The Winter Greenhouse – To Heat or Not to Heat?

The winter greenhouse – to heat or not to heat? That is the question!!!

Should you heat your greenhouse in the winter?

We all want to use our greenhouses in the winter. But, it can be costly to heat them all winter long. For certain crops you will need the heat. Do you want to grow seasonal  winter crops without the cost of additional heating? Or, do you want to pay the heat bill to have tomatoes and peppers all winter long? That is the real question.



Did you know that a greenhouse will build up a lot of heat during the day? That is why you need a ventilation system in place. But, once the sun goes down the heat will begin to dissipate and disappear. In order to keep your greenhouse above the outside temperature at night you will need to have heating systems or other solar systems in place.

Solar Practices

You can keep some heat in your greenhouse at night by using a few solar practices. You can pull a solar blanket over the roof of the greenhouse to help keep any heat inside. These are on the inside of your greenhouse and are typically a heavy blanket that can be pulled at night.

Probably the most popular and easiest method is to use black containers filled with water. These will build up heat during the day and let off the built up heat slowly through the night. You can use gallon water jugs painted black or 55 gallon drums.

You can put a compost pile in your greenhouse. Although, I have heard quite a few people complain about the smell. If you have a properly balanced and properly functioning compost pile you should not have these odors. But, if you want to spend some time and money you can put your compost pile outside and pipe water through the pile (which will heat the water in the pipes) and through the greenhouse for heat.

Some people will use a layer of bubble wrap (yep, like what is used for packing in all the boxes you receive) to help add insulation to their greenhouse. They basically just line the interior with the bubble wrap to help keep the greenhouse a little bit warmer.

These methods will all give you supplemental heat, but none of them will give you a way to control what end temperature you require. To set the heat at let’s say 60 degrees, you will need a heater with a thermostat.



Heating systems

Greenhouse heating systems are available in electric, natural gas and propane. I much prefer the natural gas or propane. My top pick, and the heater that I use in all of my personal greenhouses, is the Southern Burner heater. I have used both the natural gas and the propane models. I find that they both function the same. These are great heaters because they require no electricity. They are the perfect size to fit under a greenhouse bench, thus staying out of the way and not using up valuable space. There is a vented and a non vented model. I personally have always used the non vented heater, but there are some locations in the US where this is a problem and against code. Even though it is called a non vented heater you still need to have a fresh air supply.

Max/ Min Thermometers

A relatively inexpensive, but very valuable tool is a max/min thermometer. These can go from low tech models to models where you can monitor the temperatures from inside your home. Some even have an alarm system set up with them if the temperature drops too low. These are valuable in both a heated and unheated greenhouse to help you troubleshoot any potential problems that you may have.

Crops You Can Grow in a Heated Greenhouse

You can grow just about anything that you can grow in your garden in the summer if you heat the greenhouse. Your night time temperature for tomatoes must be a minimum of 55 degrees. You can also grow peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons, beans, eggplant, corn, basil, tomatillos, etc.

Rules To Growing in an Unheated Greenhouse

If you are growing in an unheated winter greenhouse there are a few rules you should follow for the best harvest. You must be growing crops that are in season during the winter in your area. These cool weather crops include crops such as lettuce, spinach, chard, carrots, etc. Do NOT try to grow warm weather crops in an unheated winter greenhouse. If you are not sure of your growing seasons I would check with my local extension office to see if they have a free vegetable planting guide available. If you don’t know where they are just do a search for extension office “my town”.





Do not try to grow in containers. They will lose any heat they have retained rapidly. You should grow in  the ground or in raised beds.

Cut back on how much water you think the plants will need. Plants require a whole lot less water in the winter than they do in the summer. Only water when the ground is dry 1″ to 2″ below the surface.

Grow in “layers”. Add a cold frame or a mini hoop house inside the greenhouse. If you have electricity you can even add heat cables to the cold frames or under the mini hoop house. I always like to use heat cables in  my personal cold frames. I  find that it gives a higher yield earlier. Just be sure that you check these in the morning. Depending on your location and your weather your cold frame or mini hoop house made need to be opened during the day and closed at night.

Crops You Can Grow in an Unheated Greenhouse

You can typically grow lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, chard, greens, mustard greens, kale, chives, chinese cabbage, english peas, and cilantro (may require a double layer growing system such as the cold frame).

In Conclusion

To heat or not to heat? Well, that is really your decision and should be based on how much money you want to spend for winter heat and what crops you want to grow. Whichever way you go, fresh veggies year round can’t be beat! Enjoy!



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How To Grow Mushrooms

How To Grow Mushrooms

Are you concerned about the quality of mushrooms you are buying in the grocery store? Do you wish you had healthier alternatives? Why not grow your own? It is not all that complicated if you have the knowledge of the requirements of the plants and a few simple tools.

What are mushrooms?

Mushrooms are a fungus. They are low in calories and carbohydrates. They are a great source of B vitamins, trace minerals, fiber and even protein. They are high in antioxidants and they have anti inflammatory properties. They have also been linked to fighting cancer and supporting heart health. OK, and if all that is not enough, they are pretty darn tasty too.




Why should I grow my own?

I confess that I used to buy jarred mushrooms for when I was really lazy. One day, several years back, I took the time to read the label and found that they were not from the USA. That was the end of my jarred mushrooms. But, even if you are purchasing fresh mushrooms you do not know what pesticides may have been used. Due to the nature of the mushroom they absorb a lot of what they come in contact with. I don’t really want all of that. Plus, as an avid, long time gardener, I know the joy of harvesting your own crops. Not to mention the peace of mind that comes with it.

mushroom growing

What do you need to grow mushrooms?

You will need either mushroom spores or spawn. The spawn are much easier to handle for a first time project. As you progress you may even learn how to harvest your own spores, but that is not something that you would want to take on as a new mushroom farmer. You need a growing area. You will want an area where you can cut the light off and keep the temperature at a pretty constant temperature. A basement, a spare room, anything of that sort. I remember talking to a man at a garden show years ago. He told me he had grown mushrooms in his hallway for years. You will need nutrient rich soil and a substrate. Materials such as straw, compost, wood chips, sawdust, newspaper, cardboard or coffee grounds are excellent materials for the substrate. You will also need boiling hot water and temperature and humidity controllers.

