November 30, 2013

How I Heat my Greenhouse

The Internet abounds with advice on heating a greenhouse. This is just a summary of how I keep plants that are not overly cold-tender through the winter.

Buckeye on Burro Tail Sedum this morning in the GH.

Before you read about how we heat, you need to know these facts:

1. We grow in US zone 8b. Our primary greenhouse concern is not heat but keeping plants cool in the daytime when the sun is shining, even in winter. Our nighttime lows might reach 15º once in a great while but never for prolonged periods. Below-freezing temps quickly rise at daylight. We had two recent freezes with temps that hovered about 31º F.
2. There are sites with greenhouse heaters for sale. We used what we had, ordinary space heaters with a trial period to see if they worked
3. There needs to be a back-up plan. Ours is a kerosene heater. I am thinking about assembling a brick rocket stove as a trial on the greenhouse floor which is brick broken concrete and river stones . Using old chimney bricks it might be a no-cost solution in an emergency.
4. My heaters are on separate breakers in a greenhouse wired for electricity with its own electrical panel. Never try this using extension cords.
5. Orchids grow in the house in a sunny window. I don't put anything in the greenhouse that wants nighttime temps above 50º -- that's for commercial growers or serious hobbyists.
6. Not professional advice, this is how I keep my plants from freezing using what's at hand.

My greenhouse is filled with as much dense thermal mass as I can find and put in there. Thermal mass includes brick, concrete, water and stone. These materials absorb heat and give it up slowly during the night. Note: Thermal mass will not heat your greenhouse, it slows the radiation of heat from the greenhouse when the sun goes down. Eventually the greenhouse is going to be as cold as the air outside.

 Concrete blocks are of two types, dense concrete and those lightweight blocks that have air forced into the manufacture. Dense blocks are best. They make nice plinths for big pots, hold up benches and could even be filled with soil and used as planters. As far as I can tell, bricks is bricks, handy for many uses. I use stones as decorative material and do not worry about whether one kind is better.

Water in the greenhouse might take the form of huge tubs for hydroponic growing, not in my league. I have 4 fifty-gallon barrels of water that support a plant table. We tried all kinds of fancy tricks using pumps and black hoses. Those have been abandoned and the barrels just sit, covered in black plastic and a burlap skirt for aesthetics.

Now to the heaters. These are space heaters we already had, regular little space heaters with a fan, a thermostat and two settings, high and low.

Here's the important part: We run these on the lower setting. The difference is typically 600 watts on low and 1500 watts on high. By using two heaters on the low setting we use about the same electricity. Less current pulled through the wires means the heaters may last longer. If one fails, there is still the second putting out some heat rather than a total fail on a cold night.

It takes trial and error to get the setting just right so that the heaters come on at just the right temperature to keep the inside far enough above freezing for plant survival.

Why don't I just use a greenhouse thermostat? I would need one for each circuit and they are not cheap.

Otter Tail Power Company in Fergus Falls, Minnesota has a great page on using electric space heaters.

Celery from a Stalk Bottom, still growing.

Bouquet I picked before the freeze.

Linking to Tootsie Time's Flaunt Your Flowers

November 27, 2013

It Is Goiing to Freeze

No matter how I prepare for the inevitable freeze, I am always out at the end of the day, getting ready. Irrigation buckets were stripped of their standpipes and the covers put into place, I just turned the sprinkler pipes over so the holes were at the bottom and left them near the cabbages and broccoli. Have I mentioned broccoli starting to flower? I drained one hose and put it away, leaving two open-ended and outside. We will have warm days again after Friday.

I picked a last Gerbera daisy blossom, bright in the late sunlight. I cut the last red Pentas and some stems of red Shrimp plant. They're all in water for a greenhouse bouquet of which some may root. I cut stems of Pineapple Sage and put them in a bottle of water. The salvia that I cut two weeks ago has already rooted. More red blooms for the greenhouse, as I can't bear to see all of it freeze so I keep bringing in more pieces of things that may or may not root. I was so tempted by Persian Shield and Purple Heart, both of which are already rooted in the greenhouse.


While I was cutting, I cut enough red Josephs' Coat to fill a mug. The little pieces I stripped off the bottom I stuck in a 6-cell tray, more than one piece to a cell. You can't have too many Alternanthera plants, come spring and they keep over very well in soil or water so I do both because I like to see a coffee mug filled with rooting stems.

