WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND OUR GREENHOUSE? – Part 2

How and why we decided to plant the way we do in the greenhouse:

Once we knew that we wanted the greenhouse and that we wanted to make enough out of it to supplement future retirement income; we began researching different growing techniques.

HYDROPONICS

hydroponics-system

This was a fairly new fad that was popular at the time we were doing our research.  I think we got lucky when we found a place near the farm we were buying that grew tomatoes through hydroponics.  The man/owner we met informed us of his past in Agricultural Science and how he had developed a great liquid fertilizer that he used on his plants.  His tomatoes were beautiful…perfectly formed, all about the same size, smelled like a really great tomato should.  He was kind enough to give us a free half case to sample.  We thanked him for the tour of his facility and the samples and went home.

The first thing we did was review the pictures we took and discussed his set up and operations in relation to what we had in mind.  His help was immensely helpful.  Unfortunately, the taste of the tomatoes fell flat.  They had no flavor at all – bland!  We wanted to have produce that excited your taste buds from the moment it touches your lips.

To be fair, we then went to some specialty markets in the Denver-metro area and selected a variety of “hydroponic grown” tomatoes for comparison.  We found the same end results.  Yes, they were pleasing to the eye, but all flat on flavor.  That helped us to decide that hydroponics was not for us.

ORGANIC

organic-growing-system

This was something we knew a little about, mainly due to the cultural movement at the time.  Everyone wanted to go “organic” to save the planet.  Once again I began my research on it.

I knew the basics that it was grown using better methods, thus making it better for you to eat.  This was a good start, but I needed to know “how” it was grown better.  What methods were used and why?  This is what I found:

  1. A) The first thing you are going to come to is the Wikipedia definition:
    1.      Organic horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants by following the essential principles of organic agriculture in soil building and conservation, pest management, and heirloom variety preservation.
    2. This took me to what are “essential principles of organic agriculture”, and how can I apply them? Again on Wikipedia I found this: (fyi – it’s huge, so I only took a part of the description)
    3. The principles are intended to “apply to agriculture in the broadest sense, including the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and distribute goods. They concern the way people interact with living landscapes, relate to one another and shape the legacy of future generations.”

2)      The four principles of organic agriculture are as follows:

(i)       The Principle of Health – Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible.

(ii)      The Principle of Ecology – Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

(iii)    The Principle of Fairness – Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

(iv)     The Principle of Care – Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well being of current and future generations and the environment.

3)      This next section I found (again in Wikipedia) goes into the pest control part – the section we were (and still very much are) concerned about:

  1. a) Integrated pest management (IPM), also known as integrated pest control (IPC) is a broad-based approach that integrates practices for economic control of pests. IPM aims to suppress pest populations below the economic injury level (EIL). The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation defines IPM as “the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms

4)      What # 3a) is actually talking about is how much pesticides they will allow a person/business to use on their plants – YET – still be labeled as “organic.”

We did not like the sound of this. According to the USDA (e) When the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases: Provided, That, the conditions for using the substance are documented in the organic system plan.

The big words that stood out in our heads were “may be applied.”  They are stating that if you have tried all of the natural, or organic, methods and you still can’t get rid of your pests; here’s a list of chemicals we do allow you to use and still use the label organic.  WHAT??!!  The Federal Regulations goes into a ton of beat-around-the-bush lingo but boils down to the fact that they do allow certain types of chemicals but only up to a certain limit (last I knew was up to 15% chemicals were allowed to be used but still called organic).  The also go on to let you know the National List of synthetic (Definition: of a substance made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product) substances allowed.  Oh, and they also have a ton of things that are exempt from all the regulations.

THIS ALL BOILED DOWN TO ONE BIG THING: We did not want to use any chemicals – AND – we did not want to have to report to “big brother”  all the time.  If a person creates income from organic foods, in excess of $5000, they have to share all their records of operations and maintenance under allowable organic methods.  Well, our personal preference is that the US Government needs to keep their eyes on bigger matters and keep they nose out of our personal lives.  Result: no organic partying for us.

NATURAL METHODS

natural-growing-system

This became our destination!  What better idea is there for us than to go “natural?”  We do not use chemicals on any of our edibles or flowers.  The only thing we do with our lawn spaces is water and mow.  The farm birds take very good care of the fertilizer part (chickens mainly), and we compost.  If any manure needs to be added, we have plenty of friends willing to assist.

