Spring Time is Green Time


Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above: Dunganski garlic after the snow.

I love Spring. I love the smell in the air. I love the chill of the wind off the mountains. And, most of all, I love to watch new life coming up from the ground and the new buds on the trees and shrubs. I'm writing this the day before the big warm-up so the breeze is still pretty chilly. That's okay because I know what's right around the corner. Earlier I took my granddaughter out for a walk for the first time. We went from the house to the shop, to a walk in the windbreak, to the greenhouse and back to the house. Oh. And a side trip to visit the dogs through their fence. Before you say, "So what?" I need to tell you that the trip was about 300 yards, pretty much uphill, and my granddaughter is only 18 months old. She made it the whole way all by herself. I was impressed. Spring is a time for new and I guess that's about as new as it gets.

I'm getting excited, too, to get outside and start working under the sky instead of a roof. Okay. Revise that statement. Just get outside. I was planning to start prepping the asparagus bed for spring but got pulled up short. It still has about a foot of snow on it. So on to the next project. We used to have chickens and ducks until the egg market fell apart. Now I've got a real nice chicken coop, fully fenced in on all sides, including the top, with no purpose. A few months back I had the bright idea (in my own mind, anyway) to cut the beams away from the building so I can put steel siding on the storage shed and use the outside portion of the coop for another garden area. Since it's wire all around it will provide a permanent trellis for vining vegetables. The wire overhead will provide at least some protection from hail. At least that's my hope. I know it won't stop it all but right now anything is better than nothing. I've strung steel cable from 12 foot upright posts to hold up the beams that remain.

The garlic is still covered in snow, too. It was starting to come up last fall so I guess it'll just jump up as soon as the snow melts off this weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing those new shoots coming out of the ground. I tried a new variety this year, Dunganski. This cultivar (variety) originated in Samarkand Uzbekistan and is now being grown extensively in Australia. I wanted to get something different than the California White variety that's found in the grocery store. Now I have a completely different gourmet garlic for the garlic lovers. Although I still have a lot of weeding to do between now and July when I can harvest I'm looking forward to this new variety. By the way, by weeding I mean pulling the wheat out of the garlic bed. I mulched last fall with four to six inches of fresh straw that still had a lot of wheat heads left. For last year's crop I harvested the wheat so I could grind it for flour. I got enough for a couple of loaves of bread when I get to that point. Fortunately, wheat will last nearly forever as long as the berry hasn't been ground.

Another thing I'm looking forward to trying from the garlic this year is the fresh garlic scapes. Last year (my first year growing garlic) I cut the scapes off and threw them away. Obviously, I didn't know what I was doing. I thought they were just flowers and that they'd drain the plants of energy that I wanted directed to enlarging the bulbs. I learned too late that garlic scapes are also good to eat and can be used just like garlic and green onions. They can also be used by themselves in a side dish. I'm definitely trying that this year.

I'm also getting my bedding plants ready for the coop garden. I think I'll grow some butterstick squash, beans, peas and pumpkins this year. The butterstick is my "unusual" item this year. I've never had it so I want to give it a try and see how it tastes. Every year I do something that I normally wouldn't grow or that I really don't know anything about just to try it. I did some basil a few years go and it has turned into a staple in my farmer's market products. There are several varieties of basil so I may try some others, too, to add to the gourmet selections.

I'm also in the process of moving the hydroponics operation from the shop to the greenhouse. Last week I got the exhaust fans wired and operational. That was a great experience. When I left the greenhouse to turn the power back on the temperature was right at 100 degrees in the greenhouse. By the time I got back (the breakers are in the shop) about 15 minutes later the temperature was down to 70 degrees. That was simply refreshing. I still have to find the correct position for the thermostat but that should be the easy part. Next comes the cooling wall portion of the system. The exhaust fans are great while it's cool outside but they won't work as well when it gets hot. The cooling wall is an 8 foot x 4 foot x 4 inch set of pads that will stay soaked in water. As the exhaust fans pull in air from the outside it has to pass through the pad, cooling it, in order to come into the greenhouse. It's really just a big swamp cooler. I experienced one at Colorado State University a couple of years ago and it made a huge difference in the temperature. My first thought was, "I can build that." So here I am.

I need to finish the heating system for the greenhouse so I can use it year round. I've finished the plans for a solar furnace that will be on the south facing side of the building. I haven't seen one of these so I hope it will work. It doesn't have to keep it at 80 degrees but if I can keep the greenhouse above 60 at night and on cloudy days I'll be happy. The unit will be 32 feet long by 4 feet high and 4 feet deep. It will be buried a foot into the ground to lower the profile and block as little light as possible. It will contain 14 – 55 gallon barrels of water to regulate the temperature. The barrels will be in their own compartment and separated from the heating chamber by a wall although there will be a break in the wall so the heated air can flow over the barrels to heat the water. Everything on the interior will be painted black and it will be covered on all sides facing the sun with clear polycarbonate panels. The research I've done show that similar units reach over 200 degrees in the winter in Minnesota. I do know the greenhouse temperature this winter has been as high as 142 degrees. The greenhouse is open with a 16 foot peak and the temperature was measured at eight feet. At night, the idea is that small duct fans (on thermostats) will move the heated air into the greenhouse and keep the plants from freezing.

There's always a lot to do for our gardening habits that go way beyond growing plants. My challenges for this year are getting ready to grow more plants. How about you? What kind of projects are you planning for this season? I'd like to hear what you're doing with your gardens. In the meantime if you have any questions ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.


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