What kind of mushroom should I grow?

Oyster , shitake and button mushrooms are probably the easiest to grow. There are so many other beautiful, colorful and I am sure tasty varieties to try that are available as spawn. These may take longer to grow.

How do I grow them?

Some of the spawn that are available are meant to be inoculated onto stumps or logs. These take up to a year or more to produce. These are the exception. Most mushrooms will produce between 1 – 3 months depending on the size of mushroom you want. You basically sterilize your substrate which has been placed over your soil. You then inoculate the spawn or spores. Make sure to keep your temperature at the desired level for your species. At this point you will be misting the spawn 1 or 2 times per day. Once you see mycelia – which is a fungal version of roots, you will cut the watering down to once a day. The main thing is to keep out of light and drafts. For detailed instructions see Mushroom Growing 4 You.

mushroom growing

If you purchase a kit you should follow the instructions with the kit. You harvest by cutting with a sharp knife. Once you cut the mushroom another may appear again in the same space. But, to ensure a constant supply of mushrooms you should plant a couple of weeks apart. If you are using a large enough growing bed you may just be able to place your spawn in different areas of the bed a couple of weeks apart.




Growing with Mushroom Kits

These have had pretty much all of the guess work taken out of them. Most of the kits are as simple as open and water. Some will even give you mushrooms in as little as 10 days. This is a great gardening project for a child. With the short turnaround time they will not tend to lose as much interest as with crops that take longer.

Yellow Oyster Log Plugs – Mushroom Spawn L…

100 Yellow Oyster mushroom plug spawn and detailed instructions. Use to colonize stumps… [More]

Price: $14.95

Mushroom Mojo Grey Oyster Mushroom Growing…

The Pro-Gro Grey Oyster (Pleurotus oystreatus) grow kit is a kid friendly, easy-to-cult… [More]

Price: $35.00

Back To The Roots – Organic Indoor Oyster …

Grow your own oyster mushrooms with this easy, do-it-yourself mushroom farm from Back t… [More]

Price: $18.99

Can I make money growing mushrooms?

Absolutely. But, as with any farming operation, you will need to research your local market first. Visit your local farmers market and see if anyone is selling mushrooms. Ask the vendors if they ever get requests for them. Go visit your local chefs and see if they would be interested in purchasing them. If you have small local grocery stores you may be able to work with them. I am finding more and more that even the big grocery stores are trying to source fresh food locally. If you have the demand do not start out too large, especially if you have never grown mushrooms before. The best feature of growing these is that you do not need to invest in expensive equipment to get started. You will need your items as listed above, but they are not high dollar or hard to find items.

Conclusion

We are all concerned about the quality of our food. That is a given. But, there is nothing more satisfying than growing your own food. Mushrooms are an ideal crop because they don’t require a lot of room or hard to obtain special growing conditions. Try your hand at growing mushrooms today. I think you will be pleasantly rewarded for your efforts.




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What’s All The Hype About Hypertufa?

DIY Hypertufa containers and garden art

What’s all the hype about hypertufa?

Have you been seeing “hypertufa” a lot lately? Are you unsure of what it really is? Would you like to learn how to make your own hypertufa projects? Then read on.

What is hypertufa?

Hypertufa is an excellent diy project. It is a long lasting and beautiful substitute for tufa. Next question – what in the world is tufa? It is a natural volcanic rock. Making hypertufa is the art of making decorative or functional garden items from a blend of cement, peat moss (coir can be substituted under certain circumstance), sand, perlite or vermiculite, and water. There are about as many hypertufa formulas as there are hypertufa crafters. You can vary your recipe and the amount of each ingredient added to meet the needs of your project.




Why hypertufa?

Why not? It is an excellent substitute for heavier concrete planters. It is lightweight, it can be hand molded, sculpted, carved,  and you can add decorative mosaic pieces or color to it. It is long lasting and will not freeze if it is cured properly. When the peat moss breaks down or decomposes it will leave pits and crevices making a natural looking pot. It is a porous material that is conducive to plant growth. Plus, the fact that your creative juices can flow and you can make a truly one of a kind, this is my creation, piece is just the topping on the cake. A small beginners project would be an excellent start to a child’s journey into hypertufa. They will love it. It has been compared to making mud pies! Don’t forget to wear old clothes.

What can I make?

You can make just about anything you can imagine. To name a few you can make spheres, steeping stones, birdbaths, planters, trough planters, garden art, hypertufa leaves, stepping stones, garden lanterns, birdbaths, etc. I am sure you can think of a few more projects.

How To Hypertufa

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What tools do I need?

You can probably scavenge most of the tools you need from your household items. You need mixing utensils (gloved hands work well for this) , a mixing container (maybe a wheelbarrow or smaller depending on your project), and molds. Some examples of molds are dish pans, oil pans, boxes, boxes  you make, just about anything you can think of.

Can I find all of the materials locally?

You should be able to locate all of the materials that you need to do a hypertufa project. Portland cement is readily available at the big box stores. Please note: this is not concrete. It is an ingredient in concrete. Portland cement comes in white or gray. You will use the white when you are adding color or if you want a granite look. The gray will be used for all other projects. You should also be able to source all of the other items at big box stores or at local nurseries. We prefer to support the local nurseries whenever we can.




What formula is the best for my project?

Some of this will depend on how you are going to form your final art. If you are a beginner you are going to use the simplest and easiest to work with formula available. No need to burn yourself out with a tough project the first time. Do something small and attainable. Master this and then move on to your next formula. There are formulas that give added strength, that have wire mesh for even more strength, that will make the material easy to carve, that will make the material lighter weight, etc.

What is the most important part of this project?

Well, I would have to say that the artistic decisions are the most important part, but in all actuality it is the curing. A properly cured project will last for years through harsh environments. An improperly cured project may fail before you expect it to. Of course some of this is like gardening. There are “hard, fast” rules that we all have to follow. Then there are the “wonder what will happen if I try this” moments. Not all gardens in all areas grow in the same manner. I have even read about microenvironments where the conditions vary from neighbor to neighbor. But, you will reach a point when you know the proper feel to cured hypertufa. The secret is to cure it slowly in a moist environment. The first part of curing is done in a plastic bag for 2 – 4 days. You will not be able to scratch the surface of the tufa. At that point you can unmold it. You will leave it in the bag unmolded up to a month or more. The project is completed when it sounds hollow when tapped. The final step is leaching out the lime that could be hazardous to your plants. A simple method is to soak it in fresh water (that is changed every day) for 3 days. Next step, planting in your vessel or placing your garden art in the appropriate place.




