The greenhouse at Golden Gaits Ranch is complete and plants are growing beautifully. The solar collector, used to heat the greenhouse and our household hot water, is fully operational. It is now the end of February 2018, and we have enjoyed greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, and bok choy. We’re continually eating fresh tomatoes and zucchini. I’ve harvested (and eaten) turnips, beets, daikon radish, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower and one nice head of cabbage, which was made into sauerkraut. Herbs growing are thyme, rosemary, tarragon and basil. Still growing are some leeks and garlic in the beds, with ginger and turmeric in pots.
For the month of January 2018, the greenhouse temperatures averaged 74°F during the day, and 56°F overnight. (The outdoor temps ranged from -9 to +62, averaging 11 at night and 48 during the day that month.) We have been installing insulation over the glazing each night to retain the heat that has been collected during the day. The floor and soil in the beds are heated from the sun during the day, and the soil stays at about 70°F.
2019 UPDATE: The concrete floor, the soil and the pond (which holds about 200 gallons of water) all provide thermal mass storage. When the greenhouse was planned and built, we installed radiant in-floor heating, to be heated with water from our solar collector. Over time, we determined that this was not necessary. We also no longer put up the insulation over the glazing each night. The concrete floor and the soil beds stay plenty warm without the in-floor heat, but what needs more warmth overnight and on the coldest days is the air. This past year, Tim purchased and installed a used wall heater which uses the hot water from our solar collector as its heat source. This has worked quite well to keep the greenhouse warm overnight most nights, and we have an electric space heater set on a thermostat to add more warmth on the coldest of nights. (It rarely comes on.) As an additional source of heating, we have a unique situation. The greenhouse is built on the side of our home, and includes a door to our crawlspace. The crawlspace temperature remains quite even–not too hot, not to cool. Tim has added a vent with a fan to blow the hot air from the greenhouse into the crawlspace during the day to warm it up. At night, the door to this crawlspace is left open, so the warm air stored in it can circulate back into the greenhouse for added warmth. In the summer, the coolness from the crawlspace can help keep the greenhouse cooler. Just an added benefit of attaching the greenhouse to the house!
WHAT GROWS IN THE GREENHOUSE
As fall has turned to winter, I’ve learned a few things about how things grow and when and where I should plant things in the future. I’d had high expectations that things would grow like they do outside, since the optimum warmth would be kept high. However, without the addition of an artificial light source, the plants receive fewer hours of light per day and are growing much more slowly than in summer. Now that the days are gradually getting longer, the plants are growing faster. Some things are doing better than others: the cold-season crops such as kale, chard, spinach and lettuces have done well. The tomatoes are producing, but the tomatoes are smaller and ripen much more slowly than they would have outside. The sweet peppers did not do well but the hotter peppers did better. A couple of the hot peppers (“Biggie Chile”, an Anaheim type pepper) are so tall they are shading the plants behind them, which I didn’t expect. One tomato plant, “Principe Borghese”, got so huge, with so few buds, I ripped it out. (Sometimes the Principe Borghese tomato is listed as “determinate” and other times “semi-determinate”. This particular strain seemed to be the semi-determinate, quite tall and bushy.)
When planting the beds by the windows, I put some of the larger things, such as kale and swiss chard, at the back of the beds, thinking that the shorter plants in front should be more accessible, but I wasn’t thinking about the larger plants by the windows shading the plants closer to the inside edge. Although the shorter plants may be harder to get at, they should have been planted closer to the windows behind the taller plants from the perspective of where I stand to work. In addition, the larger plants near the windows make it more difficult to put up the insulation each night.
I’d read that growing zucchini vertically is a space saver, and a good way to grow it in a greenhouse. I tried that, and I’m glad I did. Rather than having the plant sprawl across the bed, it is growing nicely upward, saving space around it for other things. The zucchinis are easy to see and easy to pick. Unfortunately, a couple of turnips that were growing behind it didn’t get much light and grew very slowly. (I had thought that they would grow more speedily and be harvested before the zucchini got too big, but that didn’t happen.)
I thought it would be nice to grow an indeterminate tomato up the center post, then train it along the bottom edge of the roof support. I’m not yet sure whether I will do that again. It is creating more shade than I thought it would, keeping the plants behind it in the dark. I’ll have a better idea as time goes on—when the lower leaves begin to die off, it may not be as much of a problem.
Many of the plants that were started in the fall have been harvested, and now I am beginning new plantings of lettuces, spinach, kale, beets, and a couple of tomatoes. I’m planning to start some onions in the greenhouse which will be transplanted outside in the spring. Although I am itching to replant some of the areas where plants have been harvested, I’ll just have to hold off for a bit. I need to leave space for the things I want to put in later. In the spring the greenhouse will be used for growing transplants which will later go outside, and closer to summer it will need to be used for tomatoes and peppers, which will stay in the greenhouse all summer.
Tim has created a detailed document describing all the “nuts and bolts” of how the greenhouse was made and why we did what we did. It can be viewed HERE. He asked me one day whether there was anything I’d do differently. Not much, but I’d like it to be taller. If it were taller I could hang more plants! I’d also kind of like it to be larger in area, but keeping it to this size is good for me so I won’t overplant and have too much. This is a good size for just the two of us and will do just fine. I don’t really *need* more space.
We are glad to have this project complete and definitely enjoy the veggies we’ve been able to eat. What’s for dinner tonight? Quiche, made with spinach from the greenhouse and eggs from the ducks.