Sunday, October 26, 2008

Greenhouse on the moon- kale, kale and more kale

Last week we had our first hard frost. Tonight we'll have another one, although it should be warmer than the 19 degrees we had last week. At that temperature, many things that had been hanging on, ceased to do so. Unfortunately I had failed to take in the last of the tomatoes, trusting the greenhouse plastic we'd wrapped the bed in. In the morning I checked a couple of tomatoes and found them frozen solid. Oh well, the end was inevitable. The total take for our tomatoes this summer was 79 pounds. I'll round up to 80. In my larder are 12 pints of dried tomatoes that I will try very hard to leave alone for a while.
On that very cold night the greenhouse got down to 25 degrees and everybody looked a little shocked I admit (although in about a day everything had recovered). I had strung up a string of mini Christmas lights inside, and this was the equivalent to a 100 watt light bulb. Looking at my huge wilting greens, I thought over my plan not to heat the greenhouse at all and I decided the following:
The greenhouse has in it a great deal of mature, tasty vegi.s that are now becoming important to us as Cure Farm has now transitioned to their winter share and as this is the equivalent to a medium share, we are scaled down from the large share (plus two fruit shares) of the summer. I'm also no longer volunteering there and the volunteer days brought home vegi.s as well. Therefore, the vegi.s in my greenhouse constitute local produce that would cost money and carbon to replace. I decided therefore, to put an efficient little oil heater out in the greenhouse for the coldest periods so as to maintain the huge greens until we've harvested them down somewhat. I think that plants with younger, smaller leaves may be more frost hardy (particularly of types of vegetables I have growing) than these plants with huge leaves, although this is all a learning experience for me. In any case, we've started eating greens from the greenhouse in earnest now. My current staples include several types of kale (Red Russian, Siberian, Dinosaur), Swiss chard in different colors, and the occasional lovely large beet with it's stalks and greens. I'm sparing of the arugula, spinach and the leaks, and the turnip greens are only now big enough to start harvesting from. I have a little pok choi and broccoli- one broccoli plant in the greenhouse is producing and I'm waiting on a couple others.

I have not been running into any references to planting for greenhouses this time of year, so I feel very experimental putting seeds in the ground. So far (within the last few weeks) I've planted bunching onions, field peas, garlic cloves and corn salad. All have come up and are growing slowly but without issues. I have gone to the Farmer's Market once recently, and I've added walking onions to the garlic I get from Jay Hill every other week or so. Last weekend I bought 60 lb.s of apples from Ella Family Farms when Russ and I visited the harvest festival at Full Circle Farms. Apple sauce, apple juice, dried apples, apples in the root cellar and the fridge. This week I'll stock up on squashes from Munson as I do every year now. Squash is good in soup with the kale....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Greenhouses don't build themselves

So here it is, the first cold, inclement weather of the fall. I'm delighted to sit inside right now and avoid the drizzle and the chill. It's just shy of 40 degrees F. outside, and it's 50 inside my greenhouse where I'm growing broccoli, several varieties of kale, Swiss chard, kohlrabi, turnip greens, bok choi, beets, bunching onions, walking onions, leeks, endive, arugula, cabbage and hopefully garlic greens (that is if the bulbs I planted send up shoots). It is possible that the approximatly 35 gallons of water I have stored in plastic containers inside, will help to moderate the climate in the greenhouse. I just finished it last week. Below is my account of greenhouse building.

As fall began to come in this September, seeing the changes in the light and in the length of the days, I decided that it was time to get serious about building that greenhouse. Certainly I must admit that I did not quite anticipate the level of effort needed for this project, or the number of days I would spend with such sore muscles as a consequence of my commitment, but certainly I'm not the first to take on a large project, thinking that it wouldn't be so very difficult. Doesn't this happen in construction all the time?

I think my mistake was perhaps to read in gardening books that describe the "simplest" of greenhouses that could be erected easily and quickly, and to actually believe that this was true. Relatively simple could describe the process I suppose. Perhaps the authors of these books do not live in places that present quite the challenges that one encounters in building greenhouses in Boulder. Maybe they none of them happen to be on the later side of 40 something....

