Planning Your Garden
Planning Your Garden. You can’t start too early.
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
Get a Head Start on Your Growing Season
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.
Growing Vegetables in a Cold Frame
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 Tunnel with Slitted Cover
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
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 Style Roof Greenhouse
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
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 Style Greenhouse Plans
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
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
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.
Attached Greenhouse Plans
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 Greenhouses Plans
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.
GeoDome Greenhouse Plans
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 Plans
$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 Plans
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.
Hydroponic Growing – It’s All About the Roots
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.
Simons Simple Hydroponic Plans
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.
America’s Best Polycarbonate
Best Buy Lean To Greenhouse
See Thru Polycarbonate Greenhouse
See Thru Lean To Greenhouse
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.