Looking for extra income?

Hypertufa planters, garden art, etc are in high demand. This is due to the many beautiful configurations that are designed and made. Also, don’t forget the lightweight, durable, and porous attributes that make this a much desired item. They sell great at yard sales, garden shows, flea markets, etc. This is a great way to get your children involved in creation and the art of making money as well.

OK, did I entice you?

Hopefully by this point you are thinking, I have a great spot for a hypertufa sphere. Want to learn how to do this? Check out this thorough informational book. Everything you need to know for a successful project is covered in this 100 page book.

How To Hypertufa

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Tammy is a Diamond Ezines author and a 2018 Quora Top Writer. She loves gardening, writing about gardening, and sharing her gardening experiences with anyone who is willing to listen!

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Build Your Own Polyfilm Hoop House Greenhouse

Build Your Own Polyfilm Hoop House Greenhouse

Build Your Own Polyfilm Hoop House Greenhouse

There are a lot of reasons to build your own polyfilm greenhouse rather than buying a kit. You may have a special feature or size that you cannot find in a kit. Maybe you have some materials you can recycle. Or, you may just enjoy letting your creative juices flow and making your greenhouse from your own hands with your own design. There are a few basic steps you should follow making decisions regarding your greenhouse whether you are using a kit or building your own design.



Location:

You should pick the proper location for your greenhouse. This should be a clear, sunny spot on a nice level location. The ends of the greenhouse should be situated facing north and south.

Size:

This is always a major decision when getting a greenhouse. The rule of thumb is – go one size larger than you think you will need. We are, after all collectors and experimenters. We may see the perfect plant at a sale that we just can’t resist. Or, we may find our next best go to variety of tomato or other vegetable that we just have to grow this year. Try to either mark out on your land how you think your plants will be arranged, or do this on a piece of paper. Consider whether you will be having raised beds, containers or hydroponic systems.

Framing Materials:

Will you build your frame using pvc pipe or galvanized pipe?

PVC –

If you are using pvc pipe you should use schedule 40 pipe. The simple way to do this is to place a 3′ piece of rebar (sticking out of the ground 12″) where the ends of the hoops will be. Two people are needed for the next step. Place each end of the pipe over the rebar and make your hoop. Your hoops should be placed 4′ to 6′ apart. You will need to use purlins for your frame as well. These are what hold the pvc hoops together. If you skip the purlins you will just have a row of hoops with a cover over them. There is not much structure to this. A minimum of 3 runs of purlins should be used running from one end of the greenhouse to the other. Usually you have one right in the center of the greenhouse with one run along each side where the greenhouse is starting to “bow”. You can use special pvc fittings to tie these together. Most people will use treated lumber to run along the bottom of the long sides of the frames. You can frame out your ends with pvc or with wood. You can build your own door using pvc for framing, or use a purchased (or recycled) wood door. Please note: This style of greenhouse should not be used in high snow load areas. There is a tendency for this type of structure to collapse under heavy snow loads.

Galvanized Pipe –

There are pipe benders available to make specific width of greenhouse bows. Choose the appropriate one for your needs. You will install ground pipe 2′ into the ground with 2′ above the ground. Install your hoops at 4′ or 6′ increments. Install your purlins. You can use a board at the bottom of the sidewalls. The process is basically the same as with the pvc pipe, just different materials. The end walls can be framed out of wood. Although this structure will obviously not have any snow or wind rating, it will be stronger than the pvc frame.

Choosing Your Cover :

There are several different types of covers. The worst choice you could make is going to the box store and buying a roll of film off the shelf. This is great film, but it is just not designed to be used for a greenhouse. There is no UV protection on it. The sun is what breaks down the material. You will be lucky to get one year out of this type of covering. The most commonly used material is a 6 mil, 4 year greenhouse polyfilm. This means that the film is 6 mil thick with a UV covering rated for 4 years. There is also a reinforced polyfilm covering. It has a rip stop feature that will stop a tear once it hits the reinforced cording.

Single vs Double Cover:

Blower motor for double polyfilm greenhouse

You can use either one layer of polyfilm, or a double layer of polyfilm. For the double polyfilm a blower will add air between the layers increasing the insulation factor of the covering. Most people even say that they feel that this makes the film more resistant to tears because it makes it tighter.



Fastening Your Cover:

There are several ways to fasten your cover to the greenhouse. The piece over the top should go from ground to ground.

Batten Tape-

batten tape for polyfilm greenhouse

You can use batten tape to fasten the film to the bottom boards. You will place the batten tape over top of the cover and staple through the tape and the cover. Be sure to have your film tight, but not to taught. An overstretched cover has a tendency to tear.

Base and Wiggle Wire

wiggle wire and base for polyfilm greenhouse

This is a 2 part system consisting of a metal base (kind of like a c configuration) with a w wire or wiggle wire. You can fasten the base to your side boards. The base will also bend enough that you can fasten it to your end walls. Pull the cover over top of the base and work the “w” wire in with a wiggle motion. This is a good secure fastening system and will work well with a double polyfilm covering.

Ventilation:

greenhouse ventilation system

Don’t forget to address ventilation. Most people will frame out an opening in the front walls and back walls for exhaust fans or intake shutters. The exhaust fan should go up high in the back wall with the intake shutters down low on the opposite walls. These are usually wired to one thermostat so that they come on at the same time. You may choose to go more low tech and use a roll up curtain along both side walls.These are also available as solar powered systems which require no electricity.



Heater:

southern burner non vented heater

There are times when a heater is not necessary for a hoop house. It depends on the type of crops you are growing and what time of year you are trying to grow them. Cole crops can be grown in hoop houses in the winter often without any supplemental heat at all. On the other hand, if you are trying to grow tomatoes or peppers in the winter you will need supplemental heating.

Conclusion:

Building your own polyfilm greenhouse will be a rewarding experience not only while you are building it, but also while you are using it to grow your own crops.

