Anatomy of a Grow-op

 

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I know what you’re thinking… and it’s not what you think. I grow stuff….nothing illegal!  This year it will be the first time I can go wild, and plant anything I want. After all, I have space to burn(in the garden, that is). So I’m going to share a little post on how I do it.

Before I get anything set up, I will order my catalogs and browse my seedy sites. I refer to my gardening books and write out the seeding dates in my Hort Task Notes (similar to what I share here). I have a little clementine box I painted up and divide all my seeds chronologically by seeding dates. It’s kind of silly, but it works for me. In a more industrial setting, I might have a nice cabinet or wooden storage box to organize everything. But I’m not that insane yet.

I gather my materials. I like Sunshine mix. I used it in school, it’s a nice price and lasts me quite a while. It’s a soilless mix, so there is no risk for fungus/insect pests, however, tiny sprouts of clover do happen on some occasions, which for the novice, gives you excitement, till you realize it’s not a legit sprout. But have always had great success growing in Sunshine. I also tend to wash and reuse my cell packs. I don’t like coco pucks/expandable pots, it’s just my personal preference. I’m sure they work fine. But reusing cell packs is free, so I use those, until they rip or split.

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You can see the plastic sheeting for the capillary mat, heat mat, and light setup (which is raised and lowered as needed)

When it’s nearly time (usually the day before), we will pull out the germination table. My grow op is pretty crude and simplistic, and already I  discovered that it was not big enough for my aforementioned whimsy of “infinite grow space outside.” I had a 2nd one built yesterday.  My table is made of plastic pallets that something got shipped in on at Dayjob. I took it home, as it was a junk pallet. Some 2x4s were inserted into the corners for legs and then we put a sheet of plastic over the top. This is the plastic sheet that facilitates the capillary mat when I leave for my trip, so I don’t trouble people too much about watering my seedlings. The plastic sheet came with the capillary mat.

Seeds appreciate (and often require) bottom heat. I achieve this with heat mats I purchased from any old Mackenzie seed rack or garden center. It does the job. I plug these into my surge protector. They will be on constantly until I have no more seeds to germinate. They can’t get wet around the wiring though, so I use trays that have no drainage holes on top of them. I am careful when watering so there is never any residual water waterlogging the roots. All seeding trays that are using heat always have a dome over them. I have a nice little dome that has vent holes that can be adjusted. These can be helpful, but aren’t always necessary. Just be careful  with your watering if you don’t have them.

The Light I use is kind of industrial. I got it from someone who nabbed it from a closing Zellers. It takes 4 48” T12 bulbs. I use Plant & Aquarium bulbs, made by Phillips. If you read many pre-made light kits, you will find the bulbs included have a color temperature value of 6500K or so, so if you can’t find an agro bulb, you can probably use something around 6400+K  (such as Daylight deluxe type bulbs). I have this hooked up to a timer. For now, I keep it at 12hrs. I might diminish this as the days get longer. A lot of sun comes in those windows. Typically, it’s good to have the height adjustable, and raise the light as the plants grow, so plants don’t get too leggy. I had to raise mine. The peppers started to curl as soon as I removed them from the propagator, and they quickly recovered once I raised it by a few chain links.

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Setup 2.0 as of Friday. Now we have a propagation side and a growing on side.

I will keep my packs in the propagator until I see 75%-100% germination per pack. I then pull them out and put them in open air on the table. Depending on the plant you are germinating, heat might not even be necessary. I did some kale recently and it germinated fine in a little propagator in the windowsill.

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On the table so far: Tomatoes (Amish paste, Sunshine Yellow, Golden Cherry, Green Grape, Pineapple, etc), Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peppers, Cobaea (Cup and Saucer), Impatiens, Cuttings for African violets, Jade, Christmas Cactus, and a little Jacaranda I am training for a bonsai.

I water my seedlings with a VERY fine rose attached to a water bottle. These things are great! You can get them at Lee Valley. Check them daily for water needs. Pick them up, see if they seem light in weight.

