There’s Amie, counting on her fingers

This is what our living room looks like now. DH said it looks a bit weird, those big peppers.  I said, well count yourself lucky I’m not overwintering the eggplants! (Poor eggplants.)

At least I’m making that big picture window pay for all the heat loss in cold weather.

Speaking of heat loss, I need to calculate the Riot, it’s been two months now, but the site and so the calculator are down, hopefully not for too long.

All the seedlings were transplanted into the Winter beds – the beds that will be under the hoop house once we move it from its Summer position, after the tomatoes, peppers and basil are done.

These are all under one layer of row cover now (Agribon, from Johnnie’s). A third bed is loaded with kale and broccoli. The fourth bed holds onions, scallions, chives and sorrel that I sowed at the beginning of August.

I’ll reserve the empty spaces (about 4 sq. f.) in the fourth bed for transplants from the other beds (I put the broccoli and kale a bit too close together), and I might use some of it to keep some compost from freezing. Some empty space will also come in handy in Spring when I can move the more hardy seedlings there and out of the basement growing area.

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Yesterday I found myself back  in Amie’s school garden. “Back” is not quite the right word because it turns out that the garden I weeded last week was not the garden the teacher meant for me to clean up! (No harm done, I did what I love for a couple of hours and got  to harvest all that dandelion). In any case, there I was, staring at the other garden, trying to decide what they would consider “weed” and “legit”. A lot of the plants were borderline, in my opinion. Luckily the other volunteer came up to help, and she said to pull the lot.

“Even the goldenrod?”

“Of course, that’s  a weed!”

“I’ll take it home, then – they’re great bee plants.”

I hope these do better than the ones I grew from seed this Summer. Those got all those juicy little green buds, but they never flowered into yellow before withering to nothing.

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I also disconnected and rolled up and stored all the garden hoses. Man, that 50 foot long one was a pain! I’m keeping a weather eye on the forecasts. Soon I’ll be empty the rain barrels and store those too.

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Did you know that oil companies won’t come and do a burner tune-up unless you have an oil delivery contract with them!

My Fall Garden? I guess most of it looks like my Summer Garden, only inside the hoop house (where it was a balmy 85 F today, contrasting with the 56 F outside).

eggplants in hoop house

Yesterday I moved most of the (sweet and hot) pepper plants from the outside beds into pots and then into the hoop house. When that gets moves onto the Winter Garden beds, I will move all the potted plants to the Annex (the guest suite, which we heat minimally in Winter) and overwinter them.

potted peppers in hoop house

I was really happy to have overwintered those two pepper plants last time. They were my best producers, giving me two rounds of fully red peppers, and I just harvested another round of green peppers. Peppers are, after all, perennials, so why not bring them inside, if you have the space and the inclination to water them once and a while?

herbs in the Annex window

I’m also overwintering most of my culinary herbs. They are inside already, the prettiest ones in the living room, the rest in the Annex, which has a large south facing window. I’ll be happy not to have to devote so much space to oregano, thyme and rosemary seedlings when I turn on the lights in February. There will be more room for medicinal herbs and flowers.

I harvested 3.5 lbs of green tomatoes (both large and cherries) and pulled the vines, as well as the one cucumber vine, on which I discovered 4 cukes, one of them an overlooked one weighing in at 1.2 lbs.

So most of my beds are empty. The only things that I sowed in Summer, outside the hoop house, and that are left to harvest are the carrots, leeks, and celeriac, all of which improve in taste with a light frost, and kale.

The Winter beds – awaiting the hoop house but covered with just row cover at the moment – hold spinach, kale and broccoli. Tomorrow I might have the chance to also transplant the Minutina, Claytonia (Miner’s Lettuce), Tatsoi and Pac Choi. I am reserving the lettuce and some more spinach seedlings for the hotbed under the cold frame, but more about that soon.

Taking advantage of a beautiful Sunday morning some weeks ago, DH and I started building our garden tool shed. We both love this project because (1) it will collect my tools right next to my garden and (2) it makes room for a functional workshop for DH in our old and more “serious” shed – currently clogged by all my gardening tools and supplies.

