What Techniques Did You Try This Year?

timf7(Z5 40m w Chicag)June 2, 2003

Great forum to start! I'm hooked on season extension after reading one of Eliot Coleman's books a few years ago. We are in the second year of runnng a micro (or maybe a nano! farm and we sell vegs, herbs, perennials, flowers at local farmers' markets and have a 15-member CSA. We are based in an ag-zoned subdivision and have a little less than 2 acres total with about 1/2 acre under intense cultivation.

1. Seed starting: We have nearly 60 inexpensive ($5-7) shop lights mounted on stands and other places around the house. We use three lights (6 regular 40w tubes) on each shelf so the seedlings get good coverage. We can grow lettuce and other greens year round.

2. Warm house: After all the inside space was full we had to start moving things outdoors around the middle of March. We used a 4'x8' mini hoop house ($79 at Menards + you build the support with 4x6 boards). We covered with a second layer of plastic and put in a space heater going whenever the night was expected to be less than 40 degrees. We bought some inexpensive ($14 at Menards) wireless thermometers so we could keep track of the temperature inside the house. It was normally about 25 degrees above the outside temp and the only plants we lost were a few the night we had a freeze and I forgot to put the second layer on -- we lost the plants that were touching the plastic. With a shelf on the north wall we got about 32 flats of seedlings squeezed in.

3. warm box: After the hoop house filled up we built two 4x8 warm boxes with a simple frame and insulated with 2" ploystyrene insulation ( a windfall - bought a pallet of damaged 4x8 sheets of the stuff for $10). The heat source was about 200 watts of mini Christmas lights spread on the bottom. We covered the boxes with two layers of plastic. As built, they would maintain 30-35 degrees above the outside air. On a warm day we took one or both layers of plastic off.. we had one warm day where I left the plastic on for about an hour after the full sun hit the box and pretty much fried about half the plants. The temp would go from about 40 to 120 very fast so be careful with small enclosures.

4. Mini tunnel: Finally all the boxes filled up and a borrowed greenhouse was full so I built a mini-tunnel over one of my raised beds (3 1/2 ' x 24'). I used a pvc fame with upside down "u's" every 3 feet. The back leg of the "u" was 3' and the front was 2 1/2 ' so I could get some drainage when it rained. I used an elbow fitting on the front and a four-way fitting on the back(about $1 from Peaceful Valley) so I could join the u's together. I tacked the plastic to the back with furring strips. I put some "T" posts tight against the front so I could slide in the plastic to keep it snug. Plants were happy inside as long as the temp stayed above 28 or so.

5. Windbreaks: We get some pretty strong winds Mar-May and have found that a well-constructed windbreaks can get plants, especially cool-weather crops, going a couple of weeks earlier in the spring. The best thing we have found so far is 30" burlap (300' about $40 at AM Leonard). We stretch "T" posts along the row and hook the burlap on the t-post hooks. We weight the bottom with some old window sash weights (a windfall from a friend!). Burlap works pretty well because it lets almost enough wind through so it stays in place and also lets some light in (our prevailing winds are west and southwest). Quick to put up: did a forty foot row from scratch in 15 minutes when a storm came up a couple of weeks ago. This will hold up to about 35mph wind. From a test we found that 20mph turned into 2-3 mph 3-6 feet behind the break. Will last two seasons or more if you take care of it.

6. Raised beds: The only way to go for us! We make them out of anything we can find: 2x4,6,10,12 lumber, fence posts, flat stones, etc. We think that raised beds help us get much more production from a small area, they can be covered easily, can be set up for fast installation of windbreaks, etc. They do take a fair amount of investment to set up.

7. South slope. We try to take advantage of south slope to plant early cool-weather crops (like peas)and then follow them with warm-weather crops. Last year tomatoes shaded the peas and we got a couple weeks extra production. Good place for fall crops, too.

8. North slope: This is where all the cool-weather things go. We hope to have a long run of peas this summer and a full selection of greens for our customers all summer.

9. No experience yet but will try this year or next: Row covers (trying now), zip houses (maybe try in fall), plastic for heat (next year), cloches (made some from plastic gallon mile and water jusg but only tried one -- it worked, 32' hoop house under construction for fall crops

Sorry for the long post, guess I'm hooked on this stuff ;-)

Tim Fuller

Erehwon Farm

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We too read E.Coleman's book and are hooked. We purchased a used 100' hoop greenhouse and set up 50' of it last fall. We were late getting some seeds going but did manage to harvest through Dec. We used cold frames made from materials we had on hand. How amazing it was when the lettuce/spinach/chards/oriental greens/etc. started to grow again in March. By mid April it was salads galore and we're just now finishing up harvesting everything that was planted last fall. All this is even more amazing due to the fact that our greenhouse location received only three hours of direct sunlight all winter. Winter in itself was at it's "best" here. Three feet of snow from Dec. to April. We had to continually "shovel" snow away from the greenhouse for fear of it caving in. But I'm sure it also added insulation and protection to the plants.
Since we live off grid and heat with wood, seed starting wasn't as successfull as it can be given consistant heat and light sources. I've heard there are DC grow lights but haven't as yet located them and are unsure how much they would tax our solar system. So much of our greens were started in the cold frames in the greenhouse. The sun has now crested the pine trees that had blocked it during the winter months and is doing wonderful.
We have used row covers for a few years and find them extremely useful. I use them for shading(hung from the hoops of the greenhouse) as they will hold the heat on hot days and wilt lettuce. We also use raised beds and stones to add heat around the peppers.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2003 at 1:23PM
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BArb NY5 you might want to visit the winter seed sowing forum as there are many things you can start outdoors in mini greenhouses that are not dependent upon temperature and are very cold hardy.

I don't have any of this equipment yet to try all the four season things, but I'd like to be better about planting a fall garden and planting things like winter onions, multiplying onions and jerusalem artichokes--things that kind of take care of themselves.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2003 at 9:26AM
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aka_peggy(Central Md 6b)

I grew lettuce in a makeshift cold frame made of straw bales and old storm windows. They survived temps in late February that fell as low as 18 deg without flinching. I have one of those hi-lo thermometers. The lettuces would freeze solid to the touch and it didn't hurt it a bit.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2003 at 4:38PM
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I have mini hoops over my raised beds. I've had tomatoes and pepper plants that survived 22 degrees last month. They are looking good. The hoops were covered in plastic 6 weeks before that. The ground was dry and warm. I didn't cover the ends as I wanted air to circulate. Every year the garden surprises me.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2003 at 4:46PM
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