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4 Absolutely Essential Kitchen Items to Preserve Your Harvest

4 Absolutely Essential Kitchen Tools to Preserve Your Harvest

Preserve Your Garden Harvest

4 Essential Kitchen Tools to Preserve Your Harvest




After a long, cold winter, there is nothing that makes me happier than seed starting day. Gearing up for the new garden season. Getting ready for the cycle once again. I hover over my seedlings with great joy, watching and waiting. Then, Spring finally gets here and into the ground we go, seedlings and seeds. Oh, these are good times. But, absolutely nothing beats the euphoria of harvest season. When that first tomato finally gets red enough (you know the first one is always picked too early) to pick, slice and eat. That is why we garden. Then, when you finally reach the peak of harvest season there is the task? duty? nope, I think pleasure of preserving your food for consumption during the dark and dreary winter months. You can even make this a special family affair like my neighbor does. When the corn is ready to come off about 20 people show up to process it. They pick, shuck, clean the silk, boil, cut the kernels off and freeze. It is a full day event. Of course nothing beats the flavor of fresh picked out of the garden, but preserving your own food sure beats metal cans of overcooked mush out of the grocery store aisles. We use 3 basic methods of preserving our food. 1) Canning, 2) Freezing, 3) Dehydrating. We use 4 basic tools to do this 1) Our Food Saver Vacuum Packer 2) our Excalibur Dehydrator 3) Our Vitamix Blender and 4) my Grandmothers Porcelain Canner. It even still has most of the label attached! Those are all of my personal items in the picture above.




Food Saver vacuum packer


We have had a Food Saver vacuum packer for about 20 years. We love it. We have had a couple of them wear out and we have had to replace them through the years. We use it for meats as well as our veggies and fruits. Your food will stay much fresher, you can keep it in the freezer up to 5 times longer than with regular freezing methods. We have found through the years that if we pre-freeze our produce it will not smunch in the bag when we vacuum. We place our fruit or vegetables on a lined cookie sheet in the freezer overnight. We use this method for blueberries, strawberries, peppers, green beans, garlic cloves, apples, pears, figs, blackberries and persimmons.

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Excalibur dehydrator

This is another tool we have owned for about 20 years. We are still on our original model. This is a great, simple to use item for food preservation. We use this for herbs, vegetables and fruits. I dehydrate cilantro, basil, sage, principe borghese tomatoes (great for drying), strawberries, carrots, green beans and parnsips. We have used this method for zuchinni and eggplant, but have never really been satisfied with those results. Although we did make zuchinni chips one year. They were pretty good. You salt the slices pretty heavy before you dry them. It is a great alternative to potato chips.

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Vitamix Blender

Again, this is a tool we have used for about 20 years. We are still on our original model of this product as well. This is no regular blender, this is a very powerful machine. We use this a lot. We vrrmph (technical term) our tomatoes to make tomato sauce. We then just go ahead and freeze these. When it is time to make spaghetti sauce we heat this up, spice it, and add our principe borghese dehydrated tomatoes to the mix. We take the dehydrated tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder. We find that when we add this to our sauce it thickens it and intensifies the tomato flavor. We also use our Vitamix to make smoothies from our frozen cantaloupes, melons, strawberries, blueberries, etc. We simply add some ice, our frozen fruit or veggies, some protein powder, a banana (usually found in the freezer in a vacuum bag), and a little bit of water as needed. What a yummy breakfast or treat. The Vitamix cookbook that came along with our machine has a recipe for tomato ice cream. We keep saying that we need to try it, but haven’t ventured there yet.

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Canning Supplies


We probably don’t and probably never have canned as many foods as some people. We always can some jellies. In fact this weekend we are in the process of making some pear butter (from an apple butter recipe) that will be canned. We do can tomato sauce, diced tomato and pepper mix and jellies, but that is pretty much all we do. I am thrilled to be able to use my Grandmother’s canner to do all of this. Some things change all too often, but the basics of canning has never changed. You can also can peaches, green beans, pickles, beets, tomatillos, to mention a few. This really is quite a simple method, but there are a few basic rules that must be followed. All of your equipment, jars and lids should be sterilized in boiling water before beginning. Be sure to follow recommended canning times for all foods that you can.
find out more now




Conclusion

Preserving your food is a way to enjoy healthy, home grown food year round. This does take a little time and effort, but it is well worth the effort. Make it a family project like my neighbor does and it will not seem to be such a daunting process. Like I said, this is my absolute favorite time of the year in the garden. (Second place is planting day)!

Canning Done

This pear butter is just coming out of the canner.

dehydrated tomatoes

Dehydrated Pricipe Borghese Tomatoes

Vacuum Packed Blueberries and Blackberries

Vitamix with tomatoes

Vitamix with tomatoes ready to be processed




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5 Best Composter Reviews:Black Gold for Your Garden

5 Best Composter Reviews: Black Gold For Your Garden

5 Best Composter Reviews

Best Composters for your garden

We participate in the Amazon affiliate program along with several other affiliate programs. If you purchase a product once you click a link in this article we will be compensated in the form of a small commission. This does not and will not influence our opinions and/ or reviews. Thank you.

Compost,

considered by some gardeners to be the best thing since sliced bread, is caused by the breakdown of organic materials. There are several different ways to do this from just piling stuff up and waiting for it to break down, to turning or tumbling your materials to get the process moving along faster. Compost is often confused with having the same purpose as fertilizer. Not so. Fertilizer will feed your plants, properly composted materials will feed your soil.

5 Best Composters

The Most Beautiful Composter in the World, Made in the USA, Food Safe, BPA and Rust Free, No Assembly Required, Envirocycle Composting Tumbler Bin and Compost Tea Maker

Worm Factory 360 WF360B Worm Composter, Black

Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler, Black, 80-Gallon

EJWOX Composting Tumbler 43 Gallon, Dual Rotating Compost Bin

Greenes Fence RCCOMP36 Cedar Wood Composter, 23.25 Cu ft/173.92 gallons



TOP PICK – Envirocycle 4.5 Composter

These beauties are made in the USA of food safe materials. They are available in a smaller 17 gallon size and a 35 gallon size. They are nice and neat and can be used on a back porch for easy access with kitchen scraps. You simply add your material in the proper ratio and rotate 3 times every 3 days. Once the compost is ready you can take the drum off and roll it to the spot where you will be using the materials. There is absolutely no assembly required.

