Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mini greenhouse

I like the stackable shelves, they allow me to do several flats of seedlings at the same time. The biggest drawback I have on the shelves is they are not adjustable. The plastic tubes are a specific length and you cannot adjust them without cutting the tubes.

So I studied the shelves and found a way to make them adjustable. I cannot say this is true on all shelves but on the sets I have purchased, where the tubes pop into the corner of the shelves is an opening. So the tubes actually rest on a thin lip of plastic.

Looking at this, if the tubes were narrower, you could move the shelves up and down. So I thought what could I use for the tubes. I love hardware or home improvement stores, and in my wandering, I came across white PVC pipes. They are stiff enough to make not only shelving but I have seen complete greenhouses made from them. They would work well for my shelving.

I had to do some adjustments though as the opening in the corners was not large enough to accomodate the pipe I purchased. So you might want to measure before you buy, but if you don't and you do as I did, there is an easy fix. You can grind out the plastic to fit the size of your pipe with either a file or a drill bit.

Then I had to find a way to make them adjustable. Most shelving units today have little wooden or metal pegs that hold the shelves, so I wanted something similar. I have purchased wooden skewers from the dollar store for many uses but they have come in really handy for this. I measured out increments on each of the pipes I used and then drilled holes with a bit just larger than my skewers. Now I had an adjustable shelf system.

Now I had to find a way to light it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Growing space

An issue I have come across in my gardening is space to start my seeds inside. While they are germinating they don't take up much space. Once they are put into a growing medium they need a lot more room. I see a lot of talk of basements or spare rooms. I don't have either of those. I have 1 large window in my dining room.

When working with the basic trays you can buy at almost any store come spring, I usually need several when starting my garden. These trays or flats measure 10-1/2" x 20-7/8" and are not very strong, so they need support. So I had to find an economical way to have these in my dining room.

The answer I found was the stackable plastic shelving units. They consist of 4 or 5 plastic shelves supported by plastic tubing. I like the ones that have are not solid shelves but are more of a mesh type, they allow more air circulation.

After I found these, I did some modification to improve them for my gardening purposes, but I will continue with that tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


This has been a week, I should probably say winter.

We have had a couple of large snow storms where the snow did not melt between them.  So the first snow was shoveled aside and then the new snow stacked on top of it.  It compacted the orginal snow into ice.  Then we got more snow.  I don't mind snow, good thing.  As a gardener in a dry area snow is a good thing.

Snow on ice is another matter. Getting a fresh skiff of snow on the ice makes for treacherous traveling whether in a car, on foot and as much and sometimes more so for our four legged friends.  This week has been a lot of ice.

Another phenomenon where I live is a wind called "chinooks".  This is a warm wind from the southwest normally. Chinooks often blow at speeds from 30 to 60 mph but they can reach over 100 mph, and as the name says they "eat" snow and ice. They also cause midwinter thaws (we have a very active freeze/thaw cycle due to this).

So this week, all the snow is gone and we have water on the ice, and even more slippery conditions.  Roads are clear, but driveways and walkways are not.  Luckily this is the second day of the chinooks and the ice is going too.

Stay safe and warm, no matter where you are.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Germination method I use

As I said I use a method I refer to as the filter or papertowel method. The filter method is also known as Deno method (Norman Deno). There are many other names for it too, I am sure.

The first thing you will need is your seeds and how many you need for your garden per previous calculations. The one that will require more than 1 baggy is peas and perhaps corn if you are doing that much. I don't know that you will do all of your peas at one planting or a series (which is what I plan to do). If you do it all at once, the recommended number of peas is 150. To give your seeds the room and moisture needed for germination, I recommend breaking this into at least 4 bags or even 6. Also since peas are larger seeds, I would use a papertowel instead of or in conjunction with the filter, just to give it enough moisture. In my series of plantings with peas, I intend to start 20-22 of each of my varieties.

Then I get out my filter (and a papertowel for moisture mentioned above), fold them to fit in the baggie (by laying it on the bag) and dampen them with unsoftened water - the water where I live is HARD so we have a salt softener and I don't want that salt in my gardening projects. I won't go into folding it, because each person has a preference, so use your own, but the seeds will be "growing" in this, so make sure you can unfold easily.

Taking your seeds place them in the folded filter, and with the papertowel (if using one) place inside the baggie. Wipe off the outside of the baggie with a dry towel so that you can label it with name, date and number of seeds. As I said I use a dry erase marker - some people use a sharpie. I just am careful when handling the bags so I don't wipe them off.

