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 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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
7)Frost Free Hydrant:
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.
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.
We 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!
Planning Your Garden
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress. This is a neat little tool I found online. Use the how much to plant calulator. It tells you how many plants of each crop you need for whatever size your family is.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Mini Greenhouses or Season Extenders
I am anxiously waiting for the day when I can get my Spring garden planted. I imagine most of you are feeling the same way I am. But, we don’t need to sit by and patiently wait. There are several ways that we can get a jump start on our growing season. This is done by using mini greenhouses or season extenders.A few examples of these are cold frames, low tunnels, a 4 tier stand, a pop up greenhouse and a mini lean to greenhouse.These are typically inexpensive and temporary set ups. But, what an added benefit they give us in the early Spring.
This is a picture of my cold frame a couple of years ago. As you can see in the picture we had the covers off on that day. That is a typical setup for a cold frame. The covers will either be removable, or you can prop them up for daytime ventilation. These are excellent for getting an early start on cabbages, lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, pak choi, spinach and cilantro. We dig down about 5″ and put soil cables in the frames to add extra heat to the cold frames. We have attached the soil cables to the bottom of a piece of hardware cloth so that we don’t damage it when we are digging. We then cover it with our soil mix. When we are planting carrots, etc we always choose a shorter variety so that the soil cables do not interfere with their growing. This is a great way to get a head start on growing your vegetables. Most of these crops really just need protection from the frost, but they will do great growing in this setup.
Low tunnels will enable you to plant in your garden about 2 weeks earlier. You can also use these in the fall to extend your harvest season. They are available in a perforated cover (maximum temperature retention) or a slitted cover (maximum ventilation). They will warm the soil and give you frost protection both. If you use the black plastic garden mulch under these covers your soil will be warmed even more. These are temporary and only meant to be left on about 3 – 4 weeks. But, I am a great believer in experimenting in the garden. In Louisiana we plant our strawberries in the fall. When the temperatures drop below freezing (which typically is not very often) we cover our plants with a row cover. A couple of years ago I covered my strawberries for the entire winter with the slitted cover. The cover held up surprisingly well to our harsh winter winds. The only problem I had was in the Spring when the plants started to bloom. I had to hand pollinate all of the blooms. I quickly gave up on that and removed the cover. But, I was very happy with the outcome of this experiment.
Pop Up Greenhouses
These are temporary greenhouses that you can use for a variety of purposes. You can start your seeds in here. Or, if you start your seedlings in your home you can use this to harden off the seedlings. These greenhouses virtually Pop Up! There are no tools required to set these up. There are tie down stakes to keep them secured to the ground. You can also use these to overwinter some plants that do not require higher temperatures. These are great season extenders. There are even openings for ventilation which include screens. Portholes are supplied for water hoses or electrical cords. These come with the rip stop polyfilm coverings for durability. What a great place for your plants in the winter.
4 Tier Stands
These are super mini greenhouses. They come with 4 tiers and a cover that has a zippered door. They are great for starting seeds or protecting frost sensitive plants. These stands are lightweight and will fit nicely in a spot on your back porch. The covers are removable if you want to use these later as a plant stand.
Mini Lean To Greenhouses
These lean to greenhouses do not attach to your home. They have a back in them and can be placed up next to a wall. The lid and doors both open offering easy access to your plants and supply needed ventilation. The shelves are adjustable for a variety of plants. This season extender is covered with a polycarbonate covering. It can be used for a variety of purposes.
So there you have it. Just a few ideas for trying to get ahead of Mother Nature (and your neighbor). I have a neighbor who I compete with for the first vine ripened tomato of the year. No sense in not taking advantage of some of these great tools that are available to use. If we get just a little bit creative, we can probably come up with our own mini greenhouses. I have seen people cut the bottom out of liter pop bottles and place these over top of a plant for added warmth and frost protection. You would have to be careful with these and monitor your plants during the day. You don’t want to bake your precious seedlings. Also, if you garden in a raised bed you can make a pvc frame and cover the frame with a clear plastic. You have probably seen me talk about using only 6 mil, 4 year UV protected polyfilm for greenhouses. But, for a temporary structure such as this you could probably use any clear plastic. Again, just be sure to ventilate this during the day if needed. So hopefully this will give you ideas of your own and you will get out there and get a head start on your garden this year! Happy Growing. Tammy
10 Free Greenhouse Plans
Here in Louisiana we call it Lagniappe [lanˈyap]. It’s a little something extra……for free! Everyone loves free. I get asked all of the time how to build your own greenhouse. So, today I have gathered together 10 free greenhouse plans for you. Not everyone can afford or needs a glass greenhouse kit. Tom and I have reviewed the plans and have added our comments to each. These comments are based purely on our years of experience building greenhouses. We have not received any compensation of any kind from any of these plans. So, enjoy and get busy building a greenhouse this week. Please keep in mind that as far as we know no engineers were involved in these plans. In other words, we do not feel that any of these plans have been built with heavy snow and/or wind loads in mind. Also, as a general note: A lot of the plans mention using plastic sheeting that is not UV protected. Don’t expect any more than 1 years use out of non UV protected plastic. We always recommend using 6 mil, 4 year polyfilm to cover greenhouses. With the appropriate waivers in place, let’s get busy building!
