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More garden (and how not to build a low tunnel)

May 2, 2009

Renee wanted a peek inside the greenhouse – so here it is.   Our greenhouse situation is currently still depressing.  New readers should know that our greenhouses collapsed in the winter snow last December, then we had to wait months for the insurance to decide to not cover any costs associated with replacements or clean-up.  I have to tell you it would have been better for us mentally, to go out immediately and clean up the mess.  Now we are too busy, reluctant to spend the money for replacement, and still undecided what to do.  Building greenhouses like these are a fall/winter time job for us.  Kinda low on the priority list, if you know what I mean.  Around here living things take precedence over objects.  Gee, should I spend my time making sure calving goes smoothly, or should I be out there with a sawzall cleaning up?

We have been watching ads for used greenhouses, since replacement will cost much more than we thought.  Bruce at Ebey Farm scored several used ones, but they are too far away for us to go.  By the time we spend a day driving, and dismantling we may as well have bought new hoops, and had them delivered.  The cost works out the same.  So we are looking for a used one closer to home.

Truly we were spoiled and greenhouse poor, so this summer will help us assess what we really need.  This is driving all our neighbors crazy, since the greenhouses are partly visible from the road.  Word around town is that we are too lazy to clean them up, so hearing that makes me move a little slower on the clean-up 😉  Ahh…life in the fishbowl called Small Town America!


Essentially, we have some expensive low tunnels to work with this summer.  Since I will only be planting heat loving crops – tomatoes, peppers and a few melons this should work just fine.  The day we were working in here, it was warm enough to warrant having the roll-up side, rolled up.


Remember the cover crop rye I planted in here last year?  Well now we, well, cough cough, mostly Ruthless will be pulling it in preparation for planting.


It pays to have a seasoned gardener on hand during weeding.  Since we are doing this by hand this year, and will have a little less growing space to work with, we can pay attention to the free food right under our nose.  If I was tilling this with the tractor these little chard volunteers would just become part of the cover crop.  One door closes and another opens… .


More chard.


Even more chard.

Five color silverbeet seed

Five color silverbeet seed

Biological gardening/farming offers many chances for observation, showing us how powerful a natural world can be.  The photo above was taken in 1997 and shows our 5 color silverbeet (chard) seed saving effort.  Since that time, throughout the years we have alternated between growing crops,  winter housing pigs or laying hens and brooding laying pullets in this greenhouse.  All that tilling, rooting, pecking and bedding clean out still didn’t find all the chard seeds.  Chard still comes up in the same place year after year.  And now through the compost, is in the gardens too.


More volunteers – cilantro is well established in our greenhouses and gardens.  We eat cilantro like lettuce and let it bolt freely to boost the insectary in the garden and to give us enough coriander for cooking purposes.  In a recent post Mr. H called these permaculture crops and I have to agree.  They have established themselves and prove their usefulness over and over.


I start all my plants in the greenhouse, never having much luck in the house.  The natural light gives the plants a good start, and I can make as big a mess as I want.  Water and potting soil can get spilled, and on a dreary early spring day, being around all these young plants, buoys spirits.


Genovese basil just peeking out.  Pesto to be!


Peppers awaiting potting on.  I have yet to grow enough peppers for us to use them freely.  But each year I keep trying.


Celeriac and tomatoes growing slowly.  I’m doubling my celeriac output this year.  We just used the last root, but I had to meter it out over the winter.





I didn’t do any experimenting this year on the tomato front, sticking with Costoluto Genovese, Bellstar, and SunSugar.  My space will be limited, so I will have to plant more determinates with closer spacing than I like. This is contrary to where I want to head with my foodshed, preferring the bio-extensive method of wider spacing and less water usage, but not this year. I’m hoping by using more water and inputs I can pull this off.


SunSugar I love you!

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2009 2:09 pm

    I totally covet your garden. I’m bad like that. Please let me come live with you. I’ll earn my keep through cooking this gorgeous produce. I’ll even learn to milk a cow. Haven’t you always wanted an Italian relative? Oh, and we can hang Xmas lights from your greenhouse to really cause a stir in town! 🙂

    • May 2, 2009 10:06 pm

      Paula, you’re making me an offer I can’t refuse! He He, you know me and cooking 😦

      That is a great idea about the Xmas lights on the greenhouse!

  2. May 2, 2009 3:56 pm

    A very interesting post. We garden on such a small scale it’s interesting to read about someone who does so much more. Your chard looks great.

    • May 2, 2009 10:07 pm

      Sande, thanks, the volunteer plants that become “weeds” are a welcome treat. They always grow so much better than ones I start myself.

  3. May 2, 2009 4:50 pm

    I’m completely amazed at your garden and I have loads of questions!

    You seem to have so many starts, how many do you wind up taking through the entire season? What is your general idea of a yield? And how many folks are you feeding with that bounty?

    I ask because I grow about 20-24 tomato plants and 10-12 pepper plants and yet I have enough to eat, can and give away. Certainly loads of peppers, including grilling peppers. I simply can’t imagine what I would do with the output of your garden. Truly. So, I’m curious!

