I made a trip to the farm today because our temperatures have taken an upward swing into to 50’s and 60’s outside which means it’s much hotter in the greenhouse. I wasn’t sure how hot…
The top temp is the highest temp during a period of time, and the bottom is the minimum, with the middle being the current temp. So I’m glad I made the trip to water the plants in the greenhouse. I knew it was going to hot in the house, but this was kind of a shock to me. Our high temp today was only 65 F, so I was expecting somewhere in the high 80’s or low 90’s.
Which is what the high temp in the propagation room was. This room is much smaller and the floor is insulated, so I was expecting this room temperature to be higher than the rest of the greenhouse. Instead the room was actually seven degrees cooler than the rest of the greenhouse. As you noticed, I chose the title, “Now We’re Cooking”. That wasn’t because of the temps in the greenhouse.
It’s because the plants in the greenhouse are convinced that it’s Spring even though it’s really late Winter, more specifically February! No reason for plants to be leafing out, except for the higher temps in the house!
So in addition to potting up 160 hanging baskets for Mothers Day, succession Sowing both veg and flowers seeds, potting up all of the plants that came in Fall, and finish building several raised bed for the seed that I will be sowing, and Oh I also have a landscape company that I run. I will be extremely busy for the next four months.
I must confess, even though I have been quite busy I have been envious of those who have been posting in the FaceBook groups that I follow about sowing all of these seeds. Not that I have extra time laying around. I keep reminding myself that it’s too early. Then I tell myself they must be new and they just don’t know what they are doing. Then today, knowing that I was headed to the farm today I took my seed container with me! I filled several partial trays! …. and I sowed Sweet Peas and Snap Dragons! At least I sowed seeds that are close to being on time. I must confess I really really wanted to sow an entire tray of tomatoes and peppers. It is sooo close to being the proper time, but I held out and didn’t sow any tomatoes or peppers today. I can’t promise that I won’t sow them next week!
Well I was feeling like we were making some real progress on the greenhouse build in preparation for the arrival of the plugs for our hanging baskets this Spring, then suddenly Winter decided to show up with a vengeance. This is obviously our first Winter with the high tunnel so understanding snow loads on a structure that we yet to produce a single plant is extremely important. With this said I have been following weather forecasts and watching the radar to see where the snow and ice was heading. So we have made special runs to the farm specifically to get the snow and ice load off of the top of our high tunnel. The manufacturer has not tested the load capacity so I have no guidance other than common sense. So for the last month very little has been done.
Now what I have been able to do is the necessary things. I laid the foam board in the propagation room. I have temporarily hung the plastic around the propagation room to hold the temperature in the 50’s F. The plan is to hang plywood permanently along the bottom eight feet of the propagation room wall with a clear poly carbonate or acrylic sheet along the top. I had the propane tank filled and the pilot light was lit, so the heating system is ready. I was able to purchase and deliver the wood and tubing for the raised beds so once the weather breaks I can finish both of them. Since the forecast showed the actual temps were going to be in the single digits I was forced to cover the garage door side of the house with film so that I can retain as much heat as possible. The good news it that starting this Sunday the forecast calls for daytime temps in the 40’s and 50’s so hopefully we are done with the Artic cold for the year.
I started building our first raised bed last week. I mentioned in a previous post that I had purchased a hoop bender back in December, well I have officially put it to use. I had three sections of 1/2″ electrical metal tubing at the farm, so I bent them to get this project started. I have not used a hoop bender in the past so I have no experience here. I feel like I say that about most things involved in this farm. Anyway I have watched a few YouTube videos about using a hoop bender and it didn’t seem to be very difficult. Now I only bent three pieces so far, but there is an important factor to keep in mind as you are bending the tube. As you put an initial bend in the first section of the tubing you slide the tubing to continue this process. If you do not keep the bent section level with with unbent section, as you bend it the hoop will become distorted. That is, it will be semi circle but also warped along the horizontal aspect. What is desired is a semi circle along the vertical plane. So with that all said, bending a hoop isn’t difficult as long as you pay attention to what you are doing and take your time with getting a complete bend along the tool and maintain a straight line with the tube.
