Monday, November 23, 2009

Mold in the Greenhouse

I was going to wait and post an update after we had successfully overcome our mold in the greenhouse. However, we've been dealing with the mold for a while now, ever since we fertilized the greenhouse a few weeks back. I'm not sure if the blood or bone meal had something to do with the development of the mold, or if it was the fact that we watered two days in a row and it's been fairly cold. Either way, the mold has gotten pretty bad. We haven't watered since we fertilized (maybe 2+ weeks?) but the soil remains damp. We used a heater for a couple days, but it only made a difference of a degree or two since the greenhouse is large.

The mold around the winter density lettuce isn't too bad. But the mold below on the bibb head lettuce is starting to overtake the plants.

Believe it or not, that is a slight improvement from a week ago. We've been opening the windows on days that get above 40 degrees and put a fan out in the greenhouse but it hasn't been enough. Short of investing a lot of money in getting power to the greenhouse, multiple fans and a heater, I think we just have to wait for things to dry out.

We're still not giving up on trying to grow some food through a Montana winter. We've got the upstairs solarium going with a number of potted plants. Things are doing very well up here as the light is excellent and the temperature staysmoderate. At night, it gets down to about 50 degrees or so, but that doesn't seem to be too cold. In the future, I think we will try to add some shelving so that we can make better use of this space. I would love for it to turn into a jungle of different plants some day.

You can see in the pictures that we've got a new addition to the house. We picked up Zoe last week from an animal shelter in Idaho. She is an 11-mo old border collie mix. She's a sweetheart who was surrendered to the animal shelter by her owners who kept her in their garage full-time. She loves being an indoor dog and cuddling with us on the couch. I can't imagine her living in a garage! She is a handful right now but is picking up basic commands pretty quickly. I think in a month that she'll be pretty well behaved.

This weekend we installed an invisible fence around our acre (out in the snow!) and have been training the dogs on it. They are doing pretty good with the training and we're hoping that they can be trusted off leash in the yard in a couple weeks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Progress in the Greenhouse

Progress in the greenhouse has been pretty slow, but things have been growing along steadily. We've lost less than 5% of what we planted and transplanted which I think is pretty good. The radishes above are taking off, and we'll be thinning them in the next couple days. It's still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around.

I've added a couple hanging baskets in the greenhouse. The one pictures contains some marjoram, chamomile, lavender and violas. I hope it looks pretty once everything grows up!

The fennel definitely looks like fennel. This must be a good sign, right?

Burpee's golden beets. These are finally starting to get a little bit bigger. Maybe in the next month or two we can thin some of these out and eat the greens.

This is bibb head lettuce. All of the leaf vegetables (arugula, endive, winter density lettuce) have been doing very well and making good progress.

Lastly, an update on the development of our garden. We're almost done mulching, but decided to burn out some stumps that were left at the edge of the garden before we mulch that area so that we don't set the mulch on fire. Good plan, eh? Once these get done burning, it'll take a couple more truckloads to finish mulching the garden. I'm already drawing up designs for the garden, figuring out fencing and thinking about ordering seeds in the next couple months.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Soil Testing (and More Mulch)

To start off with, we bought a soil testing kit at the local hardware store yesterday just so we could know what kind of battle we're up against. A little late with regards to the greenhouse soil, but for some reason I had assumed that soil was very good. It turns out that the plants in the greenhouse have never even heard of a little something called nitrogen. The level of nitrogen in that soil and all other soil we tested from around our yard did not even register on the test we used. We also were quite low on phosphate- in the depleted range. The pH of our soil was fairly good, around the slightly acidic to neutral range and it turns out that we're rolling in the potash around here.

To remedy those problems we got a couple 50 pound bags of blood meal and bone meal. Cost around $100 for both. The blood meal we spread at a rate of 1 cup per 20 square feet in the greenhouse and the bone meal 1 cup for 30 feet. We'll test our soil in the greenhouse again in a week or two to see what progress we made. As far as the soil outside goes, I think our plan is to wait till we get some topsoil in the spring and just work from there. We're still debating about whether we want to do all raised beds or a combination of raised beds and a regular row garden. At that point we'll probably use some ground hoof and horn in combination with the blood meal to bring nitrogen levels up. Longer-term, we'll be using a crop rotation plan and growing some green manures eventually to increase nitrogen in the soil.