California Roof Style Greenhouse Plans – We used to sell and install sunrooms. That is how we really got started with greenhouses. Anyway, we used to sell a sunroom that looked like this and it was called the California Roof Sunroom. These plans seem very thorough. They even tell you how to square up your base. It is a bit distracting to try and read the plans on their website due to all of the ads, etc. But, they do offer a downloadable set of plans (ad free) for $5. Might be nice to have these to take to the jobsite.
YellaWood Greenhouse Plans – These plans are from the manufacturer. They do give you a lot of specifications about the building materials, but the plans are pretty much a line drawing with measurements. If you are an experienced builder, you probably would not have much trouble with this. If you are a beginner and need more detailed instruction, this might be one to pass on.
Barn Greenhouse Plans – They state one weekend for this. I am a bit skeptical of that time frame. This greenhouse has a lot of miter cuts and will require what seems like a lot of fitting to me. But hey, who can resist the looks of a barn style greenhouse?
Raised Garden Bed with Removable Cold Frame – This is a super plan and will work nicely along side of a standard garden and greenhouse. They are stating a 10 – 15 degree increase in temperature inside the cold frame. This is a great project for someone with limited space, or someone who just wants to get a head start on the garden.
300 Square Foot Hoop House – This is a well thought out design and plan. I do however have a couple of issues with his recommendations. First is to use landscape cloth as a shade cloth. Why wouldn’t you just use a shade cloth that is made for greenhouses? Also, this is a little bit large not to have a ventilation system. I think a couple of roof vents and a ventilation package would make this greenhouse a whole lot more useable in the warmer months.
RunnerDuck Greenhouse Plans– I really like the looks of this greenhouse, although I am wondering what it would look like with a small overhang on the roof on all sides. He has stated that you can adapt this to make a freestanding greenhouse with these plans as well. I do like the dutch door feature and the fact that he used a roof vent with an automatic opener.
Bamboo Greenhouse Plans – What a great way to use bamboo! I would suggest using batten tape also when securing your film to your frame. I am not really crazy about using a door that is secured with velcro. If you are in a high wind area I would think this would give you problems. Other than that a great simple plan.
Geo Dome – This may not be for a beginner. Lots of angles to cut for the frame to fit together properly. But, who doesn’t love the look of a dome greenhouse? Sounds like they did a whole lot of research before designing this. If you have some skills and time I would consider this plan.
$50 Greenhouse – Of course this is if you can recycle a whole bunch of materials. But, he states that even with new material you can build this for around $200. If you are in an area with high snow be sure to look at the picture of what happens when you get a couple of inches of wet snow. His greenhouse collapsed. So, I would definitely rule this one out for snowy areas.
10 x 16 Greenhouse – These are nice plans. I think he is very realistic when he gives a one week time frame on building this. I would suggest a ventilation system and roof vents with a greenhouse this size. He mentions covering it with polyethylene/foil sheets. I am not really even sure what this is. I would recommend using 6 mil, 4 year greenhouse polyfilm.
In closing, my first, and second greenhouses were both ones that we built ourselves with our own plans. They were both covered with clear plastic (non UV) film. We did not know where to get the UV protected film at that point. One year is the life expectancy of the non UV material. I wish at the time we would have known the difference, but we just kept recovering. Also, not to tell tales on myself, but at the time we were building these greenhouses there was no internet and no free plans. What a help that would have been! Most of these plans are from individuals who have taken their time and energy to supply these plans for us. We thank them for their help.
