The Little City Greenhouse

May 21st, 2019- SNOW.

I wouldn’t say that it is out of the question for Colorado to get snow this late but I personally have never witnessed snow past the 14th or so.  Really, everywhere along the front range, folks have probably already put in their summer crops.  Here in Pueblo, I would have put out my tomato and pepper plants by now if I hadn’t had a hunch and a hint from Accuweather.  An hour north of here my daughters both got a good foot of snow.  Here, we got a ton of rain (we are still high desert and very thankful for rain, even if it slightly floods the chicken coop) which turned to snow overnight and is now back to rain.

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There wasn’t a dry space to be found outdoors so Gandalf worked from the couch last night.

Thick blankets of slush are currently sliding down the outer greenhouse walls. Tonight will drop to 30 degrees.  I may lose my pumpkins, beans, and corn that are all growing proudly in the beds.  I may lose some of the flowering plants.  And we will deal with losses as they come.  But, in the greenhouse, cold steam fills the air.  Peeking through the plastic I can see the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers standing green and solid.  I dare not open the door and blast them with cold air.  I will probably bring everyone in tonight though.  Just in case.

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I am still experimenting with my new greenhouse.  I have never had one before, so temperatures and humidity and all that are still a bit of a mystery.  This is a kit from Home Depot.  My friend generously bought it for me for my birthday.  They run about $650 plus shipping.  Not inexpensive.  This particular greenhouse would have never stood up to a foot of snow at our old house, nor would it withstand the wind of the prairie.  Tucked behind six foot fencing in the city in a mild climate, it does pretty good.  I have to replace rogue pieces that fall off from time to time, but it is fulfilling its purpose of keeping plants safe.

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The temperature varies from 32 degrees to 114.  It baffles me.  Maybe because it lets in all that beautiful sun without any harsh breezes that the plants sit in a happy state.  I keep the seedlings on the second shelf of the greenhouse.  The color was being bleached from their leaves on the top shelf.  Watering every day to every other day keeps them happy.  I cannot get my seeds to germinate in there.  I speculate that they need individual cells that drain and are specific to starting seeds.  My peppers are still in their plastic salad bin and I think they would love drainage as well in the greenhouse.  But today, in their cold steam room, they are alive.

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It does get super hot here and my soon-to-be son-in-law recommended shade cloth.  If I planted a few tomatoes straight into the ground, would it boost production?  If I started seed pods of fall crops right now, would they be ready to plant in August?  (In Colorado, if a seed packet says it takes 90 days to mature, you can bet your apron strings that it means 120 days.  Maybe the altitude?)

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If not for the freezing night temperatures the rain would be most welcome!

It is fun having a new tool for gardening.  I can only say a prayer for my plants in the garden, but in the greenhouse, all is well.

Farm Heroes and the New Chicken Yard, Greenhouse, and Shed.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep (and Maryjane in that little baby bump)

We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers.  They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them.  Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw.  My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years.  We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view.  A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch.  A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.

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Emily and Ayla

But right now, everyone is busy.  The kids have their own lives.  So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard.  We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!

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We live on one third of an acre.  We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog.  Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt).  I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.

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I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina.  This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out.  This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.

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Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.

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These things came in a million, zillion pieces.  A roll of field fencing to top it all off.  And two not-so-handy parents.  Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.

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My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came.  Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids.  He helped Doug build the shed.

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Reed

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Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse.  It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place.  They got it built and it is perfect!

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Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.

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My granddog Lupo enjoying the new shed.
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The chickens enjoying their new yard.
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And my new greenhouse and garden.

Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true.  This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity.  But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.

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On the Verge of Spring at Pumpkin Hollow Farm (an enchanted life)

Petunia is still rather plump, even after having babies last autumn.  She is very fluffy and so cute I wish she would come in the house to live, but of course squirrels don’t typically enjoy living in the house.  She sits next to me on the porch as I eat my lunch on warm days.  I just watched her from the picture window jump from limb to limb.  I need to put more bird seed and peanuts out.  The Blue Jays are making such a racket.  They do despise when I am late.

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Hundreds of lovely, chirping sparrows reside here.  As do many doves and starlings.  Crows fly over.  Owls can be heard in the night.  Hawks stop to rest.  Sea gulls and geese fly over towards the lake.  A third of an acre in the city sure can be a wild life haven.  I love it here.