As this shed is in the middle of the woods, the work was hindered by acorns and twigs. Those little nuts are like missiles when they fall from 30 feet high. We often had to beat a hasty retreat. Then my parents came (and have in the meantime left) and they helped as well, getting the structure into a minimal shape so the garden things could go in. This is the state of it at the moment:

As you can see, it’s  a simple lean-to that still needs walls and a floor (at the moment the floor consists of loose pallets, ankle-benders I call them). They will have to wait until Spring. For now we’ll hang tarps all around it.

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As anticipated, we did get the door onto the hoop house yesterday evening. We agonized over how to build that door. A door that swings open is not possible, as the house is wedged between beds and there is not enough leeway. A sliding door came out too  complicated, e.g., snow on the rail and, no matter how we designed it, there was always too wide a gap between door and jamb. It’s not so much cold as draft that kills the winter veggies, so it’s best to make the house as tight as possible.

During a trip to Home Depot we spotted this zipper that you stick onto a plastic or a tarp, and voila. We’re skeptical about whether it will hold, especially in sub-zero, snowy and icy weather, but were game to give it a try.

The other door we just closed off. Same system (a frame made of pine straps, plastic stapled to and around it, then the frame screwed into the end wall/door jamb), but no zipper.

I visited this morning to take these pictures and it felt considerably warmer in there.

The plants in there seem to like it.

As you can see I am alive and doing things, like playing around with my new dehydrator. Let me tell you, it was a bad idea to keep the apple skins on, and to start the process at 4 pm. Live and learn!

I’m waiting for the rain to stop so I can put my Winter harvest seedlings in the ground, though first I’ll have to rake about a million acorns out of my raised beds. I’m identifying trees that need to go down on my property if I am ever going to get enough sunlight to grow a large tomato and all those medicinal herbs I want to grow. DH and I are building a garden tool shed, and need to make work of the doors for the hoop house.

I’m struggling with a persistent cold, or rather, low immunity. I’m studying herbal medicine in the evenings after Amie goes to sleep and rewriting/finishing my novel in the mornings when Amie is at school.

I’m coping (sometimes not so well) with the news (old news) about climate change and peak everything. The political outlook of this country is getting me down – and I don’t even watch TV or even read any news. I just feel it…

Mostly it’s good, but I’m not in a space to blog much. Maybe if I get these constantly recurrent colds out of my system, or even just get a good night’s sleep!

Speaking of which…

The garden, that is.

DH and I worked on the backyard the entire day: grading it with sifted soil, evening it out, then adding 1 to 2 inches of our composted cow manure. We still have about 1/3 to do, and I’ll try to finish that by my lonesome tomorrow, because DH needs to go into work. Then we sow the grass seed and keep our fingers crossed.

The tomato seedlings are getting too big for my setup in the basement. They still fit under the lamps, but (1) they’re shading each other out and (2) they’re holding up my next big seeding.

Now the reason why we have a (movable) hoop house is to extend the season. The issue is when to move it to its Summer location, where the tomatoes will grow, among other things. In its present, winter location it is no longer in its right place. Witness all the Winter and Spring veggies that are bolting in the 80-90 F heat:

Honestly, these (Mache, Claytonia and Minutina) would have bolted with or without hoop house, and I’m letting them because I want to save the seed. The spinach, kale, and lettuces are all loving it in there. But anyway, what’s the holdup?

At first we thought we would redesign it, but budgetary issues and the fact that the way it is will do fine for Summer, made us postpone Hoop House 3.0 till Fall. Now we need 6 well-coordinated people, at least, to move the thing. Those people haven’t shown up yet…

Well, in any case, what to do with the tomato seedlings? The temperatures in the hoop house during the day are great for them, and the light is diffuse, and a recent study shows that the quality of a tomato depends more on heat than on light. However, NOAA predicted a low of 36F. tonight, and a couple more such nights. So this was the solution – with a nod to One Straw:

This compost bin (inside the hoop house) is going full steam, and I’m hoping it and a row cover will keep my seedlings warm overnight. We’ll see. It’s quite nerve-wrecking!

