Category Archives: season extension

brightmoor mini mobile greenhouse

i’m planning to get a tour of brightmoor soon with friends to show off more of what is happening in the neighborhood tucked away in the far northwest side of the city.  it’s booming with projects, one of which is a garden next to my friends bill and billie’s house.  it includes this fascinating little mobile greenhouse.

it’s made out of off the shelf hardware, mostly electrical conduit and wood, with some greenhouse plastic and wiggle wire for the sheathing.  it measures about 16′ x 16′.  the roll up vents located on the end wall also mean that you can pull the whole structure over a new crop that has already been planted, as long as it’s below a foot tall or so.  right now they have early tomatoes growing, but come fall i’m guessing they will pull it into place over some overwintering crops.  the top vents seem a little on the small side, especially given how small the roll ups are.  i’m thinking that come august this guy is gonna be smoking hot.

the whole thing sits on a skid made out of some square stock.  rumor is it only took 4 people to move it.  you can also see the anchor pin holding this down.  i think i might feel a little better with something a little more robust.  you can also see how the roll upsides work.  pretty simple.  mobile greenhouses seem all the rage, and i see the advantages, but i find it difficult enough to manage a stationary one, let alone the added complexity of a mobile one, so don’t expect me to construct one any time soon.

looking forward to getting a tour this month and seeing more of what is blossoming in brightmoor.


working undercover

its taken what seems like months to get installed, but we finally have row cover up in the hoop house.

at this point in the year it might seem completely unnecessary, but with the cooler weather it’s really helped everyone thrive, as well as reduced the amount of moisture we are loosing.  with tomatoes, pepper and squash going in as well this week it will insure that they are able to thrive in the extra warmth. this row cover is held up with 14 gauge electrical fencing wire, though obviously it’s not charged.  one end is simply looped around the square stock on the west side end wall and then wrapped around its self.  the other end is attached via these ratchet things.  total cost for hardware, wire and ratchet tool was under 40 bucks.  utilizing these you can easily make the wire tighter to support the row cover, but also loosen the wires up, wrap them up and get them out of you way when it is time for the row cover to be removed in summer.  the row cover is held in place with clothes pens, and can easily be pushed open to allow one to work, or to vent the plants on warm days.  its set up to be high enough for you to work under the row cover crawling on you hands and knees.  a surprisingly enjoyable thing to do on cold days.  hiding underneath is a sea of green.  we have had a bit of spotty germination, but enough of a stand to have some stuff to harvest.  the radishes, lettuce and spicy greens mix are ready now, kale and collards very soon.  i had a chance to sample a radish last week and is was delicious.  and i don’t even much like radishes, but these french breakfasts are a thing to behold.  

spinach on steroids

the spinach at work that we overwintered  is of epic proportions.  some have asked what sort of fertilizer we have been using. we have been using none, other than good old compost. as my hand for reference you can see that the leaves are enormous.  huge and yet still tender.   soon it will begin to bolt, but the spinach in the high tunnel will be ready to harvest by that time.  while the use of low tunnels has been a bit of a struggle, in the end the spinach is a testament to their usefulness.  i certainly plan to use them again this winter, with a few changes.  between the low tunnels and the addition of a more user-friendly hoop house we are able to increase our yields out in the fields and the variety of product we have at market.  usually this time of year it’s only asparagus.  this year we have spinach, leeks, scallions, radishes, and salad greens.  next year i expect we will more than doubled that variety, and even greater yields.

planting the hoop house

i’ve been itching to plant the hoop house at work for a month, but prepping beds and sifting compost has taken much longer than expected.  it’s no big deal, yes we are behind, but i’d rather the beds be in good shape.  it’s well worth the effort.

they still could use more compost on them, but then there comes a time when you have to say well enough, lets plant some food.  this fall i’m going to be sure to get plenty of compost sifted and ready to go.  we have about a 9 foot wide section in the very front of the hoop house where we can put a nice big pile of sifted compost to store.

i don’t know if i’ve ever shown off this guy, the six row seeder.  it’s pretty demanding, requiring a bed that is very smooth and well prepared.  even with the extra time spent on prepping the beds, it still saves an incredible amount of time.  the learning curve on using the six row seeder is pretty steep, we messed up on seeding a lot of beds before we started getting it right.  and priced at over five hundred dollars, you better be prepared to put it to good use, or it’s not worth the money.  but it has certainly paid for itself over the years, both in reduced labor costs and seed costs.

