Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winter Garden

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Like the weather, the greenhouse has seen some ups and downs this winter. It was the first year I've tried to maintain a number of different projects inside and some of the plans worked better than others. Which is to be expected I guess- it was all experimental to see what would work and what wouldn't, but of course I can't help but feel disappointed at the ones that failed, especially when failure meant the loss of some of the plants.

Radishes got a bit frost nipped
The biggest issue is not being able to maintain consistant temperatures. This greenhouse was designed to be passive- it doesn't have a source of heat other than the sun. It also lacks fans for air movement, and supplimental lighting. Previous attempts to maintain it through the winter with space heaters worked poorly- it proved inefficient and there were issues with mold.  After speaking with a couple of greenhouse experts we came to the conclusion it would work most efficiently as a large cold frame, with a small heated area enclosed in plastic for the handful of tropical plants. The aim was to maintain a fairly consistant cool temperaure but prevent a hard freeze. This works well on a few levels; because the plants are not exposed to much light or heat they aren't encouraged to grow and therefore don't require frequent watering. And without heat and moisture there's less opportunity for mold to take hold.

So back in the fall I brought a number of plants like the hibiscus and olive tree inside the greenhouse and allowed them to acclimatize to the cooler temps and low light naturally. The pergola was covered in clear plastic and small space heater was set to kick in only if the temperature dropped below 5 C. I enstalled a themometer that also indicates a minimum/maximum temp. Other hardier plants like collards and leeks we left in large bins  in the unheated areas and I started some cold crops (rapini, carrots and radishes) in cold frames It all worked wonderfully all through November, December and into January. The hothouse plants were lulled into dormancy and the cool crops were growing slowly but steadily. Sadly I failed to take any photos of  it all when things were at the ideal. 

Then mid January, we had a week of hard freeze with overnight lows in the minus teens, and whether the small heater couldn't keep up or there was some sort of power failure, the temperature at some point hit minus 10 even inside the supposedly heated area. By the time I discovered it, the damage was done and many of the tender tropicals were a wilted mess. Thankfully I have no photos of that either because it was heartbreaking. I trimmed all the dead and damaged leaves and I'm hopeful that most of them will recover eventually but I'm sure I lost a few.
Bay laurels survived but not the spider plant

Surprisingly, the plants in the unheated areas weren't quite as badly damaged and most of them bounced back. I suspect that is because they were in larger planter boxes rather than pots.

I'm still harvesting leeks, and collards, the 2 remaining  sugar beets are looking great, a few radishes have grown big enough to harvest and the carrots are coming along.

I missed the peak on the rapini however- should have harvested it all a few weeks ago!

Now as the days get longer and the sun moves closer I'm faced with another challenge- on bright sunny days the temperature can shoot up to 30 degrees plus! Since it chills off again at night the fluctuation can be quite drastic which is far worse for plants than just cold. It also means the plants require more frequent watering which can lead to mold. When I'm at work I can open the roof vents and turn on the fan but since I 'm only in one day per week currently, I'm not always able to be there to check on things. I'm about ready to seed some early spring greens in the next week or so and I sure hope they can handle the fluctuating temps!

In the meantime I am happy just to have fresh homegrown produce even when it still looks like this outside.
Food forest in winter- not much to see!  

Of course it would be even better if the greenhouse was set up with year round temperature controls and grow lights- then I'd be able to produce things like this lovely pomegranate! This one was grown by my coworker Liz in the CAMH greenhouse! Happy Valentine's Day!
Valentine's pomegranate!



    What about something like this, no power required, cheap to run and works like a charm for either a hard cold snap, just to raise the tmeps or works now when you have the hotter days but cold still nights..

    Great update!

  2. We had that hard freeze here too. Ouch! Sorry you lost some... think of it this learned from the experience.

  3. Obvious comment here, have you try putting fleece around them? Or bring the smaller pots actually inside the house for warmth?

    I think I killed my Parisian Pickling Cucumber completely after potting up. They were a bit leggy to begin with, and with a sudden infestation of gnats, I panicked and start sprinkling cinnamon on EVERYTHING, unfortunately, some cinnamon got on the dying seedlings leaves so I think they'll be a goner when I get home. I sowed 2 extra.. fingers crossed!! :(

    My question is.... Any tips on potting up?