So the first raised bed in underway. This bed is six feet wide and about sixty feet long. I understand that the typical raised bed is anywhere from three feet wide to about four feet wide. In my situation I need to maximum my usable space. The amount of people that will be in this bed will be very minimal, more than likely just me. I am very aware of compaction in the bed so a wider bed should not be an issue. As far as the usage of this bed, initially I had thought about using it for potted plant production finishing. After thinking it through with positioning of the bed and the location of the high tunnel, it would probably be better used as a direct sow and transplant bed. So I will need to fill this bed with soil and compost and prepare the bed accordingly. More than likely you will see perennial and annual cut flower plants in this bed along with some gourds, and possibly some herbs.
I have plans to build additional raised beds on the property, this will not be the only one. The use of this bed could very well change as the farm continues to evolve. I would expect that eventually this bed would be exclusively used for presentation crops such as cut flower or possibly seasonal crops like pumpkins and gourds. Something that would look nice as you drive past the farm, presentation is very important. We are down to weeks now and we will be sowing seed, and potting up plants for Spring sales, so completion of this bed is important. In our other business we are preparing annual renewals for landscape services. This work also begins in Late February or early March depending on our weather, so it won’t be long and we will be very busy with landscape jobs and farm production and little time for construction projects.
The propagation room is coming along. I was able to get the last 6 fiber boards in place today. These fiber boards need to be taped to eliminate and leaks between the boards.
As you can see from this view, the boards are not completely fitted yet. I am going to have to make some cuts and adjust these boards properly. The 2×4’s are there to keep the boards from curling. I plan on getting this done completed this Saturday. I was able to get several 2×4 boards secured into the wall this week. You might ask why is it taking so long to build two simple walls, and that would be a great question. The answer would be, first of all I’ve been working part time 0500-1000 a.m.to help slow the burn rate of our saved funds that we are living on while off season. So I’m tired, pure and simple. I’ve been trying to get out to the farm as often as possible. Secondly, It has been very muddy on the farm. I had our excavator dump 25 tons of a material that he described as slag. It’s basically crushed stone and the powder associated with the rock. I rented a dingo and laid this material along where the access road are needed and a four foot wide path that leads to the garage door of the high tunnel. This greatly improves getting around on the property, and I’m no longer concerned with getting the truck or trailer stuck now. I really need another 25 tons delivered, but for now I need to remain focused on getting the propagation room completed in time for the hanging basket plugs to arrive in early February.
I bought a hoop bender back in December of last year. The intention of this hoop bender is to create my own hoops for 4 foot wide low tunnel raised beds. One of these beds is planned to run parallel of the high tunnel for the entire 60 feet of the high tunnel and four feet wide. In addition there are plans to have another pad dug just below the high tunnel. This pad will be one hundred twenty feet long, and hopefully I can get a minimum of 20 feet wide. This will allow for considerable growth as we need more growing space.
This pile of rock came from when the excavator dug our water line trench. As you can see this land is very rocky. This is one reason that we will be growing the majority of our plants in raised beds. So we are at a point now that these rocks need to be relocated. Initially my thoughts are that they will go behind the fire pit which you can see in the left side of the above image. The left side of the fire pit is where the hillside begins and the rock would make a good border along the grade change. It may also be a seating option for use of the fire pit. I am wanting to develop this space into at least one, possible two raised beds, then a grassy space with a fence along the entire frontage. So these are some of the short term projects that need to be addressed for the farm to be successful.
Today is Christmas Eve and Gina and I just got back from Christmas Eve service. When the kids were younger this was quite a busy day, especially during the early years when we were in the military. These days Christmas Eve is full of last minute things, baking and cooking for the big day on the 25th! So I wanted to take just a few minutes and update where we are at the farm. My last update was a video update, which I kind of like. There is something more personal about a video than a page of text. That’s what I would like this to be, a personal conversation between you and me. My last video was a spur of the moment idea which I used my iPhone to make. This time I set up the GoPro camera so it should be a much higher quality product. I hope you find these posts on our site to be useful. We acquired this property is May of 2020 and now here we are at the end of December! This land was completely raw and undeveloped. In a short 7 months we have been able to make some large changes to this property. Sharing these changes I believe helps to share who we are and how we look at things. Isn’t that important to know something about those who grow your food? Well we are going to enjoy our Christmas Eve, so we want to wish you a very merry Christmas.