Last but not least we had a well-deserved dinner of rib eye steak on the grill: its first firing of the year. We eat meat about 4 times a month, and then it’s always a feast. With that we had homegrown kale and a homegrown salad, all from the hoop house. That thing may be in the wrong place, but it’s still doing what it was made to do: extending our season.

{UPDATE} look here for the finished product!

Like I said in an earlier post, I would not recommend our present hoop house design to anyone who has gust of wind and lots of snow. It has served the purpose of getting us going, of experimentation, and we are still hoping for a Winter Harvest (I’ll be sure to harvest something before March 20). But the idea is to have a movable hoop house, and to move it on our last frost date (predicted by yours truly to be 1 May) to its Summer position. And before we move it, we want to redesign it.

We want it sturdier, more wind and snow-proof, more airtight, with more ventilation possibilities, and a sturdy tight door (or two). We’d like heavier, more durable and more transparent poly (this one looks good but it’s expensive).

To get all this, the new design will involve some wooden and metal parts (where at present the whole thing is pvc). And because we still want it to be movable in the sense of pick-up-able (so as to avoid soil and pest problems), we will have to make it modular. It will be made of pieces, fit together, that can be taken apart and moved and refitted by 2-4 people in the span of a couple of hours.

We are copying some ideas from this design (which is not movable).

So here is the first draft:hoophouse2_b

  • 20′ pvc pipes for the ribs, so they will be 1 piece across, so no breaking connectors (definitely the weak points in our first design).
    Rebars are pounded into the ground and the ribs are fitted over them so they are tensed in an arc.
  • Along each long side of the house a wooden baseboard (of no less than 1 foot high, to guide sliding snow away from the base) is  attached to these “rebarred” ribs by brackets. This will prevent these 2 long baseboards from warping and will anchor the whole structure to the ground.

hoophouse2_a

  • To these 2 long baseboards are fixed (in a removable manner) (*) to the end walls.
  • These end walls are made of plywood. They will probably be the heaviest components. In each are cut two holes, for a door and a window.
  • These windows are opened either by automated arms or are fitted with fans that vent when it gets too hot inside.
  • The doors can be homemade of light wooden frames with poly stretched over it, or freecycled doors, preferably with glass in it, and frames, in which case they need to be easily removable by lifting them off their hinges.
  • The cross brace on top is 1 piece of rigid metal or pvc (probably pvc as that would be lighter). The apexes (apices?) of the ribs are fixed to this bar by ties.
  • Also this cross brace is fixed (again in a removable manner) (*) on either side to the end walls by brackets.
  • The poly is 2 big sheets bonded or glued (still have figure this one out) so it makes 1 seamless sheet.
  • The poly is stapled (permanently) to 1 of the wooden baseboards (call it A). On the other side, it is (permanently) stapled to a long wooden piece that gets screwed to (and can be unscrewed from) the other baseboard (call it B).
  • Along the end walls the poly is stretched over and around and fastened to the end ribs with the pvc clips we have at present (they’re pretty sturdy and handy). These end ribs are then fastened to the end walls with removable brackets.

So you get the idea. When we move the house, we

  1. detach the end ribs from the end walls (unscrew)
  2. detach the poly from the end ribs (undo the clips)
  3. detach the poly from baseboard B and move it over the ribs, setting it aside next to baseboard A to which it is still attached.
  4. detach the top cross brace from the ribs (cut the ties) and from the end walls (unscrew the brackets) and move it aside.
  5. detach the ribs from the baseboards (pull ‘em out of their brackets and off the rebars).
  6. pull the rebars out of the ground.
  7. detach the baseboards from the end walls and move the end walls aside (possibly remove the doors first).
  8. move the baseboards (poly still attached to one) to the new position.
  9. reverse process.

We’ll be playing around with this. We also need to figure out how to make the 6 crucial structural attachments – (*) of baseboards to end walls and of top cross bar to end walls. A simply click system would be great, or some kind of bolting system. All removable screws and bolts need to be durable enough to stand up to repeated bolting and unbolting.

