Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 1

This year I will be growing all of my own seedlings - outside - without electricity or heat. I live right in the middle of growing zone 4. I keep hoping we might edge into zone 5, but it's not likely.

The plan is to use this mini greenhouse:
Most gardeners who successfully grow during the winter months in Northern climates without a "real greenhouse" or added heat/electricity use a double cloche system - fabric covered by some sort of cold frame or cloche.

So I am attempting to mimic both that system and some of the aspects of a solar greenhouse.

Inside the plastic shelled "greenhouse," my plants will be started either inside a recycled milk carton or inside a large plastic box. The plastic box contains 32 toilet paper rolls that are fashioned into tiny seed containers.

The greenhouse plastic will act as my "cold frame" and the plastic box or milk cartons will act as the second layer - sort of a greenhouse within a greenhouse.

Each set of milk cartons sit on top of a black tray inside of a box (for easy carrying) and that box is filled with small pebbles (thermal mass.) Behind the box of milk cartons are bricks.

The bottom layer of the greenhouse (bottom tray) will house clear recycled bottles filled with water and an additional layer of bricks. These are thermal mass and will act as heat sinks.

They will absorb the heat from the sun during the day and keep the greenhouse warmer as they give off that radiated heat by night. Or at least that's the plan.

The top of the greenhouse has a pocket where I conveniently inserted my oven thermometer. This oven thermometer works great for a solar oven (or a conventional oven) but is also able to detect the ambient temperature (as long as it is above 35F). It is currently below 0 outside and below 35 in the greenhouse, so I am getting an error reading at this time. I have checked in various scenarios and know it to be accurate. As soon as I can register at least a 40 degree temperature inside, then I am going to begin some of the plantings.

I am structuring the planting in 2 tranches -

First set will go in mid-March and will include rhubarb, bokchoy, leeks, sunflowers, chives, and chard.

By mid-April, all of those plants will be out of the greenhouse and into the garden. Their places will be taken by tomatoes, ground cherries, watermelon, canteloupe, green peppers, butternut squash, cheese squash, cornflowers, cucumbers, basil, and yellow crookneck squash.

Then these plants will move out and into the garden in mid-late May.

As things progress, I will put that information in a post.

I also have an exciting to plan for an outdoor herb garden using recycled materials that I will share once it's warm enough to complete the paint job on my planters.


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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!


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