Winter in the Hoophouse

If you are considering a hoophouse, you may be wondering what happens all winter in one of these structures.  Eliot Coleman calls these structures ‘cold houses’.  So often we think of a heated greenhouse or a ‘hothouse’.  A cold house uses nothing for heat. It only relies on the addition of the floating row cover suspended over the cold hardy plants.

Rewards of your hard work!
Rewards of your hard work!

Depending on how severe the winter, things can be pretty frozen. The small plants that I have growing just freeze and thaw with the temperatures.  If we have a few nice warm days, I cut some greens.  In the beginning I used to fret over the temps night and day.  I had a thermometer with a min/max feature and I would be checking it constantly.  Then I gradually began to learn that with this system of growing, things usually survive.

My snow covered cold house!
My snow covered cold house!

I have one garden that I covered in some plastic tubing and covered with plastic. It gets crushed under a snow load but it has worked fine.  This setup has done better than my hoophouse this year.  This winter has been pretty mild so between snowstorms the snow has melted away a few times. When I can, I take the cover off and check on my babies.  In the photo below you can see my disheveled mini hoop. In the background sits last years slapped together structure that my husband put up.

The makeshift hoop.
The makeshift hoop.

So what is involved in winter maintenance?  The hoophouse can take quite a lot of weight but I like to get as much snow off as possible.  For this task I use a foam scraper meant to clean off a car.  Your can pick one up at your local auto parts store.  I really recommend this especially if you have a gamble style. Using this tool prevents unnecessary damage to the costly greenhouse plastic.  I think I’m on my seventh winter with this plastic.  I get a lot of the snow off, then when the sun comes out the rest will usually fall off.  I then shovel a path along each side, scooping away from the plastic with a shovel so as not to rip the plastic.  It only takes a few minutes and keeps the weight off of the house.  We also took notched 2×4’s and put them inside under the center pole.  We have found this helps with the snow load too.

Clearing away the snow load with a foam car scraper.
Clearing away the snow load with a foam car scraper.

It’s a good idea to check on things every few days. The other day my mousetrap went missing and I only found it a few days later under the row cover. I wonder who did that?  Yes, in winter, mice, moles and voles can eat up all of your precious plants if you aren’t on top of it.

I also noticed how dry the soil was.  Since it was quite warm out I decided to water the salad greens. Now if it had been freezing out I would have waited but it seemed to need it.  I sometimes shovel some snow onto the rocks just to add a little moisture. This winter I have two empty beds so I added some snow to the top of those beds.  The snow just melts into the dirt.  It may sound like a crazy idea but it doesn’t harm anything.

Rodents can decimate your crop overnight.
Rodents can decimate your crop overnight.

Winter maintenance tasks are minimal but these are the things that I try to do. Are you thinking about getting a hoophouse?  Do you already have one?  I’d love to hear about how it’s going and any of your winter tips!  Also, visit my other blog posts on season extension below.  Thanks for checking out my blog!  You can follow me by subscribing in sidebar and please leave a comment.  For more on season extension please visit the posts Project Greenhouse and Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen.

Winter reading and reference: The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman.

Hilary|Everlongardener

Why I Love Fedco Seeds

“The day has come!”  What day?  What could possibly be so exciting?  The day when the Fedco seed catalog gets put in my mailbox that’s what!  Without even taking off my coat and hat I had to take a picture of it in my hand and text it to my gardening bestie with the above statement.  She was of course wildly jealous because hers had not shown up yet.

So what makes this in my mind the seed catalog of all seed catalogs?  How do I begin?  Content!  No glossy pictures.  Just lots of valuable seed info and vintage clip art.  Quotes from happy customers interspersed.  You are essentially picking out seeds based on the facts.  What a novel idea.  They have many heirloom varieties, organic options, books, supplies, cold hardy selections (hint, hint) and it’s a really entertaining read.  Sure, there are lots of other catalogs that I receive, but no other brings so much joy to my heart.  It makes us downright giddy!

Good winter reading!
Good winter reading!

Just to let you know how much of a seed freak I am, when I didn’t get to order last year, I still had plenty of seeds to plant.  I’m a bit of a seed hoarder you might say.  I still remember the day that my mother stumbled upon my seed collection.  With a look of horror on her face she implied that I had a real problem.  We won’t get into her problem of endlessly buying up pieces of copper and chunks of marble at yard sales, that’s a whole other story.  I can’t help it.  I need lots of seeds!  When you grow salad greens all year, you need multiple varieties to fill all your needs.  Cold tolerance, heat tolerance, color, texture and flavor.  Some of my favorites include ‘Summer lettuce mix’, ‘Deluxe lettuce mix’ and ‘Winter lettuce mix’.   Continue reading “Why I Love Fedco Seeds”

How To Grow Microgreens in 4 Easy Steps

You may have had them.  You may have just only heard of them.  You might think they are only served in some restaurant that you can’t afford.  I’m here to tell you my friend, that you can grow microgreens with ease in your own home.  No fancy equipment.  No greenhouse needed.  Just dirt, a container, seeds, water and sun!  Yes, you can grow microgreens in 4 easy steps!

img_1334

Although people have been growing microgreens for some time now, it seems the term keeps popping up everywhere.  From something to throw in your smoothie to a side salad to go along with a choice cut of beef, micro greens have become very popular.  There are a few reasons for this: 1. Easy to grow.  2. Harvest time is just ten days or so.  3. Small seedlings contain mega amounts of nutrients.  Have I convinced you yet?

