Sunday, February 28, 2010

I Made A Different Sort of Cold Frame

Last year my cold frame was constructed out of bricks, with the cover made out of a plastic tarp.  It worked very well, though once outdoor temperatures reached sixty degrees, I had to be very careful with ventilating it.  A rectangle of unventilated bricks can quickly become a seedling oven. 
This year my brick pile is still frozen solid and the thought of trying to maneuver a wheelbarrow through a foot and a half of snow a few dozen times to transport the bricks to the patio was just not appealing.  So I decided to build a coldframe.  I tweaked the traditional coldframe design to give it a bit of my mutinous and somewhat risky style.  My husband calls it the tsunami frame.  More on that in a minute.

The cost to build this was cheap.  I spent about $20 on wood and $8 on a 50 foot, 4mm plastic tarp.  The staples and screws came from the husband's stash.  Building it was pretty easy.  I basically just built a frame and mitered a 25 degree angle to the uprights to make a slope to the roof.  Now that it is done, I wish I had made the slope a bit more to help shed water. I can still tweak it later to make the slope more extreme, but I'm going to try it this way first to see how it goes.

Once the frame was done, I wrapped each side with the tarp.  The plastic is stapled at the top, wrapped under the bottom board to help protect if from moisture and then stapled again to the top.  The two thicknesses of plastic with a 3" airspace in between them helps to insulate the frame.  I debated about filling that space with bubble wrap but wanted to keep costs down so left it like this.  All except for the back wall...

The back wall I added two thicknesses of black garbage bags between the plastic tarp walls to help the back wall collect heat.  Then I filled the garbage bags with water.  Yep, the back of my coldframe is a wall of water.  The water doesn't quite go to the top, because I got nervous about the staples ripping through the plastic due to the weight.  It goes pretty high though and my hope is that it will collect heat during the day and help keep temperatures moderate at night.  It will definitely assure that this thing doesn't blow over.  Now chance of that.  It's heavy.  I've stapled the plastic in such a way that if the staples give, it should be the outer wall that fails.  Thus any potential tsunami's are more likely to dampen the dog than the plants.  I hope it doesn't give though.  I'm quite proud of it!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seedling Set-up Phase 2

A few days ago, my planting trays were under a sheet of plastic wrap to help keep temps and humidity up.  That's phase one and it's a very short phase.  It stops as soon as the seedlings emerge.  As soon as the first seedling emerges, the plastic wrap comes off.  Failure to remove high humidity domes or plastic wrap once a seedling up, is the perfect way to invite damping off.  Damping off is any number of fungal diseases that cause your seedlings to essentially rot at, or near the soil line.  It's heartbreaking when it happens and there is no cure for it.  The way to prevent it is to keep your humidity down and keep air flowing around your plants.   I have my ceiling fan on high to help with air flow.

My phase two set up focuses on maximizing light exposure.  I use high output, low temperature grow lights.  The low temperature allows me to place them within a few inches of my seedlings. This helps prevent stretch.  Stretch is when seedlings grow too tall too fast and are weak as a result.  Short stocky seedlings are better than tall gangly ones.  They are much less likely to be damaged on transplant.  Since my seedlings are in a southern exposure in February in zone 5,  they won't get enough light from the big window to prevent stretch.  They need about 16 hours of good light.  The grow lights make a big difference.  I enhance the light they receive by covering cardboard squares and angling them around the seedling trays to help bounce light around.  Once temps rise, though, the foil goes away in order to prevent the crispies.

My seed germination is going very well.  Every tomato type has already germinated with the exception of Amerikansky Sladsky.   Among the peppers there is at least one plant up of each type with the exception of Sweet Chocolate (older seed) and Fat and Sassy (the hybrid).  It's interesting that the so called very early pepper hybrid is lagging behind the heirlooms so much.  It is the farthest from the heating vent, so perhaps that degree or two makes the difference.  One would think an early variety would have less heat needs though.

Notes on the seedlings this week:  San Marzano seedlings from both BI and Pagano nurseries all required rescue from their seed casings.  (Annoying!).  Brave General is a very small seedling and doesn't match its name.  One of the Striped Roman seedlings has three leaves.  Black Cherry is this week's leader with respect to growth and health.  No sign of a single leek so far.  I need to read up on that.  I can't remember what they need for germination.

