Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Where the #$%@ is spring??

Another 1-3 inches of snow again?!

The forecast calls for snow again tomorrow! This will be the fourth time it has snowed here in the past two weeks. The average last snow date in this part of Iowa is around the end of March, which isn't to say that it never snows in April -- just not four times! And April 18th is getting to be pretty late in April for snow -- by this time last year, temperatures were nearly 80°F.

But I'm hopeful that this will be the last time it snows this spring, and that warmer days are coming after tomorrow. The ten-day forecast looks pretty good: mostly sunny and temperatures in the 50s and 60s, which is what they should be in mid-April.

Despite the frequent bouts of snow, a few stalwart bulbs have been blooming, although not completely unaffected by the unusually cold temperatures:

Daffodils next to the house in a south-facing border.

More daffs on the east side of our house.

Some hyacinths are blooming in the North Border, although I think the cold has stunted their growth. They're only a few inches tall and look ridiculously stubby. But they still smell nice though, way down next to the ground.

These crown imperial fritillarias are similarly afflicted -- not quite blooming yet, but still only about ten inches in height. They don't smell as nice as the hyacinths. :-)

I'm hoping that the sun and warmth will encourage more perennials and bulbs to emerge from the ground. Things are definitely coming up in some areas, but not everything yet, and not everywhere.

It's not just that I want to enjoy warm spring days -- although I do, of course. But also, I'm itching to get started on the new garden area that I'm planning. And I can't do that until I can move some perennials and late bulbs around, which I can't do until they're all up and I can see where they are. It's kind of frustrating -- I feel sure you understand.

Plus, I'm also worried that I have so many things that I want to do in the gardens this spring, and that despite the late start to spring, it will still get too hot to work outside comfortably, and move plants safely, by the end of May as usual. We may only have a five week window to work, which sounds like an awfully short time to get everything done.

I have already been able to work outside a few times this spring. Several days in March were nice enough to start cutting back and raking out borders. And then last Thursday was the first pleasant day since March: 75° and sunny! It was a glorious respite from the cold (but alas, followed by more cold, rain and snow last weekend). I did get quite a bit done (and enjoyed being outside doing it) on that beautiful day, though.

And today was pretty nice, nearly 50° and sunny, so I pruned my roses and did a few other things outside. With any luck, there'll be more days like today later in the week, and I'll soon be able to get started on my garden plans, which I will tell you about in a post soon.

I hope you are finally enjoying some warmer days in in your own gardens, and spring is arriving for you with beautiful weather and many spring flowers. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Greenhouse Travails: How do I make this thing functional?

93°F, and it wasn't even that sunny. Yikes!

I've been trying to figure out how to make the most of my new 4'x6' greenhouse, and it's been a saga of uncertainty and adjustments. I hope I'm on the right track though.

Here's a timeline of my progress:

August 2017: Brand-new and all in one piece. What could go wrong?

October 2017: Knowing the fierce winds on my hilltop location, I had the foresight to get my builder to make a solid base to attach the greenhouse frame to the south side of my garage. So the frame stayed in place. The same can't be said for the polycarbonate panels and the door (seen leaning inside), all of which blew off in what was actually not a very high wind.
They were strewn across the lawn. Sigh.

November 2017: I used two rolls of tape to bind the polycarbonate panels in place.

March 2018: Last month, since a few panels continued to come loose despite the tape, I wrapped the entire lower part of the greenhouse in a single 15-foot-long sheet of heavy plastic. Not pretty, but now the lower panels aren't going anywhere.

March 2018: I also adjusted the automatic vent window opener, so that it would close all the way at night, but open during sunny days. These are pretty cool: some kind of expanding material pushes open a piston that levers open the window --
no batteries necessary.

March 24, 2018: I installed a small heater, and began to experiment with how high to
set it to keep the temperature above 50°F at night, but not too warm.
(Embarrassingly, the first few nights I didn't realize the extension cord wasn't plugged into
the outlet in the garage, so the heater wouldn't come on no matter how high I set it.
Plugging it in really helped -- all part of the learning curve....)  :-)

March 31, 2018: One of the top panels blew partly out in a storm the night before, and needed
to be taped more securely. But by this point, the greenhouse was staying above 50° at night,
and was nice to sit in during sunny days (the overturned bucket with paving stone on top
at lower right is my makeshift seat -- I read in there for a while and it was quite pleasant).

April 1, 2018: 64° is much more acceptable -- although the 104° high from the previous day is somewhat worrying.
I wonder how accurate the thermometer is though.

April 1, 2018: Since the next ten days are forecast to be overcast and cold, and the greenhouse
shouldn't get too hot during the day, I decided to throw caution to the winds,
and moved some potted starts from my basement into my new operational greenhouse!

I've only moved things in that aren't too sensitive to low temps, in case the heater should fail or heat the greenhouse inconsistently. As spring progresses, I think I'll be able to move more warm-season starts in there.

And I will definitely have to open the door on sunny days to prevent the temperature inside from soaring to 100°F. I've ordered another thermometer to check the accuracy of the one I have.

I've also ordered and should receive in a few days:

1. An inexpensive remote thermometer with alarm, so if the heater or electricity fails, I will be alerted. I'll sleep better at night.
2. An electricity usage monitor, so I can calculate how much it costs to heat the greenhouse.

I'm determined to make a go of using a greenhouse, despite my total lack of experience and the many challenges. How can I call myself a real gardener if I've never grown anything in a greenhouse? (Even a very modest 4'x6' plastic greenhouse like mine?)

My learning curve will continue as spring progresses -- stay tuned for further adventures in greenhouse growing.

Hope you will enjoy warm spring days in your gardens soon. Thanks for reading! -Beth

On a more cheerful note: I found these pansies in a local greenhouse, and they are highly scented. Since it's still too cold for them outside, I put them on my kitchen windowsill, where I can enjoy their bright, cheery color and lovely fragrance up close for a week or so. Soon we'll enjoy this kind of color outside too!