We still want this thing to be inexpensive, but we know that, with a better poly, the venting system, the wood and the hardware, we’ll be looking at something twice the price of what we have now. What we have now cost us about $200 – and we’ll reuse it as a shelter for our woodpiles.

Let me know what you think!

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I’m also playing with some potting shed designs…

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{UPDATE} look here for the finished product!

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So I did all that canning last year and ended up with a little more than what you see in the picture above. So far we’ve eaten half the tomato sauce, a lot of apple sauce and blueberry jam (but not half, not by a long shot), a quarter of the peaches, and some of the fig preserves. We liked all of those.

We did not like the green peppers (bitter, metallic taste, is that normal?) and the green beans, of which we have, sadly, a lot (good for a soup, or a casserole?). Those two veggies are going into the freezer next year!

Tomorrow I’m making split pea soup with two of the many pounds of dry split peas that I bought in bulk and store in the chest freezer. I’m also going to make an apple-peach crumble with store-bought apples and my canned peach pie filling.

My attempt, a while ago, of “root cellaring” store-bought (organic) potatoes on some stick on top of a bucket of water inside a large black plastic bin in the coldest part of our basement… resulted in all the potatoes sprouting in record time. Wha? They were in total darkness! Very strange. Could it have been the plastic? Maybe I should try a metal bin next time.

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And here is the promised peek inside the hoop house. These pictures are from when it was still freezing.

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All kinds of lettuces, mustards, and spinach, doing well

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Russian kale, Swiss chard and broccoli (in back) lying down a bit but surviving. Can’t wait to harvest those carrots (to the right)

In the third bed the parsley is also laying low but surviving. The mache and claytonia that I sowed there way too late have germinated and the seedlings are tiny but fine, waiting it out.

I haven’t been in there since the thaw started (we’re in the 40s now during the day, and at the moment it’s raining all the snow away). I’ll have a look tomorrow, when (if it stops raining) I will move the compost from the Earth Machine that’s close to the kitchen (it’s too cold for the kitchen scraps to decompose, so that bin filled up really fast) to the empty one in the hoop house.It would be great to have some finished homegrown compost by the beginning of Spring.

We readied the basement area where I will start the seedlings again. I can’t wait to turn on those lights! We decided I’d stop mucking around with  various hot germination box designs, and buy a large seedling mat (with thermostat). If you have a particular one that you’ve have tried and like, let me know…. soon.

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Don’t forget to scroll down for the second and, may I say, most riveting installment in the “Calcium in Soil and Compost” series, published a few hours ago.

Last weekend we finally got the plastic on the hoop house, just in time too, before the first big snowstorm.

A couple of days after the storm something did not look right. Several of the “ribs” were no longer bent. A quick inspection revealed that the snow that had accumulated against the bottom had pressed against the ribs, making them bend in more, tightening the arch. This had put too much force on the pvc cross connectors on top, and several of these had broken.

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The house still stood by virtue of the connectors still in place, the plastic covering (which did not tear even at those point where the loose ribs were poking into it), and the milder weather. Yesterday DH and I had a chance to go out and fix it.

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The cross connectors can’t stand up to that kind of pressure because they are made of rigid pvc, which may get brittle in the freezing temperatures. Not being able to bend, they just break. So we reinforced each connector with a metal rod. The pressure of the arch is now on the metal rod inside the joint and on the much more bendable pvc of the ribs where the rod’s endpoints press on them.

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hoophouseschema1

Hopefully this will do the trick, but to prevent the pressure from building in the first place, we are also creating a cross brace on the most vulnerable side of the hoop house. This will at least give us some extra time to clear away the snow. (More on this later.)

I peeked underneath the row covers and everything is doing well, though the Russian kale looked a bit peekish – next year I will be following the Matron of Husbandry’s tips on winter hardy veggies. I also had the chance to harvest some of our first winter harvest:

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Swiss chard, harvested mid-December. So good!