Greenhouse update, early winter edition

“New” greenhouse on a chilly but sunny morning; that’s snow outdoors and on the plastic.  I removed the covers to show you the growth. Sorry about the drunken, pre-coffee angle.

Thankfully, gratefully, I report a gentle fall to round out the growing year of 2009.  Though our weather this growing season wasn’t as calamitous as many experienced it, it was an unusual year, definitely on the cool side.

Many people don’t realize it, but late spring and late fall are times of moderation, as far as temperatures go:  the swing on our thermometer only changes 20* or so between daytime highs/nighttime lows.  Inside the greenhouse, things are more moderate, too, with a 40* swing found on a sunny day, 20-30* on a cloudy one.  The temperatures slowly drop, but the highs drop too, so now we’re still seeing that swing but it’s happening between cold and colder, not cool and cooler.

This hasn’t always been the case.  Often, November hits us with a bang, and we’ve even  been known to have snow accumulation in mid-October.  Finally, in late November, it got cold.  And I got the Reemay out.

Reemay fabric covers, which stay on until mid-Feb. for warmth.  I always think of Madeline when I see these little beds (there are 12 in the new greenhouse, in two straight lines…

Lettuces fairly well packed into a bed:  notice how they’re not full sized.  I transfered them in as tiny plants in late October.  They’ll grow very slowly throughout the winter, but I’ve made sure there’s enough growth to 1. have a decent harvest and 2.  keep the lettuces smaller to avoid too much frost damage

I invested a mere $20 for 1/2″ PVC sun-resistant conduit to use as the Reemay supports this year.  #9 wire (9/16″ diameter) is recommended:  it’s easily bent, can be stuck in the ground with ease, and the rowcover fabric can easily be clipped to stay in place with clothespins.  But I couldn’t find it at a price I was willing to pay, so the conduit will do just fine…plus, I can reuse it on outdoor beds if I ever do find cheap wire.  Fastening the fabric to the hoops helps the fabric from bellying downward under the weight of frozen condensation.  In the greenhouse, see, there’s no chance of wind blowing the fabric off, but the fabric does get damp.  It can therefore freeze to your lettuces, poor babies.  But:  bow it will.  And as long as you aren’t expecting salad for breakfast, that’s fine.

Wee bit of frost during first light of day:  this Romaine will be fine

This second covering of the veggies adds another 10* or so of temperature moderation.  If the outdoor air hits 30*, the indoor air will be 40*, but below the rowcovers, it might stay at 50* overnight.  A string of cloudy days will drop everyone’s temperature, yet it will still be warmer under the covers.

Winter’s here, though.  Daytime sunny highs hit 80* in the greenhouses while it’s 35* outside; nighttime lows in the low 20s outdoors…but not even 30* in.  I’ll take it!

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19 responses to “Greenhouse update, early winter edition

  1. A tip – if you want to easily insert a degree notation (like 90º) in Windows, hold down Alt, then type 0186 on the numpad (has to be the numpad), then release Alt. Bam, degree sign. Works most places you can type text.

    For a full list of codes for special marks, go to the start menu, accessories, system tools, character map. Find the symbol you’re looking for, and in the lower right, it’ll say something like “Keystroke: Alt+0169”

    • Thanks, Nate. Windows does like to complicate things, especially since I work on a laptop and have no keypad. Or I suppose I do (there’s a set of keys that has the keypad on it but how to make them do numbers and not letters is again beyond me). Either way, this was something I used to be able to do…sigh.

  2. Everything looks so good. Is there a particular lettuce that seems to be the most cold hardy for you? It seems like some of the romains lasted the longest in our garden this year.

    • Hi Mike. The “Winter” lettuces (winter density, brune d’hiver, etc.) seem to do well. Actually, most of them come through just fine but the bright green Grand Rapids is the only one that obviously grows in the winter…so it’s the one I seed in November directly in a row. I will transfer them to grow out further in Feb., taking the places where the others are spent or have died. It’s fun to manage it all.

      You know what doesn’t grow for me at all? Spinach. Can’t figure it.

  3. Hi, El – I’m wondering why you have a set of separate beds on the left and the right, separated by paths? Looks to me like quite a waste of space. If you had two long rows, one of the left and one on the right, you could plant a lot more.

    Not criticizing, just wonder what is your reasoning.

    [Another five inches of snow today. Be a good day to stay inside and bake bread. Think I will try the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes book today.]

  4. You ever think about installing a lap lane in one of those greenhouses? I’ll bring the margaritas.

  5. Wow! your stuff looks great. I hope I can get as good when I get my garden together.

  6. Hello! Inspired by your blog, I would like to try growing lettuce indoors for my husband. I can’t eat it, but he likes it. However, he avoids buying it since it’s only him eating it.

    Long story short, I still have lots of questions about how to do this and wondering if you or any of your readers would be kindly willing to offer any advice. What varieties would do well? Also, what are good sites for ordering the seeds? Thirdly, the room I am thinking of is cool (50 degrees or so) and has a west-facing window. I have read that may not be enough light – would I need grow lights?

