Spring has Sprung! Boing!


Chard (left), WinterWunderland lettuce (center) and Mashal lRed Romaine (right) have doubled in size since planting in February in the greenhouse

Well, now that spring has sprung it’s time to get busy-really busy!  We vegetable gardeners will generally be headless from now on from pre-starting seeds to planting in the garden all those vegetables you’ve been dreaming of trying since January. And some of us are still cleaning up our gardens including me. Now is the time in our area, to continue seed planting or start seeds inside under lights or in a cold frame or a hoophouse. Just about any cold hardy veggies like Asian greens, lettuce, spinach, mesclun and many others can be started inside and some of those can also be started outside right now like arugula, bok choy, spinach and peas. Also if your space is warm enough, you can plant beets inside but DON’T plant beet and carrot seeds outside till April (right around the corner). The reason is the soil is still pretty cold outside in our gardens and they will just sit and sulk until the soil warms up. 😦

Early Spring Planting-Three Important Factors

Three important factors should be considered before planting seeds in early spring:

Amount of daylight hours-In the winter the sun is weaker in the northern hemisphere and we have less daylight hours. If you plant seeds too early either outside or in a greenhouse, the seedlings will be spindling when they germinate. Once we have 10 hours of daylight (we currently have over 10 hrs), we can start planting our cold hardy seeds. So in Santa Fe, we now have enough daylight hours. But wait, there are several more factors we need to consider before we plant seeds.

Soil temperature for germination for different vegetable seeds

Soil temperature for germination for different vegetable seeds

Soil temperature-If you are thinking of planting OUTSIDE, forget about it, your soil is probably frozen so of course you can’t plant anything! Even if it’s not frozen, it’s probably still too cold to plant outside. However it will warm up soon. How can you tell what temperature your soil is? You’ll need a soil thermometer. I prefer a compost thermometer that is about 18″ long so you can check both the soil and a compost pile. A soil thermometer is invaluable, as different veggies like to germinate at different soil temperatures. Insert it about the depth of the root zone of the plants, about 4”-6″ in the soil to see how warm it is. Notice the chart above gives an optimum range for each veggie.  If you have a cold frame, hoophouse or greenhouse your soil is probably much warmer already. So are you ready to plant? Not quite. There is one more factor to consider.

Air Temperature-The air temperature is also important and is the main thing people think of in considering when to plant seeds. It’s too cold at night to plant most veggie seeds outside or even in a greenhouse without extra protection BUT there are some wintergreens that are very cold hardy, some even hardy below 32°F at night. Even in an unheated cold frame or greenhouse, the temperature dips below freezing at nights so if you have a one, I suggest you put some row cover (winter weight-.9-1.0 mm.) over your beds. If you don’t have a greenhouse and will be planting outside in early spring, definitely put row cover over it at night but don’t forget to check your soil temperatures too.

I’ve compiled a list of these very cold hardy crops that can be started in a greenhouse now if the soil temperature and daylight hours are good. Many of these cold hardy crops can be planted outside as soon as the soil warms ups in March. For the list go to my blog at: http://giantveggiegardener.com.

Heating the Greenhouse using passive solar methods?

wide angle view of GH interior

I like this wide angle view of the inside of the greenhouse

I want to heat the greenhouse in the winter using passive solar methods. There is nothing growing in it so far this winter but I’m doing some experimenting to see how warm I can get it (my goal is around 32°F or warmer) at night. To this end I’m experimenting using compost to help heat it, putting some barrels with water in them to act as a heat sinks and I’m insulating the structure inside a little better so as not to lose so much heat at night. If the sun shines, it gets between 70-80° in the day right now (which is delightful) and I’d like to keep some of that heat in at night and not lose it. Of course I had the opposite problem last summer when it got too hot but that’s another problem I’ll address this summer!

GH inside winter

The center bench has compost underneath it in a raised bed

The compost pile is only 1/2 a yard so is probably not enough to keep it significantly warmer  inside the greenhouse but what if it adds a degree or two? I’ll take it. Everything helps. The compost pile got up to 112°F  while the surrounding soil in the two raised beds is 40°F. Not that I’m planting in the compost but it shows it is significantly warmer. Now it has cooled down to 60°. The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.

Since I didn’t have a chance make shutters for the screen windows before winter set in, my friend, Jody, thought of putting plastic on both sides of the open screen ‘windows’ to trap warm air and slow the heat loss. I’ve done that now.

bubble wrap down on windows

The vents are covered with plastic and bubble wrap is on all the windows

I just put bubble wrap on the windows to hopefully act as insulation to slow the loss of heat at night as well. Plus I added bubble wrap on the ceiling between the rafters. Elodie said probably a lot of heat is loss up there through the uninsulated fiberglass roof. Now the green house looks like a  bubble wrap house on the inside! The night temperatures are still below freezing inside.