As I was typing, I remembered two Gerbera Daisy pots, one with a bud, and the cat's Lemon Grass pot left out in the cold, rushed out and thrust them in the greenhouse. It's 40 degrees with a low of 28 predicted. The air is still and it doesn't seem so cold as when the wind was blowing yesterday between rain showers.

I brought in a pot of fern and another pot with both fern and Cardamon Ginger in it just because I can't bear to see them freeze and I never took time to put them in the ground where they could survive a freeze.


My palm is too big for the house, so it went to the greenhouse. I brought a blooming red Schlumbergera into the house.  There's a tiny mitten sprout on the stem of one of the orchids.

Indoor joys! 


November 21, 2013

Blooming in the November Greenhouse

Schlumbergera lives up to its common name of Thanksgiving
Cactus this year, with early blooms. Other colors are just 
coming into bud, so they will be 'Christmas Cactuses.'

I am not happy that my pale pink Amaryllis bulbs turned out mislabeled.
I gave away one yesterday and the other two may leave soon. Bulbs from 
previous years are waiting to bloom. Maybe, I see one green tip so far.

I see more Agapanthus seedlings starting. Alyssum sends up a few more plants every few day. The tray of Parsley is full of tiny seedlings. 

I can't remember if I wrote about scattering Poppy seed and Larkspur a few days ago. Several places I just pulled up frost-touched annuals and scattered seed behind them. California poppies and some orange Corn Poppies are nearest the road. Pink Poppies are near the house. Pink Silene seeds went in the Fiesta beds north of the Upper Garden. Seed Scattered gardens are always full of self-seeded surprises. I just add more seeds to help fill in.


I wrote a whole post in Seed Scatterer blog about the new fad of starting celery from the bottom of a stalk of celery from the grocery store. I see Pins of starts everywhere, but I have yet to see a photo of enough celery to eat that grew from an end. On the left is my beginning celery experiment. On the right is a clump of onions from a piece of root end of a sweet onion.

January 2014 update: The celery grew to about 4 inches tall and then rotted. I think I kept it too wet after I read how much water growing celery required. The onion never really got going before it drowned too. 

Linking to Tootsie Time for Fertilizer Friday

November 16, 2013

Another Peek into the Greenhouse

White Schlumbergera may bloom for Thanksgiving

Rhipsalis, Mistletoe Cactus

Parsley seedlings

What I believe to be an Agapanthus seedling.

The vendor thinks this may be Candy Floss Amaryllis, 
shown here with Schlunbergera in bud. 
I ordered a pale pink.

Mostly Bromeliads on this side of the house. The pots with bulbs hold last season's Amar;yllis. They've rested and should bloom again now that they have fresh soil added to their pots. I carefully wrote their names on the pots with a 'permanent' marker. It faded when they summered in the yard.
 I think we have Nymph, Benfica, Appleblossom and a mystery bulb.  

November 15, 2013

Twinkle LIghts in the Greenhouse

A string of lights from previous years hung among the grapevine garland in the greenhouse. Festive. Has not improved my mood.

 Burro's Tails are a good contrast to the rest of the greens. There are little 
rooting pieces in several places because so many segments get snapped off 
because I breathed on them, or the cat sneezed. 

This side of the greenhouse has all the flowers. Plenty of Wax Begonias mixed with spider plants and Foxtail Fern, the ill-fated Amaryllis that bloomed Pepto Bismol pink instead of the pale pink I expected. So far two have bloomed. As soon as the one in bud blooms, I will send yet another photo to the disbelieving vendor assuring them that indeed all three were mislabeled.  

Christmas Cactuses on the end wall are in various stages of bud but no blooms just yet. Some are close to bloom. I mislabeled a clearly white Schlumbergera cutting as Scarlet. I don't know how that happened but the buds are white, not the deep color that will bloom scarlet.

On the opposite all to the grapevine garland are bromeliads in good stages of putting on pups. I hope to wait until spring to divide them so the plants can stay together in a few pots instead of a dozen. It's hard for me not to put things to root -- there's a Epiphyllum leaf putting on new growth. I forget how it came to be cut, but I could not throw it away, despite the 5 full-sized plants that fill so much space.

Parsley seedlings appeared in 2 weeks. Alyssum is coming up one cell at a time. I sliced part of the basal plate on an onion and left it in the refrigerator for a few days. Now I have two little pots with tiny onion plants and I planted a celery bottom the way you see on Pinterest. I think it is going to sprout.