Once the overnight temperatures are predictable and fair in the greenhouse, I’ll move them out there. This is completely new for me, having never had a greenhouse before.

Aside from seeding, you’ll find an assortment of other things on the table. I’ve done christmas cactus, spider plants, african violets and Jade. To save space, I put my Stargazer Lily bulbs in the Mini Crystal, in a covered tray, as we have set the temperature low to 10 degrees celcius.

That’s my method. It isn’t an end-all method, but it works for me, and it contains things I’ve collected over the years. One day, I’d really like a real propagator, if I get a more intensely professional operation.

And in case you missed the links above, I got both the bottle-top waterers and the capillary mat kit from Lee Valley tools. They have some great stuff, it’s like a toys r us for gardeners (and woodworkers).

Next week I’ll share some things going on for early April in the garden. Right now there is a little snow down, but the week looks promising for some gardening. I still haven’t been doing any hack-backs or cleanup from march due to the amount of snow burying everything.

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Nesting Greenhouses? My greenhouse setup so far…

I was going to share with you a tour of the gardens, but I haven’t got the heart to share them yet. Every day it isn’t snowing, it’s raining, and if it isn’t raining, the grounds are snow covered. So that’s for another time! Onward…

So I have a problem. I like to name things. I have this fear that if something doesn’t have a name, it will be forgotten. So they receive great, epic or quirky names. Usually quirky. So I have decided this time, since the gardens are still too mucky, and periodically, covered in snow, I will share my greenhouse progress, dreams, and what I’ve done with it since we moved in.

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Isn’t she a beaut? I felt like I struck it rich when I moved in, we have a ready made greenhouse waiting for our touch!

When we moved in, the greenhouse was intended as a raised bed greenhouse to grow things like herbs, spinach, and whatnot. There were raspberries popping in at the edges (they were delicious, but not desired), there was an impressive tuft of swiss chard that was harvested only 2 months ago, and some other residual things like potatoes, strawberries and herbs like chives and thyme. Oh, and a lot of tomatoes!

I planted a few of my own things, both into the raised bed and just within pots. I grew some Carolina Reapers, Ghost Peppers and tomatoes that I trugged along with me from the old house. That greenhouse got up to 45+ degrees celcius on some of the hottest days.

The greenhouse is an inflated plastic greenhouse. It is 26×32 and 10’ high at the peak.

It was a hesitant start but we got into the full force of the rejuvenation mid-late winter. We removed the doors that were there and redid the walls on either end. The walls were lined with R7 pink sheet insulation, and then a layer of plywood (on the outside) or Chipboard (inside) were put over. New doors were installed.

I am not very constructively inclined when it comes to building things, so all of those elements were put in by my Manimal. Meanwhile, I tore the raised beds out and leveled the floor with a rake.

We set up an inexpensive remote thermometer in there to track the nighttime lows and daytime highs over the winter. They haven’t gone far below -15 in the greenhouse, and in the winter, it has gone as high as 37.

We installed two small fans on each end of the greenhouse in the fall that will automatically turn on once the greenhouse reaches a certain temperature. I’ve tested them on a balmy winter sunny day. They work well!

After the basics were finished, there was a missing element: Design. So I sat down one wintery afternoon and sketched out what I wanted in there..I’m planning on dedicating the front half to display and convenient access to food for winter and shoulder months. The hypertufa wall will be a later-down-the-road thing, but I can’t wait to build it and showcase my tropicals on it, especially all those spiny Bromeliads that sit in my dining room like a group of thugs waiting to entice people to touch them.

 

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The Operations side

So once the layout was completed and presented,  I got my tables put back up so I could do some potting up this spring. As you can see, I have a bit of a layout started, but there are still shelves needed to store everything I need. So I’m kicking pots while potting up till then.

You might be wondering what on earth a nesting greenhouse is. Well, I just invented that term. But it is what it is! I’ve nested my mini crystal into my large greenhouse to provide a bit of a temperature buffer. I’m going to heat the mini so I can house my larger tropicals out here in the winter and afford to maintain overnight temperature lows of about 10 degrees. This will suit my citrus trees fine, and I suspect my hibiscus may also tolerate this as well as the hardier bromeliads. If it isn’t too cost prohibitive, I will raise the temperature so I can put more out there. I dream of sitting in my window area overlooking the back yard…sorry plants!