I usually start the germination process two days before the date I indend to plant. So I will do my starts on saturdays and planting (either indoor or outdoor) on Monday. Some people let them go longer than that, but I don't like to let them go beyond that as they mold or grow into the filter/papertowel.

A great hint I just picked up was to store the baggies upright. This is a great tip because then your seeds all germinate in the same direction, with the root going down and not into the filter/papertowel.

This method works for me, but if it isn't to your taste, use what works for you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Germination supplies

Besides ordering seeds now is the time to get all of your supplies together and organized.

The first step in starting a garden is germination - I use the filter (or papertowel) method. For this method you need coffee filters (or papertowels, which I have not priced). The best buy I can find is the dollar store - most have 50 filters for $1.00. This makes it a cost of 2 cents for each set of seeds you germinate. Fairly cost effective.

The next thing you will need is a reclosable plastic baggie for each filter. The recommended size is 3x4 for the filter. The best price I could find for that exact bag is $6.75 for 1000 bags (should last you several years, unless you have a very large garden club). Also these are reusable, so after use you can wash out and use again next year. If you only used each bag once, the cost per attempt at germination is .68 cents.

I found the bags at 

The total for each attempted germination would be 2.68 cents. Divide that by the number of seeds you attempt to germinate and the cost is minimal.

You can also purchase dry erase markers at the dollar store for 4 fine tip for $1.00. I use these to label the bags and other things. Hard to calculate the cost of these due to multiple uses for these markers.

I will go into this germination method in my next blog...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Journal Pages

The first page I will share is a plant/seed journal page. This gives the specifics from the website I ordered the seed from. It includes product details, pricing information, seed starting and transplanting dates. I have a notes area and a large blank area for either the seed packet itself or copies of it to be pasted in. I will probably scan this information in and paste it to the spreadsheet. I will put this in a sheet protector so that I can have it in the garden but I don't want to laminate it because I will need to write on it. I will also add a photo protector page so that I can add pictures for future reference.

The second page is my daily journal - I started with March 12, 2011. This is the day I start my vegetable garden with soaking of the tomato seeds. I have the temperature, precipitation, and wind for that day. I can put in the low temp from the night before, but I cannot put the high temp in from that day until that evening or the next day. I will also have to do that with precipitation and wind as well. Then I have lines for each plant I chose to plant (including the seeds I have not bought yet, but will soon. Then I can note on each one how many seeds germinate, transplant, die off, height (if I get that detailed) and other little factors. When I have all this information completed after harvest I can go back and note the plant/seed journal page with my findings.

As I know when I will be starting my seeds, soaking, planting, transplanting or planting them, from my calendar entries, I can now go in and fill in days in my journal so I know what I am doing on a specific day. By filling this information in now, I don't have to do it later, leaving time for other observations and giving myself time to enter this into the computer each morning so I have a back up.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but if you intend to do this for any length of time, you will appreciate it when you know exactly what works in your garden, what you liked and what you did not. This will help you grow a garden with little extra work later and get what you like.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Garden Journal

I find keeping this information in a journal is useful because as I said in a previous entry a lot of areas are mixed zones, and you might be more mixed than you think. You might have a slightly warmer or colder microclimate than what the zone map shows. By keeping this record and comparing it to your nearest weather station, you can see the difference.

You can find the nearest weather station on the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration) website.

As of this writing if you put your city and state - say Bismarck, ND - in the box in the upper left hand side under Forecast it will bring up the stations in that area with a small map which you can click on to find the closest one to you. Above the map will be the radar images and just above that you can look at the last 3 days information for your weather station. So if you miss a few days, you can use this information to help you out.

For those who are into spreadsheets, a lot of this information is able to be put into a spreadsheet for your records. I like spreadsheets and actually use them for my journal/calendar. I will include samples of my journal sheets in the next entry.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I ended with a reference to your calendar. I recommend some sort of calendar or plan when planting a garden. I found a great reference to use.

After you have picked out your seed, or even during the selection process, put your last and first average frost dates into this and then put in the days to maturity of the seed you are using and it will tell you when to start/plant seeds for your area and if you can have two plantings, spring/fall.

Then you can just write down on a wall calendar or desk calendar when you need to start them. I would also put the frost dates on this as well. Another handy thing to add to a calendar would be daily high and low temperatures. If you are so inclined and have the means, you can add precipitation. For my area, wind is also a consideration.