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The chickens from the factory farm that we rescued are plump and quite loud.  They run towards me bow legged and squat, hollering like miniature geese.  They love to eat and are firmly against being on a diet.  “We are not broilers here, Dears,” I remind them, “You do not need to get so fat!”  Dixie is still tiny.  My granddaughter renamed the infant rooster, Bob.

I am fervently manifesting and saving for a greenhouse.  The ducks come April 20th.

My classes are chosen for the autumn session of college.

I am quite sore from teaching dance last night.  I am teaching two herbalist classes.  Just keeping busy until I can be in my gardens full time!

I leave in three weeks for ten days in Arizona and New Mexico for my birthday.  Such wonderful blog posts I will write!

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The seedlings are doing well.  The ground is softening.  I am teaching a gardening class Sunday to plant potatoes that have taken over the cupboard.

My friends are here visiting for the weekend.  I have so many dear friends.  I am so lucky.

Such a slow, lovely, blessed, ordinary, extraordinary life I lead.  And that, my friends, is what is going on at Pumpkin Hollow Farm on the verge of Ostara and the equinox.  Spring is next week!  Here it is quietly arriving.

What is happening on your homestead this week?  I am honestly interested!

Farmgirl Inspiration

Hello March, it’s nice to see you.  January and February can be the very hardest time of the year for farmgirls.  We have our gardens, our farms, our animals, our preserving, our home making, our crafting in the fall in anticipation for the holidays, we have our cooking, and our entertaining, and our pleasant fatigue.  Then there is January and February…hello March, it’s nice to see you!  Thank the Lord you’re back!

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Even though it is still cold and there is ice on the car and tomorrow it is going to snow, it is March and all things can come anew now, in my mind and in nature.  I have plans!  Oh glorious plans, and guess what?  I figured out a way to make them manifest.  My son texted me yesterday and said he would come help with the fencing.  I found an affordable way to get the outbuildings I wanted.  Yes, my gardens are about to take on some marvelous expansion and changes.

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Field fencing is a farmgirl’s friend because it is easy to put up and can be taken down if needed.  I am expanding the chicken yard.  I am fencing off another part of the backyard for a greenhouse, raised beds, and space for a rooster.  Doug isn’t thrilled we have a rooster.  But I think one in seven wasn’t bad!  I also have ducklings on order to pick up in April.  They are honest-to-god worthless (few eggs, eat ten times more than the chickens, are noisy, splash water everywhere), but dang, they are so cute!  The greenhouse will double as night quarters for the trouble makers and Captain the Rooster.  None of them can jump or fly up on things, so plants will be safe and the added humidity from the ducks’ water antics will create a nice space.  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t like ducks either?  I just look at him like I don’t speak English.)

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A shed is going up to fit all the yard tools in, which will make room for some outdoor furniture and hanging plants around the back porch.  Listen, y’all, I will do before and after pictures when all this is said and done, but right now it looks like a hundred and fifty pound puppy dug holes to China, ate all the outdoor pillows, destroyed a huge dog bed, and threw some trash around.  (Actually, that is what happened.)

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In the front yard, a large archway will have pumpkins and other climbers growing up it.  Add in a few twinkly lights and I will have an enchanted garden for sure.  I have added a couple hundred feet of gardens.  The stalks of the roses are all turning green.

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There is a loom downstairs.  I have friends that can show me how to use it.  I have always wanted to learn how to weave.  I painted a box with a lid for my son’s long time girlfriend for Christmas.  It has a dear clasp and longs to be filled with secret treasures.  I painted a scene from a vacation they took on the lid.  I would like to do more of those.  Maybe set up my sewing machine.  Craft ideas come to mind.

Inspiration to farmgirls is like medicine.  Maybe even breath, if I am not being too dramatic here.  What are you inspired to achieve this spring?

Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

Planting Fall Crops in Pots

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I am having fun in my friends’ greenhouse but even if you don’t have a greenhouse, or a garden, or a house even, you can still get some fall crops.  For some crops it is too late in the season, we should expect a frost next month (really? already?!) but you can buy a little time with a greenhouse or cold frame or south facing living room window.  Almost all the crops I planted will be ready before the frost hits and the ones that don’t could be brought indoors and placed into a south window.  Planting in pots is quickly becoming my favorite way to garden.

