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Pushing Phenology

March 13, 2014

Back in the day before I had a greenhouse I coveted another person’s greenhouse.  I used to propagate dwarf conifers, and the stock garden at the nursery where I took my cuttings had four greenhouses.  They were homemade A-frame jobs, made with rough cut lumber and fiberglass panels.  In those days you either had an expensive glass house or you pored over Mother Earth News and appropriate technology rags and made a greenhouse yourself.  These greenhouses were like that.  Greenhouses are wondrous places, I always feel transported to another place when I step in one.  It doesn’t matter what is grown in them, they represent hope and life beyond what lies outside.  In spring here we wait for the signs of spring, when the red currant blooms the smelt will be in the Sandy River, and when the vultures show up the hummingbirds arrive on the same day.  With a greenhouse you inch those micro-climate facts ahead and in the fall you can put a hitch in the get- along of winter that for sure will be bearing down on your gardening efforts.

At that time in my life I was still of the mindset that you earned money, then you bought what you needed or wanted from someone else.  We are trained to be consumers from an early age.  Save your money…so you can buy something.  Every couple of days I would go to that nursery to take more cuttings, since propagation is a piecework kind of deal, you need fresh stock to work with.  So after the winter cold, and before bud break I would do cuttings by the thousands.  And drool over those greenhouses.  They had built four, but only ever could work up to filling three by the time the conifers would break dormancy.  I always wondered why they didn’t grow food in the empty one.  They were fair weather vegetable gardeners, planting with good intentions and but then giving up when the weeds overtook the little vegetables in June.  Food wasn’t really on their radar so much, it is much easier to have a job, and pay for food at the store, and garden as a side hobby.

As far as fair weather gardeners go, I was sort of one too.  I grew the typical garden of the time, mostly for preserving warm weather crops by canning and freezing with a few stored root crops.  And I grew tons of flowers, which kind of went with where my mind was horticulturally at the time.  I was more interested in making bouquets along with propagating and grafting anything that wasn’t tied down, than I was growing a huge share of my food.

Somewhere along the line, food started to become more important to me, and then we were exposed to Susan Moser and her salad business.  Needless to say I thought that salad business would be the perfect excuse reason for a greenhouse.  At first we were hung up on the greenhouse space being expensive real estate and wouldn’t dare think to plant pedestrian everyday vegetables in the greenhouse.  But as with all things, change happens.  Salad mix became readily available in stores, farmers markets and CSA farms popped up everywhere, and the price went down.  And soon in our minds the greenhouse started looking like a place to save money instead of “make” money.

Dark Red Norland

Dark Red Norland

Now we realize the importance of growing our food here, whether it be plain old Irish potatoes typically planted by Saint Patrick’s Day somewhere else.  That calendar has never fit in our cool climate, until we built the greenhouse.  Outside my gardens are a little frightful – wet and cool, barely any warm weather weeds daring to stick out their necks.  Inside though, I’m a month to six weeks ahead.  Calendula and lambsquarters started appearing about a week after we re-installed the greenhouse plastic, just one hundred feet away though in either garden I see neither of those plants.  When I see those first weeds germinating I know I can start direct seeding some small amounts of some early crops in the greenhouse.

Spring Treat - I hope...

Spring Treat – I hope…

Yesterday we officially started the garden, although it’s in the greenhouse, it’s a start on fresh food for the new season.  Now having come full circle I believe any food you can grow at home is a savings on all counts.  It can’t get any fresher than that, and I have to say if you are affected at all by the cloudy days, even a cloudy day in the greenhouse beats the cubicle any day.

1/6th planted.

1/6th planted.

Planted so far:

Dark Red Norland potatoes.
Spring Treat snap peas.
Maxibel filet beans.
Kolibri F1 kohlrabi.
Merlin F1 beets.
Napoli F1 carrots.

Next week our new strawberries should arrive and hopefully some of our starts will be ready for transplanting.  I love my greenhouse.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Eumaeus permalink
    March 13, 2014 10:19 am

    Sweet post, Nita. Perfect blend of good writing, tips, information and pictures. Muchas gracias…

  2. March 13, 2014 10:29 am

    Great post. I love my greenhouse too! I would only be dreaming of gardening right now if it weren’t for my greenhouse. Potatoes planted by St. Patrick’s Day?! Hah. We just got 4 inches of fresh snow and more to come on Sunday. No planting outside in the near future. But in the greenhouse I have snap peas, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, collards and strawberries. Oh, and potatoes, in the ground before St. Patrick’s Day.

  3. Tom Stewart permalink
    March 13, 2014 10:59 am

    Trapper, I also want a greenhouse! I know that you remove the plastic for the winter and that sounds like a good idea. Did you get a kit or have one set up by a greenhouse company? I cost of ether is still out of reach for me. I hope to build a portable greenhouse based on the plans from “Texas Prepper 2” This summer and use it for my fall crop. Money is always the main factor!

    • March 13, 2014 11:26 am

      Tom, we bought the supplies from a local greenhouse company, but they aren’t cheap. It’s sort of a kit, bows, legs, purlins, plastic, plus misc. hardware. You can adjust the size to match the site, etc. I think any covered area to extend the season is worth the effort. Good luck with your fall crop!