In any case, my greatest challenges involved the necessity of building a structure that could stand up (I hope) to the velocity of the winds we get here in the winter. Certainly the solution to this involves investing more in the structural components and in anchoring them in the ground. Of course the minute one starts discussing anchoring anything in the ground, one must then consider the digging needed and the rocks and gravel to clear out in the process. Some folks just use a post-hole digger. Not in my yard you don't!

My plan was to make bows using PVC conduit pipes rather than PVC water pipes. Schedule 40 PVC conduit has thicker walls in its construction, and it's intended to stand up under UV exposure, so I decided to use that for the bows over the top. For the upright portions of the bows, I decided to use galvanized steel conduit. I installed these over 5/8 inch rebar that I buried approximately 18 inches in the ground and bolted to the sides of the two raised beds that would be enclosed by the greenhouse (see the picture above) and then bent at an angle as needed by the bows. I spaced these bows about two feet apart, which is recommended in snow country. Next, using a heavy gauge wire, I wired 10 foot sections of 1/2" rebar in the center top for the purlin and along the south side. By the time I had finished all this, the whole structure started to "hang together" somewhat and I felt more confident.

Next came the "end walls" with door frames and sills and the vents that I decided to put over the doors. Because I was using odd pieces of recycled lumbar and because I like to build in a rather organic, creative way, this was an entertaining and somewhat time-consuming experience. It also took longer because I decided to add a little root cellar, but that will be the subject of another post. My husband must receive credit here particularly because he volunteered his time and energy one day, and two 4 by 4's of cedar he'd been saving for something special, to build the East end wall pictured above. I also need to give him credit for coming out with the heavy iron bar and digging out the very nastiest rocks when I was fed up with them from time to time.

Once we had the end walls (just frames really) finished, I put up the plastic. This is 6 ml. UV treated greenhouse plastic that I decided to apply in two layers as it's more
durable this way. Cure Farm just replaced a similar plastic on their first hoop house and this had lasted 4 years. To hold the plastic to the bows, I used two diameters of black water hose that I cut into sections with a hack saw and slit longitudinally with tin snips. I positioned them over sections cut from old bicycle inner tubes to protect the plastic and improve their grip. It's important to have inner tube between the greenhouse plastic and the hose "clamps" because the hard plastic edges of the "clamps" can poke holes in the greenhouse plastic. Where the greenhouse plastic needed to be attached to wood, I bought fender washers and self-tapping pan head screws and these did an excellent job of both securing the plastic while distributing forces. It will be easy to take the plastic off in the spring if I want to. I'll see how well this arrangement holds up, but as I borrowed the idea from my observations of the greenhouses at Cure, I suspect we have a workable solution. Another solution I borrowed from Cure and in consultation with one of many references I've been reading, is a tie-down system to keep the plastic down for those really tremendous gusts of wind. I bought seat-belt webbing (you can buy this by the foot from Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder) and two short bungee cords. After installing lag screws in the bottom boards of the raised beds on either side of the greenhouse, I hooked on the bungee cords, ran the webbing over the greenhouse and tied it to the bungees. This is supposed to keep the plastic snug regardless of the natural shrinking and expanding it does with changes in air temperature.
So, after some weeks of struggle, the greenhouse is up. My favorite tools are now my hand-held jig saw, cordless drill, my level and measuring tape, a square, the pick axe and spade. I invested most in the greenhouse plastic and the hardware (lots and lots of carriage bolts, lag screws, washers and nuts in addition to the pan head screws and fender washers). This greenhouse is approximatly 10 x 12 ft. and cost considerably less than what I would have paid commercially. Next time I order plastic though, I will plan on looking for a supplier closer than the excellent resource I used on the West Coast. Shipping costs are rising fast and I expect they will continue to do so. It's not cheap shipping plastic.
I will be happy to take a little vacation now that the cold is upon us.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Finally a harvest picture

At last I have pictures, but with them I have technical problems, so we'll just have to swing with it. Here you see an example of my late summer harvest. The tomatoes are continuing, although with freezing weather threatening, it may not be much longer. Lots of green tomatoes to bring in. The total tomato take for the season is over 70 lb.s. Pictured to the right is my first potato harvest. This was devoured in one meal by my grateful family. To the right above are a native variety of bean (seed from Abbodonza). We have about a quart and are almost done with them out in the yard. Not bad...
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