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The lettuce I had brought over finally went to seed (three months of salad was great!) and became bitter so I yanked it out of the pots (and wished I had chickens to give it to) and fluffed up the soil.  Then I pulled most of the pumpkins I brought over since they really were not getting going in time to produce.

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When I say pots, I mean the three or five gallon buckets I got for free from the Walmart deli and empty cat litter containers.  This is also not fresh potting soil, this is the same soil I poured in this spring and some of it is from last year.  Next year I will pour this year’s soil into a garden space and refill the pots to keep the nutrients in tact or we will create our own soil on this blog.  That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

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I planted arugula, spinach, and Swiss chard.  Greens will be ready in no time.  I planted two pots of carrots, carefully separated so I don’t have to do too much thinning and one pot of cauliflower.  We will see how long these can withstand the autumn and hope for a harvest from them!

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Now where to put the lettuce?  I scruffed up the soil beneath Pat’s gorgeous tomato plants (that I have become the caregiver for) and planted lettuce in them.  In no time, we will have fresh vegetables.

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The gardening and farming addiction doesn’t subside easily so having some five gallon buckets, some potting soil, some discount seeds, and water is an easy way to feed the soul while adding delicious, fresh ingredients to late summer cooking.

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.

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

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Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

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It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

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The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

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The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

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One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

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I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.

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!

Creating Your Own Mini Greenhouse to Start Seeds

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Getting a jump start on the season is always a good idea.  I have had my trials and errors with seed starting over the years and have often ended up purchasing large tomato and pepper plants to put in the ground.  This year I am going back to the way I used to start seeds a long time ago and that always worked well for me.  I had given it up because of my lack of success transplanting them (that was before I knew you were supposed to water more than once a week!) and went on to more professional ways of seed starting, none of which worked for me.

I bought peat pots (good bye $100), I bought seed starting kits with mini green house lids, I bought grow lights (which mysteriously disappeared from my garage and is probably being used to grow pot by one of the neighborhood kids).  I bought seed starting medium, I took classes, I watched each seedling meet its untimely and sad little death.  And after all that money was spent, I had to find more money to go buy grown plants.  I should have stuck with the tried and true for me.  And that was creating little mini green houses on the cheap.

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Here’s how:

You will need organic potting soil, some Styrofoam cups, rubber bands, and sandwich bags.  So far I am fourteen dollars into this venture.  Yesterday I planted eighty-nine tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds and still have plenty left to start more.

Organic potting mix is a must!  You don’t need extra chemicals in there promising twice the growth when you may end up accidentally poisoning wildlife and bees.  Everything needs more water here in Colorado so I have found that the seed starting mediums don’t hold enough water.

I know, I know, Styrofoam?  How unsustainable.  But they don’t fall apart like newspaper, peat, or paper cups. You need several weeks to get these started and I have had pots positively decompose before I could even plant them!  I reuse the cups year after year.  If one breaks it can be added to the cold frame or between two boards in the chicken coop for added insulation.  It can be crushed up and added to the bottom of a pot before adding soil to make it lighter.  And the plastic one-time use trays don’t seem to be much better from an environmental standpoint.  We’ll just keep giving them new lives.

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Fill cup with soil and mark outside of cup with variety name with a permanent marker.  Believe me, you think you will remember, but you will not!

Water soil, don’t make a lagoon, just make sure it is uniformly wet, about a quarter cup in a twelve ounce cup.

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Add two seeds.  One to grow, and one for insurance, but no more than that or you will have to cut a lot of little seedlings out and waste seeds.  And organic seeds cost a bit!

Add just a bit of soil to cover the seeds and add about a teaspoon of water.

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Place the opening of a sandwich bag around the rim of the cup and secure with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse.

These can be placed in a very sunny window sill.  This year I put mine in the green house.  Seeds need sun and warmth to germinate along with humidity and water.  That is what we are creating in this environment.

This will self water for about a week.  You will see the condensation rise and fall off the sandwich bag.  Once it is not as humid in the bag, remove the bag and water with a spray bottle until seedlings are well established.  You can replace the bag as long as the seedlings are not too tall.  Don’t let the cups dry out (it is harder to without drainage holes) but don’t make it too wet either.  Just moist.

This makes a great homeschool project and is an excellent way to provide your family with more food security by starting your own vegetable seeds.  This will be a tasty summer!