Basic items to grow some microgreens.
Basic items to grow some microgreens.

This is the method that I used.  I saved a few mushroom containers, about two inches high.  Drainage holes didn’t seem to be an issue for such a short growing period but that’s up to you.

Add soil to container.
Add soil to container.

I placed some growing mix in the containers and did a broadcast of seeds covering them lightly with about 1/8″ of soil.  In a recent trip to my local garden center I picked up a packet of micro greens mix.  Just a nice mixture of seeds chosen for color and taste.  You can easily just mix up some seeds from any that you have and it will all work out fine.  Now it seems time to gently water your containers of microgreen seeds.  Keep soil moist but not too wet.  In two days the seeds should be pushing up through the soil.  It’s really quite exciting how quickly these guys come up.  After about ten days or so the greens should be ready to be cut.  Scissors work well.  Don’t feel that you need to cut them all that day.  The harvest can be spread out over a few days.  I actually use one container at a time.

Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!
Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!

After cutting the greens I noticed a small amount of grit so I put them in my salad spinner for a bath.  They held up quite well.  I used my smaller spinner because of the smaller holes.  Once dry, you can place them in a plastic bag or airtight container and store in your crisper for quite a while.  Water your containers again, you may get a second or third harvest!

Micro greens ready for cutting!
Micro greens ready for cutting!

There are quite a few types of seeds that work great for this.  In my research I came up with kale, spinach, peas, radish, lettuce, beets and chard to name a few. The mixture that I used had a lot of these in it.  You can even add herbs.  I think that a handpicked mixture might be better but it was fun to see how the packet turned out.

Microgreens used on top of a salad.
Microgreens used on top of a salad.

I’ve read a few articles on the benefits of adding microgreens to your diet and the stats seem pretty impressive.  Unlike sprouts micro greens need soil and sunlight.  They contain up to 4-6 times the nutrients of full grown plants.  They are high in vitamin C, E, Beta carotene and some have protein, all depending on where, when and what type of soil used.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or experiences with growing microgreens.  Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.  Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram @everlongardener.  Thanks for reading my gardening blog!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Project Greenhouse

After I had figured out that I needed to winter over salad greens, a structure was needed to make this happen.  I couldn’t rest until I found my very own greenhouse.  See my previous post Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen.  Every time I picked up a newspaper I would scour the classifieds for a cheap or better yet free greenhouse.  I had looked into buying a new one but they just seemed way too expensive to justify the cost of getting one.img_1283

One day at the extension office I was working with a few fellow gardeners, rambling on about my big dreams of putting up a hoop house when someone piped up and explained that they were selling their home and would gladly give me her greenhouse.  It just needed new plastic.  All I needed to do was go dismantle it and bring it home!  I couldn’t believe my ears!  A 12×20 gambrel model.  Perfect!  Not too big, not too small.  My dreams were finally coming true!

Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.
Using my Victorinox serrated harvest knife.

That fall, we got the whole thing set up.  Much time was devoted to locating a good spot for grabbing all of that precious winter sun.  The ground around my house had been forest only a few years before, so simply plowing up a plot of ground and plunking the house on top was not an option.  Too many roots, stumps and ledge hiding under the lawn.  The most logical thing to do was to make three sturdy raised beds and surround them with crushed stone.  we decided to anchor the house to the semi-buried raised beds with half inch threaded rods going from the base right into the beds themselves.  Leaving enough room for a potting bench and a nice wide path for the wheelbarrow to travel through, we were in business!  Next, we purchased the appropriate plastic to cover it with.

The messy potting bench.
The messy potting bench.

 I had been reading Eliot Coleman’s book The Winter Harvest Handbook for months and was ready to make this happen.  The beds were filled with soil and planted with all the right kinds of seeds.  When it started getting cold out we covered them all with floating row cover, a spun poly fabric that when suspended above the plants allows water and light in but gives an extra amount of protection against pests and cold temperatures.  The formula is quite simple and I’m always telling everyone that anybody can grow greens this way.

Wintertime in the greenhouse.
Wintertime in the greenhouse.

This was merely the beginning.  I couldn’t wait to see how things would turn out! To read how my story began, check out Self-proclaimed Salad Green Queen.  Be sure to follow along with me on Facebook and Instagram @everlongardener for daily pictures from the garden!

Thanks for stopping by!

Hilary|Everlongardener