Posted in Farming

A Greenhouse Raising

We have been here a year. I can hardly believe how time flies! My granddaughter and I found an earth worm in the potato patch, a sure sign that our sand and shale desert soil farmed in a sustainable, no-till fashion- in just one season- is becoming an oasis. Now this land needs a greenhouse.

Doug removed all the cactus from the area we decided on.

A greenhouse could extend the season a few weeks. I am working on a system to naturally heat it so that we can start spring crops earlier. In all my houses before, there has been a nice sunny south window to start seedlings in, but the overhang is such here that sun rarely cascades in one place for very long. Then late in autumn, the tomatoes will have a few more weeks to ripen. Oh yes, a greenhouse is needed.

Choosing a place for the greenhouse. We needed a place that was easily accessible by the hose, level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block our view of the mountains.

We talked about building one from scratch, and we probably could have despite not being particularly handy or with excess funds…but we didn’t need to. Our neighbor has a friend, who has a partially put together greenhouse, do we want it?

Look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for greenhouses. A lot of people get them and then just don’t use them. Look for materials on those same sites. I am sure there are other sites that are good as well. You can put together a greenhouse for cheap. In some cases, free!

Put in a few phone calls and see if you can’t get a crew together to help you. Much like an Amish barn raising, I put out the word, and we got help. Then, of course, we will be available in their time of need down the road. Community is the best part of homesteading.

We walked the property looking for the best place to put it. Somewhere close to water, a place that is level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block my magnificent view of the mountains. (I regretted my placement of the little barn.)

Our neighbors, Carolyn and Rod, hooked up their trailer. My cousins met us there, along with our farm interns, Annie and Rex, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cole. We had a lively crew, happily moving the 10×12 greenhouse.

The young people quickly took the initiative and had the greenhouse finished and put together. The inside of the greenhouse is bolted to railroad ties so that the greenhouse won’t end up in Carolyn’s yard come first wind storm.

I am so grateful to my family and friends for helping this greenhouse manifest here. It is beautiful next to the kitchen gardens. I can just see the raised beds now, maybe a tea table, its warmth creating seedlings and life and food.

Posted in Farming

Learning the Greenhouse (an adult playhouse)

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My friends’ greenhouse stands erect and proud in their yard.  I am impressed that it hasn’t blown away, been destroyed by hail, or any other natural greenhouse killers on the Plains.  It is set to the east of a steep hill which much keep it somewhat protected.  It is quite well made and cost them a few thousand dollars three years ago.

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Right now the upper section of the Dutch door stays open and a few windows are cranked out.  I have never had a greenhouse before that was is in working order to do its job well.  This greenhouse is small but effective.  It would probably extend the season a month or two either calendar direction.  It would be great for starting seeds and would keep plants growing into late autumn.

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The tomatoes are in heaven, growing and stretching as if they were in the tropics.  In the greenhouse they want to grow, too much nitrogen will make them humongous but won’t allow any fruit.  Using an organic fruiting fertilizer with similar ratios of potash to nitrogen will help bring on baskets of tomatoes.

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A shelf across the south side offers more space.  I brought over my five gallon buckets of kale, chard, spinach, and lettuce, and a few herbs.  They absolutely love the greenhouse.  There are a few pesky grasshoppers but not as many as there would be in an open garden.

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I have been noting the differences in the areas of the greenhouse.  The lettuce does best below the shelf on the south side.  It gets plenty of light but doesn’t burn up.  This would be a good place for cold crops like greens, broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage when extending the season.  I only have to water those plants every four to five days.  The plants on the top shelf, herbs, especially huge basil plants and comfrey, sun bathe and grow lavishly.  I water them along with the tomatoes every other day.

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When we get our own place we will have to get a greenhouse like this one.  It’s been fun taking care of and using my friends’ greenhouse and learning the nuances of it.  I suppose you can probably guess that the homesteading bug bit me again, or perhaps it never left!  My fingernails have become far too clean.

Posted in Farming

The Art of the Cold Frame

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In this lifestyle bartering is a way of life and I was happy to trade an herbalist class for help moving and a homebuilt cold frame.  My friends built this beautiful wooden structure with windows that open and screens.  It is made from old barn wood and even has an old Christian fish symbol burnt onto a board.