    And to heck with those hecklers…I’d leave the “tunnels” up too. 🙂

    • May 2, 2009 10:23 pm

      ChristyACB, some of those starts are for sale, but I will probably plant about 25 tomato plants and about 50 pepper plants. I would plant more if I had full use of the greenhouse. Growing those crops outside is a waste of time here in our climate. I’m guessing your climate gives you a higher yield on your tomatoes and peppers.

      I can tomato sauce, whole canned tomatoes, and salsa, so it takes a lot of tomatoes. I’m only feeding 3 people, but that is 3 meals at home everyday, plus snacks, all from scratch and mostly our own home grown vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy. We don’t eat out so it takes a lot of food to take us through. We don’t really eat much grain or bread products either, so I usually use several kinds of vegetables with most meals except breakfast.

      I give a lot away too, but only after I make sure we have enough.

      The hecklers will just have something to gossip about at the coffee shop. I am planting garden in there!!

  4. Renee permalink
    May 2, 2009 6:07 pm

    Thank you!!

    Your plants look great! Do you happen use heat mats? How do you keep your greenhouse warm? We have been keeping our tomatoes in our greenhouse to harden them off…. but now they are looking a little purple? It has been above 50 at night? What could we be doing wrong??


    • May 2, 2009 10:33 pm

      Renee, I do use heat mats for germination and I love them. We had a bout of snow after I started my solanums, so I put spacers under the flats to raise them off the heat a little and made a tent with a piece of plastic to create a mini-greenhouse. It worked great. Our greenhouse is not heated so the temperature at night is about the same as outside.

      I’m still covering mine at night but with no supplemental heat. It has been down to mid-30’s and mine are still OK, but they would like it a little warmer. Sometimes plants get a purplish/pinkish tinge when they need more fertilizer. I have found that our vegetable starts in the greenhouse need at least a weekly, weak fish/kelp or manure tea feeding. I have to water almost everyday, and that washes the nutrients right out of the soil. So I just plan on fertilizing that way so I don’t check the plants growth.

      Hope that helps:)

  5. lisa permalink
    May 2, 2009 6:18 pm

    I always have had to grow in the house first. Wish I could have a green house. Your plants look spectacular. I love petunia’s so we started them in the house this year and they did great. All our veggies are doing good. Unfortunately we have clay soil and we have to add lots of sand and cow or horse manure for fertilizer. The one thing I have the hardest growing here in New York are green peppers. Any advise?

    • May 2, 2009 10:39 pm

      Lisa, you would love a greenhouse – I am jealous of you being able to start your plants in the house, I don’t have a light set-up or a sunny enough window so the plants always would be spindly.

      On the peppers look for a variety that grows well in the North, like King of the North, or Ace. Stay away from California Wonder, or you will be wondering why you’re not getting any peppers. Pimento and Sunray do well here, and we have a hard time getting peppers to ripen. But those varieties put on a lot of green peppers before they ripen. If you have a farmers market nearby, go and peruse the booths during pepper season, and see what the local farmers are able to grow, I bet they would have some good tips!

  6. May 2, 2009 6:58 pm

    I hope ya’ll find a used high tunnel soon. My pace would certainly be the same as yours when I hear the squeaks from town. Always has amazed me how much time folks have on their hands to worry about your storm clean up.

    I’ve really fallen for our greenhouse. It has really been fun learning how to best use it to our advantage.


    • May 2, 2009 10:42 pm

      Woody, I know isn’t it funny, if they put as much time into their own places or children, they wouldn’t have time to gossip!

      Your greenhouse looks luscious! I just get jealous every time I see how fair along your garden is 🙂

  7. adrianne permalink
    May 3, 2009 9:15 pm

    Thanks for the great pictures and insights. We had chard overwinter this year and didn’t protect it from the weather (or chickens). Any tips on getting a good seed crop? I love chard and would cherish of a permaculture chard crop.
    Since my peppers are just considering sprouting about now, do you want to share any details on your/Ruthless’ plant sale date and location? I’ve got a few westward trips through the Gorge to Portland coming up and would love to plant some pimentos.

    • May 5, 2009 10:02 pm

      adrianne, just let your chard grow and put on it’s seed stalks. If you have at least 6 plants you will get some good cross pollination. Once the seed is formed try to keep the plant as dry as possible and let the seeds dry on the stalk if at all possible. You will be amazed at the scent – it is heavenly!

      I only grew extra peppers and tomatoes to order, (actually stealing some of RL’s customers) so I won’t have any extra. Sorry about that 😦

  8. May 4, 2009 1:24 am

    Thank you for this peek into your garden/tunnels/greenhouse. Seeing all those rows makes me quite jealous. And I hear you on the cilantro, one of my fav herbs and a good addition to almost everything 🙂 Plus, its easy to grow!

    • May 5, 2009 10:05 pm

      mangochild, we actually are preferring the cilantro pesto to our standby basil pesto. I think this year we will make more, since we never have any shortage of the cilantro. It is easy to grow and not as delicate as the basil!

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