Archive for the ‘In the greenhouse’ Category

Seedling heat mats speed up germination

Friday, April 11th, 2014

For many years I started seeds without using a seedling heat mat.There never seemed to be any problems doing it that way as long as I was able to find a warm spot for my seed trays. Those were the days when the tops of refrigerators radiated heat and were nice and warm. That was the best place to germinate small amounts of seeds because the constant heat warmed up the seed starting containers to the ideal temperature. Small heat mats for home use were not readily available back then.

It wasn’t until I worked in a large private greenhouse that I really found out the advantages to using bottom heat. I needed to grow thousands of flower and vegetable plants from seed. Time was, and still is, a valuable commodity, I couldn’t afford to wait for seeds to sprout.

Seeds I grew on heat mats seemed to jump up through the soil surface compared to their unheated brethren — germination percentage went up too. After the first transplant growing season, I invested in a few large commercial heat mats.

These days, nearly all garden centers sell small heat mats. They are usually preset at a specific temperature and are not adjustable, unlike the commercial mats.

Heat mats last a long time if used properly and are carefully stored.

Heat mats last a long time if used properly and are carefully stored.

The small mats work just fine for small amounts of seeds. By small amounts, I mean you can still germinate enough seeds to grow hundreds of plants. That’s more than enough for an average home garden.

If you are even a little bit serious about growing plants from seed, a seedling heat mat is an essential investment, especially now that refrigerators aren’t warm anymore.

Bob

Artificial light for growing seedlings

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Plants need light for photosynthesis and without light they can’t grow. But not all light is equal.

If you remember from your middle school science class, sunlight contains many colors or wave lengths of light. Plants mainly use the blue and red part of the light spectrum and not much else.

Seedlings need good quality light to thrive. The ideal place to grow seedlings of course,  is in a greenhouse or sun-room where there is plenty of natural sunlight. However, not everyone has access to a space like a greenhouse. A south window can help, but even in that case, supplemental lighting may be needed.

An adequate substitute for natural sunlight is light from fluorescent bulbs. Special “grow lights” are available but are quite a bit more expensive than standard fluorescent tubes and they don’t last as long. Research has shown that plants do as well or even better under “cool white” bulbs. Cool white bulbs provide plenty of blue light.

Even with the most recent research, some gardeners still feel that seedlings grow better if the light is “blended”. So, they’ll add a “soft white” bulb to a florescent fixture to provide some red light for their seedlings. Shining light from an incandescent bulb onto the seedlings will also add some red light.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on light fixtures. I bought this on at a garage sale for less than a buck.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on light fixtures. I bought this one at a garage sale for less than a buck.

Most vegetable and flower garden seedlings need bright light, at least 500 to 1,000 foot candles. Placing the light fixture within six inches or so will provide them with that amount of light. Still, that is not a bright as a sunny day where there can be 10,000 foot candles shining on a plant.

Plants require some darkness every day so lamps must be on a timer. Six to eight hours of darkness is sufficient for most plants — just about the same number of hours as a good night’s sleep.

If you are really serious about growing a large number of plants under artificial light, special high output light fixtures are available starting at around $300 each.

Bob

Unheated hoop house no match for record cold winter

Monday, March 10th, 2014

I promised to update you on how my lettuce did through the winter. Things were going quite well, I was harvesting lettuce after the first round of the Arctic Vortex.

Even after the second round of the vortex, most of the plants were doing well. This was mainly due to the secondary, inner plastic covering I added as the temperatures got colder.

Later, I started using bubble wrap insulation at night to try to keep the plants from freezing, it worked pretty well too — for a while.

I picked plenty of lettuce even after the second round of the Arctic Vortex.

I picked plenty of lettuce even after the second round of the Arctic Vortex. The blue material is plastic bubble wrap.

Eventually, the protracted, record-breaking cold did them in. During any other winter I’m convinced I’d still be harvesting lettuce.

Now it’s time to look forward to planting early spring lettuce in there.

Bob

 

Hoop House lettuce in the winter – Part One

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

In my last blog posting I wrote about building a hoop house out of reclaimed shade canopy parts.  After covering the structure I amended the soil with composted chicken manure.

Once the soil was improved, I planted a few short rows of lettuce seedlings. And they made good growth early on.

 

 

Not only did this crop of lettuce survive the single digit overnight temperatures back in December, it actually looked even more robust. It didn’t however make a whole lot of new growth after that.

