DIY Greenhouse

Greenhouses provide us with an extended growing season by creating a suitable environment for healthy plant growth. It also gives us the opportunity to grow plants that otherwise would not grow in an unprotected arctic environment. For example, The University of Saskatchewan Agriculture Greenhouse has a banana tree that fruits in the dead of winter. Crops grown in greenhouses also reach maturity much faster and can potentially provide you with multiple harvests per season. Leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are popular crops amongst greenhouse growers.

Heat builds up in a greenhouse by trapping the sun's long-wave, high energy radiation. A micro-climate is created within the confined space in which there is ample heat, light and humidity, much to a plant's delight. However, a greenhouse does require attention as plants can quickly wilt and die if left unattended, especially mid-summer. Photosynthesizing plants, especially under high light such as in a greenhouse, deplete carbon dioxide in their surroundings. Plants require carbon dioxide as building blocks for glucose production. Therefore maintaining carbon dioxide through ventilation by opening a door/window is a must. Since photosynthesis increases in this warm environment, so will a plant's watering needs. Soil will dry out much faster in a greenhouse and therefore must be watched closely and watered accordingly.

Building your own greenhouse does not have to be elaborate or expensive. Start with simple components such as PVC piping or wood to construct a frame and cover with high light transmitting plastic. You can make it as big or as small as you like, as long as it can accommodate your selected crop. Here are 10 plans for a DIY greenhouse.  Remember to start off small an familiarize yourself with greenhouse management. You will greatly enhance your chance of success with this approach. Your greenhouse may be covering an in ground garden or have raised beds and pots within, it's your choice!

Making the most of your crops

Today we will talk about a number of ways you can increase your yield.

Succession planting refers to a variety of planting methods to ensure availability of produce throughout the harvest season.  The methods are explained here: 

If you have the space inside keep seeding every week or so and continue transplanting as time permits; it can be really therapeutic working with your seedlings and soil.  Once you move to your outdoor spaces, continue seeding lettuce, mustards or Asian greens until the middle of July.

Season extending methods are key to more food production in our short season, find out some great tips on how to here Be aware of germination needs, for example, some seeds germinate better with light.

For those of you who want to maximize produce production for the market, a book about building a successful organic micro-farm by Jean-Martin Fortier, Les Jardins de la Grelinette , Quebec, may be a tool to add to your collection.  This book focuses on low-tech, high-yield production methods.

Give it the light!

Have the first seedling sprouted out of your pots yet?  You are wondering what to do next?  Proper seedling maintenance provides adequate space, light, moisture, and food for your seedlings.  General information and species specific growing guides are helpful tools. Here is a great link and video to help guide you:

Here in the North, longer Spring days and a South facing window can provide adequate natural light for seedlings.  However, if your seedling are getting too spindly you can give them supplemental light with fluorescent or LED lights of the proper spectrum.  Here is how you can make a grow light

The sun is so nourishing you will notice even when you use supplemental lighting the plants will still reach for the sun. This is because certain wavelengths are not provided by artificial lighting. There is nothing like the sun for maximum plant health!

Have fun with starting your own seeds, it's easier than you think!

The space and time you have for your seedlings will determine what you will seed into.  If you do not have much time, you may want to use a flat production technique where you spread the seeds over a surface of soil and later on, transplant the best individuals to a development tray.  This technique is particularly useful when dealing with very small seeds, such as oregano and mixed greens.

You don’t have to purchase trays – recycle what you already have at home!  Choose containers that can promote good root development, that are easy to handle, and easy to clean and sanitize  Reuse the plastic containers you purchase food in at the store, a clear top and a dark bottom, such as roasted chicken containers.  These containers serve as a mini greenhouse which helps keep the environment humid and may reduce the watering frequency. The dark bottom absorb light and help increase the temperature of the soil.  Salad containers also work well.  

Proper watering (always humid; never saturate the soil with water), proper air circulation around the plants and ideal germination temperature for the variety of plant you grow are factors to consider to prevent the development of diseases.  Make sure your container can drain excess water.  If you use clear tops on your containers, do not forget that temperature will build up! Remove the lids when needed.

Check out more great tips on starting your seedlings and choosing pots here

Healthy Plants, Healthy People!

As us, plant have needs to grow healthy.  If those needs are met in the proper manner, the better the quality our plants are, the more nutritive value our food has, and the better our health. Have you ever thought about the quality of food in our grocery store? Nation of Change has an interesting article on the nutritional value of the produce we buy at the supermarket.

Nutrients, the building blocks of our health!

Soil, water and air provide food to our plants. Various sources say that plants need between 16 and 70+ types of minerals to be fully healthy. The 70 are rarely mentioned, but the main ones are classified in three groups:

The major nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Remember the numbers on a bag of fertilizer? It is what these numbers refer to, N-P-K. 

Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are used for structure and mainly come from water and air. Secondary nutrients include calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Micro nutrients are comprised of iron, boron, chlorine, copper, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, cobalt, and nickel.  Check this out to find out more about the important roles they play in gardening.