PROS:

Materials are food safe, BPA and rust free

Materials are UV and antioxidant protected for longevity

Available in black and pink (for the discerning composter)

Absolutely no assembly. Take the drum out of the box in put it on the base. Period. You can add plugs for the compost tea feature in the base according to your needs.

Easy to turn, just roll the drum with your hands

Opening conveniently sized for a shovel to fit

Rodent proof

CONS:

Only one side, no place for finished product and product in the process

Smaller size

What is compost?

Compost is an end product from the breakdown of decayed organic matter. It is dark and crumbly and should have an “earthy” smell. It acts as a soil conditioner or amendment.

Why compost?

There are many positive attributes to compost, but probably the most important is that it helps keep your plants healthy. It is a natural pesticide for soil and helps to attract beneficial life forms such as earthworms. It also helps your plants to make better use of the nutrients in the soil. Soil moisture is retained better. If you use compost regularly you may find that you are able to cut back on your usage of fertilizer and that would result in a cost savings. An original application should take placed approximately 2 – 4 weeks before planting in the spring. It may be applied again in the fall. Compost will release its nutrients slowly throughout the garden season, so no need to reapply. But, you may want to side dress your plants during their peak growing season.




How do you compost?

No matter what type of system you use there are a few basic rules to follow when composting. You need a proper mix of nutrients. Brown materials will supply the needed carbon for energy for the microbes. Green materials will supply the nitrogen that is necessary for the growth of the microbes. A general rule is 3 parts of brown to 1 part of green.

Brown-

newspaper or cardboard

leaves

sawdust

pine needles

hay or straw

Green –

kitchen waste (vegetable peelings, etc)

glass clippings

coffee grounds

egg shells

A compost pile will get high temperatures in the center when it is working (up to 150 degrees F). For this reason some will say that it is safe to use meat trimmings and greasy foods. My opinion is to leave this items out of the compost bin. But, that is my personal opinion. I also like to keep diseased plants, weed seeds, etc out of my pile, but again, some will say this is safe due to the high temperatures.

The other things you need for a properly functioning compost pile are adequate aeration and proper moisture. You must either mix or tumble the materials at regular intervals. There is a simple way to troubleshoot your compost if you are having issues – If it is stinky like rotting eggs or a musty smell, add more browns. If your compost isn’t getting hot enough you can add more greens. There are actually thermometers to take the temperature of your compost pile .

A properly maintained system should yield compost in 6 – 8 weeks depending on your method used.

1) Envirocycle 4.5
2) Worm Factory 360


Want compost but don’t want the work associate with turning and maintaining? The worm factory is for you. Let the worms do the work. The tower has a thermo siphon air flow design for the proper mix of oxygen. The worms are breaking down materials all hours of the day and night. There is a spigot to collect compost tea. It has been proven that this type of compost will have 10 times the nutrients of compost created in a traditional manner. Better for your plants, your yard, etc.

PROs

Maintain in less than 15 minutes a week

Uses approximately half food scraps and half fiber and paper

Odorless

Indoors or Outdoors

Lightweight

No Assembly

Made in the USA

Expandable

Cons:

Worms not included – don’t forget to buy some

Must be maintained at 4 0 to 80 degrees or your worms will die

Takes about 3 months for first batch of compost

3) Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler, Black, 80 Gallon
Lifetime 60058 Compost Tumbler, Black, 80-Gallon

This is a heavy duty, large capacity tumbling composter that is made to last. With a large 36″ x 36″ door it is easy to tip the barrel into a wheel barrow to move your finished product. The easy to rotate barrel has indentations for both hands for ease of handling.
Pros

Heavy Tip Free Stand

Large Tumbler – 80 Gallon Capacit

Double wall panels to maintain heat

Internal bar for mixing and oxygen

Made from HDPE and powder coated steel

Pin to catch tumbler after turning

Large Opening

Cons

Only one side

Assembly can be difficult and require more than one person

Requires some drilling during assembly




4) EJWOX Composting Tumbler 43 gallon dual

This 2 sided composter is ideal for having finished product on one side while you are actively making compost on the other side. The sliding doors open easy. It has a powder coated steel frame. With an economical price, what could be better. This tumbler has passed the PAHS (Patan Academy of Health Sciences)  and ROHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Test, but has not been tested as BPA free.

PROS

Spins Easily

The stand is sturdy

dual chamber

easy to slide door

Cons

Small door opening

Assembly required – although it should be completed in an hour or so.

5) Greenes Fence RCCOMP36 Cedar Wood Composter, 23.25 Cu ft/173.92 gallons

Well, this is the way we always used to make compost. We had connecting wood “bins” that we turned and moved as it was ready. Except, we had to make the bins ourselves. What a delight to find them premade out of non rotting cedar.

PROS

non rotting cedar wood

only need a rubber mallet for assembly

you can vary the number of boards in the front of the bin to allow for easier access

expandable to a 2 or 3 bin system

CONS

May be tight to put together

Does not slide easily once together

Some of the edges could be sanded down smoother

CONCLUSION:

No matter what method you use, you should start composting your kitchen and yard scraps for the health of your plants, our planet and yourself.

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7 Top Ways to Cool A Greenhouse Without Electricity

Cooling a Greenhouse without Electricity

7 Top Ways to Cool A Greenhouse without Electricity

7 Top Ways to Cool A Greenhouse Without Electricity

You want a greenhouse. You know it will build up a lot of heat during the day. Even on sunny days in the middle of the winter. You want to put it by your garden in a remote corner of your lot. Or maybe, on some land that you own that is undeveloped. What do you do? Fortunately, there are multiple options for cooling your greenhouse even when you don’t have electricity. Let’s take a look at the options.



1) Shade cloth –

Greenhouse Shade Cloth

Reflective Shade Cloth

This one is a no brainer. Just install a shade cloth over the top of your greenhouse. It has much the same effect as standing under a shade tree in the summer. The shaded area will be cooler. Shade cloths are available in a woven, knitted or reflective material. The woven material will ravel when cut and it is necessary to put tape  on the edges. Knitted shade cloth has more give than the woven and does not require taping, although we prefer to do this as you can then put grommets in the tape. You can run a bungee or cord through the grommets to attach the cover to your greenhouse. There is also a reflective cloth available which is much more efficient. They result in lower greenhouse temperatures and a more consistent environment. Shade percentages run from 50% to 70% for greenhouse use, maybe lower for plants will low light requirements.