We pull weeds by hand or use weedless gardening methods (this is basically covering a plot or space with bio-degradable material like cardboard or newspaper to kill off the unwanted weeds) and companion planting with EVERYTHING!  Then good soil and compost are topped on that, then plant away on top.  It does not kill off everything forever, but it does limit growth and slows them down.) so, with proper prepping and being the Constant Gardener, we can spend more time on tending to our crops needs.

We use a TON of companion planting to repel or distract unwanted pests.  Some things we grow lure bad bugs away from our good foods, some just simply keep them at bay.  We have a great list of reading materials that I would be happy to share, for anyone that would want to learn more.  Read (and still do) all kinds of different growing methods and techniques, but I still have some favs that work best.

Next, I will share How we set up the inside of our greenhouse and why.

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THRILLED FINDING MY NEW GUEST!

Gardens and gardening is a never ending adventure for me.  Every time I go out to them, I find something wonderful and amazing.  Today is her day:

gardenspider-1

She is a common garden spider for out here.  The funny part is the first five years on our little piece of heaven; we did not see any of them?  Then, in the 6 year, they were everywhere.  We had a fun one that made a next on the old chicken shed.  The front of it was all chicken wire to let the sun in, and she found that to be a perfect spot for feeding.  We also have one of our well pumps right beside that spot.  Well, we would go to water the animals and turn on that pump, and she would spaz out. She was a massive predator!  The minute her web wiggled, even a tiny bit, she was all over it.  Most of the day she was very lazy and just hung out in the middle sunning herself.  But the first time I was trying to untangle the hose for the chicken water and splashed her web – I freaked out (my turn I guess, haha).  She came bolting across to where I hit her web, and I must have jumped back a foot at least!  They are not a small spider:

gardenspider-2

My fingers are right behind her in this shot, and she is not even full grown yet! Eeek!!  Her body alone gets about as big as a ping-pong ball, and those legs stretch out about three inches from that.  She actually has a pretty silver streaking going on, but I was at the wrong angle for the picture to properly show that.

Considering how aggressive she is toward bad bugs, how she doesn’t bother me if I don’t bother her, and I caught her eating a wasp – she is welcome to stay and call the greenhouse home!  Now I just need to remember that she is in there because this web is up as high as my head, and the place we turn on the swamp cooler pump is right behind her.  Would hate to not be paying attention and have her right on my face – double EEEK!!!  Happy gardening you all – and keep your heads up!
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CAN YOU SEE ME NOW – BOO?

Cool looking bugs have always fascinated me. What interests me most is how well they blend in. I can spot a Ladybug just about anywhere. Grasshoppers stick out also. But the praying mantis is just too cool!
I was doing some spot watering in the greenhouse today. We have plants in there that are now as tall or taller than me (I am 5’5” in case you are wondering). Well just cruising along the plots minding my own business then I happened to glance over my left shoulder. There he was. Hanging out – upside down – on the tarragon bush (Which, by the way, also gets HUGE! Cut it back three times so far this year, and it’s getting close to another butchering!).

male-mantis-1   male-mantis-2
I know the females (green ones) are in the greenhouse as we put most of them in there. But this was a he-male. First male I have seen in the greenhouse and that is this big…

I placed my hand behind him just to show how huge he is. My guess is about 3-1/2 to 4 inches long. I couldn’t help just staring at him. The details, the grace among the plant, the fact that they wipe out bad bugs – awesome!
We are getting into my favorite time of year – fall! This is when I really start looking at things in great detail. I was pulling weeds in the front patio and finally saw a velvet ant – not bad. They are the size of the red ants here, but shiny/fuzzy bodies. This one was bright red. However, I was asked once if the “cow killer” I found was actually a velvet ant. I can now firmly say – NO WAY, NOT ON YOUR LIFE! This velvet ant was really “ant” size – small, about ¼ inch long. The Cow Killer was the size of a large black beetle or a full-size bumble bee. It also moved really, really fast! Pretty sure I do not EVER want one of these to bite me – ouch! I would also prefer to not EVER see one again thank you – – – way too scary!