    Any resources or advice would be well-appreciated. The sites I have found, save for one, are about starting seedlings to transplant outdoors and my intent is to grow them indoors for their whole lives. I love following your blog and all of your food adventures. Thanks for writing it!

  7. Whoops, just found your seed source list. Awesome. I had to add the comment so I wasn’t that annoying person who didn’t read the stuff you already had up first before asking a question, even though I kinda was 😛

  8. That looks like a great setup. Every time I read your blog I’m taking mental as well as “electronic” notes, and hope to have *some* vague idea of what to do when the day comes and I can have the space/greenhouse opportunities you do.

  9. Hmm, the temps don’t seem moderate to me as a human, ha. Going from 30s one day to 7 the next is quite a shock!

    I love the greenhouse updates, thanks.

  10. Hi El,

    Thanks for the pictures and the cloth idea. My chard and chicory just wilted to death with our recent cold snap so I’ll try that next year.

    Curious – do you have ground felt or plastic down between beds? I remember your older pics with cardboard…how do you handle weed control between rows?

    I put down the thick, black, woven plastic and did my own version of straw bale gardening on top of it, but plan to cut it in bed shape before staking in the wood bed frames in Feb..

  11. Your greenhouse looks wonderful and inspired me to do a very mini version of it, 4 feet hight by 5 feet long. Just big enough for green onions, kale and a few lettuces.

    For the bed covers, I find large binder clips to be perfect for securing over pvc.

  12. El, have you checked out the chain link fencing section of Home Depot or Lowe’s?

    They call it tension wire & sell 170 feet of 9 gauge wire for around $17.00

  13. Dennis, hah, yes, I could’ve maxed out the space but it really wasn’t my goal. I like individually manageable beds: these are small enough to easily weed. Plus, if there were only two long beds in there, I probably should have oriented it E-W instead of N-S and N-S was the space I had available. Fair question, though. I got My Bread by Jim Lahey for an early Xmas present and I love it: he is of the No Knead bread thing and I really enjoy his method. Anyway, I am making one of his pizzas this week, which you’ll probably read about here soon…

    CC, funny, but I just drew up a lap-pool house last week. Tiny little building, smaller than the greenhouses…hmm! But: I’m more a gin-and-tonic kind of girl when it comes to poolside sippies. Not that I would turn down a margarita, mind.

    Paula, it took about a year of direct observation before I really “got it,” as it’s quite different than outdoor gardening. Easier in some ways, a lot harder in others, mainly because it’s literally up to you to manage things you leave to mother nature otherwise (water, heat).

    Kelli, well! You don’t do lettuce? What about spinach, or mache, or arugula? There are other things outside the direct lettuce family that you should try, and you might just like. So. Indoor growth. You’re right: you need more light. I know there’s this one product on the market that’s kind of space-age but is aimed at growing your own salad. Any grow light would work though. The cooler the better, frankly: other than germination, salad stuff prefers it on the cold side. And yeah, it’s okay: there’s a seed list at the top. I try not to crap up the blog with lots of links and sidebar nonsense but maybe I am hiding things a bit too well!

    MC, thanks! It’s fun to just think about the greenhouses, too: I spend a lot of my day doing just that. And today is really cold (19* at 10a.m.) but super sunny so that means I get to go sit in them over lunch, when it’ll be about 70 in there!

    Hi Jennifer, glad to hear you’re giving greenhouses a go too! Well, weed control between the beds: you’re right, I put down cardboard then heaped wood chips on top of them. The great thing about greenhouses are any weeds are usually of your own making: like the beets growing between one set of beds in my greenhouse now. In other words, other than the occasional dandelion, weeds are not a problem between the beds at all. The beds themselves, well…the soil has a lot of compost and the compost has a few weed seeds. That’s gardening!

    John Michael, thanks, excellent suggestion! And cheap-ish too. I’ll put it on my shopping list. And likewise I am glad to hear you’ve made your own. Green onions are great, and so fresh. If I were to have one that size, I would likewise sneak some thyme and parsley in it too as for me those are quality-of-life herbs 🙂

    Jennifer: I think he means those things that are the next step up from paper clips. You know, the ones that are usually black and have two spring-like prongs? There are some that are book-sized so that’d be the way to go with these pipes.

    Kellie, thanks! You snuck in there as I was typing this up. That’s wonderful I found some at a scrap yard but they wanted me to take a 3′ wide spool home with me: cheap too but goodness, that’d be enough pickets for 1000 greenhouses! Home Despot sounds so much more manageable 🙂

  14. You are welcome…I’ve learned so much from you and this blog and been inspired to do things I never would have thought about doing so I owed you one.

  15. You’re really well set up. My Reemay is sitting right on top, but I don’t expect any freezes. Besides, it was mostly for bird protection, and later for leaf miners, so it’s a different situation.

    I love your “in twelve straight lines, they went to bed. . . “

  16. Its my dream to have a polytunnel like that one-day and then I too can have fresh salad throughout the year.

    Happy new Year to you and your family.

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