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Kate at High Altitude Gardening reports a neat thing happening in SLC, UT

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Where things either live or die!

Mar 22, 2011

Happy Spring Update


I hope you are all enjoying the first days of spring! I have to say that our weather is very unsettled- just like spring is supposed to be, but with the added bonus of sunshine :).

We have been fighting windy conditions (thanks a lot La Nina!) and it has been a challenge to get my twice-temperedTerm coined by Eliot Coleman- Four Season Harvest pg. 109 'Evaluating the twice-tempered climate' tunnels up and running! I’d better hurry because the spinach, beets, and broccoli have been hardening off and will need to be planted. These are the multi-plant experiment, and so far I think it’s working.

Their true leaves are getting bigger and bigger- so planting time is not too far off.


Things are growing well in the small greenhouse bed- another experiment. I still need to build the 3rd lid for this bed- so far though things bounce back when it gets really cold.

I thinned and ate some of the radishes and lettuce- Mache will not be too far off and I’ve sowed anther 3 rows of it, although that will probably be the last I sow inside as the greenhouse temps are getting higher and higher during the day and they are a cold weather crop. You can’t see them, but they’ve germinated there in the middle (much better this time, I watered better!)

We ate our first baby radish and lettuce on the 18th- they were tender and yummy!


It’s not much- so why do I bother? Well it isn’t much, but the fact that I started these on the 22nd of Jan. in a zone 5, had –8 degree temperatures, high winds, and lots of wet snow and am still able to have fresh food from my small bed in the greenhouse…is huge! Now just imagine if I were to get a larger, longer high tunnel put up with low tunnels inside- we’re talking food year round even here where it’s cold! I love that and now I know from experience that it will work (thank-you Eliot Coleman!). If I started some crops in late summer, early fall and got them to a certain size they’d just sit there waiting for me to harvest all winter. In fact those crops would just now be finishing up and more would be in various stages of growth- about mid February when things take off.

For now I am going to try building mobile boxes to put inside the greenhouse on the benches- these will be used for the winter crops and will be covered with an additional ‘lid’ (twice-tempered) and then as these crops finish up they will be used as a nursery for outdoor transplants.

Other things I managed to get done recently- an additional shelf of lights in the nursery!

Since we moved, I’ve had to set up the nursery in the garage- and it’s cold. I’m not sure it’s made any difference with germination- but I’m keeping records. I also may have discovered new light bulbs to use- I don’t buy the expensive grow lights, I’ve always used one warm and one cool. Pat and I noticed ‘sunshine’ 5,000K bulbs- we’d never seen these before. It seems to me that they’d be a nice combo of cool and warm. After a little research on some forums it seems that others have used them with great success with their seed starting. Next time I have to replace bulbs (or I get another shelf up :) I’ll try them. Anyone have any experience with these?

I’ve also moved the mini greenhouse inside the bigger greenhouse- not sure why I haven’t thought of this before- this would give me twice-tempered conditions for 8 flats so I’ll be able to move things along better under the lights. I left the only 2 remaining pansies in there night before last- the low inside the greenhouse (not double cover temps) was 30.4 and I woke up to pansies that were not frozen- they are in a 6 pack. We’ll see how it works with lower temperatures tonight and with soil blocks that won’t have the plastic surrounding them. The babies in the greenhouse bed were covered and survived, but they are in the ground- I’m just not sure it would work with a flat of seedlings unless they are in a tray with a lid maybe- then they’d be thrice-tempered ;)- too much trouble? Probably. It will still give me a place to put more flats besides under the lights during the day- the seedling shuffle will be greater- that’s all. Ah the lengths we go to…


The lettuce and chives are up in a 200 cell flat I sowed- still waiting for the red orach to germinate.

I’ll be potting these up into paper pots when they get a little better- I remember when I discovered that leaving these plug flats under the lights, but without a tray below them will allow air pruning of the roots, not unlike the soil blocks. What a revelation! You can read about that here.