Because the days are so much shorter during the winter, we can’t expect lettuce to grow like a spring crop outside in the garden. That’s because there is not as much sunlight energy for photosynthesis.

With all things considered,  the lettuce did quite well in the hoop house before the Arctic Vortex hit.  A few days later, after the temperatures finally moderated, I opened the door to peek inside.

I’ll let you know what I found in my next post.

Bob

 

 

 

 

Bob

Home made hoop house made from re-purposed shade canopy

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

This fall I put together a homemade hoop house, which is just another name for an unheated, temporary greenhouse.

I’ve had small hoop tunnels in the past, just big enough for plants to grow but that’s all. This one is big enough to walk into.

My new structure is allowing me to grow cold weather crops such as spinach, kale, and lettuce well into the winter. I also plan to use it to get an early start in the spring.

This one I made from parts to an old shade canopy that I haven’t used for a few years. We used it during the summer months to keep the sun off the picnic tables when we had outdoor get togethers.

Actually, I used only half of the pieces. Using all of the parts would have given me more square footage than I need. I just wanted a modest space to grow lettuce this winter.

Looking at the pile of structural parts from the canopy I had in the barn, it occurred to me that I could re-configure them into the size of hoop house I was looking for.

I did have to buy some materials for the project: plastic greenhouse covering, splicing tape, and pipe hardware. Since I didn’t want to cut any part of my shade canopy  – in case I ever wanted to use it for that purpose again — I also bought one length of metal electrical conduit and four connectors to use as post extensions. Since the electrical parts were the same diameter as the parts I already had, it made it easy to splice the old and new parts together.

I also added  some thin pieces of wood  to make a door and give a place for me to attach the plastic sheeting. I used 4×4′s for the foundation.

I ended up with a greenhouse measuring 10 ft by 10 ft, that’s 100 square feet of growing space.  Next year, if I feel the need, I can expand it up to its original size of 10 by 20 feet.

 

Even the wooden parts to my hoop house are made from re-cycled material.

Even the wooden parts to my hoop house are made from re-cycled material.

 

If you’ve ever considered a hoop house or greenhouse, this may be an inexpensive way to get started on a small scale. And what if you don’t have a shade canopy of your own to recycle?  Well, I’ve seen used shade canopies for sale at yard sales. Some of them had their shade cloth or other parts missing. That’s OK though since the parts will probably be re-assembled in a different configuration like I did with mine.

So far, my hoop house is standing up to the wind and winter storms we’ve had. I’m optimistic that it’ll still be standing come spring-time.

Bob

Build Your Own Greenhouse

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Every gardener at one time or another has thought about having a greenhouse to start seeds and grow plants.

Someone with a large budget could have a greenhouse construction company build one, many of us don’t have those kinds of funds to use.

A prefabricated kit is another way to go. Even these can be prohibitively expensive for the average gardener.

While going through may files the other day I came across a set of plans for a small greenhouse. It measures eight and a half feet wide by 12 feet long and is seven feet tall in the center. It uses one-quarter inch treated plywood ripped into strips that are glued together  to form the sidewall  supports. The base is made from one by eight boards. The entire structure is covered in plastic sheeting.

This set of drawing was developed by Michigan State University and the Department of Agriculture in 1963.  Anyone who has moderate building skills should have no problem building it.

If you would like to take a look at these plans you can see them on my other website.

Please let me know if you do decide to build this greenhouse, I would be interested in how it turned out.

Bob

Pineapple, Michigan Grown!

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

One of the fun gardening projects you can do this time of the year is start your own pineapple plant. Even though most pineapples we eat are grown in Hawaii, you can actually grow a real pineapple in Michigan…for free!

Here’s how I do it.

First, you need a fresh pineapple from the produce department.  Look for the freshest looking one you can find. Of course you would probably do that anyway if you were shopping for produce.

Cut the top off normally and eat the pineapple…

Now, here’s the part that is different: instead of throwing away the top, use it to start your own pineapple plant.

You need to prepare the top before planting by trimming away any remaining pineapple fruit, so that you end up with a top that looks like this:

Then, pull off the lower leaves until you see some small bumps on the stalk, these will be the spot from which the new roots will grow. It will look something like this:

Then just place the prepared top into a pot of planting mix deep enough to cover those bumps and water it in. Place your plant where it can get some sun and water it when the soil gets somewhat dry. Fertilize it with a houseplant fertilizer as directed on the package and you should be all set.