cow-killer-bug  (Cow Killer)
I am thinking that climate change has all the bugs off-whack too. Insects that we used to see in the heat of the summer, have just appeared in the last 3 weeks…yellow jackets, for example. There have been a couple here and there, but not like right now. Masses have accumulated at the south side of our home and in the greenhouse. We have to go in the greenhouse early or late in the day. We have set up some traps, but their numbers are greater than our little traps can handle. This is very odd indeed. Over the last several years we have gotten the occasional honeybee that was lost, confused and ended up inside. A wasp or two was no big deal. But this year is biblical plague size.

scary-wasp-face

 

 

 

 

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Grandma, Why Do You Walk So Funny?

Out of the mouth of babes, Grandma, why do you walk funny? (It should be noted that he is now mimicking me – I want to growl, but started laughing instead – little jerk! LOL) Since he has ADHD, and since he thinks computer games are way better than gardening; I decided to show him in pictures:

This:

dried footer

Became this:

DSCF5135  DSCF5121

And now is this:

20160605_091933 (1).jpg

This:

rasp before 6-5-16.jpg

Became this:

raspberry row after 6-4-16

This and so much more was all done with the help of things like this:

my R shoulder xray-after.jpg 

Several great doctors, modern technology, and some really strong metal and plastic parts (hope I don’t rust – hee hee).

Before the new body parts, I could not lift my right arm without my left arm’s help.  Both knees were sitting bone-on-bone (cartilage totally gone in both), and one foot had bones that shattered as my beautiful doctor tried to fix it (and NO – none of them were named – Frankenstein).  The other foot is yet to be determined, but it is useable on most days, so I’m ok for now.

On good days, I walk upright.  On fun days, I walk like the Hunchback of Notre Dame (of course, then I have to chase him around the yard yelling “Where’s my bell?  Give me my bell?” with a lisp of course.)

So, my answer to my grandson is – I HAVE EARNED IT!

My walk came hand-in-hand over time just like my wrinkles.  The real answer is: just too much fun growing up, so now I pay the piper.  With any luck, by the time everything gives out, I will have it all completely replaced and then have a great excuse for not knowing who that lady is in the mirror!  He is only seven, so he didn’t get the joke.  It was too hard to explain why I couldn’t stop laughing at this point, so I just tickled him for a while.

Then I proceed to tell him all about the reasons why Grandma is so silly all the time – but that is a whole other story.

goofy frankenstein

 

 
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IS IT OUR JOB? THEN WHY DO I FELL LIKE A JESTER?

I believe it is our job as humans to take care of the other creatures we share the planet with – yes, even spiders (yucky!).

brown spider pic

We try to keep at least one or 2 spiders in our home (as long as they stay up on the ceiling out of reach) to help control flies and other bothersome pests. We have Bull Snakes which help to keep the rodent population down (as long as I don’t confront one while weeding, I’m cool with it). We have free-range fowl that help to keep the grasshopper population at bay (just gotta watch the turkeys – they will steal your hot peppers, and the ducks will take up residence between the tomato plants and pluck the fruit at the peak of ripeness – jerks!).

We have learned a ton of natural gardening methods to deter all different kinds of critters. We would prefer to deter, then eliminate. However, once in a while, you get something that you just do not want anywhere on your property! For us, that is the Yellow Jacket Wasp!

yellow jacket wasp pic

I know it is our job as humans to tend to the creatures of the planet, but I have a real hard time when it comes to the Yellow Jacket. It is a mean monster that will sting for no reason, and do it over and over and over again. The poor Honey bee loses its guts if it stings you! I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to sting anything if it meant having my insides pulled out – yucky and OUCH!

Please don’t confuse them with our wonderful Honey Bees:

honey bee pic

I am posting pics of both at a fairly close distance so you can learn the differences. We also love our Mason Bees

mason bee pic

I call them my Fuzzy Bees. They are about the same size as a black fly (another nasty pest), but they are all fuzzy looking here. I have heard that some are black; I have never seen a black one, just our creamy tan little cuties (yes, I love it when they rest on me – too fun!)

