Sunday, March 3, 2013

Quotable Sunday 03/03/2013

In the Greenhouse

Flowers are starting to bloom for us, we have anemones and daffodils with ranunculus a few weeks away.

The majority of my day is spent in our little greenhouse and I truly mean little house. When we first built it about 12 years ago, it was for raising veggie starts and flowers for around the house and the many pots we had everywhere.  There were no plans to grow flowers for sale until one day my friend said "why don't we raise a few flowers and sell them at the local farmers' market".   Thinking it would be fun and not too hard we launched our little business.  We were together for 2 years when she went back to full time work and Farmer Tony and I have continued on for the last 9 years.  Anyway, the greenhouse was not built for flower production to sell flowers and yet somehow we have made it work.  Mostly out of necessity because money is always tight and there is no where to built a larger house yet.  Our open flat fields have no power to them and dragging in a power-line would be expensive.  Getting off topic, here is how we make this little greenhouse work.... it is about planning, scheduling, and parking my butt in there pretty much all the time.

 As you can see the greenhouse is a 8' by 12' kit we built on a slab that has a tiny free standing heater and a fan for cooling.  No irrigation or misting except by hand.  There are two banks of lights for seeding and germinating and shelving to hold trays.

We have 4 shelves with heat mats on them and that works the best for germinating seeds for us. For flower seeds that germinate in the cool, the greenhouse is fairly cool with the heat mats running at about 72-78 degrees of warmth.
We are growing more seedlings in our mini soil blocks for one main reason, I can seed 300 seeds in one standard 1020 tray of mini blocks and it only takes up one tray on the heat mat.  Doing the math, that is 4 trays of 300 times 4 heat mats which hold 4 trays each and you have 4800 potential seedlings in not much space.  Those numbers work for us.  But when they germinate this is when it gets a bit more tricky.  

Here is an example of  Snap Dragons transplanted into 2" blocks after 2 weeks. Again because of space constraints we  put 50 blocks in a standard 1020 tray. To get the best air pruning of roots leaving a little more space between the blocks by putting fewer blocks in a tray would work.  However, as you can see, even with the tight spacing the roots do come out of the block but don't intertwine so much as to cause major damage or transplant shock at planting time. The blocks easily lift from the trays separately.

 The mini blocks have to be bumped up to a bigger 2" block which takes up more space in our propagation house. We love making the bigger blocks but they fill a tray with just 50 blocks versus 72 in a plug tray so for now to conserve precious space, we have to bump about 40% of our seedlings into 72 plug trays.  Last year we had hoped to make the full transition to soil blocks in 2013, but unfortunately we didn't get our new propagation house built.  Our new goal is to complete our transition to all soil blocks next year after we build our larger propagation house this summer. (Farmer Tony swears to it this year!)

There are upsides and downsides to using  plug trays.  They are quick to transplant, uniform in size and the plugs are sized well for our pottipuki.  The downsides are that they don't give as robust a transplant as a 2" block, don't last many seasons and ultimately end up in the landfill.  They cost money to repurchase and one of the biggest downsides is that they have to be washed and cleaned before use each time.  This is the LOUSIEST job of all jobs to do in flower growing.  All these downsides plus the poorer transplant quality are why we are switching to all soil blocks.

Waiting to be washed
We have a deep utility sink in our greenhouse which will hold quite a few trays to soak and clean.  I found baby bottle brushes at the dollar stores that clean the gunk out of the plugs trays. Buy a few, the season of cleaning is hard on them.
We also have a mini hot water heater that provides hot water for the sink and helps keep your hands from freezing from water from the well.  Very handy!!

In terms of actual seeding, here are some of the highly technical instruments that we use.
 The only method we have to seed is by hand, we would love one of those machine seeders or even a automatic tray cleaner but way too many dollars.  So this little green seeder is my best tool.
It has slots for different size seeds, from teeny tiny to big seeds. The big seeds work great with the seeder but the tiny ones are harder to use for me.  So we came up with a way to seed the little specks of seeds without any waste.

A finely honed Popsicle stick and a little vial of water.  You dip the stick to moisten the tip and just touch the seed with the damp tip and place it on the soil of your block or plug.  Works great, rarely drop a seed and then we have one seed per block and no waste. If the seed is pelleted and colored its easy peasy and I can use this on all the seeds we grow with the exception of one... the snapdragon.

Even with my magnifying reading glasses, I cannot see if a snapdragon seed is on the block, they are incredibly tiny, black and my eyes are bad!  Farmer Tony seeds the snapdragons.

A couple of other necessities include a indestructible old radio.

It is really old but works and can be heard over the fan.

  A great old bar stool that you can park your butt on all day and saves the feet for another day of hard work.
The biggest necessity is good record keeping.  Farmer Tony, the former manufacturing guy, always says " If you don't measure it, you can't control it; and if you do not know if you are in control you are by definition out of control."  Not a good thing, so we count everything.  We count seeds we buy, seeds we plant, germination rates, seedlings to transplant, seedlings to the field, plant survival, flowers cut for market or wholesale, flowers sold at the market or wholesale giving us the cut stems to stems sold ratio.  We count things so often, that I found myself counting things that don't need counting, just numbers on the brain.  All this record keeping helps us with succession planting,  the timing of seedlings, builds our own data base for how long seeding to flowering takes for our area and how the flowers perform in the field, at the market and overall popularity of the flower.  Flowers have to earn their keep by being profitable per square foot of growing area.  Flowers that are too labor intensive especially when cutting (there is only the two of us) are removed from the mix even if they are really pretty. Good record keeping is a must and sometimes we fail to do a good job at it, but we keep trying.

We have another seedlings stand in our home in the basement which will hold 12 more trays and it is warmer because the basement is heated with our pellet stove.

Finally all seedlings that have germinated or have been transplanted end up in our unheated propagation house (18'X20') where they grow, harden off and become ready for the field or hoop house.

It is vented on the side and has a back window for cooling, no heat but has the capillary watering mat system we have previously blogged about, to keep the seedlings well watered.
This is the way we have come up with to do our seeding, but we are so open to any other tips and or techniques that others have used.  If you have a good method, please share it with us, we are always looking for ways to improve.  

So if you were to stop by for a visit, you would find Farmer Tony out in one of the hoop houses or on the tractor. As for me, I am always in the greenhouse,  come by and I will put you to work washing trays.

The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.
Gertrude Jekyll


  1. I would love to pop by and help you wash trays on my next trip through Oregon! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Shall I leave that stack of trays out there for you? Thanks for supporting our little operation!!! Time to go wash now....

  2. Great blog lots of good information thanks for sharing. When do you start to fertilize your seedlings and with what? Yes, tray washing is not at the top of my list. I wash 4 a day and then go plant that way I will eventually have them all washed, I think.

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