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.
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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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