2) Roof vents –

Greenhouse with open roof vent

Greenhouse with open roof vent

Chances are if you are purchasing a greenhouse kit, it will have roof vents. There are very few kits out there without roof vents, and if you are building your own greenhouse, this is a highly desirable feature. We all learned in high school that warm air rises. Have an opening such as the roof vent in the top of your greenhouse, and the hot air will exit. Manual roof vents are available, but the best way to take advantage of this feature is to have a solar powered opener on it. That way if you are not at the greenhouse every day, you will know that the vents are opening and closing at appropriate times. These solar powered openers are basically wax cylinders. They work on the principle of contraction and expansion. When they get warm they expand, pushing the vents open. When they get cool they contract, pulling the vents shut. These can be adjusted to a certain degree to open and shut at desired temperatures.

roof vent with solar opener in polyfilm greenhouse

There are also roof vents available that will go directly into a polyfilm greenhouse without additional framing. They have the solar powered openers. These vents can be retrofitted onsite to fit in a polycarbonate greenhouse.

 




3) Side vents in conjunction with roof vents –

Greenhouse with side vent

Greenhouse with side vent

If you place a side vent with a solar powered opener below your roof vents you will get even better ventilation in your greenhouse. We like to place these approximately 6″ from the bottom of the greenhouse. This will give you a chimney type effect drawing the air from the bottom to the top of the greenhouse. We also use the wax cylinders on these to keep things simple.

4) Roll up side curtains –

greenhouse roll up side curtains

greenhouse roll up side curtains

If you have a greenhouse with straight side walls you can install roll up curtains. Using these you can roll the greenhouse sides up during the hottest times of the year. These systems operate with a hand crank or can be automated. These come with a heavy duty 12 mil coated weave fabric. It is recommended to use a kneewall with these systems. That way your plants will have protection from the wind when the curtains are open. Also, if you are in a heavy snow area, this will keep the snow from laying up against your curtain.

5) Solar Powered Ventilation Package –

solar powered exhaust fan

solar powered exhaust fan

These operate on the same principle as a wired ventilation package. But, they are powered by a solar panel. The exhaust fan goes up high in the backwall of the greenhouse. The intake shutter(s) go down low on the opposite wall. The exhaust fans are wired to a thermostat. The manual intake shutters will open to allow fresh air into the greenhouse. The exhaust fan will draw this air through the greenhouse, cooling the air. No electricity is required, you are creating your own power.




6) Solar powered circulating fans –

12 inch solar powered greenhouse circulating fan

12 inch solar powered circulating fan for greenhouse

Circulation fans are essential to the healthy greenhouse. They will increase CO2 availability, an essential for plant growth. They help to reduce excessive moisture creating an environment which reduces disease and pests caused by humid environments. They also help strengthen the plant stems with the same motion as a mild breeze when the plants are grown outside. These are fans that run low and slow.

7) Misting Systems –

Misting systems may be used if you have water to your location. They will help to lower the heat in a greenhouse. These can be set up on a battery operated timer, so no electricity required. These cause a cooling effect by tiny water droplets evaporating.

In Conclusion

I have been fighting an uphill battle at times throughout the years. New greenhouse owners just do not understand the heat that will build up in a greenhouse during sunny days, even in the middle of winter. I have seen my ventilation package come on during a sunny 60 degree February day. And, I keep my thermostat set at 90 degrees. Quite a difference that you really would not expect unless you have experienced it. Proper ventilation is an essential item for your greenhouse. It will keep your plants healthy and happy. No more baked tomatoes on the vine. You will have to pick them and put them under the broiler in the kitchen  for that! These options discussed above provide you with the opportunity to supply adequate ventilation to your greenhouse even when they are in an area with no power available. So, no more excuses. Get out there and build yourself a greenhouse today. I will also be discussing heating your greenhouse without electricity when the season dictates. Good Growing!

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Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries

Growing Strawberries




One of my favorite kinds of food to grow is strawberries. I just love strawberries. I have only been growing them for 4 years and as this year’s crop comes to an end, I have taken a few minutes to look back on my experiments and see what I have learned. I guess I have been doing some things right. My neighbor keeps asking me how I get them to taste so much like strawberries. I think he is used to getting grocery store berries. But, I must admit that these are some of the tastiest strawberries I have ever eaten.

Choosing plugs or bare root plants

I choose to use strawberry plugs. These are plants that are usually started from runners and grown in a greenhouse. They come in soil, with an intact root ball and are actively growing. I prefer to use these for several reasons. You plant these in the Fall and pick them in the Spring. You only have about a 1% loss of plants using this option. Also, the plants will become more vigorous sooner. I grow Chandler and Sweet Charlie. The plugs are typically shipped anywhere from the beginning of September to the beginning of October depending on your location. It is a good idea to plant these as soon as you possibly can, but it is not essential to plant them immediately.

Bare root strawberries are usually stored in a freezer and shipped dormant. They need to be planted right away. They come with no dirt on their roots and are usually rubber banded together in a lot of 25 plants. There is about a 15 – 20% loss on this option. These are planted in the Spring. You will not get as large of a crop with this method, as the growing season is shorter. But, if you are growing at home, how many strawberries do you need? I got lots and lots with the plugs and ended up putting up lots and lots and giving away lots and lots to neighbors and friends.

Choosing a location for Your Strawberries

Strawberries like a location with plenty of sunshine. As with any crop you should keep it weed free. The soil should have good drainage and a pH of about 6.5. If you do not have a location that will drain well it is best to grow your strawberries in a Raised Garden Bed.  Mix peat moss or compost with your soil as you are working it prior to planting.

Planting Your Strawberries

The berries should be planted about 12 – 18 inches apart in rows that are 3 – 4 feet apart. You should plant them so that the midpoint of the crown is level with the soil.

Strawberry Plant Crown

Strawberry Plant Crown

If you plant them too deep or too shallow you run the risk of losing the plant. The easiest way to keep the strawberries weed free is to use plastic garden mulch. We use the white on black here in the South to help keep our soil cooler. We use a Drip Tape Irrigation System under the plastic mulch. Even with the mulch we find that we have runners that make their way to the edge of the bed and they will take root.



