Every solar greenhouse should be designed to admit the maximum amount of light energy in the cool season. But even the finishing details inside; wall colors, location of growing areas, types of containers, and the arrangements of plants, may affect the health of your crops. Of all that a plant needs, light is probably the most critical in the solar-house.
Photosynthesis is the process plants use to convert the raw products of light, carbon dioxide and water into energy rich plantfoods. These, alone with water and elements from fertilizing materials, are used for growth. Plants are most responsive to visible light, and for photosynthesis, they use only its visible portion.
It is the length of time adequate light is available that determines the amount of food plants can make. The short days and lowsun angles of winter are not conducive to rapid growth. Low sun angles make short days even shorter for photosynthesis, since afternoon and morning sunlight then travels through a thicker layer of the Earth's filtering atmosphere. Because plants make lessfood on a winter day, they will take longer to grow.
Some plants such as spinach and lettuce will grow well with low-intensity, diffused light. Others like cucumbers need high intensity, direct light for best growth and fruiting. Practically speaking, plants which tolerate medium intensities will do well nearer dark objects, and high light intensity plants will grow best in full sun and in front of reflective surfaces. Not all vegetables will do well in all seasons. Plants that need plenty of high intensity light will do best in spring inside the greenhouse; outside, the days are getting long though the air and soil are still cool. For periods of marginal light, remember that root and fruit crops needto do a lot of growing before they produce any edible parts. The simplest way to increase the amount of light for plants is bypainting the interior white or coating the walls and roof with aluminum foil. White paint scatters more light, so a little more wouldpass out through the glass than if foil were used. The difference is not large. Note: All wooden beams and rafters should bewhite.
Supplemental lighting can be used to extend the duration of radiation which is strong enough for photosynthesis. This is mostcost effective on seedlings, since young plants are more efficient than older plants in using the extra light. And more plants canbe raised under one light as seedlings.
Solar greenhouses, attached or freestanding are designed so that they are shaded by the peak and opaque roof in the summer.In such tight, well insulated buildings this is essential to avoil overheating. Light intensities will still be ample for growth, though the duration of effective light will not equal conditions on the outside.
How To Set-UP Your Greenhouse For Maximum Production
Crop placement and timing are important in a greehouse. Space is at a premium, microclimates shift and seasons flow into eachother.
Spring comes to the greenhouse when the days begin to lengthen, about mid-February on Long Island. If the greenhouse has been running all winter, beds are probably full of the last of the fall or winter-planted greens. Pots of herbs may be scatteredhere and there, and if artificial lights are installed, new seedlings may be almost ready to transplant into bed positions.
Artificial lights give greater flexibility during winter and spring. Plants that will grow to maturity in the greenhouse are the first to be started. They all need the highest light levels possible at this time of year, so I clear a section of the brightest bed in the housefor them.
Scheduling seedlings for an outside garden is a matter of counting backward from the time they'll be set outside. That date is determined by the last frost date in your area and by the plants's hardiness. Example: Broccoli; starting date should be aboutMarch 27 and the transplant date should be May 15th. Lettuce; start/ April 10th to 17th, transplant on May 15th. and Parsley;March 7th, and transplant May 5th.
The summer greenhouse is used for warm-weather crops such as cucumbers, melons, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Westart our summer plants in spring. Fall greenhouse tomatoes are normally started in flats or pots during the first or second week of June. They must be transplated to bed positions in mid-to-late July, so it's important to plan to have a clear bed in a warm,well-lit position available by this time. The tomatoes harvest begins in September or early October. Depending upon the environment, late plants can give you vine-ripened fruit through November or even beyond.
You can start fall greens as early as September. The beds are likely to be full of heavily bearing crops at this time, so start all ofyour greens, even those that resent transplanting, in small containers. Peat pots are a good choice for Oriental greens because the plants sometimes bolt (go to seed) prematurely when their roots are disturbed. You can hold greens in starting pots for 4 to 6 weeks, but don't let them get root-bound. Peppers and eggplants produce further into the fall season than tomatoes started atthe same time. Leave them in place until production slows. By the time the average daytime temperature fall below 55 degrees and nights average below 400 Degrees, and ripening is slow.
Kale, beets, lettuce, parsley, chard, turnips, and spinash are good choices for early spring or fall plantings. Winter is probablythe most pleasant season in a greenhouse. Just when it seems as if all growing things have come to a halt outdoors, indoors yourfall-planted greens yield heavily through the coldest, darkest months. With a good selection of fresh herbs, the winter diet becomes even more varied.
Natural-light levels aren't high enough in the winter to give seedlings a vigorous start. Under lights, you can start tomatoes rightafter Christmas if minimum greenhouse temperature is avaerage 65' degrees during the day and 50' degrees at night.
Peppers and eggplant are the next crops to start, but since I've had better luck with crops transplanted in March, I wait untilJanuary. Melons and cucumbers respond best to a 16-hour day during both their seedling and adult lives. I wait to start them inthe spring.
You can also use lights to replenish the midwinter supply of greens and other cold-tolerant vegetables. In a cool environmentand under lights, these crops grow as if it's spring.
Early scheduling is tricky and may take a couple of years to develop. As you gain experience with a particular environment,crop schedules and planting schemes become second nature. But still, writing a detailed plan for each season helps withorganization. As the year progresses, keep records on the growth, yieds and general performance of each crop.
