I need help think right...

runswithscissors(MT 4/5)April 5, 2013

Hello friends,

I posted this post over on the greenhouse forum but it doesn't see alot of activity and this is my favorite forum so I'm posing this question to you too, if you will allow me...

I have had a hobby 8' x 12' greenhouse for 4 years....which I love! I had electricity and a water faucet installed. On the back wall I put up a shelving unit with a shop light over each shelf and then some soil heating cables (steady at 70*) for each shelf.
Every year I overwinter stuff. Getting things to "survive" the winter with supplemental heat is not too hard, even in Montana. I even sucessfully dug up a pepper plant from the garden last fall, brought it in and harvested 3 whole peppers from it over the winter. But then spring comes and I catch the bug....and thats when I decide I want to "grow" things. (surviving and growing in a greenhouse are two different things I'm finding.)

Each year I end up cooking, baking, steaming and drownding every sprout I have because I just can't seem to get it thru my thick skull that plants don't feel heat and moisture the same way we do. If the themometer reads 65*, I shiver, go brrrrr and jack up the heat. If the overnight low is going to be in the teens I will make sure the heat is on high, all the heating cables are on plus the shop lights just to be sure everyone is cozy. And water...if the top of the soil looks dry, it must be dry, right? Better add some more water.

So, this is the last spring I want to learn this lesson, and I'm asking you guys to put some of this into perspective for me. At what point does a baby plant go "brrrrr" and how dry is it supposed to be before the plantlet wilts from thirst? Should I keep the little fan on all the time to circulate air? If the temp feels comfortable to me, but then the fan blows past it makes the air feel cooler on my skin...do plants feel this same affect? or do they just appreciate a little fresh air? Also, the portable heater I use does a fine job of regulating the greenhouse heat as per thermometer reading. But just hold your hand over by the door or next the the ground....it feels considerably colder than the "room" does. If I was a plant I wouldn't want to be on the shelf by the door, I would much rather hover over the heater. But I'm not a plant. Any idea how they act, react, wish, want, need, think....(think?) How can I alter this mentality of mine that they have the same needs for growing conditions as I do.

Light? Alaska summers have 24 hours of daylight, and their plants grow HUGE...mine don't seem to be alaskan plants.

Water? In the jungle it rains all the time and its always hot...my plants don't seem to like the jungle.

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I think it depends on what you are growing. But, as a rule, 50* nighttime temp is goor for young plants, and 70* daytime temps. I'm more into perennials, but I think the same holds true to most veggies. Cold weather crops can take lower temps and thrive, as long as it does not go much below 40* I start my perennials in my basement under lights, keeping about a constant 70* (sometimes it gets warmer if I have to crank up the pellet stove). A fan blowing over the plants is a great idea. It's almost a necessity. If the soil in the pots does not reach the very top of the pot, that little space between the top of the pot and the soil creates a microclimate that is perfect for mold and fungia. Watering: I lift up my tray or pot and feel the weight. If it feels light, I bottom water (5-10 minutes depending on whether it's a flat or a pot). Take it out of the water bath and feel the weight. It should feel heaver, even though the very top of the soil may still be dry. Remember that feeling. Bottom watering is the best method, as it keeps the foliage dry. But you probably already know that part. Once you do this a few times, you really get a feel for it, and know when it's time to water. Long winded, but I hope it helps.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 8:04AM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

thanks blowell. I have always used this method of gaging too, but alot of feedback from these forums convinced me I was watering too much for sprouts. But here is the part that does confuse me some. Most annuals require light for germination, so they have to be on the very top. This dries out very quickly, but if you water every time the top is dry, the soil beneith becomes soggy. I thought humidity domes were the answer. I was advised they were what was causing my heat build-up and damping off. (I don't think I had any damping off problems...but I sure do have die-off problems) I'm sure everyone gives good feedback for general practice, so I'm not bashing anyone, but I do need to find that happy balance for my own growing system. Which is why I love advise from experienced growers. (Like you. :)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 9:34PM
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While there are commercial fungicides for 'damping off' they are not the safest preparations to use. However there are natural preparations you can make from chamomile tea, cinnamon, garlic, and H202. "Here's an article with instructions."

Perhaps if you grew 'jungle' varieties of plants you'd not have a problem with overwatering or too much heat. However, that's not what you are choosing to grow so you need to be more careful with your methods. Experience is a very good teacher so perhaps you now know what to do. :)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 9:20AM
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I haven't started a lot of seedlings for a few years, but when I did, I covered the seedlings loosely with light plastic wrap until the sprouted. The plastic was held above the seed trays on toothpicks and I didn't have air circulating over them until they germinated. I also didn't have the fan directly on them until they were past the first few leaves and had some good roots. Perhaps you can aim the fan at the ceiling to cause some circulation without drying the plants too much. I always started the seedlings indoors in bright light but not direct sun and then they were moved outside to the greenhouse when they had a few leaves and better roots. I also usually ended up needing to allow some venting on sunny days. A few times wind closed my vents and plants got fried down to the soil line.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 11:51AM
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