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Greenhouse Prep

May 4, 2011


The brooder/greenhouse is starting to get a little crowded.  The first order of tomato plants left last weekend giving us a little breathing room.


But it is still freezing here at night, and a little too soon to be setting out warm weather plants yet even in the greenhouse.  It’s kind of amazing to see all the food potential here in this little space; a years worth of chicken for meat and future laying hens, and plants for 7 other gardeners gardens besides ours.


All good things must come to an end, I picked the last of the overwintering brassicas to make way for garden work.  Heads, roots and shoots of kale, cabbage, kohlrabi and rutabagas  have been our greens throughout the winter and finally a break is in sight.  I’ll have a gap in the fresh harvesting for now, which will actually force me to use up all the freezer stores we so carefully laid in last fall.


As you can see the state of the “soil” in the greenhouse space is a mix of weeds and grass due to fallowing it for two years.  After we put on the cover, I put the sheep in there to graze the residual.  They were quite happy to sit out the snow storms last week. 😉

Leading the way.

After grazing, the next order of business was waiting for the soil to dry enough for the initial tilling.


A little rough after the first pass.  Looks to me that the Kentucky bluegrass will be the bane of my existence for a while.  Not to mention the sod around the edges.

August 2008

I am hoping this will be how it looks by mid summer, but I have a way to go in that respect.  Plans (which are always subject to change) are to cover crop half in preparation for winter crops, and to plant half in warm weather crops.  My governor on this is, that I restricted myself to about 36 tomato plants, with just a wee bit of trialing thrown in, but for the most part I am planting my workhorse tomatoes, Bellstar and Costoluto Genovese.  I know how they produce in my conditions and that is what I need the most:  reliable production.  Both are open-pollinated, although only one is an heirloom.  Long-range rotations for this space might be different from this initial “first” year.

My view from the tractor seat.

My second tilling yielded perfect soil conditions for planting.  I guess I better get to it!

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2011 8:21 am

    Nita where do you get your greenhouse supplies? Cliff Mass’ 30 year predictions have me quaking a bit. Thank you for the link on that. I’m envious of your ability to let land go fallow. That’s the problem with living on 1/5 acre – or at least one of them anyway! Thanks as always for your entries, they always give me something to think about.

    • May 4, 2011 8:34 am

      Annette, do you mean to build the greenhouse? This one came from OBC NW in Canby. I would check with growers in Seattle to see who they use for hoop house suppliers.

      http://obcnw.com/

      I am tired of fighting the deer all winter too for food – all my over winter greens this year will be in the greenhouse. Safe and sound at least from deer and elk! And I have to add that the space was in serious need of fallowing – too many years of intensive cropping. I’m planning quite a different rotation this time around.

  2. May 4, 2011 8:57 am

    I didn’t know you had sheep! While I do not have nearly the production you do, I, too, am gearing up for more reliable sustainability. I am building coldframes to fit over the top of my raised beds so that I can stretch my growing season to as close to 12 months as possible. Your information is very valuable for me.

    • May 4, 2011 6:11 pm

      Susan, yep three old ewes that are on lawn mowing/weed detail now. When they succumb I don’t think I will replace them.

      Your cold frames sound like a great idea!

  3. DEE permalink
    May 4, 2011 9:56 am

    How ever do your restrict yourself to 36 ‘mater plants???? I grow 12-15 “favorite” varieties and plant,at least, a dozen of each. Canning varieties even more. Plus give away lg. numbers to the neighbors. DEE

    • May 4, 2011 11:35 am

      DEE, it was hard, but I only wanted to plant two rows of ‘mates. 🙂 Most will get canned this year by me – I wore myself out finding homes for the tomatoes when I planted 4 rows. Of course it would be easier these days since canning has taken off. I figured that was plenty since I am still eating the canned goods from ’08 (the last time I canned tomatoes.) It might be easier to plant more if I could field grow them, but if I want any ripe tomatoes they have to be in a hoophouse 😦

      Your tomato garden sounds divine!

  4. ben permalink
    May 4, 2011 3:52 pm

    what summer cover crops are you planning on planting?

    • May 4, 2011 4:22 pm

      Just buckwheat for now, I need it to be done by mid-July. It’ll be fast and easy and maybe smother some weed problems I am not forseeing.

  5. May 4, 2011 7:39 pm

    nita- are the tomatoes you mentioned early varieties or why do you use them specifically? I’m trying Amish Paste this year, but can’t remember whether they were early or not. Also- where do you get the seed for them?