There is a lot of interest in hydroponic growing systems. We had a try at this several years back. We had a 18′ x 24′ greenhouse full of different hydroponic systems trying to decide which systems we liked the best. Our greenhouse was covered in 8mm twinwall Polycoolite and had a steel frame. Unfortunately, since then we have moved, but the greenhouse did not come with us. Tom read all kinds of books on hydroponic systems and how to maintain them. I think most of them were written by PhD’s and were very technical. Even though Tom and I both have a science background we were a bit overwhelmed. Fortunately this has made it into the mainstream and a lot of people have tried simpler methods and have been kind enough to share their results with us.
• What is a hydroponic system?
A hydroponic system is basically a system where you grow your plants in a liquid nutrient solution rather than soil.
• Components of a hydroponic system
A hydroponic system basically consists of your reservoir for your liquid nutrient solution. Pots or rafts to hold your plants. Air stones to raise the oxygen level and pumps to keep the water circulating. For your growing medium we recommend coir or clay pebbles. You will need a Ph test kit and solutions to adjust the Ph. Nutrient solutions to keep your plants growing. A thermometer with humidity reading in helpful. If starting your own seeds be sure to do it in a hydroponic system compatible seed starting plug or the like. You do not want to start your seedlings in soil and then have to wash the soil off before you plant.
• Setting up your first system
Keep it simple. Start with one small system and get the hang of it before venturing out into multiple system types. You will need to learn a few things that may be new to you, but just approach this from a learning curve type journey and you will soon be an expert on hydroponic gardening.
• Types of systems
1. Lettuce Raft or DWC (Deep Water Culture) – This is used for green lettuces and leafy greens. These basically consist of a reservoir with a raft full of your plants. The nutrients are in the reservoir below the plants. You also need a bubbler and air stones to keep the water circulating. This is probably the simplest system to manage.
2. Ebb and Flow – This has a large flat basin with large pots for your plants. The pots have holes in the bottom to allow the nutrient in and out. This will be on a timer and will basically flood the tray for a certain amount of time. Then it will ebb or recede. This is repeated 2 – 4 times a day. You can use these for a variety of plants including tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, we even grew edible flowers in this type system.
3. Dutch Bucket Systems – This is a recycling system of sorts. There are large buckets with tubing between them and the reservoir. There is a tray beneath the buckets. A pump will come on at a specific time and pump the nutrient solution to the pots. The solution then drains into the bottom tray and is returned to the reservoir to be reused. This repeats 2 – 4 times per day. This system is great for larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers.
• Benefits of growing in hydroponic systems
1. You can plant your plants closer because the root system is smaller
2. You can grow with these indoors, outdoors or in a greenhouse
3. No weeds, no tilling
4. Go will get higher yields with a shorter growing cycle
5. They use less water and less fertilizer.
You will need to spend some time each day with the system checking lights, containers, solutions, checking for bugs, etc.
• When to plant
Growing in a hydroponic system is just like growing in a garden in the fact that you must plant each crop in conditions to meet their needs. In other words, we plant carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, etc in cooler weather. You need to simulate this with your hydroponic system. You will need the daytime temperature to be 60 – 70 degrees with a minimum of 40 degrees.
For warm weather crops, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc you will need a daytime temperature of 70 – 80 degrees with a maximum of 90 degrees.
• Optimal growing conditions
1. You should aim for a relative humidity of 50 – 80%
2. There should be a circulating fan running continuously. This should be a low speed fan that will keep the air moving for best plant health. You should just see the leaves moving slightly.
3. Lighting – If you are growing in a greenhouse or outdoors you will be able to take advantage of the natural sun. If you are growing indoors you may need artificial lighting unless you are in a position to take advantage of a sunny location in front of a window. The best lighting for growing anything but lettuce is the HID lights. For lettuce you can use fluorescent lights. These should be on 12 – 14 hours.
4. Protect the systems – You should never set up your system outdoors in an unprotected area. Rain will dilute your solution and flood your trays. Also, let’s not forget the electrical components of the systems. You never want to leave them exposed to the rain.
5. pH – This is a test for the acidity/ alkalinity of the solution. The best range is slightly to the acidic side at 5.5 – 6.5. You can test this with a swimming pool kit and adjust it with chemicals up or down.
6. Shade – Don’t place the units in direct sunlight. This may overheat your water and end up eventually killing your plants. If you are in a greenhouse you can use a shade cloth.