Then we also have what is called a Mud Wasp (also called Mud Dauber or Dirt Digger):

mud wasp

(Don’t let this pic fool you – they are only about ½ inch long when full grown, would rather walk and flick their wings they fly around after you.) Do NOT confuse them with the mean wasp family as they are not a baddy but a goodie. They usually travel alone and eat the baddies in your gardens. They like to hang around buildings collecting mud for their nests. Ours made a home between the bricks on the patio off the east porch steps. We also have a small crack in the steps when the house shifted, and she will fly from patio to porch and back. Never hurt any of us, have seen her attack a daddy long legs spider, and a pill bug. So she can stay!

In all fairness, I went to Wikipedia, which then led me to UC Davis Edu. This finally gave me the answer to my question – What are they good for? According to this article – little to nothing, which is what I thought. They are very predatory and will keep other pests away, however; I have seen them take out a Honey Bee hive (ticked me off!). So unless one of my readers can give me a good reason to keep them around, I will continue to eliminate them every chance I get!

I was weeding around a wagon of ours, it had some pretty tall grasses and some picker weeds – time for it all to go. I felt a burning sensation on the back of my hand (yep – no gloves, stupid me!) and when I pulled my hand up and flipped it over – 3 of the nasty monsters were going to town on my hand – grrr! I brushed them off and stomped on them, then went to the pump, got some cold water and made a mud pack. Slapped it on my hand which, by now, was about doubled in size and tight as a drum! Please note that I am not allergic to these buggers, or bees for that matter, but their sting is that bad!

So my takeaway today is “kill the hornet, kill the hornet, kill the hornet” (you have to sing that to the Bugs Bunny Opera episode – Elmer is a Viking, Bugs is Brunhilda – hee hee)Whats opera doc

(FYI – One of my all-time favorite Cartoons!)

 

 
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ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES?

Time has finally caught up with us. Okay, maybe I should say the weather has finally caught up with us. Our first major frost is due tomorrow night, and I’m not ready – eeekkkk! The exterior garden is pretty much demolished – so no problem there. The decision now is do I want to keep the greenhouse tomatoes going through to next year or break out my Edward Scissorhands clippers and have at it?

My major concern is not devastating the bush, but how bad the bush will devastate me. The darn thing is from the nightshade family. Very poisonous prospect, and an oxymoron if you really think about it. How did anyone ever come to realize that a tomato was edible? I know that most of what we eat is from watching critters. If they eat it, must be ok – however- nothing will eat the tomato vine. The fruit (yep it’s a fruit) is, to me, outstanding! So many varieties of uses – ketchup, sauces, Pico, and best to me – raw!! We put them in tons of things from eggs to meats to noodles. When you combine several together you get an amazing flavor (that’s how we make our pasta sauce).

So what am I so worried about – the vines. Years past I was able to tear at them with minimal body covering (ok, clean it up, I’m talking shorts and a tank top then)…but not now. Now I need full body armor! Pants, socks, ankle high boots, long sleeve shirt or at least a long sleeve jacket, gloves and most important – a clean rag.

The rag came about when I found out that I could no longer deal with the treacherous monster without full body armor. I make the mistake of taking out the outside vines 2 years ago by simply hacking away at them. I knew what they were back then, but at that time they did not infest me. Well, on this fateful day it happened to be bright, sunny and on the warmer side. As I worked I began to perspire (women perspire – men sweat – what a crock but that’s for another day) and subconsciously wiping the wet from my face – using my hands which were not encased in gloves. I believed that gloves were for sissys that were afraid to get their hands dirty – also, not anymore!

The poison weeping from the vines as I hacked away at them was doing its dastardly revenge from the moment I touched them. It leaked all over my hands and arms, I lifted both to help remove the moister from my face and eyes and the damage was done! The killer tomatoes had gotten vengeance. They were stealthy – doing injury when I least expected it! This was a year, after all, just like the previous years so why should I do anything different? Ha, ha, ha, silly me! NOTHING ever stays the same!!

I did my dirty deed on the gardens. I took everything down for the winters’ rest, as it should be. I went to bed that evening feeling like a hero! I had accomplished every fall cleanup item on my “to-do list” in record time. I showered after a hard days’ work but it was already too late. The sneaky tomato was enforcing its revenge upon me without my knowing it.