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The leisure side

We are still playing with the heating in the mini crystal. Manimal has cleverly rigged up a thermostat to turn on a heater once lows are at a certain level. The next step will be to set up an automatic window opener so things don’t cook in there in the day.

Just next to the mini crystal I wanted to have a seating area so we could sit out here and have a coffee on a sunny midwinter day. Right now, I offer only camp chairs, but I’m waiting for patio shopping season to hit full swing before I choose the right thing.

You might notice a flamingo in the corner of the mini crystal. That’s Otis. Umberto is outside, welcoming people. I like flamingos, it’s my tacky kryptonite.

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A sarcophagus containing a winter’s feast…someday

The last thing I can show you is the cold frame bed. Wow! It’s huge. We’ve started to affectionately call this one the sarcophagus. It was just a backyard coldframe in our last house, but again, I want to push the seasons as much as possible. We will be able to dig up carrots here all winter long, and maybe if we’re lucky, some lettuces and other veggies too.  I’m just waiting on a dumpload of soil, and we’re ready to go. Again, another heat activated window opener will be needed, since I work at times that don’t allow me to rush home to open the vent. It has full access on both sides. How did I build it? I bought this great kit from Lee Valley tools that allows you to stack patio stones upright to create bed walls. But don’t go as big as I did. …I just did, because I could. It was a joint discussion that we wanted to grow as much food as possible on our property. This was the best answer.

So that concludes my tour for now. I can only tell you to close your eyes and pretend there are grow tables set up, for now. There will be plenty of time to share that this summer when it’s even further along. What a huge journey it’s been so far! Oh, and for those who might be curious and want to know: my color choices are a little bit.. hmmm… exquisite.  Another thing I will unveil later on as soon as it’s painted.

Next week I’ll show you a seed operation that goes just a little beyond windowsill gardening.  Have a great week!

Task Agenda for mid to end of March

 

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There are dig holes all over the rhodo forest from the squirrel who has been harvesting his fall walnuts from our tree.

Once I find a fair day to get out and do cleanup outdoors, I will be cutting back any of the winterkill, dead slimy gunk from hostas, all the wayward, millions of billions of willow leaves (dear god I would never plant one of these giants!). I also trim my buddleias back to 1/3 of their original size. Monarda, I will divide every 2nd year. This is my first spring here, having planted these last fall, I won’t be doing that this year. Keep an eye on your monarda. It’s a wild thing, but it doesn’t do well containerized for me. In my last home, I kept it potted up in a 1-2 gallon pot. The poor thing languished and got itself sick with powdery mildew. I sprung it free and it thrived. But be careful. It needs to be a controlled thrive. I won’t discount the chance of re-containerizing it again.

I have some rugosa roses that I will look over for winterkill and, since this one is somewhat left to its own devices over the last year or so, I will be doing a little rejuvenation, pruning 1/3 of the weakest and oldest canes. Rugosas are tough! But I want it to look its best. I will also be trying the epsom salts trick to see if they benefit at all. I’ve never tried it. We took a walk to the very back of the property where the old river is (basically it’s a grassy bank where water has been flowing in winter and spring). It’s crawling with Rosa multiflora. Another one I will need to clear out to a controllable level. If you do any work with wreaths, you’ll know these are a GREAT asset, but they are invasive, and can’t help but reach for you. Keep those under control if you have them. You’ll know when you miss trimming one.

Once Spring rolls around, I will be doing some conifer cleanup, by slapping on some gloves and gently combing through my cedars to pull out all those dead brown pieces. Don’t do it bare handed! They really do look a lot better after some gentle combing and caressing. It’s these small, detailed things that might make a difference, you don’t need all that brown stuff calling out to garden visitors that your cedar’s “all dead and brown.” No it isn’t! It’s just those little broken pieces. Give it some love, too! Put on your music and start combing.