I would use a desk calendar or a daily journal type calendar for keeping larger amounts of information. A daily journal type calendar would also be handy to keep from year to year for comparison, and to perhaps pass onto another generation in your area.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cold Hardiness Zone Map

So you have ordered your seeds or are still working on it. How much time do you have to grow what you ordered?
A great reference is a cold hardiness zone map. This is a detailed map of the "zones" for the U.S. Example is Kansas City, MO. This is mostly a 5 zone, and most zones are broken into a and b. It shows that it can be a combination between 5b and 6a. My suggestion if you live in combination area, you use the lower zone for planning/growing purposes. In my part of the world due to the mountains we have 3a through 4a combination. I always plan for 3a then I know it will survive the winters here, if I am doing long term plantings.

Using this will help you plan your garden. On the back of many seed packages there is a simplified version of this with a general time frame in which to plant if you live in this area. It will also tell you if you need to start the seeds indoors or direct sow.

Using this information and your seed packets, you can start your calendar.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


My yard is on an incline, so I have to have several beds to do my gardening.

The reasons for this amount to one word - drainage. This applys to not only water but air as well.

The lower end of my yard is in a shallow valley. This causes issues in the spring when the snow melt begins and my yard floods for days on end. In a dry land farming area, my neighbors don't empathize with me at all, but it makes it difficult to get down there to do any planting. So I have beds at the upper end of my house along the driveway, as mentioned in my first post, and on the south side of my house for spring planting.

This shallow valley also suffers from cold air drainage as well. There can be a 3 degree temperature change from that part of my yard to my mom's who lives 1/2 a block up the hill from me. This makes for a shorter growing season in that area of my yard. I often have to wait until the first week of June to plant this area due to temperature and drainage.

So the bed on the southern side of my house and the one on the east side of my yard, they are both uphill and are not affected by the drainage. They work well for earlier plantings, such as peas, or spinach, cool weather plants that don't need to be wet. The bed in the lower end of my yard is actually good for plants that require more water, such as corn, and by planting according to the these needs, I use less water.

So location is a large factor when planning where to put your garden(s).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Space considerations

Another major issue with gardening is space. I am lucky that I have a large yard and I can make it all into a garden if I want to. The biggest reason I do not do this is because there is only one of me and a garden that large would leave no time for anything else.

The largest space users are squash with 1 plant every 1 1/2 to 2 ft (squared), if you use the square foot garden method. They only recommend that you have 3 plants per person so all in all you would only be using 6 ft (squared). That would by 3 ft by 2 ft, not that bad. Melons are a little less space with one plant per square foot and a recommended number of 3 so 3 square feet. Those items you need more of may require a lot more space. Peas for example, for storage they recommend 150 plants per person. You can fit 8 pea plants into a square foot, so you would need 18.75 square feet for them. Using 4 x 4 beds (which I don't, but my mother does) you would need 1.25 beds of just peas. I use longer beds so it would be 9.5 feet by 2 feet wide of just peas. That actually isn't that bad, but if you have more than 1 person, you then multiply that by the number of people and we start talking space. Corn is a very large space user. They recommend 1 plant per square foot and 40 plants per person. That is 40 square feet of space for 1 person. My mom would need 3.25 4x4 beds of corn for her alone. Corn does not lend itself to this, but I like to grow it for summer barbeques and the like, but not necessarily for storage.

If you don't have a lot of space, say you are in an apartment or townhouse, and don't have a yard to garden in, you can do container gardens. Almost all plants can be done in containers, and most seed companies will even note their recommendations for containers. I will go into container gardening due to the difference in needs for this type of gardening.

So take into account what space you have to work with, and the more space you use, the more time you will need.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My garden plans so far....

Using the previous two days posts I will now show you what I have for my garden so far.

I purchased seed before christmas with a coupon for $20 off a $40 order.

First item I bough was - Northern Xtra Sweet Bicolor (sh2) Sweet Corn for $5.99 for 250 seeds (germination of 90%) so 225 seeds making each one $0.0266 then multiplying that by 40 (corn plants per person (if you have the space) for freezing/canning) you come up with $1.0649 for a years supply of corn. So I will list the name, the price, total seed count, 90%, cost per seed, then cost per person. I will list this one as the first item.
Northern Xtra Sweet Bicolor (sh2) Sweet Corn
Northern Xtra Sweet Yellow (sh2) Sweet Corn
Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach
Danvers Half Long Carrot
Maestro Shell Peas
Lincoln Shell Pea
Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea
Buttercrunch Lettuce
Cherry Belle Radish
Ruby Queen Beet
Early Contender Bush Beans
Medley Blend of Hybrids Summer Squash
Delicious Tomato
Beefsteak (VF) Tomato
Bon Bon Hybrid Winter Squash
Waltham Butternut Winter Squash

