Saturday, April 3, 2010

Working on the Quarry and the greenhouse

Pictured above is the east side of the Quarry Garden taken yesterday morning.  We are doing some remodeling in this area because by the time we developed this part of the garden, we were out of big rocks.  With the rock we bought last fall, we now have enough to refresh this area with larger outcroppings more in scale with the rest of the quarry.  The tamarack (the tree with no needles near right) will be moved this weekend to the new bed on the west side of the house.
 This is the view from our backyard fire pit.
This is just one of the projects we are dealing with right now and we're feeling optimistic about the fact we're getting some work done already this spring.
I realize this isn't the most inspiring picture of daffodils ever seen, but these were the first ones to open this season on April 1st (which is very early for us)  by our back porch.  If I get my way, and the new mudroom addition,  the back porch will be changed before next daffodil season!

We put the greenhouse up last weekend with Joel's help.  This greenhouse is a homemade contraption that we first built 2003.

Over the years, we have had many different ways of starting the annuals for the garden.  Back in the late 80's we tried simply starting flats on top of the refrigerator, which actually wasn't too bad, if you only had to start a few flats.  When my need for around 2000 annuals started to become apparent (40 flats) that's when we decided to try building a cold frame filled with sand with soil heating cables looped throughout.  We installed that contraption on the front porch for a few years, and it was also a reliable germination tool, but our front porch was small and it was difficult to keep everything warm on the very cold nights.  So often we would have the entire dining room full of flats during the cold spells.

Then Carl built a metal plant stand with six shelves capable of holding 40 flats complete with hanging grow-light fixtures.  This also worked well but took up a lot of space in the dining room, especially since years ago I would start seed geraniums and begonias in late December.  From December to June is a long time to have a greenhouse occupying house space and all the mess with water, potting mix and fertilizer. 

The next attempt was to put the plant stand in the basement which worked out fairly well, since the lights generated quite a bit of heat, but once again, not ideal due to no natural light and the basement not being very warm.  Then we started back on our stained glass work which necessitated the plant stand's leaving the area now devoted to glass racks.

We bought a very tiny greenhouse from a home improvement store back in the 90's, but with such limited space, it wasn't ideal either.  That's when Carl had the idea to build our present greenhouse which is about 21' x 14'.  He rolled the pipe for the hoops at work and it is a very sturdy structure.  We used to set it up right behind the garage from 2003 until 2009.  Starting in 2009, we decided to set the greenhouse up in the driveway because there was so much snow last spring, it was mid-April before we could get back there.    In 2008 we didn't set it up at all, but tried yet another little plastic box store greenhouse after the plants were grown under lights in the basement, but the resulting cool weather outdoors spelled disaster for my seedlings. We went back to the big greenhouse in 2009.
The greenhouse does absolutely nothing aesthetically for the yard, this I realize, but it is so handy to have it here for the three months it is standing.  Some people have asked us why we don't make it a permanent structure, but we find it just sticks out like a sore thumb even when it is behind the garage.  Plus, we moved the wash lines and the chicken coop (and now the barn!) back there too, so space is limited.  So, here it sits in the driveway.
In the above picture, you can see the sawhorses covered in plastic.  We use the plastic as a second, insulating cover to retain the heat produced by the heated stainless pans.

Here the plastic is removed, showing the stainless pans a bit more clearly.  Carl took sheets of stainless steel stock and welded them together with a space underneath them, basically a double boiler concept, through which water circulates from the plumbing attached to all of the pans.  In the corner of the greenhouse is a stainless steel barrel (also Carl's work) which is fitted with one hot water heater element and a small fountain pump.  The water heater element heats the water to around 70 degrees and the fountain pump circulates the water through the pans and returns it to the barrel.  It is an ingenious system, really, it just looks like a Rube Goldberg invention. 

I planted the first 1600 seeds on Monday and as of Wednesday, there was a quite a bit of germination already.  The bottom heat provided by the stainless pans has enabled us to grow some very nice annuals over the years without the need to heat the entire greenhouse structure resulting in a significant savings on the ol' power bill.

In case I don't get back to posting about the greenhouse soon, here's a picture of the plants started in May of 2007.

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