      • Trish permalink
        March 24, 2014 2:06 pm

        We used the frame from one of those “shed in a box” kits and then just bought greenhouse plastic to drape over it. We used old baling twine to support the plastic some more between the spans, and installed a salvaged aluminum screen door for the real door. We cut the plastic along one of the sides and attached to a pipe, so that we could roll that up to vent or unroll to close up. We weighed the plastic down on all sides with old lumber. This way we got a 16X24 greenhouse/high tunnel for about $200 (however the frame was salvaged too, but those kits aren’t too expensive). Next I think installing a gable vent might be in our future because it gets super wet in there. Anyway, if you are creative about the frame you can get a greenhouse even if you don’t have a lot of money.

  4. Karen permalink
    March 13, 2014 5:52 pm

    Looking at your pics, I can’t help but think about how wonderful it would be to make “soil angels” in that gorgeous earth you have in your greenhouse. 🙂 Therapy after a long winter.

  5. March 15, 2014 4:12 am

    Matron, what zone are you in? Do you have a schedule of sorts that you follow for planting in the greenhouse? We have a new hoop house this spring, and I could use some help on when to plant what in it. Spring. I love that word.

    • March 15, 2014 5:50 am

      Amy, I think “officially” we would be in zone 7b, but the zone map doesn’t really tell you much except what to expect for plant hardiness for perennials, or crops in the winter time. With annuals I’m more of a fan of phenology which deals more with micro-climates. For instance I graft fruit trees when the leaves on the apple trees are the size of mouse ears, I can till my soil when it dries to a certain color, or I can start direct seeding in the garden when the cilantro starts to sprout… . Every garden and area has their own special little tricks and my best guide is my garden notes. Mostly date planted, method (direct seed or transplant) and variety. That’s what I go by and my memory of what worked and what didn’t and seed is cheap, I go in each gardening season with an open mind and hope, and if one planting fails because it’s too cold, or hot, or dry or wet, I just make a note and start again. I have no idea if my little filet beans will germinate well this go around but I have lots of seed and I didn’t commit more than about 5′ of row to them, bok choy may take their place if that first planting fails.

      As for the greenhouse, I can’t think of zones, I think of months. In the greenhouse this week it’s mid-May not mid-March so I am pushing ahead and planting things. Time is on my side too, once I get that soil warmed up in there I have a great heat sink, so it doesn’t matter so much what it’s doing outside, it’s inside that matters.

      All that being said, the zone map would come in handy for winter hardiness of annual crops you may want to plant for winter harvesting. To do that you need to have plants mature enough for harvest in fall, and then they probably will need an additional low hoop with row cover for winter protection. Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest is a good read on that. Hope all this helps!

  6. steve permalink
    March 16, 2014 4:40 pm

    when do you remove and reinstall your plastic?

    • March 16, 2014 7:16 pm

      Before and after the snow flies…although we’ve had snow twice since we put it back on this year and more snow expected tomorrow 😦

  7. March 17, 2014 11:18 am

    Shoot. Potatoes. Today. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.

    Need to get the flock out of the greenhouse too. Yes, I meant to do that.

  8. wondering permalink
    March 19, 2014 10:10 am

    How do you manage crop rotation in a greenhouse? Or do you just have to have multiple greenhouses?

    • March 19, 2014 10:52 am

      Either way, I do have multiple greenhouses, but you would rotate the same as you do in a garden. I basically have 6 long beds to play with and mix and match. That pretty much keeps me out of trouble :p

  9. Catherine permalink
    March 21, 2014 3:45 am

    There should be an envy button to push! I tried to plant peas into our garden on the 19th and the ground is STILL rock hard. Maybe next week.

    Our property doesn’t permit us to put a structure on it, we are on a steep slope, but I am thinking of a cold frame for the fall. A greenhouse can be that small and still fill the need for seeing green, right?

    • March 21, 2014 5:37 am

      Catherine, now we’re having freezing weather 😦 Hopefully it’s still warm enough in the greenhouse to let those poor little peas sprout. If not, I’ll try again, always a gamble!

      Exactly, cold frames are actually just mini greenhouses right? 😀

  10. March 21, 2014 2:58 pm

    Hi MOH, My wife and I love your posts. What did you do with all of those cuttings you propagated? I started a few dozen trees from cuttings this spring, my first attempt at propagating. So far most of them are doing really well. Did you sell your cuttings, start a woodlot, trade, gift…? We bought acreage a year ago and I am slowly developing it into a permaculture pasture/garden/woodlot/habitat. This year I did those cuttings and also bought some bare root seedling shrubs. But as with all homesteaders, the more I can do with only my time (propagate) and not have to buy (bare root seedlings) the more sustainable it is that I do.

    • March 21, 2014 3:28 pm

      I sold them to a nursery that would then grow them on. It’s a definite piecework job rather than hire an employee to do the work by the hour. When you stick those cuttings you feel if you bend the cutting too hard and damage the cambium, a hourly employee might not be so apt to throw them away.

      Propagating is fun too, much more fun than pruning…I arrived at that thought today pondering my grapevines that are a mess 😦 I liked them much better when they were cuttings and were well behaved.

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