I was going to start assembling the cold frame this week but in reviewing last year's notes, it was the first two weeks of March that gave me the biggest headaches with respect to big storms and temperature extremes.  I think I'll hold off a bit more.  Meanwhile, I need to plot how to make assembly an easier task than hauling all those bricks to the patio.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Big Zac

Big Zac<----(Say this with a deep terminator voice.)  This was today's impulse buy on my trip to get a new lightbulb for the seedlings.  It was either that or a king size Snickers bar.  Since we are apparently getting ANOTHER huge dump of snow tomorrow, my spirits needed lifting and (terminator voice) Big Zac was it!

I don't typically attempt huge tomatoes.  I lean more towards big flavors than big slices.  However, one of my forums plans on having a who grew the biggest tomato contest this summer and I expressed interest.  I'm only going to put one plant of Big Zac in the garden and I'll be only letting a couple of fruit mature to see if I can get a big.  Big Zac is a hybrid tomato that was the result of combining two beefsteak varieties.   Yes, this would be the second hybrid this year.  Its not a trend.  I'm just competitive.  It will be fun to see what I can get out of it. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And They're Off! ...Or Are They?

For the first few days after my seed order came in, I spent a bit of time admiring the packets, reading the packets, organizing the packets, fondling the packets, and then reorganizing them again.  That did not satisfy the itch for long.  I spent the next couple of days stalking nurseries for seed packets that I had to have.  I was strong in this respect, the damage to the pocket book was under $5.  Unfortunately, that was where the will power ended.

I have posted more than once that I wanted to start my seeds a little later this year.  That last year I had such large plants in April that they became difficult to manage.  I have not forgotten last April.  However, I did start reading old blog entries.  In particular the ones where I rejoiced about having such an early tomato harvest and such a long tomato season.  Sigh.  No more excuses.  I caved.  I swear I was just going to start with a few leeks, but then I had this big bag of potting soil that either needed to be put in pots or the dog would kick it over.  From there I rationalized that my eggplants always take 2-3 weeks to sprout since I don't use heaters, so I might as well get them started, and hey eggplants are just like peppers right?  Might as well start them too!

On February 6th I started 9 cells of leeks, 22 cells of peppers and 9 cells of eggplants, two seeds to every cell.  I placed the giant tubberware container containing the eggplants, peppers and leeks near the sliding glass doors in the bedroom with the end of the container half covering the heating grate on the floor.  Apparently, bottom heat makes a difference because two days later I had eggplants sprouting all over the place.  Wait a minute, what's this?  How come the cells that had two seeds carefully placed in them were now sprouting four to five seedlings in them?  I stewed on this a bit and then remembered.  I had placed about a teaspoon of vermicompost near the bottom of each cell as gentle fertilizer.  Unscreened vermicompost.  Unscreened vermicompost collected from worms that consumed a huge amount of tomatoes last year.  GAH.  The first boo boo of the season and spring is still a month away.

This unfortunate mistake has led to an interesting problem.  Each day now when I scope the cells for new sprouts I must make a decision.  Pluck or leave?  I've easily ripped out 25 or so seedlings to date but as we get closer to the date when I expect the seeds that match my labels to start spouting, it's become more of a gamble.  Today I resorted to digging in the areas where I planted the seeds to try and locate the seeds I planted. Thankfully, they were often a nice light color and easy to identify.   Once I confirmed their location, I plucked the aliens in the pot.  The dig up the seeds method allowed me to definitely confirm today that the first eggplant has sprouted.  Applegreen is up, ten days from planting.  It was in the cell closest to being on top of the heating vent.  My plan moving forward is to pluck sprouts on the outside of the container.  Let live sprouts that I am not sure about and if there is no sprouts from any cell in the next 14 days to replant, assuming that I plucked wrong. 