So for $10.98 you can grow the above and have enough for a year. The ones in red are "duplicates" - I bought two colors of corn, 3 types of peas, two types of tomatoes, and two types of winter squash. So if I had only bought the most expensive of these, my per person cost would be $8.27 before discount. I paid $9.85 in shipping for a total of $57.59, minus the discount it came to $37.69. So the cost with shipping after discount was 81.49% of total seed cost. 81.49% of $8.27 is $6.52 for produce for 1 person per year. How much produce can you buy for that? Enough for 1 week even?

Food for thought...

Monday, January 3, 2011

How many plants?

My plan for my garden is to provide enough for my family not only for the gardening/harvest seasons but for the rest of the year. So I wil be planning on a garden large enough to can some of the harvest - my children love fresh vegetables.

Going by the general knowledge available on researching the web, I decided to look at beans. Since I live in an area with a very short growing season, I don't do dried beans, yet. Beans come as bush or pole beans. Bush beans have a shorter time to yield while pole beans take longer. There isn't a whole lot of difference say for Blue Lake - 58 days for bush or 65 days for pole beans. I do bush beans because I have had good experience with them and little with the pole beans due to the high winds in my area.

The productivity seems to be much in favor of pole beans. They yield almost twice as much per plant as a bush bean does. The average given for plant per person on the web is 10 plants. But if you get twice as much from a pole bean as from a bush bean, you need to take this into account. In checking gardening forums I found that one garden said they had a yield of 6.4 lbs of beans from a pole bean plant while the average for a bush bean was 3.33 lbs. If you planted 10 plants per person of the pole beans, with the average serving of 4 ounces (with 16 oz in a pound), you would be able to have beans as a side at 256 meals in a year (calculation would be 10 plants x 6.4 lbs x 4 (4 servings per pound)). If you did it this with bush beans it would come out to 133 meals in a year. So it depends on how much you like beans what you would plant. Green beans are a big favorite in my household, so I would be safe in planting more of the bush beans as I would not have as much to harvest.

Research yields on the variety of seeds you choose for your garden and take this into account when choosing how much to buy and plant.

Here are the general guidelines for plants per person.
10 bean
20 beet
5 broccoli
5 brussel sprout
5 cabbage
3 cantaloupe
20 carrot
5 cauliflower
20 onion
5 pepper
10 potato
20 radish
10 spinach
3 squash
5 tomato
20 turnip

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Time to plan and prepare

The picture is of my driveway, on the left side of which I have a bed in progress.  You can's see it for the snow, so now is the time to plan and prepare for spring. 

I have received several seed catalogs in the mail and I love to look at them.  They all have coupons that if you buy a certain amount you will get that amount free.  This is a great way to save but only if you are going to use what you buy.  A suggestion I have is to get together with your neighbors/friends/gardening group and buy together.  That way you have a use for all of the seeds you order and if you get enough people together, then you can buy several varieties to see what works for your area.  Also, you will also have some of everything, so if you want to grow zucchini (and you don't need many of these), but another in your group does not, everyone gets what they want. 

Most seed packets come with many more seeds than 1 gardener needs in a year.  Examples I just pulled from some seed packets. Spinach packet has 1200 seeds, corn, 250 seeds, pepper,100 seeds, peas, 225 seeds, beans, 150 seeds.  With new seeds the germination should be at least 90% (or you need to change seed companies) you don't need this many of anything unless you are doing a community garden, or you have a large family.  With the examples I gave above, 1200 spinach seeds would yield 1080 spinach plants, and the recommended plants per person is 10 plants.  That means you have enough seed for 108 people.   Sharing is a great idea, and the cost is (say $3.99 packet of 1200 seeds with 1080 germinated seeds so $3.99/1080 is $.00369 per plant or 3.7 cents for 10.  A can of spinach just doing a quick search is $1.49.  That is quite a savings. 

So continuing the example, now using my household, I have two teenage children, one of which I would testify must eat his body weight in food each day, I would plan for a 4 person garden.  So I would need 40 plants making the spinach a cost of 14.7 cents for my family for spinach.  So for 1/10 of the price of 1 can of spinach I can grow my own for my entire family.  I will go with this number for now but later I will also add in the cost of canning them. 

So go get those seed catalogs and your friends, and happy planning!