as the fruit grows to full size and ripeness!
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