Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eighty degrees and Foggy Snowbanks

Well, here I am, another weekend and some very wicked weather over with once again.  Spring has come on with a vengeance in the last two days, in a very scary way.  We hit 80+ degrees this afternoon which I just knew wasn't going to be a good thing, especially when there were still snowbanks all over the place.  There's something ominous about steaming snow in the ditches on the side of the road.  I wish I'd gotten a picture of it, but I was on my way to the car parts store with our youngest son, David when we suddenly drove into ground fog at  two o'clock in the afternoon.

"Yup," I said, "We're in for some excitement tonight."

But first I have to back up and tell you what went on this week:

  Yippee, finally some color to share!  The crocus were really enjoying this 80 degree day.  We had a tremendous thunderstorm on Saturday night which hammered the poor things almost back into the ground with just over 3" of rain, but they still took the beating. (I'll sprinkle a bunch of the crocus flower pictures in the middle of my ramblings just to break up the monotony of my monologue.)

Ok, back in time to this past Thursday afternoon; we finally were able to plow enough snow away from the shed at Mom's to get the greenhouse and all of its shelving and plumbing supplies out.  It's a good thing we didn't wait any longer because the frost wasn't quite out of the ground at that point and we still cut ruts about a foot deep with the trailer.  Carl was going to back his car up to the shed but I told him he'd be crazy to try it and we used the tractor instead.
I laid on my stomach to take this picture this afternoon.  I never realized how dark purple the crocus buds are.  It was worth getting all wet.

We hauled the trailer-load of components home and started putting the greenhouse up in the driveway.  I have to back up again; I know it seems ridiculous to spend a lot of time putting up and taking down a hoop house every year, usually we put it up in mid-March and take it down in June.   The problem is the thing isn't all that attractive and we only need it for a three months at the most, so it's been a tradition since we built it to go through all this work.  We built the greenhouse in 2002 and every year we have had the help of our sons, especially Joel, to put the thing up.  This year was no different, but we did try to do most of it ourselves as both Joel and Dave were out and about and we know the day will come when it will be just down to the two of us old geezers again, so we have to be prepared. 
What a mess, beginning to put the green house up.  We hauled the two wooden ends home with a chain wrapped around the boards and hung it high from the bucket of the tractor.  When we got it home Carl and I  had to work together to heave and haul this thing across the driveway by hand.  That's when we know we're not getting any younger, or maybe the greenhouse is getting heavier?
There's the other end, leaning up against the tree.  All the other parts also go with the greenhouse, including the sawhorses.
Carl made these hoops for the greenhouse out of heavy pipe; they can easily support over 300 pounds without bending and weigh a LOT.  Between the two of us, we carried them into position fairly easily though.
It was still rather chilly on Thursday night and I was bundled up against the wind which also made hanging on to the loose end of the greenhouse quite an ordeal; I yelled at Carl to put down the camera and HELP!
He obliged.
Phew, both ends are up, now for the 'ribs'....
Rib cage in place, the sun is going where's the skin?
By this time, both Joel and Dave were home to help.  Oh, it goes so much easier with more hands.
By 8:45PM, we had the plastic on and the sawhorses and heat pans in place.  Time to call it a night.

The next day I spent time filling flats with potting soil and getting ready to plant.  Carl still had to get the heat tables hooked up and the water circulating which he finished up on Saturday.  
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 seeds.  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 there.  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.

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 70-75 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.
 The flats have bottom heat which speeds germination and their resulting growth rate quite a bit, plus keeps the flowers toasty warm on cold nights. 
My father-in-law stopped in this morning and asked me how many Popsicles we eat around here......I hated to disappoint him, but I bought the sticks without the delectable treats attached!  They make great plant tags.
Above is my seed planting station where I spent a lot of hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.  I plant each seed individually in their own cell using a tweezers.  Oh, I like planting out in the greenhouse so much more than the way we used to do it, sitting at the dining room table with all the mess of potting soil and water boiling on the stove trying to get the potting mix damp.  Out in the greenhouse I can be as much of a slob as I like and just plant without having to worry about making a big mess in the house.  1000 seeds planted, about 1500 to go.
No Dave's not trapped under his car....he and his dad are replacing  his brake lines.

While I was planting flower seeds, Carl was helping David with his brakes.  On his way home from work on Saturday afternoon, Dave's brakes went out.  He managed to drive home very carefully and spent all day Sunday (and now it looks like it will be Monday night) working on them. Neither of the guys was happy, they both hate working on cars.

Carl had a very busy weekend too; he had to replace the spark plugs and wires on our good car, fix my wringer washing machine (I broke it again!) clean out the chicken coop, run to the recycling center with some scrap steel and help Dave.  I just kept planting.  Though I did take a break for a few more photos:
It was getting dark and thunder was rumbling late this evening.  Carl had checked the forecast and they were yelling about hail the size of Golf Balls and tornadoes here, there, and I thought I'd better take some pictures of the flowers before they were flattened out by nasty weather.  I belly-flopped on the wet grass to take alot of these pictures and
Ashley and Crystal came running to see if I was ok.  I think they thought I was struck by lightning.
Screech Kitty thought I was loony, too.