An update on the winter sown project…something is growing, but it aint the plants I sowed (yes, mom I said aint!)


I can only imagine how wet they’d be if I would have tried this in Portland. I’ve even opened them up to let them dry a bit. I did see one or two pansies and possibly a fescue- and the dianthus is still growing…through the algae :). This may take a bit of tweaking I’m thinking.


I hope your spring is coming along nicely!


Happy Gardening,



  • Patsi

    Wow,wow,wow !!!
    Your plants are looking GREAT.
    Hey Kiddo,you have the same shelves and light set-up as we do.
    Ours is squeezed into a 5x8 foot room with the washer and dryer BUT its been working for years.

  • Catherine@AGardenerinProgress

    I thought I'd done a lot of planting yesterday, but it's nothing compared to what you're doing. I had fun starting more of everything than usual since now I have somewhere to grow lots of herbs and veggies and I have the grow lights this year too. It was so fun starting 12 cells of basil, can't wait for some homemade pesto. I still wish I had a greenhouse, but I love the thought of trying the tunnels like use this year. Just have to plan ahead I guess.

  • Daphne

    All I use for lights are the really cheap cool bulbs. You know, the ones that look blue and are the cheapest. I did some research once. You don't need red unless you want the plant to flower. And honestly, you never want your plants to flower under the lights. It is better they don't. Once they flower they don't put energy into their roots as much (especially with peppers). So when you transplant the roots take off better if they had no flowers on them. I've grown my transplants with the cheap bulbs for years and the do amazingly well. Blue light makes for good healthy vegetative growth.

    Of course if you are going for flowers before they get put out then you would need red. And if you are growing in winter under lights for eating, my guess (but it is only a supposition) is that you would want the full spectrum lights. Carotinoids are created to absorb wavelengths that the two chlorophylls can't. If you don't have those other wavelengths, will the plant make them? I haven't seen anything written about it, but I would guess that the Carotinoid content would be low with just blue and red.

  • DirtDigger (Tessa)

    Thanks Patsi, the light set up has worked well for me too, for a few years now. I'd love to add another whole shelf unit some day, and when I start growing on the 1/4 acre next to the house I may have to!

    Catherine, I've seen what your doing! The front yard makeover is a huge project- I'm surprised you have time to start anything- let me know if you need additional pics of the tunnels.

    Daphne, I remember doing the same research years ago and reading about using 1 warm and 1 cool to give about the equivalent to the special grow lights in Shane Smiths book Greenhouse Gardener's Companion- I just went with that. I have tried both and get the same result really- nice stocky and green. It just made sense to me to try and give the babies as close to what they'd get outdoors since they'll get that when they're transplanted anyway. I just figured they have enough to get used to when transplanting, wind, soil change, etc. without adding that too :)

    Thanks so much for stopping by everyone- and happy spring!

  • Stephanie

    Wow Tessa, your garden is looking like a grower's nursery already. This year, I think you are going to have more plants? Good luck on the seedlings. They look like they are ready to be transplanted soon.

  • CanadianGardenJoy

    Hey there Tessa !
    Wow ! you have quite the greenhouse system running every where !! I have that mini green house that you do too .. for $29 I couldn't say no ? .. but I haven't started anything because it is still so cold here yet .. I will get husband to set it up for me though and start thinking of some cosomos and sweetpea maybe and it is good protection for early annuals I buy and have to wait a while before I plant them .. first ? I have to do garden clean up !!eekkk!!
    Joy : )

  • DirtDigger (Tessa)

    Hey Steph, Thanks so much. I've been working on it and with having to start all over it's been daunting at times. No, not more plants. '09 I grew so much I had a lot of produce to give away. We're getting there- I just wish this wind would stop! La Nina, darn you!

    Joy, oh clean up. Well more compost for the garden! I purchased the little greenhouse to harden off stuff- found it on sale for $20. It would be perfect for your annuals while they wait.

    Thanks everyone :)

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