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I was concerned that even at the height of day the entire box was not bathed in light.  The southern half was in the shade all day.  It is built so that the back is higher than the front.  The clever builder believed it would still work and indeed it did!  Pots lushly filled with peas, collards, chard, and kale and then promptly died.  The first real freeze came along and froze every bit of life out of them.

‘When the heck do you use the cold frame then?’ I wondered.  It extended the season until the end of October.  We did have that unusual cold snap (A bit of an understatement seeings how it was twenty-two below zero!) at the beginning of November.  Perhaps it would have survived longer in the average late autumn.

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This spring I was ready though.  I didn’t do it too early.  A few weeks ago I planted tons of pots of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and Chinese onions and placed them in the cold frame as an experiment.  Most things have germinated and are growing well.  Not as fast as last autumn’s batch but certainly the temperature is right for germinating.  The tomatoes have not come up yet but the ones in the greenhouse are a bit slow as well.

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A very cold night last week prompted me to take action.  I piled bags of soil up around the cold frame (I bet bales of straw would work too) and placed a blanket on top.  Everything is still growing.

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I am still experimenting with this new medium to extend the season but I think it could potentially bring greens and other delicious foods to the table later and earlier than expected.  It is doing a fine job of holding my seed starts as well.

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Remember that in any situation when starting seeds one must keep the soil moist until the plants come up.  They cannot germinate in dry soil!  Don’t overwater seedlings or they will dampen off, which is sad.  Check every other day to see if the top 1/2 inch is dry.  If so, give a sip!  When the plants are trying to germinate they like the hot, humid space but when they get to be plants open the windows of the cold frame on really warm days to let air through.

Plant what you love to eat and watch it grow!

Posted in Farming

Moving the Farm Indoors

The farm has moved indoors.  Just in the nick of time, I might add.

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I cleaned up pots from the porch, removed the sunflowers the birds planted, and separated and replanted as needed.  I bought six tomato starts, two pepper starts, and a basil plant from a gal at the farmer’s market.  Actually ended up bartering for it. (Homesteading money!)  I planted them in large containers so they had plenty of root space to use up during the winter.

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The rosemary plant is three or four years old now and tastes better than ever.  The petunias I got from the store on clearance last fall for a few dollars are still doing great in the pots.  I brought in all the herbs I keep in pots; St. John’s Wort, purple basil, oregano, chives, chamomile, sage, thyme, and more.  They will overwinter in the south window.  The tomatoes will shoot up and give us fresh tomatoes in the cold of winter, as will the peppers.

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The geraniums came in as well.  By overwintering them in the house, the monsters are ginormous!  They are a year and a half old and loving their life in the tropics.

I will be picking up potting soil today and planting a bed, I mean a pot, of lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard, which is particularly yummy when you don’t expect to have any!

I used to let my pots die outdoors along with everything else in the garden at the end of the season.  I would repot them the next year with annuals.  This was the seemingly normal thing to do.  I had read about storing dormant geraniums in the garage over winter and bringing them back to life in the spring but never got around to it.

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I thought I had to have a greenhouse, or at the very least, a cold frame, to make the season last longer.  I bought a grow light but can’t fit enough under it to warrant it useful.  So, last winter I placed everything in the south window. (Check out my post here)  It did amazing!  The plants loved the sunny winter light and the warmth from the room.  They thought they were vacationing in Hawaii and rewarded me with fresh herbs, greens, and tomatoes all winter long.  Doug grew fodder for the chickens in another window.  By the end of the winter, there are aphids and everything is looking a little sad for spring (much like myself…except the aphids part…) and wants to go back on the porch.  Which is where they end up all summer and into fall.  But, now they are tucked in for winter.

The morning after I moved the pots in, we awoke to a glistening wonderland where Jack Frost had designed his masterpiece upon windows and pumpkin leaves.  Intricate designs left us oohing and ahhing on our way out to the farmer’s market.  Of course, when we came back home the leaves were black and the garden shriveled.  The plants indoors were as happy as cats in a window.

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I have never been much for indoor plants.  The gaudy green leaves taking over everything and the spiny plants meant to be indoors have never appealed to me.  I know they keep the air oxygenated and lovely.  They just never looked attractive to me.  But here, with a veritable garden spread out in the living room, I am happy with plants and flowers everywhere.  One day I will have a greenhouse but for now, I have a south facing window, and that works for me.