I wanted to share some pictures of our free mulch source. This place is amazing! Considering the massive quantities of mulch that they have, t is no wonder that they are giving this stuff away for free. I think each truck load we get saves us around $75 to $100 as compared to purchasing the mulch. Definitely well worth our time and effort.

These pictures don't even really do the giant mulch pile justice. From where I am standing to take each picture, I am probably standing on 30 feet of mulch.

Lastly, a gratuitous picture of a basket of soap that I made. I'm donating this to an upcoming fundraiser for the hospital I work at. There are 12 bars of my soap in there, some candles, a lavender eye mask and a loofah scrubber. I hope someone likes it!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mulching at Night

We've made some progress with the mulching. These pictures make it look like we're almost done, when in reality we've probably got about 15-20 more truck loads of mulch ahead of us. Thank goodness this stuff is free!

Anyways, here is what we did with our Friday night.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mulching in the Rain

Here are some pictures of the future garden site. We will be starting of with a 50 x 75 foot plot. We have room in the yard to expand at some point, and have plans for a fruit tree orchard, but right now we're just concentrating on veggies and berries.

The garden will be just to the right of the greenhouse. It will back up to the trees and be even with the front steps of the greenhouse. You might be able to see in some of these pictures, or guess, that our soil quality is pretty poor. We're planning on using raised beds to overcome this, and bringing in topsoil. Eventually we'll have our own compost to add into the mix as well.

Most of the grass that you can see on the far side of the compost bin will become garden. We'll have to take out a couple trees to start with.

I took this picture standing on the western boundary of the garden. The garden will extend to about 5 feet from the driveway and the side of our house. It is about 50 feet from the greenhouse to the trees on the left.

Based on some comments from my previous post, and feedback from my all-knowing mother, we decided that the best organic bet for mass weed killing for our future garden would be mulching or "sheet composting," if you will. Today we hit the free mulch get-as-much-as-your-back-can-handle jackpot! This should be no surprise as we live in a logging town, but we feel very fortunate to have found such a wonderful source of mulch. The mulch has some larger pieces, but it has aged for some time (in a town of 2,000 people, how much free mulch can people really consume?) and has broken down a lot. To my largely untrained eyes, it looks like pretty good quality for free!

Despite the rain, we got our first load of mulch today. Hmm.. maybe 20 more to go? It looked like so much more in the back of our truck.

I'll post completed mulching pictures as soon as we are down. Hopefully the snow will stay away for another week or two while we complete this project. After that - bring on the snow!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Advice on weed killing

If anyone reads this post - I would love to get some advice on large scale organic weed killing. We have a large area that we are planning to use for our vegetable garden next year. Maybe 100x75' or so. Currently it is covered in weeds that have seed pods on them. The weeds are dried out and dormant right now.

We are trying to figure out the best way to prepare this area for an early start in the spring. Our idea right now to do things organically is to mow the weeds and hopefully remove some of the seed pods by bagging clippings and disposing of this material. Then we're thinking about roto-tilling the rest of the weeds into the first few inches of soil. To prevent additional seeds from blowing over and to suppress weed growth in the spring, we were thinking about putting landscaper's black fabric down somewhat permanently. Then in the spring, we'll build our raised beds on top of this, and just mulch the pathways.

Does this sound like a good idea? Comments would be very appreciated!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Jeff built us a compost bin today!

It looks great! Now we just need to find some things to compost.....

Finished product.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Greenhouse Transplants

We transplanted the rest of our plants to the greenhouse. They were looking pretty healthy, so why not? We're forecasted to have lows in the 30's this week, so it is a relatively safe time to put stuff in the greenhouse.

Here is some bibb head lettuce looking healthy.

Early vienna kohlrabi... (I have a hard time thinning plants - I know, I really need to get over this.)

Sweet curled fennel...

and some Brunswick cabbage.

We're crossing our fingers that things keep looking good!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's happening in the greenhouse

I mentioned before that we had some passive solar heating in the greenhouse. Here is a picture of the high-tech system we've got. Ta-dah! Metal drums filled with water. The sunlight hits these drums during the day warming the water which then radiates heat out at night. It is difficult to tell what gain we get from these, but it must be better than nothing. Unfortunately, with our hopes of winter gardening in such a cold climate we'll be needing some additional heating features and insulation. Right now, we have some experimental bubble wrap placed over top of some beds. That really seems to help and we might end up using some bubble wrapped hoop houses within the greenhouse. We'd rather not actively heat the greenhouse if at all possible.