7. Solutions – Your growing solutions will have instructions on how to add the nutrients to your water. You will need to follow the directions. Also, you will occasionally need to drain the entire system and start over with fresh solution.
• Fighting disease proactively – The easiest way to prevent disease and pests is to keep it clean.
1. Wash your hands before you go in and between crops
2. Remove all dead leaves and plant debris
3. Clean up any spilled media or nutrients
4. Remove dead or dying plants
5. Use a separate set of hand tools. Don’t bring your tools in and out of your garden
6. Disinfect your tools in a 10% bleach solution
7. Keep your humidity at 50 – 60% and your temperature cool at 75 degrees
8. Have proper ventilation and air movement. This will help prevent mold and fungus.
9. Do not go in after working in your yard or on your compost pile
10. Don’t bring in other plants that are in dirt.
• Get organized. This will help you ensure the best, healthiest crops you can get. Make a daily, weekly, monthly and between crops to do list. Hang it where you can see it every day. Stick to your ritual religiously. It will not take that much time per day and it pays to keep ahead of any potential problems. Let’s face it. You are going to be checking your progress daily anyway. We are all patiently (not really) waiting for our first taste of our new crops.
We highly encourage you to try hydroponic growing. Just remember to start small and don’t get overwhelmed by the new terms and the new way of gardening. For complete plans to build mini and full size systems, check out this ebook. There is also a complete set of instructions on how to set up and maintain your hydroponic systems.
Product Review – America’s Best Polycarbonate, Best Buy Lean to Greenhouses
Today we are going to do a product review of one of the greenhouse kits that we offer. The America’s Best Polycarbonate Greenhouse and the Best Buy Lean to Greenhouse are basically the same structure, just one is freestanding and the other attaches to your home or a building. These both offer what we feel is the best “bang for your buck” in a greenhouse Made in the USA. They offer quality materials and excellent pricing.
The frames are made of 6063-T3 aluminum with a powder coated finish. This high grade aluminum gives the frame strength and durability. The standard colors are white, brown or green, but fear not, we can custom match the color of your home, your favorite sports team, just your favorite color. The stated wind and snow loading are 70 MPH winds and 23 pounds per square foot snow load. All framing is assembled using stainless steel T bolt and stainless steel lock nuts. This frame also has a 10 year warranty against damage due to faulty materials.
The greenhouse is glazed with 6mm clear twinwall polycarbonate. The polycarbonate sheets have a 10 year warranty that they will not vary more than 6% in light transmission in 10 years. This is a fancy way of saying that this material will not yellow, get brittle or break. Actually, I have personally seen this same material in use past 15 years. I have heard reports back from people in the industry who have seen this material in good usable condition up to a period of 20 years. There is also a 10 year warranty against hail damage. Some people do not like the twinwall polycarbonate because of the view through it. The twinwall is like looking down the end of a cardboard box. It will have a clear sheet on the inside, a clear sheet on the outside, and a rib that runs through the center of the 2 sheets. In a cardboard box the rib is wavy. In a polycarbonate sheet the ribs runs straight between the 2 outer sheets. This is what will distort your view. You will see color, but not form like looking through a glass window. But fear not, there is an upgrade available to both of these greenhouses. We call these options the See Through Polycarbonate Greenhouse and the See Through Lean To Polycarbonate Greenhouse. These both come with the twinwall in the roof, for protection against hail and/or falling objects. The sidewalls have a clear view polycarbonate sheet that is exactly like looking out through a window. The best of both worlds.
Another great feature is that the ventilation package is included in the pricing of this greenhouse. It includes the thermostat, exhaust fan and intake shutter(s) in the freestanding models. The lean to greenhouses do not have the intake shutters. Your combination storm door will supply added ventilation and supply the air intake for the lean to models. This “free” feature definitely adds to the value of the greenhouse. These systems cost in excess of $500 typically. Also included in the upgraded model is a circulating fan. This is an often overlooked, much needed, option. These will aid in the health of your plants by keeping the air in your greenhouse moving and reducing the humidity in the plant canopy. They help to maintain an even temperature in the winter when the greenhouse is heated, helping to avoid hot or cool spots in corners. We offer the homeowner the choice of the optional roof vents. I personally prefer to have these, as I feel you get a lot of use out of them in the spring and fall seasons. They typically stay closed in winter and open in the summer, so the added benefit there would be natural ventilation in the summer months. The reason I like them in the “between” seasons is that you run the possibility of a cold night and a hot sunny day. You would want your vents open during the day and closed at night under these circumstances. That is why I always use automatic roof vent openers with my greenhouses.