Today I am starting something different. I have always wanted to have videos as a part of the business, they are an incredible way to express ideas and concepts. I was at the farm today working on getting the gas lines completed, and fixing the man door, and I decided that it was time! So I am going to start now. I have a GoPro camera and equipment to make a good quality video, but I didn’t have any if it with me. All I had was my Iphone, so I did a Google search to make sure that I could easily get my video onto YouTube and then embed it into this post. So here it is:
My desire it to continue to make additional videos to share what we are up to on the farm. They will all be kept on a YouTube Channel, this will make them easy to access. If you desire to follow our videos you can subscribe to our YouTube Channel.
Well I am relieved that Derek and I were able to get the last end completed last week. It feels good to know that the greenhouse is pretty much enclosed. The man door that you can see in the image above is still open, and the garage door opening on the other end is without a door. My plan is to build the door for the man door out of the strut and hang it on hinges within the next week. The garage door I will probably wire a sheet of film in place for the winter. This will allow me to do the job right, and not rush through it just to be able to heat the greenhouse this winter.
Speaking of heating the greenhouse, I just signed a contract for Suburban Propane to be our propane supplier for the next year. This was an obvious choice considering that they have an office just four miles away on US-25. They will be delivering a 400 gallon storage tank on December 3, 2020. This causes more work!! I have purchased black iron pipe to run my gas lines for the two new heaters we will be using to start our market plants this Winter. Yes just like the water lines, I will be running my own gas lines. This, just like the water will be a first for me. The concept is actually straight forward, tape the threaded ends and connect them. It’s the same for any of the fittings. I have 1/2″ EMT clamps to mount the pipe inside of the house and along the outside where Suburban will be making their connection.
I have done quite a bit of research on heaters. Natural gas, propane, electric, wood burners, pellet shoves, and alternative methods such as compost heating. Natural gas is not available here so I didn’t do much with this type, electric is expensive, and we don’t currently have a pole set. I like the alternative methods, but I have no experience with this method and I need something that is proven and reliable out the gate. Wood and pellet burning looked to be the best for a couple of reasons. A pellet stove with a larger capacity hopper can burn for long periods of time without needing to be tended. A wood burning stove is a cheap means of heating, especially with all of the wood available on the farm. I have actually purchased a steel 55 gallon drum to build a drum stove. I would build a double drum stove which I have actually found the kit to build it. The issue I have with wood or pellet burning is running the stove pipe for venting. I really needed to finish up the ends, so for now I have put this idea on the back burner. Next Spring I can revisit this and build a gable so that I can pass the pipe through the film without melting anything. Propane heat proved to be the best method under the conditions and situations we have currently. So I have ordered the propane radiant heater pictured above. I did all of the research about radiant and convection heaters. So based on my research our primary heater will be a 22K BTU radiant heater. Now keep in mind we are not planning on heating the entire greenhouse. There is no need for this. I have done the calculations and the 22K BTU heater should be fine for the space we are planning on using for starting our early market baskets. We will be using a 320 sqft. area for basket production this Winter. The plants for the baskets require a 50F minimum temperature, so I assumed a 55F minimum in the calculations. We will need 20,429 BTU to maintain 55F if the temp outside stays above 15F.
That’s where this convection heater comes in. This heater is capable of heating the entire greenhouse. So you might ask, “Why not just use one heater?” Good question. The radiant heater above had a fuel burn rate of 0.274 gallons/hr, This convection heater burns 2.3- 3.7 lbs./hr with propane being 4.2#’s per gallon at 60F. So that’s 2-3 times more fuel than the radiant heater. The name of the game is provide heat at the best price. The radiant heater has a thermostat so it will run on a regular basis when heat is needed. If we have a winter event that requires more than the radiant heater can supply, then the convection heater can supplement the needed heat on a temporary basis. The best of both worlds. My long term plan is to implement thermal mass inside the greenhouse and insulate the floor to reduce heat loss through the ground. We will also use a double drum wood burning stove. The theory is to retain the heat by insulating the ground, to heat the air by burning wood which in turn heats the thermal mass. So what is this thermal mass you ask?
