Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden- Greenhouse

When we built our house, we built an extra ten feet onto the end of the garage.  I put a sliding glass door in the east wall, double pane windows on the south and a large window on the west.  The screened windows open as needed.  I also put three large skylights in the ceiling.  We insulated the same as for the house.  This is my greenhouse and my spa.  I installed a six-foot by six-foot hot tub. 

We live in the country, which means that when winter storms hit, we can be without electricity for three to five days.  It seems that when the storms hit the temperature drops into the high twenties.  All I have to do to keep my greenhouse above forty degrees during the power outages is to open the lid of the hot tub.  I have three hundred gallons of water heated to one hundred and two degrees.  This works fantastic.

The greenhouse did suffer during my years of neglecting my gardening.  I have spilled dirt everywhere.  Plants dried out from lack of watering.  Fluorescent lights died and were not replaced.  The room became a catch-all for things that got carried out of the house.

Despite the neglect, I’ve had success starting seeds in the greenhouse.  I am careful to use sterile potting soil.  I use the plastic flats available in most places that sell garden supplies.  I buy them with the clear plastic domes.  The domes are important for me because in my greenhouse, seeds are not going to get watered.  I throw away the silly little cells that come with the flats.  I fill the whole flat with soil.  I sow my seeds into the soil, cover with the dome and stack the flats on a warm shelf to germinate.

When the plants are not quite to the true leaf stage, I set them in a sunny place or under the one remaining fluorescent.  I do have a mercury vapor light in the greenhouse.  Between the windows, the one fluorescent, and the mercury vapor light my seedlings seem to grow well enough without getting leggy.  True confession:  I know this is very bad.  I know this is as bad as going to bed with my make-up on.  During the seed-starting season the mercury vapor light never gets turned off.  My timer broke and didn’t get replaced.  The light runs day and night.  My seedlings do not seem to be traumatized.  Perhaps they like a nightlight.  They are just babies after all.

As I said, I haven’t kept my greenhouse as pristine as it was before I got sick.  I still haven’t had trouble with disease or insects.  The spiders may help by eating invading  insects.  I do check the plants as I go back and forth to the hot tub.  If I see something that looks like an infestation, the plant or flat goes outside immediately.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  I never try spraying with something in hopes of killing the pest.  Infested plants go outside, even the orchids.

Despite the spilled dirt, spider webs and miscellaneous stuff stacked on the floor and shelves, my greenhouse seems to be a healthy place for plants.  I’m not sure why.  It is dryer than most people think of a greenhouse.  It seldom feels humid even when I’ve been soaking in the tub.  The room doesn’t grow mold.  The amaryllis who live in there year round seem happy enough.  My seeds grow into healthy seedlings.  I start my dahlias in there in the spring.  I am forcing lilies now.  I just finished forcing tulips for Valentines Day.  I regularly bring in branches to force for spring bouquets.  

Why does the room work?  I suspect it has something to do with being “too dry.”  Also, my morning walk through to my hot tub keeps me on top of any problems.  The room is large for the number of plants.  It has ten-foot ceilings and one end taken up by the hot tub.  I run a fan all the time.  My plants have excellent ventilation.  It works.  I’m not sure why.