Since winter officially begins three days from now, it's time to recap this year's "Race Against Winter." As usual, the days become shorter faster than our list-to-get-done-before-winter does. We were fortunate that winter's weather held off as long as it did this year. October and November both had their share of unseasonably warm weather, allowing us to get more done. My son Sean's visit in November helped immensely. While he was here, we cleaned out all of the recently freeze-killed plants in the rolling greenhouse; pruned all the citrus and avocado trees in the tree greenhouse; and cut back the asparagus fronds, weeded, and mulched the asparagus bed. Normally, we pull the live plants after production falls off, but we were running late, and they died from a freeze before we got to them. An unexpected bonus was that we ended up with a longer season of solanaceas. We had decided to cross moving-the-rolling-greenhouse off the list this year, due to time constraints, which is why we hadn't pulled the plants yet. That would have sacrificed our winter crop of spinach. But a couple weeks ago we had an open day, the weather was good, no snow on the ground, and so we moved it, saving the spinach from being buried under snow. A couple days ago I got row cover down, over the spinach, just before an overnight low temperature of -12F. Inside the greenhouse (but outside the row covers), the thermometer read +2F. It amazes me how cold it can get without killing spinach. The next day the sun was out, and even though it was still cold outside, it got up to 62F inside the greenhouse. But as soon as the sun went down, the temperature quickly dropped below freezing inside. In addition to the winter spinach, which will be pulled in the spring for tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers, we are trying to overwinter some artichoke plants. They did well from seed this year, but they are naturally biennial, and we'd like to see how much more production we can get from already established plants.
An item on our "Race" list every year is getting the garlic beds prepped and planted. This year we decided to increase the size of the crop, so we moved the garlic out of its 4-bed rotation (potatoes-garlic-lettuces-brassicas) to where we've been growing squashes and pumpkins. The rows are 1' wider and 10' longer. The extra foot in width allowed us to plant 5-wide instead of our usual 3-wide. That gives 10 plants per foot instead of 6. Altogether, we doubled the size of the crop from 1800 to 3600 heads. We also had to make a new dibble. The biggest change was that we had to make it a two-person dibble because the bed is too wide for a person to comfortably straddle it. Secondly, because our garlic have become increasingly larger over the past five years, we needed to make the dowels larger. We increased from 7/8" diameter to 1-1/4" diameter, but 1-1/2" would have worked better, so we plan to do that for next year, as well as lengthening the dowels by an inch or so.
The main reason for everything running late was due to our efforts to complete our new seedling greenhouse. The building is completed, with much greatly appreciated help from my good friend Jim John. The 26' x 64' steel framework with triple-wall polycarbonate panels for the roof, and double-wall inflated poly film roll-up curtain, came from Rimol Greenhouse. The walls are 2x6 stud construction with fiberglass insulation. There is also 2" styrofoam insulation below ground extending 8' out from the slab, with poly film over it to shed water. That makes a larger area for heat storage. We still need to build planting beds, benches, and hose trolleys, but the building is done.
Jim and Steve finishing up polycarbonate roof. Jim is a master at ladders, staging, rigging, and clamping.
A week and a half ago we had Kevin from Pinney Plumbing and Heating out to hook up the radiant loops in the slab to the hydronic heating system in the shop and tree greenhouse. Kevin did his normally superb job, and we now have hot water running in the slab. Kevin and I thought it would take a week for all the thermal mass in the slab to come up to temp, but it only took a little over a day. I'm experimenting with thermostat settings right now, before we have any plants growing inside, to figure out optimum settings. The thermostat controlling the zone valve has two inputs: a slab sensor and a room sensor. The slab is set to 60F, and the room is set to 45F. Either temperature will start heat running to the slab. So far, the settings seem to work well down to single digit outdoor temps. The other morning the outdoor temp was +5F, and the slab was showing 63F, while the room was showing 43F. However, on the morning it was -12F, the slab was showing 59, while the room was showing 37F. The heat was running, but it couldn't quite keep up with the heat loss of the building. I'm going to try pre-heating the slab to 70F before nights that are forecast to be below zero and see how that works out.
Rich and I finished the earth tube system about a month ago, and it's been working well. "Earth tube" is an older name that's recently gotten more sophisticated with the name "low-grade geothermal". Our system is designed a little different than conventional, if there is such a thing as conventional earth tubes. It has no outside fresh air intake; it just recycles the air internally. We thought that would be advantageous for heat capture. Because of its above ground physical appearance, Rich has nicknamed it "Brazil," after the architecture in the cult movie of the same name. We have 4 thermostats. The first is for the earth tube blowers, in "cooling mode," with an overhead sensor up at the peak of the ceiling. It is currently set to 70F. When the temperature at the ceiling gets to 70, the fans start pulling air there through the tubes to underground and discharging it near the floor. I'm not sure how much heat is being transferred into the earth, but on warm, sunny days, the temp up there has reached close to 100F, and the air coming out of the blowers feels cool, so the heat must be going into the ground . The system was up and running too late this year to supercharge the ground with summer's heat, but we hope to get enough next summer to minimize the need for hot water heat in the slab. The second thermostat is the one mentioned above, which controls the slab heat. The third one is used merely as a thermometer, reading the temperature underground. The fourth one is currently in off mode, but will be used in heating mode next year, and it will activate the earth tube blowers when the room temperature falls too low, pulling heat back out of the ground and into the room.The hose trolley is almost ready for installation. Once it's up, I'll post pictures of it. Also, watch for the posting coming soon, for a young couple wanting to start a farm, to have that opportunity here at SCSA. ---Steve