Growing in the greenhouse

There's no better taste in the world than a freshly-picked 'hothouse tomato' – but there's so much more you can grow in an unheated greenhouse.

It's a win-win situation – tastier, organic, cheaper food; virtually no carbon footprint; no pesticides; you extend your gardening year and the extra activity gets you fitter.

The most important things before you touch a plant are safety and keeping the greenhouse clean. If you're getting a new one, consider getting it professionally installed. If you've inherited one, make sure the glass is secure with all clips in place and that the vents/louvres work.

To clean a greenhouse, hose down outside and inside to loosen dirt, pests and eggs, then clean glass with antibacterial washing-up liquid in warm water. Wash staging with a garden disinfectant like Citrox.

The easiest crops to grow in greenhouses

Cherry tomatoes: buy plug plants. Choose cordon (intermediate) varieties – these take up less space. They're best in a bed, but you'll get good results from extra-large tomato grow bags with ring culture pots screwed into the top.

You don't need to water tomatoes every day – their flavour is improved with a decent soaking two-three times a week. Add plenty of organic matter (homemade compost, or a soil enhancer like Dalefoot Compost, which is made from wool and bracken).

Feed once a week after the second truss has set and you should be enjoying tomatoes from July to October. Recommended varieties – Rosella (dark rose pink); Orange Paruche; Pink Charmer; Black Opal; Gardener's Delight (red).

Peppers and chilies: grow from plugs, like tomatoes. A good bell pepper is Healthy; Loco is a decorative chili.

Cucamelons: cucumbers are tricky, but these Mexican gherkins have a cucumber taste and look like grape-sized watermelons. They're easy from seed and are drought tolerant, pest resistant and the tuberous roots can be stored overwinter.

Strawberries: it's possible to get early and late harvests, but it's important the temperature doesn't go above 16C (61F), as this will inhibit flowering.

Salads: grow cut-and-come again or winter varieties of lettuce from seed in the colder months. Two other options are pea shoots (choose Twinkle) and rocket.

Carrots: baby carrots can be grown over winter for a spring crop. Nantes 2, Parmex and Mokum are suitable.

Overwintering plants: figs can spend the summer outside, moving back into the greenhouse in winter from the first frosts to May. The most reliable is Brown Turkey.

Top tips for gardening in winter

In winter, you can install bubble wrap insulation, but it is expensive - you only need to keep things frost free.

Don't let plant tissue touch cold glass – it will frost the leaves.

Keep dormant plants on the dry side – root rot kills more plants than cold.

Allow some ventilation during the day to stop mould and mildew - remove dead plant material promptly.

Check plants regularly for pests, especially aphids; vine weevils and hibernating snails hide under pot rims.

If you would like to grow under glass, browse the greenhouse section.