Care in Winter (for Strawberry plugs)

There are a couple of different way s to approach this. You can mulch with about 2″ of straw or hay in the winter when they start to go dormant. You will want to leave this on until the tops of the crowns start to show in the Spring. We have so many limited cold days in the Winter that we chose another option. We use Frost Protection Row Cover and only put it on when the temperature drops below freezing at night. We got this idea by watching our commercial strawberry growers in the area. This year I had a long double row and a short double row that was only about 10 feet long. I decided to experiment with the short row. We had unbelievably cold temperatures this winter. We even got down to 9 degrees F one night. That was a record for us. The entire week was chilly with overnight temps in the teens. I decided not to cover my short row during this week. Actually, I did not cover my short row all Winter long. The plants suffered a little bit with some burn on the leaves. But, come Spring they were producing at the same rate as the long row. I would not try this in a colder location, but it worked out well for us. This is the second year for these plants. Strawberries are perennials, so they grow year after year. I will probably try to leave them in for one more year, although I did see slightly smaller berries this year. The first year I grew them they died in our summer heat. Actually, my first try was not all that successful. I am not entirely sure why. But, we did move them from a separate location into our main garden the second year. I tried using a low tunnel with the slitted cover that winter. I left it on all winter, even though that is not the recommended way to use them. The problem came in the Spring. I was in there with a paint brush hand pollinating everything. I have to tell you, that didn’t last long. It was time for them to make it on their own or not. So, I reluctantly removed the cover. They did just fine. We removed these plants as we needed the space for other items. But, my third attempt has been my most successful just using the frost protection as needed. As I mentioned these plants are still in the ground producing in my strawberry growing year 4.

Preserving Your Strawberries

So, now that you have a bumper crop what do you do with your strawberries? I use several different manners of preserving. I made Strawberry Jam. Nothing better.  I froze some. I wash them well and put them on a cookie sheet lined with clingy wrap in the freezer to pre freeze. Some of them I leave whole, some I cut in slices. We let them freeze overnight. In the morning we take them out and portion them in proper sizes for us and put them in one of our FoodSaver bags. This is a vacuum sealer. We have owned one for probably 15 – 20 years now. It is super as far as extending the life of food in the freezer. We then mark our bags and put them back in the freezer. Another way is to dehydrate them. We have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator that we have owned probably for 15 – 20 years. I like to slice them thin, my husband says too thin, but hey, I am doing the work so it goes the way I like it. Then you just leave them in the dehydrator on the preset temperature for the suggested time. I just store them in a plastic container and leave them sitting on my kitchen counter. They are great for a sweet little snack. Probably better for me than the snack size chocolates I keep in my freezer. I mean they are pure strawberries and nothing else. But boy, when you dehydrate them they become really sweet. Maybe that is why I like to cut them into thin slices.



In Conclusion

This is not the only way to grow strawberries. They do well in containers. I have grown them before in a Strawberry Pot. These work well. I like to put them on a turntable type base so that I can turn them easily, but they can be turned manually just as easily. Give it a try. I am sure you will find growing your own strawberries totally enjoyable and delicious.



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Irrigation System

Irrigation System

Red Plastic Mulch with Drip Irrigation

Red Plastic Mulch with Drip Irrigation System




There are several ways to set up an irrigation system depending on the type of gardening you are doing. When used with a timer this is absolutely the best way to water your plants. No more forgetting to water or forgetting to turn the hose off when you are watering. Just a nice even daily (or every 2 or 3 days) watering. Inconsistent watering is one of the main causes of blossom end rot in tomatoes and causes multiple issues with any plant. If your plant is too dry it will wilt and possibly die. If it is too wet you can drown it. When properly set up an irrigation will yield up to an 75% – 80% water savings. Irrigation systems are usually used with pressure regulators to lower the pressure of the water in a system. A direct water line will usually have too much pressure for these types of systems.

Drip Irrigation




Drip irrigation is used when you are doing container gardening. This is the type of irrigation system that we used to use on our front porch. We had both hanging baskets and pots set around the edge of the porch. There are complete kits available to do this. Typical parts would include distribution tubing, a pressure regulator, a filter screen, an installation tool to make the holes for the emitters and stakes,  end plugs to close off the end of the tubing and a few other parts. You are able to adjust these so that you have an emitter in each pot that you need to water. This kit pictured even comes with a timer.

Drip Tape Irrigation




This is what we use in our garden. In fact the picture at the top of the article with red plastic mulch is my personal garden. We have been doing pretty much the same setup for about 20 years now. It works well for us. This can be used in raised garden beds or standard gardens. We garden in 4′ wide raised garden beds. We plant our seeds and seedlings in 1′ from each edge. We have 2 rows of drip tape in the 4′ wide area, spaced at about 1′ 6″ in from the edge. We put our drip irrigation system down and then we cover it with plastic garden mulch. Then we plant our seeds or seedlings. We have ours on a timer set for 15 minutes every other day. With the water savings from the drip irrigation and the moisture retention from the mulch, we really do not use much water. Even in our summer heat of 100 degree days we do not change from the 15 minutes every other day.

There are drip irrigation kits available. They will have the drip tape which has holes predrilled and all of the fittings you need.  A pressure regulator should be used with this system as well. Don’t forget the timer! These don’t usually come in the kits. You simply lay your tape out and staple it down with included ground staples, put all of your fittings together and you are ready to water. They even have goof plugs in case you poke a hole in your tape by mistake. Trust me, it happens occasionally. Oops.

DIY Drip Irrigation System

d-i-y pvc garden irrigation

d-i-y pvc garden irrigation sytem

diy pvc garden irrigation

d-i-y pvc garden irrigation system




For all of you who like a d-i-y project, this one is simple enough to make. You should use schedule 40 PVC pipe 3/4″ in diameter. Drill 1/16″ holes in the appropriate spacing for your plants. You can place this with the holes up or down depending on your preference. Also, if you have a small area you want to do a heavier watering  you can drill holes opposite each other. Lay the pipe so that these are pointing out. You will get quite a bit of coverage from this method.  If you are doing smaller plants that are spaced closer together you can drill your holes about every 6″. For larger plants like tomatoes you should have holes where the plants are at and an extra 2 – 3 holes in between. I only plant my tomatoes at 3′ apart. I would just do one hole in the center of the plants and one at each plant. I know other people will space their tomatoes as far as 4′ or 5′ apart. For this you would want the 2 – 3 holes in between. You want to make sure that your garden surface is level so that the water will flow. You can lay these out in pretty much any configuration that you want, but you should have ball valves so you can shut off sections or rows. In addition you will need fittings such as t’s, elbows, end caps, pipe cement etc.