Growing Tomatoes, Winter To Spring - Indoors
You can start window-sill salads that last all winter by moving a tomato branch in a pot into your indoor garden. Just pot upone or more small stocky tomato plants this fall, bring them indoors to grow and bear all winter and spring. Anyone with aproperly mulched, weedless garden can obtain a stocky plant by cutting a branch off a bearing tomato plant, placing it ina container of water, and leaving it until roots appear, which takes about a week. Or a branch still attached to the plant can beplaced on the ground, with soil over a 3-inch section, and left for 10-days. After roots grow, the branch can be cut from thelarger plant and potted in a mixture of half compost and half garden soil. I leave my potted tomatoes out in the garden for a fewdays, then bring them in on a warm day. It is best to have them indoors for a week before the heat is turned on.
I keep my tomatoes in a south window with flowering plants. They usually start blossoming in November and continue to bloom and bear tomatoes during the winter and spring. I fed my plants with a diluted mix of liquid fish and seaweed every 12-days, butthey do not regain their normal vigor until I open the inside south window leaving only a ventilated storm window between theplants and the winter weather.
I've also discovered that the uninvited insect is the whitefly, the bane of most indoor tomato growers. There's a plant that repels this pest, though, and that's a good way to control it from the start. The plant is popularly called the shoofly plant or Peruvianground cherry. A few kept in the house or greenhouse will dispel any whitefly infestation and discourage several other insects,too.
Blossoming and bearing tomatoes are heavy feeders. Mine require bone meal, mixed in near the surface of the soil duringFebruary and March. I water them with compost-tea. Before they become too ungainly to move, I put them in the sink andshower them once a week.
When they show a tendency to grow too tall, I pinch the new growth or prune the plants. It's wise to remember that as houseplants their roots systems are quite limited compared to growth made in the outdoor garden. To compensate for this, the tops should be pruned; by balancing stem and leaf growth, setting of fruit is encouraged and heavier bearing results. As the fruitbecomes heavier the plants need support. I tie them to a stake.
As for hand-polling, simply tapping the plants firmly so that the pollen scatters is generally enough. Do this several times as newblossoms appear.
My indoor grown tomatoes do not bear very heavily, but the fruit is firm and have a good flavor and deep color, quite a contrastto the pale, tasteless tomatoes sold in the winter markets. I pot Vinigina Lady's (the vitamin C is double that of standardvarieties) and sometimes Red Cherry, also high inVitamin C. Because of their delicious flavor, both are excellent in salads,and the attractive fruit of Red Cherry enhances the beauty of any fruit bowl. Cheerful yellow flowers, bright red tomatoes, andthe green foliage of window plants show strikingly against the cold skies just beyond the window.
In late spring the plants can be returned to the garden, easily giving you the earliest tomatoes in the neighborhood. Morevigorous plants, however, will result if branches are cut off to root in water. You then have a head start on your summer garden and do not have to sow or buy many new plants, if any. Peppers, too, can be indoor-container-grown through the falland winter Tomatoes.
Hey- Grow Up!
More Garden Space By Using Fences, Trellis, And Stakes
Every vegetable garden should have some sort of fence around it, not only to keep visitors fromwalking in uninvited, but more important, as support for growing crops. Take a small garden,say 20 by 25-feet, fence it with poultry netting 5 or 6-feet high, and you have increased youreffective space by 50% or more. You've also saved the time and trouble involved in providings takes or cages for tomatoes, poles for your beans, and supports for peas.
You can obviously plant all your pole beans, tall peas, and tomatoes close to the fence. Lessobviously, you can plant many other crops along the ready-made trellis and count on their doingat least as well as they would if allowed to sprawl over dozens of square feet of your garden.
Cucumbers grow especially well on a fence. Instead of planting them in hills, push a dozen seedsinto the soil an inch or two from the fence, about 3-inches apart. You'll also find the fruitcolors more uniformly, without the white streak that frequently spoils its appearance if notthe taste.
Melons are another excellent crop for vertical gardening. Musk melons, though, should havecradles made for them out of cheesecloth, or similar material spread under the fruit andsecured to the fence. Otherwise, as melons ripen and stems begin to loosen, the fruit will fallto the ground.
In growing your vegetables on a fence, remember that the principles of crop succession apply.Any given section of fence can support more than one crop each season. Tall peas may be startedfirst. Pole limas and Pole string beans can go in a little later and a few inches farther from the fence. Tomato plants can be set a full foot away, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and squashesplanted between them.
I'm continually being told by people living in the suburbs that they would like to grow a fewtomatoes or something of that sort, but have no room. Over years of experimenting in vegetablegrowing, my answer has become: "If you have room for a fence, you have room for tomatoes, andmany other crops too."
What I tell them amounts to this: If you want to grow tomatoes, get a dozen strong plants andset them within a foot of your fence in a sunny spot. Dig deep holes for the plants, and leaveonly the tips exposed above the paper collars you wrap around them to stop cutworms. Applycompost, bone meal and some 4-6-4 organic fertilizer liberally over the surface. As the plantstake hold and start to grow, mulch them with hay or straw. When they begin to sprawl, prunemain branches off to the best 2 or 3, and tie these to the fence with strips of cloth, beingcareful to take a turn loosely around each stem with the tie made at the fence end. This givesyou a sling for each branch which, like a surgical sling for a tender arm, supports it withoutrisk of injury. After that, all you have to do is make similar slings for the higher growth,and you will have a nice crop of tomatoes.
So much for tomatoes. The same applies to all the crops mentioned earlier. Anyone who has apiece of fencing anywhere, or a place for one, has room for a good vegetable garden ofcorresponding dimensions. By feeding the soil with organic fertilizers and soil amendments,including all crop residues, along a 2-foot-wide strip next to a fence, you can grow anastonishing quantity of choice vegetables at little cost beyond the price of seeds.
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Written by: Crow Miller, Syndication, OrganicCyberGarden.
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