Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

A Cold Start.

Posted on | February 21, 2016 | 1 Comment

Heavy snow and ice in February have been common the last couple years.  So last year’s garden went in later than usual to avoid a last minute freeze.  I didn’t even plant in the greenhouse until mid-March.  But I  have high hopes for this year.  I intend to take back the spring garden by force or fertilizer or flower pot heaters.  Whatever it takes.

So I started with spray paint.  The blue 55 gallon drums that I use in the greenhouse got a coat of black paint.  Since the drums were already filled with water I had to paint them in place and spend several days airing out the fumes.  I also painted the piece of scrap wood I use as potting table and considered painting all the shelves.  But I was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous from painting in an enclosed space so I decided to save that for another year.  Nothing makes you appreciate freezing 20 degree February air like staggering out of a warm cozy greenhouse filled with hazardous airborne chemicals.  Just so you know, the cheapest black spray paint found at WallyWorld is not low-VOC.  Not at all.

In any case, I think the black barrels will absorb heat better during the day and then emit it slowly during the cold nighttime hours.  And any bit of heat after the sun goes down makes a difference.

I used tea light heaters in the greenhouse last year and was very happy with them.  They managed to keep the greenhouse at 40 degrees even when the nighttime temperatures dropped to 20 degrees.  Of course, that was just the ambient temperature in the greenhouse as measured by a thermometer that sits in the middle of the space.  I expect they do a better job of keeping the seedlings warm than the thermometer suggests because the heaters sit right underneath the shelves with the plants, basically acting as heating mats for them.

I also like the tea light heaters because they seem safer than other heating choices.  The tea lights are enclosed by aluminum tins so the flame isn’t open and they automatically shut themselves off—sputtering to an end each morning when their 10 hours are up.  This year I added a brick to each side of the tins.  This supports the clay pots easier but also acts to absorb some heat and then release it slowly over time (just like the black barrels).  I can’t decide if the best part of this low tech method is getting to light the candles on cold nights (why is lighting candles so fun??) or seeing the calming flickering glow of the greenhouse at the top of the driveway.  Like our own little 1800’s nightlight.

The only downside is that you need to purchase the 10 hour tealights online.  The ones generally found in local stores go out after just a couple hours.  And once you get on Amazon to order 10 hour tealights, you’ll find all the items you wanted needed in your shopping that cart that were going to order the next time you wanted needed some things but were waiting to have enough items to get free shipping.  Of course, you forgot about all those items because maybe you really didn’t need them but now you remember that you want them and you have to all these discussions with yourself about wants versus needs and making responsible financial choices until you finally just say.  “Agh, just get it all!!  Plus these praying mantis eggs sacks.  Because I forgot I needed to hatch praying mantis eggs for the garden but I really, really do!”  Stupid Amazon.

Besides the paint and the tealights, I added another new low tech heating option to the greenhouse this year.  I read a lot about people heating greenhouses via compost, which was intriguing and everything from a whole lot of work….

to just very simple….

I already had an old compost bin in the backyard that we never used anymore.  Our chickens get all the kitchen scraps and the manure from the barn gets dumped into a pasture for them to break down by scratching through it for bugs and leftover seeds or grain.  So I dragged the bin into the greenhouse and filled it with fresh waste from the barn, wetting it down a bit between wheelbarrow loads.  In general, the barn waste is a perfect mix of carbon (straw) and nitrogen (manure).  But I also tried to alternate drier layers that include the hay dragged to the sleeping areas or close to the door with the really poopy hay that is one goat or sheep length away from round bales.  Basically that spot is where the hay goes in and the poop comes out.

The compost bin has a nice gap at the bottom and a removable lid so I used a garden stake to poke air holes in the bottom and middle of the pile to keep it aerated.  It’s not fancy but if it works it will emit some heat as it decomposes.  And leave me with some nice compost in the end.  Even it doesn’t work, it adds some more mass to the greenhouse to absorb heat during the day and release it at night.

With all the prep work done, I spent a couple days planting all my seeds and labeling them and setting them up in watering trays.  It felt good to be ahead of the game.  To duck into the greenhouse, out of the chilly winter wind, and feel the sun-warmed air on my skin.  To smell the earthy scents of the growing mix and the compost.  To see all those seed pots filled with hope and promise.  I could almost taste the first tomatoes when I stepped inside.

But I wasn’t the only one enjoying the warmth or the taste of summer.  Because a day later I found that something else had been keeping cozy in the greenhouse.  And that something else dug up all my squash and zucchini and cantelope seeds, eating them for a midnight snack and spitting out the skins.

Luckily that something else also liked the taste of peanut butter.

Big mistake to confuse the warmth of the greenhouse with the cold wrath of the gardener whose work has been undone.  Big mistake.


One Response to “A Cold Start.”

  1. Aunt Ro
    February 25th, 2016 @ 9:02 pm

    Yup. (peanut butter bait) Don’t get mad, get even! BTW: Every year, your Gramma used to grow a small pot of chives on the kitchen window sill. When they were tall enough to cut and snip and eat with a small bowl of cottage cheese, she just KNEW that Spring was almost here! It seemed to give her a boost of hope at the end of a long, cold winter.

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