I woke the next morning looking like a blow fish!

pic of blowfish

WWWHHHAAATTTT???? I was swollen from my eyes to my feet with the worst being on my face (of course!). I was awake, but my eyes were thin little slits to peek through. My sinuses were so plugged that I had to hang my mouth open to breathe a heavy breather on a nasty phone call. And the facial skin itself was so stretched from the attack that I could not see a single wrinkle (bonus!? Hee hee).   My fingers were so swollen I could not make a fist and a burning rash had broken out almost everywhere. The first think (yes think) I did was yell for help.

Well, help came but not before laughing hysterically for several minutes first! Very funny – not!!! My sister then reminded me about the nightshade family in the tomato. So that was the culprit. She continued to laugh while helping to rub aloe lotion on me, also reminding me of all the time I teased her about her “sensitive” skin (she breaks out in a rash at the drop of a hat). Now I was to learn exactly how she felt – in the most painful way!

The majority of the swelling went down after a couple of days, the rash took a bit longer. But I did learn a very valuable lesson. The tomato doesn’t care what your skin type is. It doesn’t care that you may have killed it in the past without feeing its agony. It only cares about the first moment you DO notice it. That moment when it can come out on your unsuspecting self and seek revenge!

So, now I know that I will attack the monster with full body armor, but I will display my kinder side. I will allow part of the plant to remain in the plot. I will cover it with extra protection and even add a small space heater so that the temperature will remain above freezing in its mini-tunnel. I will allow it to continue to provide us with fruit in a slower manner throughout the winter.

In turn, I believe, it will not decide to attack me. At least not until the next time I get stupid and try to clear it jungle style! It had better remember that revenge is sweet, especially served up in a pasta sauce!

Now, my older friends, you know where they got the idea for that wonderful “B” movie from back in the 70’s – Attack of the killer tomatoes. Enjoy!!  (oh, and of course don’t forget that great theme song )

THE GREENHOUSE PROJECT-The Original Plan

When we bought the farm in 2000, we knew a couple of things to be true…1) We wanted to become self-sufficient, 2) We knew that social security would not be there for us by the time we retire (which is a very sad thing-but that is for another “soapbox” story about how screwed up our government has become) even though we have paid into it for over 30+ years, 3) If we were going to survive after retirement, we were going to have to create our own business – something that everyone would need.

Then it came to us – a greenhouse!  Not some dinky backyard, just for yourself size, but a big one!  But we still wanted something different, something that was unique and would feed us, our family and friends, and still provide enough to sell and earn and income for our retirement.  We also wanted something to pass on to my daughter – a farm life better than what we had as kids (and that was going to be pretty hard to beat).

I used to get the Mother Earth News magazine back in the 70’s and 80’s.  It started out as a great magazine, but in the 80’s something happened, it went too commercial.  Then I found out about Countryside magazine and that was where our greenhouse ideas came from.  We were going to grow in the ground in the greenhouse.  We didn’t want above ground on tables like the big commercial growers do, and we didn’t want to just sell plants.  We wanted to sell food – good food – healthy food.

So, the original idea was to have a large place where we could grow enough food for our family and still have lots to sell and produce an income – great idea right!  We had enough escrow from the sale of our homes in Denver to buy an 84’x30’ greenhouse kit.  Kit is the operative word here and we were in for a shocker!  The whole thing took months to deliver and was in boxes, crates and metal pipes that all came in separate shipments from several different places.  We thought we were purchasing from a company right here in Colorado – surprise, not!  The “hub” is here in Colorado, but they actually purchase parts from all over the country (ahhh the things you learn when you’re not paying close attention).

We paid roughly $17,000 for the thing, which was supposed to include shipping.  Then, in the course of things, they wanted more money for more shipping?  Well it wasn’t our fault so many parts came to us damaged (P.S. people – make sure you check every shipment!) and was returned for replacements.  This was our future so we wanted to get it right the first time. 

Well, happen as things will, by the time we finally got all of our parts and pieces life kicked in again.  We had no time or money left to actually build the darn thing – so it sat.  And it sat.  And it sat!  For 10+ years it all sat and/or was shuffled around the farm.  We even thought about taking it to the auction to try to sell at one point, but dreaded the thought of trying to load all the separate crates, pieces and pipes.  So it did nothing for over 10 years.