The integral base is built into the greenhouse, so no need to build an additional base for the greenhouse. We do however recommend setting the greenhouse on a foundation of 4″ x 6″ timbers set down into the ground. We tie the timbers to the ground using rebar stakes. This will help keep your greenhouse secure in higher winds. Do you prefer to build a knee wall to place your greenhouse on? This is not a problem. We also offer an optional door drop to accommodate this. We just need to know the height of your kneewall in inches and we will adjust the frame while building it so that the door will fit to the ground.
This greenhouse is shipped by Common Carrier (truck line). It will come in 3 – 4 boxes depending on accessories and size of the greenhouse. Two people should be present to unload this greenhouse. These typically take about 4 weeks from the time they are ordered until the time you receive them. Your greenhouse is built specifically for you. There is no need to accept a “boxed” greenhouse with no options.
In closing, with all of the quality features, excellent pricing and the fact that this greenhouse is Made in the USA, we give it 2 (green) thumbs up.
Growing Food in Plant Pots
Dreaming of fresh vegetables? Picked right outside your door? Or maybe you would prefer some fresh fruit? You may think that this is not possible where you live, but container gardening may be the answer for you. There are a surprising number of plants that will do well in planters. Maybe you live in an apartment with only a small balcony. Maybe you are renting a house and the landlord won’t let you dig a garden. Or, maybe you just want to be able to walk outside your door and pick your favorite herb while you are cooking. Then container gardening may just be what you need.
What is it?
Container gardening is simply growing plants in buckets, specialty containers, troughs, elevated planters, window boxes, strawberry pots, hydroponic systems, etc. You are really only limited by your imagination on this. Just be sure that there is a hole in the bottom of the plant pots for good drainage. If you let your plants sit in water they will die. Out of room? Grow Vertically!
What do I need?
To get started you will need a few items.
- Containers – these can be just about anything as previously discussed. But, one important factor is the size. Consider the size of the plant when it is in production. It is all but impossible to transplant a grown plant into a larger pot successfully. Are you going to try tomatoes? Make sure to have at least a 24 – 30 inch container. Maybe you are going for radishes and carrots. Make sure your pot is deep enough. Lettuce will grow nicely in a nursery flat or similar container. As I was writing this post I was thinking about a nice strawberry pot I used to have next to my kitchen door. I filled it up with cooking herbs. There is a local nursery that specializes in all sorts of herbs, with lots of variegated varieties. This makes for a beautiful container. Later in the spring I am going to go get some and plant them. I will make a post and a video about this later.
- Soil – It is best not to dig up dirt from your backyard to place in a container. For the beginner I would suggest going to your local nursery to see what they have available. Be sure to tell them you are going to be growing in a container. A lot of places will have a mix by the tractor bucketful, or less if needed. If they don’t recommend their mix for containers they will probably have a bag of soil that they think is good for your purposes. For those of you who are more advanced, you can mix up your own favorite mixture using peat, vericulite, compost, bark, etc.
- Fertilizer – To save time and effort later on, it is OK to use a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote when planting. If you prefer you can water with a dilute fertilizer solution with every other watering.
- Location – Pick the sunniest location that you can. Also, you want to keep in mind if there is a lot of wind in the location. Try to protect your plants from harsh winds. Containers will dry out a lot faster than plants in the ground, especially in heavy winds. Not to mention the damage to your plants, fruits and vegetables. If you have pots that have plants on both sides, such as a strawberry pot, you may want to place the container on some sort of turning mechanism. I find that an old lazy susan works well, as long as it is heavy enough to hold the pot you are using. That way you can rotate the plants to the sun.
- Plants or seeds – You may have started your own seedlings, or you may have purchased plants that are ready to go into your planters. Some vegetables can be started from seeds. I would definitely start the fast growing plants such as lettuce and radishes directly in my container. If you are buying fruit trees, be sure that they are labeled for container growing.
What can I grow?
There are a whole lot more options today than there used to be. As with any planting, make sure you are putting your plants in at the proper time of year. Also, make sure that the variety you are getting can be grown in your zone. Don’t know your zone? That is rule 1 of gardening – know your growing zone. Check it out here if you are not sure.
- Blueberries – These are my favorite.
- Strawberries – although I prefer to grow these in the ground due to the runners.