Below you will see our current pride and joy - the radishes! We planted these about 2 weeks ago directly into the beds. They are just starting to get true leaves, but look very healthy. When we had a cold snap down to 1 degree Fahrenheit last week we lost a couple, but some were completely frozen and still pulled through.

Below are some onions that we direct sowed about 2 weeks ago. Grow onions, grow!

These are burpee's golden beets that we direct sowed 2 weeks ago.

Lastly, here is the arugula. We started these indoors about 2-3 weeks ago. I panicked about winter coming last week and we transplanted these way early against all of the sound gardening advice out there. However, we got lucky and most survived.

So that is what's going on right now! I wish we'd been able to move in to the house a few weeks earlier to get a better jump-start on winter. We've had snow 4 times already! It is crazy cold weather, even for Montana. Next year I'll be starting the winter veggie crop at least 3 weeks earlier.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Citrus & Snow

With winter coming, we've been spending a good deal of time collecting firewood. I had never done this before, but with the cost of a wood permit being $5 it is such a cheap way to heat our home. I wasn't looking forward to getting our wood, but I've actually had a lot of fun spending time out in the woods while being productive. Here I am posing with the truckload of firewood that we worked hard for!

We're trying to get 2 cords of wood for the winter. Our goal is to heat the house with the wood stove only. I think we'll be able to do this as we've already been here 2 weeks with night-time lows consistently in the teens to 20's and haven't had to use any type of heating. We our very excited by how energy efficient our home seems to be! Our house is one of a couple hundred in the US called an Ekosea house. The way it works is very cool. Here is a link to a website about this style of home: Ekosea homes.

I'm hoping that the solarium will make a lovely climate for our new citrus trees. We have now got dwarf lime, lemon and mandarinquat. With the sun and temperature in the solarium I think they will thrive. I can't hardly wait for them to reach their mature height of 6-10 feet. The solarium will feel like a tropical jungle!

Lastly, some gratuitous pictures of the pets. Meet Chloe the quaker parrot.

Here is our puppy Noah. This was his first time in the snow. He loved it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Look Closely

Look closely and you just might see the rainbow swiss chard seedlings that we transplanted this morning into the greenhouse. We are crossing our fingers that these were not too small to transplant. I found conflicting answers about when to transplant from a variety of resources, and being the impatient person that I am - I went with the advice that you transplant right after the true leaves start to show up. I think part of my impatience is coming from the fact that winter is almost here. On the mountain next to our house we can see that the snowline is only a couple hundred feet above us. In fact, I think we're going to have snow tonight. Then later this week we are forecasted to have night time lows in the single digits!

In the picture above are the radishes that we direct sowed about a week and a half ago. They are doing great and I just sowed another row of each type - purple globe, white globe and white icicle.

These beds contain tom thumb lettuce, bibb head lettuce and arugula. Also started indoors and transplanted this morning. All of these seedlings had true leaves that have been showing for the past 2 days. Too early? We'll see.

This critter is estimated to be the largest threat to the crops in the greenhouse. This is our 3 1/2 month old puppy Noah. He loves to eat dirt and almost took out our sprouting onions this morning when we weren't watching close enough! Gotta love puppies.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Citrus Trees

I just put in my order for some citrus trees. I chose to go with Four Winds Growers after reading excellent reviews online. Their prices are more expensive than other companies, but it sounds like the trees will arrive in great condition and be fruiting earlier than trees ordered from other companies.

Bearss lime

Meyer Lemon

I ordered an "improved" meyer lemon, a bearss seedless lime and an indio mandarinquat. Jeff wants to get an indoor mango tree as well, but we're going to wait a little while on that one.
In the greenhouse the carrots, beets and some onions started coming up. Everything else is doing really great. We are now just waiting on the leeks to germinate.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I'm so glad to finally be able to post some pictures of the greenhouse! We've been in the new house for almost a week and are having so much fun. The internet was just hooked up today, so it's back to life as we know it.

Before we had even finished moving our things over to our new pad, we had the greenhouse beds prepped and planted. This task took me and Jeff about 1 1/2 days of digging, watering and breaking up soil clods. It seems like the previous gardener used lots of peat in the greenhouse beds which were bone dry after 2 years of not being touched. We learned that just trying to water bone dry peat is like watering concrete! It doesn't work. The soil is nice and damp now though!

So far, only the spinach and radishes have germinated in the greenhouse and we are waiting on the onions, carrots and beets. In the solarium I have 2 seed trays going with lots of lettuce, chard, cabbage, leeks, onions, herbs, violas, arugula, turnips, endive.... and others that I'm sure I'm forgetting. These are going strong and I'm thinking about hardening off and transplanting in the next couple weeks.

