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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Coaxing Spring, Part II

Continued from 

The first post on coaxing spring involved free standing mini-greenhouses. Those have their place, but my main goal this year is to start seeds in the ground as early as possible, with protection from the elements. 

4. Moving Out to the Garden: 

Now here's the trick I'm really excited about: capturing some of the heat from decomposition, rising out of the deep hugelkultur beds. This is one of my all-time favorite, easy designs: 
  1. Make a circle of rocks around a bed. (Larger rocks buy you more time before the plants outgrow the set-up.)
  2. Plant seeds and water. 
  3. Place a clear plastic bag (contractor size) over top, or sheet of plastic to fit. 
  4. Tuck it in and weigh it down. 
  5. Keep the soil moist as needed, though the plastic will trap moisture and drip back down like a terrarium, which helps reduce the amount of water needed.
These rocks are about 10-12 inches tall. It will take the sprouts quite a long time to outgrow this mini-greenhouse. By then, the weather is likely to be fair! The rocks also act as heat batteries and provide radiant heat when the sun has shown itself. No watering starts inside the house every day, no time needed for transplanting, no transplant shock... just happy sprouts growing right in the garden, ready to sink their roots into rotting wood. What's not to love about it?

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5. Wing-nut Cloches

When I was making the milk jug mini-greenhouses in Part I, I had a thought about pinning the jug down in the garden with its own bottom. I found that if you cut two "wings" from the bottom (leaving hinges intact on each), you can really stabilize these ugly-looking beauty-makers. I am open to weird looking contraptions in the garden as long as they contribute to having beautiful and delicious plants later on. 

This spring, one of my goals is to reduce the number of starts growing inside the house (it has been quite the jungle in past years!). This is one simple way to help get things started by direct seeding, but with protection for an earlier start.

Above is a milk jug with its bottom cut out. This was my first one and I only made one wing, which is weighed down with a rock. Works great! The lid can be removed when the weather is fair. A clear or more opaque jug would be better... but my mantra is, "Use what you have, and see if it works." The up-side to this milk jug design it that it doesn't taper, leaving more room for growing plants. 

However, with just one stabilizing wing, I thought it vulnerable to curious marmots and strong winds, so I decided to try cutting two wings next, for additional stability. 

Here you can see two wings, each held down with a rock. It has remained up for two weeks now, and one intense wind storm, so it seems pretty stable! You can use these over planted seeds or to encourage returning perennials. Having the lid off also helps some rain get in.

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6. Back to the Sawhorse Greenhouse

It looks pretty cozy in there! I need to get the leaves out because all they are doing now is holding the cold in. However, under the milk jug cloches... is emerging. Wow! This photo was taken when the ground was still frozen pretty much everywhere else. And I have to say, the little green sprouts make all of these attempts in coaxing spring worthwhile.

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 7. Back Inside the House... 

I am a big fan of overwintering tropical perennials indoors. 
If Lipstick Pepper blooms in March are not a promise of things to come, then what is?

A sight for sore eyes...

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What kinds of in-ground season extension methods work for you?

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