March is really just cleaning and tugging and wandering and observing. This is the first time I’ve seen this garden in march. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me this month with weeding and cleaning. I had a bit of a horror moment as I, for the very first time in my life, dug into the horrific mat that is GOUTWEED. I’ll be tackling that ASAP, and record my progress of what works and what won’t. Sometimes I look around this place and think I’ve got more than my own share of work cut out for me, but remind myself, I do it like any other large task. One bed at a time.

For most people, a good general rule on what to do in march is walk your gardens, look things over for death and breaks. Clean the spent stalks, old flower heads that entertained your snow,  gucky leaves and pull a few weeds, if the soil is soft enough. It will be a good idea when you find double the weeds in may.

And below you will find a list of my seeding projects for mid-late march:

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The Peppers are up! Growing ‘Carmen’ ‘Sweet Apple’ ‘Jalapeno’ and ‘Chesapeake’

March 15th –  I will also be doing my tomato seeding. I have a lot of tomato seeds that I’ve accumulated over the years. I also belong to a wonderful local garden club, and I will be sowing every last suffering seed,  and donating many of my seedlings to their annual plant sale. The rest? Oh ho! We will be making a gigantic batch of salsa, as I have never been able to find a commercial one that compares to this!

My cold frame is almost finished! It just needs soil. Once I get it filled with soil, I will be sowing directly into this garden for lettuce, carrots, spinach, and radishes.  In the mean time, I will be sowing others like Kale, broccoli and cauliflower inside so it will be a little more established once it gets planted.

On March 20th and shortly after, I am planning the following seedings: Alyssum, Pansy ‘Sizzle Frizzle’,  and hopefully in the cold frame, more vegetables: Turnips, Spinach, radishes.

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Hopefully  the week is fair! We had another snowfall, but between saturday and today, it’s all just a memory.  Next week I’ll talk about all of my gardens and structures, get you a little excited about the things to come. Apologies in advance for the state of things… just little green noses poking out of the snow melt muck!

The Rhododendron Forest Dream

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This has been a winter most fair. I knew I was signing a contract for winter misery when I moved here. I knew winter driving would be a nightmare, I knew I could become isolated. But it’s the now  march. With only a tiny memory of snow smeared in the darkest patches of the turning circle. Our property is otherwise completely snow-free. I believe we only had about 4-5 serious snow storms, only one of which I actually felt fear while driving. We came out lucky compared to last year. So it looks like I have a head start on my garden planning by a whole month!

This month is a major month for work, and with a lot of plans made over the winter, I’ve got a LOT of work to do! On one of my fairest days of February, I rolled up my sleeves and started throwing stumps around into a pattern that solidified the flow of a visitor’s promenade through the Rhododendron Forest. Yes, this was one of my earliest fantasies, back when I was still nail-biting and trying to sell my last house so we could sneak in and grab this one before it sold.

So, let’s go for a stroll together through my forest, and I’ll tell you all about it.  You won’t see a damn thing but my majestic stumps laying around, but planning and sharing my vision is just one step in the process of Ginkgo Grove’s transformation!

Before I begin the tour, I will share with you the original history of this forest. It is entirely planted of white pine (Pinus strobus) and it was planted by the previous owners. The woman who lived here said she was pregnant when she planted all the saplings. They planted them as a wind break..a barrier.. just something interesting. There is something magical and risky about a monoculture, but that is why I am going to contribute to history by planting a beautiful place filled with color and diversity. I’m so fortunate to live in a zone where rhododendrons seem to thrive (heck, if you ever find yourself in annapolis valley in late may, I urge you to go to to the rhododendron gardens at the Kentville Research Station.

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I wonder what’s in there…

I wanted to siphon visitors into the entrance of the forest so they wouldn’t overlook it, so here, I laid a few piles of wood to demonstrate the need for some sort of gateway, or opening. The forest does not have a set flow, and there could potentially be an entrance everywhere. The only openings have been made from pines that fell or have been deemed a safety risk and have been cut down.