While I was down crawling around on my belly, the sky was growing darker and more thunder was growling in the distance.  Then the Tornado Sirens went off in town, three miles away.  The sound is so eerie and never fails to make me nervous.  I took a few more photos anyway, though:
Getting really dark and stormy now, needed a flash to take this picture and one particularly bright flash of lightning and the distant wailing siren brought me to my senses.  This storm was getting serious, so I headed to the house to see the radar:
Oh, boy------Tornado warnings and one sighted not that far away........"If you are in the path of this severe storm you should head to a place of safety immediately!' the weatherman warned.  Didn't I say I knew we were in for trouble when I saw the snow steaming earlier in the day?  80-something degrees with snowbanks on the ground? ......Mother Nature was playing a trick. 

Ok, we're supposed to be headed for our Place of Safety.  That's when I thought of my  newly planted flats in the not-tied-down greenhouse, oh, no........I thought I'd better bring them in  for safekeeping in the house.  I hated the idea of the greenhouse going airborne Ala The Wizard of Oz and all my newly seeded flats scattered all over the neighborhood.  Carl was just battening down the hatches in the garage when he saw me racing back and forth with my arms full of flats.  He came to help me just as it started to downpour and the lightning lit our progress very nicely and added extra haste to our steps.  (The things gardeners will do for their plants.)

Luckily the storm passed with no damage whatsoever here and only an additional 1/2" of rain.  We were Very Lucky.
Smiles of Relief all around.
Unfortunately, there was some storm damage not that far from us, though I don't know how severe.  I hope they're all ok.
If I had a choice between Snow or Tornadoes, Snow Wins!
I'll take a blizzard, please.


Sandy said...

Mother Nature sure was having a lot of fun this day....your shots of the crocus are just wonderful. I can see you laying on your belly for the shots and have a smile on my face.
How I would love such a green house. Do you put it together each season.. why not just leave it up all year?
Happy Spring!!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Wow, Karen, you have certainly had a lot going on this weekend. The tornados missed us and traveled up north by you. I heard that twenty-five homes were wiped out in Merrill Wisconsin.

You really have quite a seed starting project, a lot of work but I know they will look beautiful.


Darla said...

It's never good when the weather warms so quickly! I am glad you all were spared any severe weather. I'm sure you and Carl can figure a way to make the greenhouse a permanent structure in your gardens. Plant around it or something.

Tufa Girl said...

I love all of Carl's handiwork especially that water circulating system. My greenhouse is a temporary structure also for the 3 months of uneven weather here so I understand the convenience of having it disappear when it's not needed. We had a bout of storm go through here last night with the light show going into the morning. Nothing bad here but it is still moving East.

Carolyn ♥ said...

Karen you always have a project going on here... you will never grow old as you always have so much to do. So glad the tornado passed you by sweet friend!

Junebug said...

I'm so glad the storm missed you but you did provide a great image! I see this lady running like crazy holding flats of seedling in her hand yelling the sky is falling! So glad you are safe but you did get me a chuckle. Let's hope Mother Nature settles down and we can get onto spring planting. Hugs!!!

Shirley said...

I am so glad you didn't have any damage there! As dedicated a gardener as I am, I would have been hiding in my basement with a radio until the warning passed. tsk, tsk. ;) Glad to hear all is well. Beautiful crocus photos, so worth the wet belly.

Alison said...

I didn't realize how much work went into all the annuals you start! What a great greenhouse you and Carl built, so much room inside. It is so much more relaxing when you aren't worried about making a mess.

Also, are you crazy? Worried about the trays of flats, when you should have been heading to shelter? The other day our town did a test of its volcano warning siren, and even though it went off at exactly noon, and we knew it was just a test, the sound still made our hand stand on end.

I would definitely choose a blizzard over a tornado too.

Great pictures of the crocuses, I'm so glad you finally have some flowers up!

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Oh, a green house! Lucky you. You have been busy girl planting those seeds. I hope at least this warm weather melted your snow banks.

lifeshighway said...

The greenhouse is a wonder. You and Carl are industrious powerhouses of energy. Some days I can barely drag the vacuum all over the house.

The exciting news for me is, I know we will get to the the results of all these seedlings coming to bloom.

I am looking forward to the beauty. I think, I need to go back to bed. Feeling a bit tired.

Zoey said...

Holy smokes--what an ordeal! I don't think I have ever seen 80 degrees with snowbanks.

You and Carl must have tons of enery to do all that work setting up the greenhouse every year!

I was impressed with myself for cutting down 2 wheelbarrow loads of last year's flowers when I got home from work today. :)

My first crocus just bloomed---I know crocuses are old news to everyone, but me. LOL.

Your crocus shots from the belly are great!

Tootsie said...

a greenhouse is a greenhouse...and they are all beautiful to me!!
I can't wait till the snow is all gone here and even a weed pops this point I'd settle for

~mel said...

I'm jealous of that greenhouse! yes ~ we too were spared by the storm. As I was reading I was praying the next picture wasn't going to be of it all torn down by the storm. It sure did do a lot of damage though by Merrill.

Beth said...

You are right: your greenhouse is a very ingenious invention! You and Carl are two smart cookies! Thanks for sharing how you used to do it and how you do it now (your seedstarting). I found this post very interesting.
blessings, Beth