Monday, October 26, 2009

Greenhouse Winterization, part 2

The transition to the winter greenhouse garden continues....

We removed most of the cold intolerant plants, but kept a few Thai pepper plants that had some flowers and fruits on them, and they are still doing great. Frankly, I was happy to get rid of tomatoes for the year. My wife transplanted the broccoli and brussel sprouts into the ground bed that I started in flats, and she filled the rest of the ground bed with spinach, lettuce, carrots and radishes.

As far as projects to transition to the winter greenhouse, I installed two 55-gallon metal drums filled with water to act as a heat sink and thermal mass, but also to provide water for our watering needs. It was gratifying to fill these from our rain barrels, and this begins the winterizing of our rain barrels and their transition to downspouts for the winter.
Unlike the plastic olive barrels we use for rain water harvesting, the barrels we re using in the greenhouse are metal (for thermal conductance), black (for solar gain), and also act as good shelving and work surfaces. These are reused drums (clean) and are about $20 from Axmen

We’ll see how these work, only having 110 gallons of water will not provide nearly enough BTU’s to maintain the greenhouse above freezing alone, but coupled with other features, hopefully it is enough to provide benefits. Water, though a good heat sink, would need to be in a volume close to 500 gallons, based on the square feet of glazing and insulative value of my greenhouse, to have a significant effect if that was the only thing I was relying on to keep temperatures moderate. If nothing else, however, the metal drums do act as shelving and storage for water.

Other changes for the winter:
I disconnected the solar window opener on the east window, and covered the east and north window with 2” rigid insulation, the silver film will also reflect a bit more light to the greenhouse.
I installed a cold frame over 1/2 of the ground bed (see below). This is essentially a greenhouse inside the greenhouse. We'll see how it works, and I'll probably cover the other half of the ground bed- but right now it is an experiment- stay tuned for temperature data.
Left to do:
Install solar pool cover to south facing glazing
Install storm door
Activate the compost furnace

More posts coming soon...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Western Montana deer resistant native plants

“What can I plant that the deer won’t eat?”
I am commonly asked this question, and I usually try to avoid the topic. Typically when I give talks about wildlife gardening and native plant landscaping, I structure the talks to town-dwellers with urban-ish lots who are looking to turn their little corner of the world into a wildlife heaven. I encourage gardening with nature and with wildlife, not against them.

Inevitably though I am asked how to keep deer and other animals out. Since our own house and garden is right in the middle of town, we don’t have “problems” with deer or visits from bears like many of the residents in Missoula that live adjacent to the forests and hills around town. Frankly,I get pretty annoyed by people who want to keep deer and the other wildlife out of their yards. After all, it is usually the wildlife, and the remoteness of their home that attracted them to the area. Too often though development along the wildland-urban interface leads to struggles with how to exclude wildlife, deal with wildfire and so on. Here in Missoula, the cost of solving these problems ends up being paid by all taxpayers. Living on the urban fringe and working to exclude nature is antithetical to responsible, sustainable living- it is better to live in town, close to services, and let the wildlife and their habitat be. This crap pisses me off.
But, I digress. So as a result, I have not wanted to go there with the question “what can I plant that deer won’t eat”.

Despite my reluctance to broach this topic, I understand the value of learning about deer resistant plants. As deer move further into urban areas, like in Helena or Missoula, deer are longer a problem for the wealthy or those on the urban-wildland interface. So having information for homeowners is a good idea, despite my previous philosophical objections.
After searching through a number of sources, cross referencing recommendations, and based on my observations, I have complied a list of native deer resistant plants. I was amazed by the diversity of plants and how, in general, I have already been preaching the use of these plants. Most of my favorite native landscaping plants are deer resistant. Notable exceptions include quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis).

The two photos in this post occur elsewhere on my blog (I just used them in a post recently) and are not really special but they illustrate how many common native plants are deer resistant. In the photo above of our front yard, bluebunch wheat grass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), blanket flower (Gaillardia arristata), nodding onion (Allium cernuum), blue flax (Linum lewisii), and shaggy fleabane (Erigeron pumilis), dominate the view and these are all deer resistant. Similarly, in the photo below, the flowers in bloom are goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis), showy milkweed (Aescepias speciosa), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosis) and three-nerve fleabane (Erigeron subtrinervis), again deer resistant.

This list is by no means comprehensive- that is, there are plenty more species and genera that are deer resistant, but this is a good start and covers many of the common (in nature and in commerce) species or genera.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Greenhouse Transition to Winter

With temperatures expected to be around 6° F in the next a few days (yikes!), it is time to transition the greenhouse from summer to winter. Right now, the greenhouse is over filled with Thai peppers, eggplants, basil and tomatoes - all plants that are not too cold tolerant. Some of these plants are in the ground beds in the greenhouse, some are in pots that we had growing outside this summer.

It is still very warm in the greenhouse during the day when the air temperatures have been in the 40's. Our goal is to grow hardy cool season vegetables in the greenhouse in the winter.

When the nights began cooling, I moved our potted eggplants and peppers from outside into the greenhouse and I also dug up and potted many of the Thai peppers we had growing in our outdoor raised beds. This totally filled the greenhouse.

It has been a great summer and start to the greenhouse life, and we are looking forward to more to come. The pepper and basil harvest is so much better inside the greenhouse that next year we probably won’t grow any outside or those that we do, we will grow in pots so we can bring them in when the nights get cool. We did this this year and we got several more weeks out of our peppers.

There is lots to do for the greenhouse for the fall/ winter:
I started seeds for broccoli and brussel sprouts already (see below), these will go into the ground bed, once the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are done. Next up (maybe tonight) I'll start spinach and lettuce that we'll grow in flats on the greenhouse shelves. Later, we'll plant radishes, carrots and the broccoli and brussel sprout starts in the ground bed. I will also make a cold frame for the in ground bed- this will add more insulation for those vegetables (about 10 degrees F, or about 1 zone). I also need to add a solar pool cover for insulation to the glazed south wall, and some metal 50 gallon drums to the north side for water and solar mass. Soon we activate our compost furnace - stay tuned for the results there.

Lots to do, the cold really snuck up on me this year.