- Fruit trees – There are many different types of fruit trees for containers.
- Carrots – I prefer the shorter varieties for containers.
- Lettuce – This is so simple to grow, and it produces within 65 days or so. I prefer the loose leaf rather than the head lettuce for this purpose.
- Potatoes – There are special containers for growing these.
- Tomatoes – There are also special containers for growing these.
- Herbs – Basil, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, etc, etc
- Green Onions – Sometimes referred to as scallions.
- Garlic – I grew a bumper crop of garlic in window planters last year.
- Radishes – These are typically ready in just over a month. Don’t crowd them.
- Peppers – Be sure to have some support for these plants.
- Squash – Although due to the sprawling nature of these plants I prefer the garden. Make sure to use a larger container.
- Edible Flowers – Calendula and Nasturtiums are 2 that come to mind. Plus you get the added benefit of color from the blooms.
In closing, don’t let your location discourage you from growing your own food. Even the smallest balcony will hold a couple of plants. For those of you with no balcony, we will be discussing growing your veggies inside in a later post. Because we believe you can “grow your own food anywhere”.
10 Raised Garden Benefits
We learned our lesson about raised bed gardening the first year we moved to South Louisiana. It is more of a necessity there, rather than an option. We were so happy. We rented a little house out in the country. We borrowed a tiller. My husband worked the ground. We leveled it, marked our rows and planted our seeds, just like we did it in Ohio. A couple of days later we had a torrential rain. My husband just stood looking out the back door watching all of his hard work being washed out. One of our new neighbors stopped by after the rain ended. He wanted to know when we were going to make our rows. We said here are the stakes and there is the string marking the rows. He was very patient with us. He said “no, your raised rows”. What? We didn’t know anything about that. Instead of just standing there laughing, he went home and got his high wheel cultivator and made the rows (aka hills) for us. We had a bumper crop that year due to his generosity. Of course, even if you live in better drained areas, there are many reasons to choose a raised garden bed over a standard garden space. I have listed just a few of the reasons below.
- Raised Garden Beds typically take less space for the same amount of yield. In other words, you can grow 10 tomato plants in less space in a raised garden bed than they would take being planted in typical garden rows in the ground. Less space used equals less space to maintain.
- Raised garden beds are easier to maintain than a typical garden, due to the smaller space. They are easier to keep weeded. The pathways are easier to maintain.
- You are not walking on your soil, so you are not compacting it. Plants like to be in soil that is light and airy, rather than densely packed soil. Also, you can decorate your walkways in a variety of ways. You can use pavers, ground cover, sand, or a combination of these. You can match your outdoor space by using the same pavers that you have in other areas of your yard.
- I am not a lazy gardener, but I do like to sit on the side of the beds and pick sometimes. It sure makes my back feel better. Plus, I can take a minute and just sit there and enjoy myself.
- You don’t really need a large tiller. We do have a rear tine tiller that we work our soil with occasionally, but we also have a small tiller that is an attachment for our weed eater handle. This is small and makes pretty simple and quick work of tilling a raised bed.
- A raised bed will be easier to fence around if you have rabbits and deer in your yard. I have even seen pictures of small raised bed gardens with fencing over the top of it also. If you have a small dog or puppy, you can raise the bed sides higher to keep them out. Also, if you want to use a cold frame, or season extender over the bed, it is much easier to install and use.
- You can build one on your porch or patio. There are a lot of crops that can be grown in containers, but some of the larger crops just do better in a bed. One I can think of off the top of my head would be a zucchini plant. They sprawl out everywhere.
- Finally, for all of you scavengers out there – this is the perfect place to recycle materials. You may be able to find used lumber, blocks, bricks, etc around your property to build the beds. There is no need to spend a bunch of money on new materials.
- It is easy to install plastic garden mulch over a raised bed. We use a drip irrigation system under the mulch, and we put the irrigation system on a timer. The mulch will help cut down on evaporation. Even in the heat of the summer at 100 degrees we only water for 15 minutes every other day.
- You can garden in a raised bed inside a greenhouse as well as out in nature.
In conclusion, we have been gardening in a raised bed for about 30 years now. We have moved from South Louisiana to North Louisiana. We may be able to get by with a regular garden, but we have just become so used to the raised beds. And, you can see all of the advantages that I have listed above. Even if you decide not to use a raised garden bed, be sure to get something growing in some dirt somewhere.