Spray Drip Irrigation System





This is perfect if you have a greenhouse or have your plants spaced closely together. The spray heads are adjustable from a light to a heavier spray. This system even comes with a timer!

Greenhouse Watering Sytem

Greenhouse Watering System

I have always had a similar system in my personal greenhouses. The picture above is from my Halls Magnum that I used to own. Unfortunately it got left in a move. I loved that greenhouse! It is tubing hanging from the top of the greenhouse with spray heads at appropriate spacing. You can see it at the top of the sidewall. The blue is a flexible conduit with wiring for the ventilation system. Again, a time and plant saver.

In conclusion, I would not even attempt to garden without an automatic watering system. As busy as we all are it is just too easy to forget, even though we spend hours in our gardens. Plus, the plants seem to really thrive with a consistent watering schedule. And that is really what it is all about – healthy, high yielding plants.



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Top Ten Gardening Tools

Top Ten Gardening Tools

Top Ten Gardening Tools

Top Ten Gardening Tools

Whether you are a seasoned gardener, or just getting started, you will need a few tools to help you along the way. These tools make our life as gardeners easier. Here is my top 10 list of necessary items.

1)A Greenhouse:  

Twinwall Polycarbonate Greenhouse

Polycarbonate  Greenhouse

If any of you are surprised by this I don’t know why. I absolutely love greenhouses. Now, this may not be in the budget for some, and actually it may not even be an absolute necessity. But, a greenhouse is valuable in a couple of different ways. You can start your vegetable seeds for your garden in a small greenhouse. But, if this is not viable for your circumstances you can start your seeds indoors. If you have a large enough greenhouse you can grow your own vegetables all year long if it is set up properly.

2)A mini cultivator or small roto tiller:


You may need to rent or borrow a large tiller for the first time through your garden. I highly recommend a rear tine tiller for this job. It is smoother to run and just seems to get the job done better and faster than a front tine tiller.  But, once you get your garden established I find that a mini tiller will do the job for you. They will aerate your soil and remove weeds at the same time. They are lightweight and easy to maneuver. Also, these are great to use working in raised garden beds. You can get them turned in a tight space.



3)A shovel:


This is pretty self explanatory. If you are going to “dig in the dirt” you just have to have a shovel. Try to get one that fits you best. I am only 5′ tall and find that many of the shovels have handles that are just too long for me to handle easily. I would recommend going to a local garden center and trying them on for size!

4)A Rake:

You absolutely must have your ground leveled before you plant your garden. Once you have done your digging or tilling level it out with a rake. This also helps to remove any stones or debris that you may have missed.  I recommend this Bully Tools rake. It has a fiberglass handle and steel tines. Besides that, these are Made in America. Talk about a win/win.



5) A set of hand tools:


These should include a cultivator, a weed fork, a transplanter, and a trowel. The cultivator will break up the surface of the garden bed. This will aerate, help in the conservation of moisture and will help control weeds. The weed fork will help by loosening, lifting and turning over the soil in your garden. The transplanter will help you find the correct depth for planting. Garden trowels are used for digging holes for bulbs, small plants, etc. They can also be used in weeding.

6)Vegetable Trug:


Of course you will need something to transport all of your lovely vegetables once your garden is growing. This trug does double duty as a carrier and as a colander to rinse off your veggies.



7)Frost Free Hydrant:


icon
You will need a water source close to your garden. We use frost free hydrants for all of our outdoor watering needs. These are buried to a level below your local frost line. No need to worry about faucets freezing and breaking. Of course you will want to disconnect any hoses in freezing weather. A sprinkling can is a nice tool to have as well.

8)Dehydrator:


icon
This is the perfect way to preserve many of your crops. We have owned our 9 shelf dehydrator for about 20 years now. We have tried many different things, some successes, some failures. One thing that I love to dehydrate is strawberries. I cut them in slices (too thin according to my husband). Once they are dehydrated I eat them like candy. And just think how much healthier that is than grabbing a chocolate bar. We have dehydrated bananas (bought on sale, not grown), carrots, parsnips and tomatoes with huge success. We actually take our dehydrated principe borghese (Italian heirloom)  tomatoes and grind them in a coffee grinder.
iconWe then put the powder in our tomato sauce to thicken it. Actually for our tomato sauce we just put our tomatoes in our Vitamix and pulse. Failures in dehydrating were eggplant (it just kind of dissolves when you reuse) and zuchinni (it doesn’t really have any taste although we tried salting them and eating them like chips which wasn’t too bad).

9)Gloves, Nail Brush and Lotion:

Ladies, you will probably appreciate this more than the men. I have a tendency not to wear gloves to garden. They just seem to impede me. So, my new best friend is my nail brush. I have come out of the garden too many times with dirt under my nails and gotten some really weird looks. Yeah, I wash my hands, this is honest dirt. Anyway, I find that non gardeners just don’t understand, so to  my nail brush I go. Also, nothing will smooth out your hands like Bag Balm. I found this by mistake when I was raising Nubian Goats. I loved my girls and guys. This was an essential for the new mommas. But, as I was smoothing it on them, I found that my dry hands felt really great. They even have it in tubes now. I haven’t tried them yet, but I am going to get some and try it. I have always used the product in the tin.

10)A Garden Cart:

I love working in my garden just as much as the next person. But, there are times when you just need to sit down for a minute. These rolling tractor seats are perfect with their under the seat storage. They are good for picking, planting, weeding or just contemplating life in the garden.

These are my top ten. Of course everyone will find that their own top ten is probably a little bit different. A lot of what you need depends on how you garden. Raised garden beds will have  different set of tools than a standard garden bed. Just experiment with different tools until you find the one that works the best for you. The most important thing is to get out there and get digging in the dirt and have fun!

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