Friday, March 8, 2013

Early Spring Chores

[This post originally published on my personal blog on February 1st, 2013.]

My favorite time of year just started with my first cups of dirt: gardening season!

Once again, it has been a long time since I've posted but this time for a different reason. On August 10 we had just returned from Children's Hospital for a lab draw to rule out rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, I got a phone call that said "I'm so sorry to tell you this, but we found some problems with your daughter's blood. We need you to come back to the ER to be admitted for treatment." Since then many things have happened including respiratory failure, intubation, a tracheostomy, and constant pain. If you aren't already familiar with the story and are interested in reading about the ongoing saga then please visit our joint blog called "Shoshana: Leukemia."

In researching cancer and cancer treatment we have started Shoshana on a strictly vegan diet and the rest of us are transitioning to a vegetarian/vegan diet. Since I already have a garden it was natural to brainstorm of how to expand our harvest season to help supplement the massive amounts of vegetables we are going through. Step one was to build something to expand our growing season since so often seeds and seedlings rot in the ground with our wet, cold Springs and refuse to grow in the wet, cold Falls. First thing to do was build a relatively inexpensive cold cover: 

This is the PVC pipe frame. After that we'll drape it with the 6 mil. greenhouse film from our local hardware store and snap it on with special clips made just for this (the only thing I had to order online). When "all danger of frost" has passed in the PNW the growing conditions are still pretty bad for most vegetables and by the time actual summer has rolled around in mid July they are too small and stunted to mature by the end of summer. The sorts of veggies I would love to grow every year but are super difficult in this climate are tomatoes, peppers, some species of corn, and winter squash. With a mobile greenhouse cover the build is only a fraction of the cost of a full sized greenhouse with nearly all the benefits. Additionally, I bought a T-8 fluorescent grow lamp from a guy on Craigslist. Thanks, man, but I don't need your "How to grow medicine" book thrown in the package. I'm just growing boring vegetables and herbs. Herbs like basil, rosemary, parsley, and thyme. Thanks anyway.

The other thing I need to expanding my grow season is to warm the soil. Buying a heating mat for sprouts is at least $40. But thanks to a DIY article online I built my own heating mats for only a couple of dollars. Take plastic bins (I had one in stock and bought two more), lay a layer of outdoor (non-LED) Christmas lights in the bottom, cover with sand or cat litter, and set seed trays on top. 

We will have to be careful to not allow the soil to get too warm or we'll dry them out or even scorch the seeds. We could invest in a soil thermometer or even a thermometer circuit breaker combo to both monitor and manage the soil temperature. But at this point I think we can manage by keeping a close eye on everything. We set them up in my parent's second story/attic so the lights are only turned on at night. Once they sprout I will set up the grow lamp and that could theoretically take the greens all the way to maturity though fluorescent lamps don't have the ideal light spectrum for mature growth. Either I could harden them off and put them in natural sunlight for the last part of their growth or set up a different grow lamp with the other side of the spectrum. Those run a couple of hundred dollars for the whole system and you have to take into account electricity bills and heat output. I found some bulbs for the system super cheap on Craigslist (again, the buying process was a little sketchy) but I figure I won't really need the rest of the system until this winter when I hope to continue growing certain veggies and herbs all year long.

Here are all my early veggie seeds planted and set on warmers (except for the spinach, kale, and onions which will do fine with the overnight temperatures indoors, even in the attic). 

From top down: Cabbage, broccoli, beets, spinach, onions, leeks, and kale. 

Next month will be more of those plus some other, warmer climate veggies. I'm so excited!

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