Winter/Spring Seed Starting without Electricity - Part 2

2015 is shaping up to be an early and warm spring. I started the greenhouse at the beginning of March (March 9th) because it was just too warm outside to delay.

This year I am Starting Seeds without Electricity and attempting to grow all of my plants on my own. No help from nurseries, neighbors, or friends.

I am going to start the seeds, grow the plants, save seeds for the next year, and process the food for winter. All of this without electricity or other modern conveniences - to be sure that it's possible in a grid down scenario and because it's fun and more self sufficient. 

Here is what the greenhouse looks like all put together:
The greenhouse contains 18 milk cartons containing soil and seeds. In early March, only the top 6 contain seeds. I will plant the heat loving plants in April or they will run the risk of being way too big for the pot before they can safely go outside. Our last frost date is May 17th. 

Everything in this greenhouse is recycled or reused. I am using milk cartons from the milk we drank this winter. I rinsed out the milk cartons and used the rinse water to water my houseplants. 

The cartons are sitting in cardboard boxes from Costco (they give them away at the register) and contain pebbles we collected last summer. 
There are bricks behind the cartons and on the bottom shelf. These were found while exploring the forest last summer. The bottoms shelf also contains bottles of grey water (from washing dishes) collected in recycled juice and milk bottles. 

I bought the potting soil on clearance at Target last winter. 

The greenhouse itself was bought used on Craigslist for $20. The thermometer is an oven thermometer I reviewed on this blog. 

It is now March 15th and a few of the plants have germinated already. I had to move the Bok Choy out of the greenhouse because it was too warm for this cool loving plant. Say what?

Well, I have clocked temps as high as 130 F inside the greenhouse. With that, here is what I have learned so far about having a portable greenhouse.

1. It really works. Temperatures inside are a minimum of 10 degrees warmer. When I had this on our porch, out of the sun and the weather was below freezing, the greenhouse was still warmer, but things got interesting out in the sun.

I moved the greenhouse into the sun once the seeds were planted, and the temperatures heated up tremendously. On 50-60 degree days (really unseasonably warm for March) the greenhouse was commonly between 80 and 90F. It even got to 130 and I had to open up the flaps.

2. Venting is essential. This particular greenhouse is not airtight and even has a hole in the top (behind the pocket holding the thermometer.) I thought this would provide enough airflow to prevent overheating. I was wrong. On days above 60, the door needs to be zipped open.

3. Heat at night. The bricks, rocks, and water heat up during the day and are  hot to the touch. I have checked at night, just once, and the inside temp was 56 when the outside temp was in the 30s. How much survives into the morning is unknown. The plastic does protect against wind and in early spring should be enough for cold hardy plants. However, I did not seal the holes or the bottom so heat loss is probably substantial and would not protect heat loving plants like tomatoes until night time temperatures stay above or near freezing.

The milk cartons are cut in half and then resealed with tape. They provide a mini greenhouse within a greenhouse to keep seedlings moist and provide extra protection against freezing temperatures.

So far, I am happy with the results. When the seedlings are up and growing, I will remove the milk carton tops and look forward to "non-leggy" seedlings that enjoy the benefits of the sun as opposed to grow lights and since they will be exposed to some temperature fluctuation, I am hoping they will be stronger upon transplant.  I will update as things progress.

As a side - here are a few other things we are doing in our quest to learn the skills that were second nature to our forebears:

Attempting to Root Blueberry Cuttings. This is not the ideal time or type of wood to root, but these are my usual winter prunings that get composted anyway. If any of them root into new plants it will be a major bonus! I will water these with willow cutting water to help rooting.

Chitting potatoes in the window. These are grocery store potatoes that started to show eyes. One is a Yukon gold, the rest are Russets. I know, I know, grocery store potatoes could carry viruses - but I am planting these in dedicated boxes with separate soil from the garden so if anything happens it will not affect any other soil  on my property. If it works, bonus!!

Tapping our Maple trees! Sap is running - albeit oddly with our warm temperatures and we are making our own maple syrup this year!

Upcycled herb garden made from used tin cans. I spray painted them to give them visual interest. It turned out a little weird, but I think they will look better with green herbs billowing from the tops. If not, then I will recycle them (where they were destined anyway) and will try again with an orange crate. I am tempted to use an orange crate anyway as a perpetual salad bar.

And as always, I am using plenty of recycled food containers (fyi - mushroom containers like the little black square you see here are awesome for growing lettuces - Use 2 - poke holes in the top bin, and place it inside the second one. You have drainage with no icky mess on your counter.) After mid-February when the days get longer than 10 hours, salad greens will grow amazingly on your windowsill. You can plant a smattering of seeds (way less than half a packet - so less than $1) and continuously cut lettuce for months - fresh with no slimy lettuce, no slugs, and no finding yourself without fresh lettuce. The lettuce pictured here has been cut down to the nubs 3 times already.  The other plant is a huge bean plant my daughter planted at school. It's way too early for beans - yikes!


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