The plant shown in this photo (on the right) has been growing for several weeks. Look at all those nice new leaves.

Here is that same plant several months later.

My pineapple has been growing in the same six inch pot for all that time. I would recommend that you move your plant into a larger pot as it grows.

This plant is a little over two feet tall… and has a real pineapple at the top!

As it starts to turn a little yellow,  I will harvest it to eat and then start a new pineapple all over again!

Aloha,

Bob

Once in a Lifetime — Agave Blooming in the Greenhouse

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

We have a very interesting botanical event happening in the greenhouse right now. One of our Agave plants is blooming.

Agave plant in full bloom

Agave plant in full bloom

This plant is about 3 or 4 years old and has decided to bloom after all this time.  This is actually fairly quick for an Agave though.  Their other nick name is “century plant” , so-called because of the seemingly long length of time it normally takes them to flower in the wild.

Agaves are native to the southwestern part of this country and “south of the border down Mexico way”.  The ‘Blue Agave’ variety that grows in the Mexican state of Tequila is used to make… you guessed it…Tequila.

I don’t know what variety this one is since Judy rescued it from going into the compost bin at the Botanical Gardens.  At that time the plant was just a small  one inch diameter “bulblet” with no name.

Agaves only bloom when they have stored enough energy in their roots and leaves. How many years this takes depends on the species.  After blossoming and forming seeds, they die, trusting that the seeds will carry on the next generation.

Even though this Agave of ours is planted in a small 8 inch pot, the flower stalk is 10 feet tall! It has been alternately ignored and well-tended throughout its life.  It couldn’t have had life too hard since it took quite a bit less time than a century to bloom. We had a few last year that were in 6″ pots and their stalks reached nearly 6 feet.

This Agave is planted in an 8 pot. Note the swollen bulb-like stem.

This Agave is planted in an 8″ pot. Note the swollen bulb-like stem.

I counted over 120 flowers on the flower stalk! Wow! Each flower will produce a bulblet that will go on to produce another plant. I’d say that is pretty good odds that the next generation will survive.

Our Agave produced a ten foot tall flower stem containing over  120 flowers. I can barely reach the lowest set of flowers.

Our Agave produced a ten foot tall flower stem containing over 120 flowers. I can barely reach the lowest set of flowers.

The new seeds will go into a 20 inch pot.  I wonder what will happen…

Bob

Aloe vera re-potting

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

The Aloe vera plant has been popular for decades as a balm or salve used to treat minor burns, cuts, sunburn and other maladies. Every household should have an Aloe plant as part of their first-aid kit.

You can do your part to spread the good news about Aloe by dividing your plants and giving them away to folks who don’t have an Aloe yet. It’s very easy to do.

As an Aloe plant grows, it forms small plantlets or off-shoots around the base of the main stem. They may or may not have roots. These can be gently pulled apart from the main plant and transplanted into new pots.

In this post I’m using an old Aloe that needed to be renewed. The same process is used for making divisions of an Aloe that might not be this far gone. Here we go…

Start by getting a potting mix together. I like to use  fairly coarse potting mix to which I add sand, fine gravel and other grit to help the mix drain water well.  Aloe doesn’t like to be in a soggy pot.

In this example, where the plant has grown too long between re-potting, the Aloe has developed a long, undesirable stem with a lot of dead leaves.

Fix this by cutting the stem an inch or so below the green active part of the plant. Peel off all of the “onion skin” until you reach the stem itself. Also, remove  any dead or dying leaves. The stem has dormant root buds that will sprout to form new roots to support the newly separated plant. A dormant bud can be seen just below the pencil point. If you rub your finger over the stem, the bumps you feel are the root buds.

Then just fill a pot (be sure it has a drain hole in the bottom) with your potting mix and insert the prepared Aloe cutting into the soil. Water the new plant and that is it.  You now have a new Aloe plant that will soon take hold in it’s new home. Here is An Aloe I transplanted a few weeks ago.  Look how nicely the roots are growing.

This brand new plant  can now be given away as a gift.  Everyone loves Aloe !

To use Aloe as a treatment for an injury, cut a leaf from your plant. Slit the leaf open and apply the jelly-like juice to the affected area. You’ll feel relief immediately.

It’s medicine you can grow right on your window sill!

Bob