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Colorado (no frills) papaya greenhouse.

When the gardens start winterizing in September/October, I turn my growing dependence to the greenhouse. What I call the greenhouse is a 12' x 45' glass enclosure attached to the south wall of our stone house.

The greenhouse was an after-thought, using salvaged lumber and mis-matched windows. The south wall of the house has three patio glassed doors spaced through its length, and whether the doors are opened or closed is all that separates the living quarters from the greenhouse.

The enclosure is passive-solar heated; it has air gaps, it does not have high quality glass and the single growing bed is simply sandy alkaline soil mixed with a little peat, shoveled to a depth of 21/2 to three feet. It is not a dream greenhouse, but I am growing plants I have only heard about and eating food I had never tasted. Wow!

The winter sun in the greenhouse runs a short six hours, and a long eight hours in the summer months. We sit within a bowl of canyon walls.

The winter greenhouse daytime temperatures run between 70[degrees] and 80[degrees]F. The winter night temperatures run around 55[degrees]F, but when it is bitter cold outdoors (low teens) the night temperatures can drop to 45[degrees]F, and yet I have never seen any harm to the zone 10 and up plants. Fruit production will slow on some plants (like the papayas) but all the plants continue to grow, and produce flowers and their greenery.

Because of the heat transfer from greenhouse to living quarters during the winter, rarely is the woodstove going during the day. Once the sun sets we do have heat loss due to "thermally challenged" glass, so we close the patio doors in the evening to ration house heat.

Most of the double pane glass on the lid of the greenhouse is cloudy or the seals are compromised, but I keep the top glass white washed year 'round. My tropical plants don't like high elevation scorching sunlight.

The greenhouse soon became an overstuffed jungle and I am often forced to eliminate some plants, keeping the most useful and spectacular growers.

Of the many figs, I've kept the Petite Negra, which is now over eight feet tall (the extent of my vertical height) and starting to espalier across the ceiling. This fig is always in some stage of fruit production (peak production in February) and it doesn't burn from the heat of the ceiling glass.

The pomegranates are in fruit and flowers continuously; the large fruited commercial varieties like "Wonderful," never produced in the greenhouse, and the dwarf pomegranates didn't produce very large fruit. So I did a pollen cross and have ended up with a Granatum-nana-x, their height holds at six to seven feet, the fruit is baseball size thus far, and it seems to get larger as the seasons pass.

Two of the greatest treats have been passion fruit (passiflora edulis) and papaya.

With the papayas, I grew 10 varieties, including reds, and all the plants grew wonderfully from seed. Some outgrew the greenhouse and were rejected, whereas others stayed nice and compact, under eight feet, and produced clouds of pollen, but never set any fruit.

From what I've read and didn't understand to the point of application, papayas are very specific for fruit production: male-female flowers, perfect flowers, bisexual flowers, which differ from type to type.

Bisexual flowers seem to be the luck of the draw. The papaya I've kept is Carica Solo, it is one of the few papayas where only one unisex tree is needed to bear fruit. Cool!

The Solo papaya at 18 months from seed, stands around six feet and is loaded with various stages of maturing fruit and new flowers. The fruit is sweet and firm, weighing one and one-half to two pounds.

Some other healthy and happy plants are olive trees, avocado, black peppercorn, super dwarf Cavendish bananas, Barbados cherry (Acerola), sweet lemon trees, jasmines that bloom all winter, patchouli lea, lemon grass and verbena, tea tree oil (Melaeuca), stevia, tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) and Dragon Fruit (hylocereus undatus).

I've experimented with large tree varieties such as mango, cashew and Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus, and I have been growing them in 10 to 15 gallon plastic pots with the bottoms cut out.

The pots sit on the soil of the growing bed allowing feeder roots to crawl around. Every three months or so, I rotate the pots, breaking the roots outside the pot.

The result has been large trees kept to a height of seven to eight feet. It has even worked with papaya, which have a long tap-root. The fruit is smaller when grown in pots, but hey! It's fruit!

The interesting aspect of this greenhouse is the ability to grow exotics year-round, many growing in circumstances that are contrary to their horticultural needs, and yet I cannot grow common garden crops in the greenhouse- the plants languish and die. I can't even grow decent tomatoes in there.

The winter months of November through February have been the only season when aphids and whiteflies are apparent in the greenhouse. I've found that pyola-type products are effective against greenhouse pests, but I had to spray continuously, and I found that a lot of the exotic plants resented the buildup of oils from the sprays.

During early spring, I begin gathering ladybugs from the fields to bring into the greenhouse, completely cleaning any aphid infestation I have not been able to control.

The other day I put a "worker" ladybug on an infested limb, and the sunlight was just right so I could see the aphids moving like "a herd in flight" before the advancing ladybug. The aphids were baling off the plant leaf and sprinkling the ground like raindrops. I had no idea that aphids were so cognizant.

I watch the ratio of good bugs to bad bugs, thus keeping track of the food availability.

Even though the ladybugs feed well, breed and produce bountiful larva, they eventually disappear. Where do they go? Is it the diminished light of winter?

I also started adding "female-friendly" spiders. They are cute and non-aggressive towards me, and the common "cellar spider" and "daddy long legs" are some of my best cleaners of whiteflies in all stages.

But the most recent discovery has been a common biting barnyard fly that followed some chicken manure into the greenhouse. Unlike other beneficials, these flies stay active through the warmth of winter days. In fact, they will bite the heck out of a person during the sunny hours of the afternoons. These captive flies are hungry, and feed on what is available; the winter's infestation of aphids, white flies and some scale that was brought in through a nursery plant. Even the brugmansia is perfectly clean, and my gosh, that family of plants is a magnet for aphids. To actually see that these nasty flies are keeping the plants clean is a wonder among wonders. Please note: Because I think it makes a difference, all my plants and fruit producers--with the exception of the bananas and figs--are grown on site from seed.

This little glass box of a greenhouse sure helps with the blues of winter, digging in the warm dirt, picking pomegranates as the snow swirls outdoors ... and if that "dream" greenhouse should ever materialize, wow!
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Title Annotation:The garden
Author:Abbot, M.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Growing indoors.
Next Article:Hot pepper spray deters squirrels.

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