My thermal mass shall be several 275 gallon IBC tanks full of water. Water is a perfect substance to store heat, and water temperature fluctuates very slowly. What you wind up with is a buffering of the inside temperature. The water absorbs the heat all day long during growing season and gives it off at night which keeps temps quite stable. In the winter it absorbs the temps at night which is when you will be heating and buffers during the day. So year around the temperatures are rather stable. erratic temperature swings are really tough on plants that are actively growing, such as our hanging baskets for Mothers day which are trying to make it in February and March. So there is still a lot going on at the farm. We also have plants that need to be potted up for Spring sales. This will be another project over the Winter as we prepare for Spring 2021 sales.
I am very happy to report that we are very close to completing the greenhouse frame build. This has been an ongoing project from August of this year. This was a very ambitious for the family to take on. None of us have any construction experience going into this, just a commitment to the end result, a functional greenhouse.
Gina and I decided to spend the night at the cabin Friday night into Saturday morning instead of getting up early to get to the farm by 08:00. It was a long night with the generator droning on all night in order to keep the heater on. We are also not accustomed to going outside in order to use the restroom in a brisk 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Morning came as it does every day and we would soon embark on the job at hand
So I started a fire in the pit because who doesn’t like a good fire on a crisp Saturday morning? Derek and Meredith arrived at 08:00 and after a quick bite to eat we all got started pulling greenhouse film over a 26 foot wide, 60 foot long steel frame which we have been working on for almost 4 months now.
We worked on the greenhouse all day from sun up to sun down making really good progress. The ladies made a run to Dry Ridge to get us all something for lunch, but other than that we worked non stop until about 4:30. Mer and Der had another engagement that evening and I needed to get a role of greenhouse tape that I had back at the house before the sun went down.
Just like us our greenhouse isn’t perfect. From the beginning I had concerns about the structure being in square, and I had concerns about getting the film attached to the structure. Now here we are and the structure isn’t perfectly square even though I probably measured each section at least six or seven time to ensure it was right. I had no idea if getting the film attached would be successful or not. There are so many things that could go wrong and this isn’t a one man job. God is good to us and the weather was perfect and family has come together even though we all have different things calling for our time to get this greenhouse built correctly. We have not cut any corners even though we were very tired and at times very hot working on this project. We have given all of our abilities to build this structure.
I have been told in the past that I can be tough. This isn’t always a bad thing to not except less than your best. I must say that all of the work has paid off and our greenhouse looks very nice. Best of all it was a labor of love and passion for family. This structure is key to the success of our family farm. This structure brought us all together in a time that families don’t have time for each other, or in some cases don’t like each other. We are a family, and we care about each other. This is our greenhouse and our farm. This is our story and my legacy I’m leaving for them.
So we were able to get the top on and the end with the drive through door on which was a lot of work. Derek and I were very tired at the end of the day. The other end will get attached next Saturday providing the weather is good.
This is the end that I will be working on this next Saturday. It isn’t going to be straightforward because I need to make places for vents and a place to run an exhaust pipe for a drum stove that I’m going to build. So there will be plywood on some sections of the end. I want our greenhouse to look professional so I am planning this out now.
Gina and I took a drive out to the farm today to check on things. I was quite pleased to find that it is bone dry now. So the plan is to spend some time each day getting to wiggle wire bases attached to the frame. Most of the bases have been attached, what’s left is mostly at the peak of the greenhouse frame so I will have to use the scaffolding to reach these points. The temperature is forecasted to rebound at the end of the week to the upper 60’s and lower 70’s. This may be our last chance to finish up and get the greenhouse film attached under favorable weather conditions. So we need to make the most of this weekend for sure!
I made a trip to the farm this afternoon relocate some plants and hopefully get some more of the wiggle worm bases attached to the frame. Unfortunately it was way too wet to work on the greenhouse pad. So I was only able unload plants at the farm. The good news is we are starting to get our yard back at our home! I have several benches that are now ready to make their trip to the farm. Gina and I are excited to get our backyard back, for many years this has been where I have grown all of my plants. Gina has been patient with me over not having a “normal” backyard. So this will be a nice change for us. I’ve been keeping my eyes on the weather forecast over the last several weeks because I am quite aware that time is running out to get the greenhouse complete. I am a bit anxious because there is rain in the forecast several times this week. With the cooler temps the farm doesn’t dry out very fast. I really need two days of dry windless days to finish, so I am praying for better weather conditions before the bottom drops out for the rest of the year.