Archive for January, 2012

Experiments in Winter Gardening

January 3, 2012

This is an update on my three winter gardening explorations:

Digging fall carrots Nov 13

Fall crop. This experiment was to plant carrots, beets and chard in late July for fall harvest. I had old seed, so I over-seeded and became challenged to thin and weed effectively. Nonetheless I got all three crops to produce. I gambled with the weather leaving the crop in the ground (unmulched) into November. Animals ate the beet leaves in October and the chard leaves after that. The ground froze before I got all the beets and carrots pulled, I assume the chard is lost, the beets and carrots are an open question.

Digging fall beets Nov 13

LESSONS: The usual challenge of other activities keeping me from weeding and thinning; mulching with leaves or straw and a light row cover would probably have extended the harvest and kept away animals; the harvest needs to be finished before the freeze (or better protection is needed).

Greenhouse crop. November 1, inspired by Square Foot Gardening, I planted a 2×4 foot bed to carrots, leaf and romaine lettuce, beets, chard and spinach.  Individual seeds were planted at recommended their spacing.

The bed is on a bench in my (poorly insulated) greenhouse, a 2×6 frame filled with amended soil sitting on a heating pad set for 70F.  Four full spectrum fluorescent lights were 6 inches above the soil on a timer from 5AM to 7PM. Carrots and leaf lettuce came up fine. The romaine and chard did not germinate, and the spinach only poorly. I replanted spinach mid-November (no more chard seed). One spinach from the first planting seemed to be doing OK and then about Thanksgiving got wilty.

December 1 I raised the lights to 18 inches, and wrapped a plastic curtain around the lights making a terrarium of the bed and lights. The spinach recovered, perhaps due to the increased air temp and humidity.  Three leaf lettuce plants were coming along slowly.  The carrots continued slowly.

Mid-December, after reading Coleman’s 4-season gardening, I replanted spinach, romaine and leaf lettuce at Coleman’s 1” row spacing. One of the original leaf lettuce failed after Christmas due to lack of water (its hard to water in the confines of the terrarium).

January 3 I harvested 3-4 spinach and 3-4 leaf lettuce leaves to start an experiment in regeneration. Lights and heating pad draw (on average) 0.110 KW, lights only draw 0.062 KW (measured by WattMeter). So, my energy cost Nov 1 – Jan 1 was   0.11KW * 24hrs/day * 61day * $0.07689/kwhr = $12.38 (An interesting experiment but spendy for a handful of lettuce leaves.)

I’ve now turned off the heater to see how things grow with the light (and its heat) only.

Dec 2 (31 days since planting)

Dec 14 (looking west)

Dec 31 (looking east)

LESSONS: Heated growing space is costly and plants need to be planted densely and then thinned for eating as they grow. Carrots at 3” spacings need to be interplanted with something faster growing. The goal is to cover every square inch of soil with edible leaves as quickly and completely as possible, then retreat the number of plants as the plant size increases.

Cold Greenhouse crop. Based on more Coleman reading, on January 1 I planted in my hoop house under a cloche and a wire frame covered with row covering. Spinach, leaf and romaine lettuce, and beets and carrots. The first question will be can I get germination.

New Year’s Resolution: Reducing my carbon footprint

January 3, 2012

Making my Resolution was pretty easy, figuring out how to implement and assess it, not so much.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading over the holidays, Bernstein’s Aquaponic Gardening, Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses and some of the blogsphere including Roberts’ Brutal Logic posts here  and here as well as some discussion about the “marketing” of climate change with scare tactics like Roberts vs. a gentler approach to reach the electorate, see two sides here and here.  I’ve also glanced into some alternate perspectives including Worstall at Forbes arguing that delay in addressing climate change can save money (I think his logic is faulty). Also supporting the go-slow path a friend recently wrote me “But considering that 50% of American’s make less then $26,000 a year [what with] buying food and paying rent…well there isn’t money for those high end [climate saving] purchases. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”

I’ve got my monthly utility bills from Avista for gas and electricity in 2010 and 2011 which gives me some baseline. Avista’s electricity comes from a mix of fuels, including coal, gas and nuclear. They give information that should let me adjust my KWH to the fraction that is carbon-based. I don’t have records of gallons of gasoline purchased. My house is heated with wood, which raises some different issues about pollution and I have no handle on the amount of wood I use or its carbon content. And then there is the issue of adjusting my use of heating energy to account for the weather in the 2011 and 2012 heating seasons. Avista gives degree days in its bills but with a wood stove, there are days when you just don’t heat because you are not around to stoke the stove.

So, I am going to make my Resolution more specific:

Regarding gasoline – I will track how many miles I drive and how much gas I use and return to this challenge in 2013.  I put log books in each vehicle to begin tracking miles and gallons purchased. I can use these logs to also record gas purchases for lawnmower, chain saw and the like.

I previously challenged myself to buy only one tank of gas a month, but that challenge is complicated by having multiple vehicles and by using the in-laws’ vehicles at times. To give me something I can assess for 2012, I will aim to buy no more that 150 gallons of gas for the white car and blue truck I drive and for my various gas powered tools. Bicycling around Moscow has shaved my waistline, this is a path to continue.

Regarding electricity and natural gas – Last January I was thinking about these issues in terms of “buy local” and how to shift my purchases from Avista to spending locally. I have experimented enough with a clothesline in the greenhouse that I can see some reduction in electricity use. I need to build on this effort to reduce our footprint with Avista.

Sharon Cousins has advocated solar ovens enough to get me to try one and to build one, but I’ve not lived with them enough to make any claims that I am substituting solar energy for Avista energy. This is a path to continue. I’ve played with a mud oven and retained heat cooking, again not enough to make any claims about substituting wood as my baking fuel. Recently I found a hybrid idea, retained heat solar oven. Something to explore designing into the shared use commercial kitchen I am building.

In the Peterson Barn Guesthouse, my next steps are probably to use solar to supplement space heating and in our house, I’m working on pre-heating our hot water with solar. Both projects are low budget, a fan and ducting to blow excess warm air from the greenhouse and a homebrew rooftop solar collector.