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Art w/stumps

The path guides you through a short walk, until you veer slightly to the left and you will find my piece of art. Yes, my piece of art is a gorgeous pile of stumps. Someday, I will place a pagoda.. or something of interest that might tie it all together. I made this area an opening so there is room to wander, take a break and take it in.

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Continuing on, you will find another opening at the back of the path, marked by a pair of stumps. This is our snowshoeing gateway. Beyond here, there is a vast potato field (oh thank you bounty of rejected potatoes!) but in the winter it becomes an open space where snowshoers, cross-country skiiers, and snowmobilers go to get their winter exercise. So we will leave this open.

 

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And now you have hit the climax of the short walk. Or so, I am assuring you one day, it will be. As you can see, I’ve placed a bench—don’t sit on it! It’s only rotted wood and stumps, probably some nails in there, or at the very least, earwigs. From here, I am painting you an imaginative picture of what you will see. There is plenty of color here—Pieris, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Hellebores, Serviceberry, Hydrangeas, Fothergilla, Witch Hazel, Heaths and Heathers… okay, that’s enough. You get the idea.

 

20160304_133249.jpgAnd finally, once you’ve taken it all in, you may exit by continuing onward. It’s not a very eventful exit, but to your left, you will hopefully one day see a mighty Staghorn cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata), and my actual, true tropical greenhouse, which right now, is just a little structure of steel ribs. I’m gonna do it right, and that means a lot of planning first. Maybe in 2-3 years time. Maybe it will be your exit through my tropical gift shop.

I hope you have enjoyed the tour. I know right now I am envisioning a rather anticlimactic group of tourists looking at me with an unimpressed expression. But this is part of the process of my blog. My blog is telling you a story from start to finish. The concept, the pre-work tour, and the finished project, and of course, the evolution of the garden. Sometimes I draw on paper. Sometimes I draw with stumps!

Next post will cover the zone 5 agenda for the 2nd half of March. Have a beautiful week!

March! (Garden Agenda)

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Here it is! It’s march! I much nicer March than last year. Compared to last year, we have 6 feet less of that nasty white stuff.  So here I am, jumping on the beds and flashing the shutters. I’m excited!  So naturally, this is quite a busy month, as I drag things out of storage and start my seeding. Here’s a peek into my March 2016 agenda.

My seeding grow-op has been set up. For me, it’s a Table made from a plastic pallet I was fortunate to find at Dayjob. So we prepare it by laying a piece of plastic on the bottom (there will be a capillary mat laid over this in a few weeks when I decide to fly out to Montreal so the plants stay hydrated. I can do an entire entry on this at another time). The light is set up too, with chains to hang it, as we use these to easily raise the light as the seedlings grow. I’m still lucky to be able to find T12 Plant & Aquarium bulbs too!  Early March I begin my pepper seeding. I’ve started Chesapeake (it better produce 24K gold peppers, they were pricey seeds!), Carmen, Early Jalapeno for my salsa this fall, and Sweet Apple.  Later during this time, I will be doing some Kale seeding for the cold frame and start impatiens indoors.

I also have started my repotting of all tropicals. I don’t count them anymore. I have at least 75. What you see is just one small corner. This issue of tropical hoarding is going to be rectified soon, thankfully, as  my husband has just finished my inner greenhouse. I love them all, but I have been working so hard to refine the general feel of my dining area. I need a comfy seat in the window, and it’s hard to read with all these tropicals staring at me.

In a few days, I will also be doing some long overdue Passiflora root pruning. I have two P. Caerulea and one P. ‘Amethyst’ which blooms beautifully every year. The other two are stubborn little arseholes.

I am going to try something different in the coming weeks. I am going to try and make a post about a different subject every Monday. Likely, every 2nd post will be an agenda of what sort of tasks I will be tackling here on the grove. We will see what happens from there. If you want to hear about anything in particular about my collection or method, fire me a line in the comments below. I’ll try my best to answer! If it’s a long answer, I’ll do a post about it! 😀