All of this drama should have kept me busy enough, but since it refuses to stop snowing, and I'm trapped inside, it didn't.  Since the initial prompt for all this planting was the desire to once again have an early yield of tomatoes, planting the above did not satisfy me for long.  On February 10th I planted 44 cells of tomatoes.  I did not make the vermicompost error with this planting.  Therefore I think the plant that is already up in the Stupice cell, really is Stupice.  I'll be watching it closely though.  Those seedlings are tricky.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Time to Start Seed Obsessing!

It's cold, its snowy, but it's time.  After a solid two months of drooling over Baker's Creek seed catalog, it's time to place an order.  This is my second year ordering from Bakers.  It's owned by a young guy that started his own seed business when he was 17.  Now he's probably in his mid to late twenties and he has two seed stores and his own litttle town, lol.  I like their seeds for a number of reasons.  They are heirloom varieties, he avoids GMO seeds and purchases seed from a small group of proven farmers. He also grows a fair amount of it at his own place, has a huge selection and shipping is cheap!  $3, that's it!  His website has a few planting forums that have a lot of very smart growers on them and it that makes deciding between varieties a lot easier.

This year, when choosing seed, I was drawn once again to the odd, ornamental and unusual.  I tried to do a little better in balancing the stuff that probably doesn't have a prayer of doing well(asian melons), with varieties where my climate should be perfect.  My tomato choices numbered 20 with a heavy emphasis on black varieties.  I'll be regrowing three varieties from last year as well.  Chocolate Stripes, San Marzano and Dr. Carolyn.  

Here's the 2010 list.  They are all heirlooms with the exception of Fat and Sassy Pepper.  A 61 day pepper was just too hard to resist for this zone 5 girl.  I'll probably begin planting some items as soon as my order comes in, but this year I want to avoid starting too much too soon.  My plants were bigger than they needed to be last April and it made for a lot of extra work.

Molten Fire BC 2010 Amarynth
Cream of Saskatchewan BC 2010 Watermelon
Stupice BC 2010 Tomato (early)
Illini Star BC 2010 Tomato
Gajo De Melon BC 2010 Tomato(Cherry)
Vorlon BC 2010 Tomato (PL)
Black from Tula BC 2010 Tomato
Black Cherry BC 2010 Tomato(Cherry)
Ingegnoli Gigante Liscio BC 2010 Tomato
Chocolate Stripes BC 2009 Tomato
Kellogg's Breakfast BC 2010 Tomato
Violet Jasper or Tzi Bi U BC 2010 Tomato
Dr. Carolyn BC 2009 Tomato(Cherry)
San Marzano BI 2009 Tomato(Paste)
Brave General BC 2010 Tomato
Amerikanskiy Sladkiy BC 2010 Tomato
Japanese Black Trifele BC 2010 Tomato
Crnkovic Yugoslavian BC 2010 Tomato
Striped Roman   BC 2010 Tomato(Paste)
Copia BC 2010 Tomato
Big White Pink Stripes BC 2010 Tomato
Big Rainbow BC 2010 Tomato
Five Color Silverbeet BC 2010 Chard
Red Cheese BC 2010 Sweet pepper
Odessa Market BC 2010 Sweet pepper
Corbaci BC 2010 Sweet pepper
Sweet Chocolate BC 2009 Sweet pepper
Red Belgian BC 2009 Sweet pepper
King of the North BC 2009 Sweet pepper
Fat and Sassy Hybrid Totally Tomatoes Sweet pepper
Early Silver Line BC 2010 Asian Melon
Far North BC 2010 American Melon
 Red Wing BC 2010 Lettuce mix
Rocky Top BC 2010 Lettuce mix
 Giant Musselburgh BC 2010 Leek
Violette Longue Hativ BC 2010 Eggplant
Thai Round Purple BC 2010 Eggplant
Applegreen BC 2010 Eggplant
Japanese Long BC 2010 Cucumber
Lemon Cuke BC 2009 Cucumber
Strawberry Popcorn BC 2010 Popcorn
Lunar White Carrot BC 2010 Carrot
Cosmic Purple Carrot BC 2010 Carrot
Chioggia BC 2010 Beet
Cylindra or Formanova BC 2010 Beet
Chinese Red Noodle BC 2010 Bean
Purple Podded Pole BC 2010 Bean