I painted the rain barrels black and filled them with  water to act as heat sinks

I painted the rain barrels black and filled them with water to act as heat sinks

I also have 4 rain barrels that I painted black and filled with water and installed hose bibs on the bottom so I can empty the water out at the end of winter. I put them under the growing tables and the night temperatures are still below freezing inside. And lastly I plugged up a lot of leaks where the roof meets the rafters.

Did it work? Are my nighttime temperatures above freezing? NOPE. I’ve only been able to keep it about 5 degrees warmer than the outside temperature which make me go to plan B.

What is plan B? Try planting only super cold hardy winter greens and see what happens. Stayed tuned…

It took a village to build my greenhouse!

final greenhouse

I haven’t posted much about the greenhouse I’ve been building but now that it is basically done (I still have a few more things to do) I want to share the greenhouse raising from the ground up and give thanks to those who contributed with their time, labor and knowledge. It has truly taken a village to build it! It all started in January of 2010 and has taken 3 years to complete it. Many, many thanks to the following people:

First, thanks to Caleb for coming out in January 2010 and jackhammering the holes out to set the posts. I was hoping to get it done back them by spring of 2010 so I wanted to get an early start-what a dreamer I was… 3 years passed because of everyone being sooo busy with other things (including me) and then this year in 2013 the magic happened.

Thanks Lava for helping me make it gopher proof, mouse proof, putting down the weed cloth, unloading the gravel for the floor and much more I’m sure I forgot about. Thanks Jacob, (Lava’s son) who generously put in 2 days of work on it when he was here visiting his mom earlier this year.

Thanks Elodie for helping in various tasks including putting the headers up in the framing, window framing, gopher proofing the raised beds, putting the sink in and much more as well.

And a big thanks to Tom Rivers. Without him I still would be at the beginning stages. What can I say about Tom? He is a great friend who came over week after week every Friday on his day off this year and with his constructions skills actually made it happen. Together we were able to build it or I should say I helped him build it. Both him and I are a lot alike-we became obsessive about building it, like dogs with their bones and we wouldn’t let go of it till it was completed. Truly a labor of love. Thank you thank you Tom!

I am now putting on the finishing touches and buttoning it up for winter to see how warm I can get it inside at night using passive methods-more on that later…But for now here is a pictorial on building it.

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The Fair was a great success! Phew! Sigh! I’m exhausted!

The Santa Fe Master Gardener’s Spring Garden Fair is over. Phew! Sigh! Putting on the garden fair on is a lot of work for all us Master Gardeners + I was one of the speakers this year so double the work for me. Today the Journal North had a great article about the Garden Fair and my lecture on the front page. Really nice. The writer actually wrote down a lot of the tips I gave! Here is the article if you want to read it:   http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2013/04/28/north/sound-advice-from-the-tomato-lady.html

Now I just need to recover and the best way to do that is be in my garden! So today Tom came over and we worked on the greenhouse and got 9/10 of the roofing on. More progress! I will take some more pictures soon.

The Greenhouse is Coming Along!

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Two winters ago I started planning my future greenhouse. I wasn’t sure if I would build a hoop house or a traditional greenhouse but then a friend, Kate, donated 10 big windows from her sunroom when she replaced them. I got a great screen door from someone else and I got some large wood panels from another friend. SO I decided to build a more traditional style of greenhouse. Then when I rented a Bobcat to regrade my driveway, I leveled an area for the future greenhouse and ALSO leveled and scraped the ground for adding more garden space. My friend, Caleb and I put the posts in last January, jackhammering the frozen holes out and then he got a full-time job teaching and could not help anymore. So instead I concentrated on expanding the garden last spring. Which I did—to the tune of an additional 1000 square feet!

Meanwhile the greenhouse posts just sat there and some were twisting badly.  This spring, another friend of mine, Tom, offered to help me finish it and has carpentry experience. So Tom is helping me finish building my greenhouse (or should I say I’m helping him) every Friday morning from 8am-12pm. I’ve set a deadline for myself to try to finish it by May 15th. Hopefully we will make it by then. It is moving along nicely. So far we have replaced most of the twisted uprights, got the rafters and purlins done for the roof, the west side framing is almost done, the window frames are built on the south side but we won’t put the windows in until the end, the bottom sides of the future garden beds are done on both the south and north sides and are redwood. We will frame the windows on the north side this week. Still have to get the roofing material, the wall material that is not going to be windows and the side with the door done. I am so excited that it is finally moving along! PROGRESS!!

New Gardens-new bruises!

I love hearing about someone putting in a new garden or adding on to their existing one or adding another big feature in their gardens. Are any of you doing something new and exciting in your gardens this year? I would love to hear about your projects!

For me, I’ve bitten off a lot. Between putting in a new greenhouse and adding on a huge new section, I have my hands full. And I forget I’m not 30 yrs old anymore (tell that to my brain) and my body let’s me know it too after a hard day building, hauling, shoveling, digging-you get the picture. Today I dropped a 2 x 6 on my nose while 8 feet on a ladder while working on the greenhouse. Luckily, I didn’t break it! I should own stock in Advil…