We've got a min/max thermometer out in the greenhouse with a probe inside and outside. We've been getting down to 28-32 degrees at night outside, and the lowest greenhouse temperature was 48 degrees. During the day it's been averaging between 60 and 75 outside but the greenhouse has gone up to 110-120! I'm thinking we need to get some better fans installed than the small solar ventilation fans in the greenhouse right now. I don't imagine many plants will do well with such drastic temperature extremes.
So that is the story of the greenhouse at this point. Jeff and I are both drooling over the thought of our own fresh veggies soon! I've been digging up recipes with arugula and radishes to be ready for our first crops.

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Frost and Starting Seeds

I am still awaiting a shipment of seeds that should be getting here in the next couple days. In the meantime though, I bought some discount seeds($0.25 per packet) from the local hardware store just so that I could have something that was starting to grow. Fall starts tomorrow, so at least a couple of my plants are now getting their chance before the end of summer!

Tonight we put the following seeds in a starting tray: sweet marjoram, common chives, garlic chives, viola, chamomile, coleus, and lavender. These are plants that we'll probably be using in the solarium. I have some other herbs on the way, but didn't order these kinds for whatever reason.

On a side note, we had our first light frost out here in Montana this morning. It is a bit crazy to think of how excited I am getting for a garden that won't even get going before the first frost this year. Not surprisingly, I started researching various heating options for the greenhouse this winter. The girls at work were reminiscing about -30 degree temperatures today, and it seems like maybe having a heater to use during those cold snaps might be a good idea.....

Only a couple more days till we get to move in. Closing is on Friday at 2:30!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Avoid Heirloom Acres Seed Company

Well I'm off to a rough start with the garden so far! I had ordered about 25 different seed varieties from Heirloom Acres Seed Company 2 weeks ago. I was hoping to have seeds germinated and just about ready to stick in the beds in the greenhouse by the time we moved in. I never received any information from Heirloom Acres about shipping dates and times, it just says on their website that orders rarely take longer than 2 weeks to be received. I've e-mailed them a few times with no response and left phone messages that go un-returned. Unfortunately, it looks like I was fooled by a slick looking website. Further investigation reveals that many people have filed complaints with the BBB over Heirloom Acres, have received no product and no refund despite many calls and e-mails.

For my next order of seeds, I've done some research and found a company with great reviews - Victory Seeds. Live and learn I guess..... While shopping on the internet is fairly common place now a days, this serves as a reminder to me to do some background research before purchasing a product through an unfamiliar company.


Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm starting this blog as a gardening journal for me to organize my thoughts, track my progress and try to get motivated to complete all of the projects that are floating around in my head. I've also learned a great deal from reading other people's gardening blogs, and am hoping that I have some success with my garden that other people might learn from.

In about a week, my husband and I will move into our first house. We were lucky to find the house of our dreams that is loaded with gardening potential. It has a 2-story solarium that provides some passive/solar heating to the house, a large green-house, and an acre of rough land that needs to be developed.

Over the past 6 or so years as I've completed school, my husband and I have been chomping at the bit to get to this point in our lives. We both believe strongly in leading a sustainable and low-impact life-style to the greatest extent possible. Growing and storing our own food from the garden will be a big piece of that. We also plan to raise chickens for meat and eggs, and raise bees to start with.

On the horizon for our first projects, include some experiments with indoor gardening as fall and winter are approaching. I've ordered a variety of cold-hardy vegetable seeds that we plan to start in the solarium and then move to the beds in the greenhouse. We are dreaming of harvesting things like arugula and radishes while it's snowing outside. We don't yet know if this is just wishful thinking or if it is a definite possibility in the greenhouse. At this point, we do not plan to heat the greenhouse, but may incorporate some type of heating in the future. In the solarium, we will also be growing some indoor trees: meyer lemon, kumquat, kaffir lime and possibly mango. I expect that the short Montana days will have a significant effect on the flowering and fruiting of these trees, but we've got to at least try.

On the outdoor front, we plan to get started preparing the soil for the raised bed and row garden that we are already planning for next spring and summer. This involves removing an invasive weed, digging up some grass, removing rocks, and amending the soil. We've talked about trying to grow a short cover crop as green manure, but we might not have enough time to do that before the cold weather hits us up here.

Below are some pictures of the house that we'll be moving into soon!