Thursday, May 14, 2020

Midwest Gardening: The Greenhouse May 12, 2020

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Hi Gardeners! Another post by two old farts trying to live a green life, and grow as much food as we can on a quarter acre. Our new (late last year greenhouse) has had a real work out, and was STUFFED until I moved some plants out to put in the garden. 
Our only claim to gardening skill, is trial and error since 1970. With our climate changes and huge weather fluctuations in N.Illinois, every year is a new experience.

We finally have had a break in the weather. After 3 nights of frost/freeze, the next 10 days look great. I wanted to share the greenhouse at this date before I plant too much outside. Basically everything has been in here since early April. Our quartz heater can maintained 15 degrees higher than outside temps at night on medium, or 20-35 degrees at full blast. So even with freezing temps, we maintained at least 40+ degrees, usually 55 or more.


During the day, we have to watch the temp and open all 5 windows and door, and run the fan if it is sunny. Blowing air makes stems stronger anyway. 

Here you can see a full pan of lettuce in front ready to go in the ground. On the floor are those slow Caladium pots.


Sunflowers 15-18" high, and tomatoes 10-12"
Sunflower seeds from 2016---are ready to hit the ceiling. These are 4-6' Fiesta (red) sunflowers. Some will go in the garden and some by our flag pole in the front.


I held the camera as high as I could to look down. These are San Marzano Tomatoes similar to Romas...and they look great after a slow start. The larger leaves on the right are Early Girls---num, we should have tomatoes by the middle of June.


Asters, Coreopsis, Bachelor Buttons, Echinacea are all doing well. I bought a succulent mat and have been pulling it apart for rocky places. They have already tripled in size and should be perennials.


More sunflowers, these are giant...8-10ft. tall, they will go along the fences where they can be assisted in staying up. We have some winds here.

 I started this Swiss Chard (greens) on 4/19. It was in the colder area of the greenhouse. I will start it in the house next year, and also will plant in ground when these are moved to the garden. Chard is full-flavored and not bitter, rich in minerals and vitamins. Can't wait, it has gotten very pricey in the grocery stores.


Coleus was transplanted 4/10, they are 2 months old. These will go out at the end of the month, if the weather holds. By then, the color variations and size will be distinctive.


I planted two trays like this of peas, one is already in the garden with seeds also. Hopefully all our fencing and gates will keep the critters from eating them down to the ground.

 Most of the Pumpkins (4 different), pole beans, winter squash, zucchini, eggplant, and pickles were laid out in the garden for planting today. I will do photos in the next post. The greenhouse was very crowded, you could hardly turn around.


I don't have the patience for seeding herbs, so I buy small inexpensive plants and make my own herb garden pots.

Marjoram winters over, as will Sage usually-but my Sage plant died last year, so here is a new one ready to go, lower left.


Finally the Caladium bulbs are popping through, as are Liatris, Stargazer lilies. Alliums aren't up yet. Pansy  and Impatiens seeds are very slow---I won't do those again.


Apparently Caladiums like more warmth. So I may just keep them in the house next year as long as I can. I have one pot inside which is over 18" tall now, larger Caladiums and an Elephant ear.


Pots of Dill to mix in with flowers for Butterflies. A GREEN thing to do, Monarchs and Swallowtails like to lay their eggs on the succulent stems.  These are from seed.  Plus they will reseed themselves if undisturbed. 


Here is our 5 x 14x 4 foot high compost pile in the back on April 20, 
before 1 large bale and 2 small of peat moss were tilled in.
One thing we have really noticed is a mixture of our compost pile dirt mixed with potting soil and a little peat moss has produced seeded plants with roots all the way to the bottom of the 28 oz tall glasses. 


Compost pile May12, is down 2 feet as I have filled almost all the pots on our lot. We still have empties on the porch, but I'm going to add moisture control dirt to those pots mixed with this compost. I will fill the bin in the greenhouse(18 cubic feet) for transplanting in spring. Plus the density will help hold temps in Fall.

Composting makes the best soil (we have clay soil, so anything helps). We use grass clippings, leaves, and roots from all our potted plants/vegetables. All our kitchen scraps are broken down in a small spinning compost bin with a microbe additive and later buried under the pile. New stuff goes in back, and we pull it forward as it is broken down, mix in with the rest. 

Compost TIP: (NO meat, oils, dairy products, or banana peels). Since we are cooking at home, I have had more than usual a mount of veggie scraps---usually a 6 quart bowl, every 3-4 days. 

Compost TIP:Coffee grounds and eggs shells are the BEST for a compost pile. 

I will take photos of planting the veggies into the garden. Cool weather veggies first, tomatoes, and peppers last, with a few marigolds and 
sunflowers mixed in. Most of my flowers will be in pots and here and there.

I did move the lettuce and onions outside the greenhouse this week, and I filled all the large pots from the compost pile to the right.

Front to back: Green onions, Bibb Lettuce from seed, and Turnips and Radishes (planted last week and not up yet).


NO MORE: Starter pods, pellets, or peat the future. 

The planting pods silky bags do not breakdown and seem to trap the root systems. When tilling the garden, we found totally encased root balls in their bags from last year's tomatoes. This forced our tomatoes to send out roots from their stems above ground. Cutting the bags before putting in the ground, destroys so many tiny roots also as they try to break through. They just doesn't work the way they are described to. 

The pellets system starts seeds well, but are either too dry or too wet, because of their density. They crumble when transplanting and the roots were very hair-like rather than thick and healthy.

 The peat pots dry out quickly and mold if you water them too much. It's hard to know when to water when the outside always looks dry!


A good quality potting soil that is soft and doesn't clump mixed with our compost soil.

We will reuse the trays with plastic lids or clear covering. I have also started flower seeds in aluminum dollar store baking trays, with lids or covered in plastic wrap.

Poke a few drainage holes in the bottoms, and store on a cheap cookie sheet. Far less expensive than the fancy seed starting trays. And they can be reused.

Next Post: Planting the Garden with a Plan?

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