I planted some Agapanthus seeds back in early fall when they got ripe.  One has appeared. I am reasonably sure it is a tiny Agapanthus shoot: planted in sterile soil, definitely a monocot, forming a tiny bulb at ground level, I will be very excited to grow some Agapanthus. I don't remember reading how long from seed to bloom. I hope they are faster than Amaryllis. I have pots of young Amaryllis going into their third year, still not mature enough to bloom.

Looks cozy and inviting from the outside, doesn't it? There is
not room for an armchair and a reading table. 

November 11, 2013

Blushing Bride

She must really be embarrassed, I didn't expect this much redness from a Blushing Bride.

I plan to add some little white lights in the Grapevine. Maybe they will draw
attention away from that neon pink Hippeastrum. 

November 07, 2013

Amaryllis and Alternanthera

A chill wind blows this morning but it isn't cold enough for a coat. Imagine this: in Canada,
Tootsie who hosts Friday's Fertilizer Flower Flaunt already has a foot of snow!

Alternanthera grew behind the bench and electrical panel all the way to the ceiling, a good thing when we needed shade on hot days. Now that cool weather approaches we need sunlight. I cut back the dark Alternanthera, already in bloom. We went from this:

to this:

I plan to add more grapevine to the swag over the top that hides the gutter that protects the electrical  from drips when it rains. Maybe I can put some Christmas lights on the grapevine.

Today's big excitement is an amaryllis bud about to open on one of the bulbs I despaired of seeing bloom when I thought they were diseased. Those red spots persisted but it's green underneath.

These are all pink.

I realized when I went to check on the Amaryllis bulbs from previous years that are drying off in the toolshed that I have forgotten when I was to bring them out and start watering again. My notes are kind of sketchy, but I believe that Nymph, the pretty pale double one, takes longer to bring into bloom, so I will start watering it maybe next week. Two of the bulbs still have some green leaves. They should be ready by Thanksgiving to get some new soil on top the pot and start watering again. 

Another look at the pink bud that is about to open. 

November 06, 2013

November 01, 2013

November Is Time for a Change

We are on the verge of a change in the weather. More than an inch of rain fell today. I could hardly wait to go look at my cabbages and Kale. When John the Veggie Man told me what bad luck he'd had with the super-powered fertilizer he shared with me, I was afraid the wilty look Kale had was because of the fertilizer despite my efforts to side-dress with just a spoonful, not too much. It was dry wind I now believe. I didn't make pics, but they look great after the rain.

Most everything that I can stuff inside is in. I can hardly bear to leave anything out. I broke the tops from angel wing begonias growing in the ground and stuck 5 in a pot. They are already firm in the soil when given a tug.

A bag of potting soil for seeds and things as I need it. Everything tucked in. 

I keep looking at glorious pots of this sedum hanging long and graceful. Mine just kind of splays and every bit that breaks gets tucked in a bit of soil to root.

The Amaryllis I was concerned about soft spots and redness? They all put up a bud or two. 
Notice the peeper frog on the lamp. Every cache pot has 6 or 8 inside. We should be bug-free.

These were just quick pics when I went to check on something after dark. Daylight shots are better. 

I located seeds for fall sowing today. I have more corn poppies than I thought, maybe enough Larkspur, plenty of breadseed poppies and enough for a good smattering of California poppies. There is Silene for the Fiesta bed. I have to remember I am not putting that pink out front. Some of the poppies have to wait until Tulips go in, late December.

When I was pulling grass around some daylilies I dug down to check on daffodils. Do you do that? Dig in beds where nothing shows to see what's underground? Anyway, there was a rotten bulb where I dug and one triple-nose fat daffodil bulb starting to put out new roots. We'll see what comes up in the spring.

I sliced straight down with a spade beside small Camellia bushes under the big tree forms today, getting them ready to transplant later. Under one bush there was another bunch of those big ugly roots of Catbrier. I thought I got them all last time, but not so. One reason for limbing up Camellias into trees was so I could get under there and dig out those nasty vines. They look like huge sweet potatoes.

Just as the rain started I finished raking pine straw off the driveway to put around Camellias. Bushels of Pecan leaves are falling and Oak leaves continue as usual. I have some nice pictures of fall color to put on Seedscatterer blog.

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