    I’m just trying to figure out a good, reliable early tomato with good size, great yield, and great flavor. I always sauce them, then can the sauce. This is probably the most important crop out of my yard because I use them the most. Any light you can shed on the subject would be greatly appreciated!

    • May 5, 2011 5:18 am

      Paula, Bellstar is earlyish and determinate which means no staking and pruning which is a plus for me, because I am busy with the cows in the summer, so any time savings during the height of summer is a boon to me. It also finishes meaning I can pull it early and reuse that greenhouse space with a minimum of work. Johnny’s and Fedco carry it. In my experience it ripens at the same time as Stupice.

      Costoluto Genovese is an Italian heirloom variety, not early, but the flavor for sauce is good. There are many strains and I like Cooks Garden the best, here is what they say.

      Heirloom. Classic component to the cuisine of the Piedmont region of Italy. The one pound and up red, lobed fruits are fantastic for slicing, baking or cooking down into sauce. The vigorous, indeterminate vines are productive and in the case of our exclusive selection, resistant to both Verticillium and Fusarium wilt.

      Mileage may vary though, I have trialed this tomato from 5 different places and this one has performed the best for me, less pleated, less core and better flavor. However it does require pruning and a little more of my time.

      I haven’t had good luck with Amish Paste it comes in about the same time as Brandywine here – even with a hoophouse. The nights are just too cool up here.

      It’s a crapshoot space-wise you can go up with indeterminates and you can pot determinates in large containers.

  6. May 5, 2011 1:32 am

    Have you incorporated any structural changes this time?

    That is a lot of space! Can´t wait to see it filling up. What cover crop are you considering?

    I learn so much from your blog. Thank you.

    • May 5, 2011 5:58 am

      Coco, yes we are making some changes for winter, we just wanted to get the cover on in time for this growing season. It does look big doesn’t it? It won’t take long to fill it up though 🙂 I am just going to put in a quick crop of buckwheat so I can see where the soil is weak so I can amend from there.

  7. May 5, 2011 8:18 am

    i love your hoophouse, especially useful if this summer is anything like last summer here in the PNW,

    • May 5, 2011 10:16 am

      Chook, me too! And just like today, supposed to be dry and here it is raining, again. I was just about ready to till the main garden too 😦

  8. Mads Stub Jorgensen permalink
    May 5, 2011 11:55 pm

    Just found your blog and loving it.

  9. Anna permalink
    May 7, 2011 9:58 am

    Hi Nita,

    I just reread your post on not free ranging your hens. I’m curious if you are still using the same system, or if you have added refinements. It seems like moving them out to a Salatin Eggmobile in the growing months would give you the use of your hoop house through the growing season. Do you provide grit or oyster shell?

    I’m also curious if you are familiar with Sepp Holzer? He is a beyond permaculture guy and claims to have his hens on 100% forage with no feed in a paddock shift system with a polyculture planting of chicken friendly foods, like mulberry bushes etc.

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts.

    • May 8, 2011 5:50 am

      Anna, no I still have them inside and am happy with that arrangement. I think my reluctance to commit more time and space to my hens are because they aren’t my only livestock and are a very small piece of my food supply. Their higher value (to us, due to egg allergies) is the manure we can gather in the small hoophouse system, if they were free ranging or in a paddock system that manure would only be utilized by the actual paddock which by itself is not a bad thing but not very productive. We sold eggs for 10 years with a extensive pastured poultry system and it worked great. The chickens were out on pasture from April to Thanksgiving and then housed in a hoophouse during the winter months. What were doing now is similar to Salatin’s Raken house except we don’t have the permaculture aspect of rabbits above, mainly because the rabbits couldn’t take the heat in the hoophouse during the summer. Our predator issues are so great that raising our hens this way allows us to have at least some eggs and chickens throughout the year.

      I am familiar with Holzer and think his practices are great!

      Oh and yes I always provide grit, shell and in addition I feed all their egg shells back to them. Grit is one of the oft overlooked items in the chick diet too – my Cornish have been getting grit since day one, they need to be able to process the forage when they move outside, and they can’t do that without a gizzard full of rocks. 🙂

      I am

  10. Sara permalink
    May 9, 2011 9:11 am

    Do you do any rotations to prevent build-ups of disease or pests? I saw Elliot Coleman’s sliding greenhouse, which is cool, but not happening on our farm anytime soon.

    • May 9, 2011 9:17 pm

      Sara, yeah I rotate and am working on a 4 year rotation plan which includes chickens as one of the soil building “crops.” Moving the greenhouse isn’t working here either 😉

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