with any luck i’ll be able to take this same shot in a week and have little radishes sprouting up. in addition we also planted turnips, beets, chard, arugula, spicy greens mix and salad mix.  we still have some other beds to plant this week.

for instant gradification we also planted kale seedlings.

now i’ll be checking the beds multiple times a day to see if anything has sprouted other than weeds.

overwintered crops

despite some pretty horrific damage from massive snow loads, we have had some success with our over wintered crops.

spinach ready to harvest.

garlic greens about 6 gauge diameter right now.  these are the same ones we planted last fall. they seem to have sized up nicely, but the big question i have is will they do well at market?  and how many more weeks before they seem to be of marketable size?

certainly overwintering seems worth it, it’s just a matter of getting our act together around supporting the plastic.

late winter snow collapses quick hoops

instructions for installing quick hoops makes it quite clear that if using 1/2″ pvc you need to space the hoops every 2 feet.  this is very close, and means using a lot of pvc piping.  i just spaced them every four feet or so and figured what could happen.

turns out the weight of wet snows can cause extreme havoc.  this is under only a couple of very wet inches of snow.  earlier snow falls had caused more damage to the piping bending it like pretzels.

despite these problems not all is lost.  we have certainly learned a lesson, and have a great visual document to reinforce this lesson.  but there is still a good amount of life under those hoops, the leeks that we mulched a couple of weeks ago on a nice break in the weather, and also this spinach, which has been holding on for dear life.

the next week promises to warm up, and i’m hoping we can get some of the water off from these hoops and pop them back up as best we can and get some stuff growing, and still get a harvest.

next fall i’m switching to metal conduit.  i just hope no one steals it.

fresh salad mix for the new year

what’s up with this weather?  i’ve actually seen a nice sunset, some sunshine, the snow is all melted, and it got up to 50 degrees the other day.  this morning it’s back to being in the teens, with a windchill that makes it feel like it’s eight degrees.  that’s more like it.

nice weather means only one thing to the winter gardener, it’s harvest time.

but first a check of the bees – if it’s nice weather, they are going to be out.

sure enough they were busy as, well you know.  one hive looked quite a bit more active than the other.  ma confirmed that one went into winter stronger than the other.  with this warm weather, and plenty of activity, it means they will be eating lots of honey, which means we need to do some feeding next week.

but the reason for venturing outside was not to observe flying insects, it was to acquire my lunch.  loosing one of the ends of the hoops i crawled under on my hands and knees.

despite the extremely cold weather in previous weeks, and collapsing hoops everything looked pretty good.

winter gardening requires careful selection of crops.  there are several crops that do well in winter; arugula, mache, some lettuces, but the real star of the winter garden is the humble spinach.  this is spinach sprouting under the hoops, ma planted it in october before she put the cover over the hoops.  in winter simple spinach makes a transformation and becomes extremely sweet and makes some of the most amazing salads.

the lettuce is doing well also, though it’s starting to look more and more beat up each time i sneak under the hoops.  since i didn’t think it would hold much longer, i harvested it especially hard.

minutinia also does well this time of year.  i especially enjoy the delicate flavor of minutinia paired with a citrus flavored salad dressing and some course ground salt.

adding color to salad mixes in the winter can often be a challenge, as even the darkest red lettuces tend to be more muted under low light conditions.

adding beet greens is my go to solution.  they develop even more deep red color than they do during the summer.  the leaves tend to stay small, and most folks don’t even know that they are beet greens.

of course a salad can’t just be greens?  actually i often enjoy just greens, but any addition is always welcome.

hakurei turnips!  confession – i’m really not a fan of turnips.  i’ll eat them, i certainly won’t turn up my nose at them, but the normal summer purple top turnip just don’t do it for me.  the hakurei turnip is where it’s at.  a little bigger than a radish, and they are about as sweet and tasty as any root vegetable.  i eat them like a i do an apple, and i’ve shocked many a turnip hater by feeding them a bite of hakurei.

winter salad mixes take more time to process, since they have more damaged and dead leaves that would look nasty in your bowl.

i shared my new years day meal with good friends and was happy to be able to provide a lovely salad.  we still have some left in the fridge to eat over the next few days.  fresh home-grown salad greens seems like a great way to start the new year.