The subject of Greenhouses in the desert has been going on recently in some of the gardening groups on facebook, so I thought I would give you some information on when and how to use a greenhouse in our Phoenix Metro (and similar) area. [Pictured seedlings from seeds started December 12th, picture taken January 4th.]
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We usually have a few nights during the winter when the temps can get to freezing or a little below. Rarely do we have sustained or killing frosts.
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Typically it is recommended to set out your tomatoes, basil, peppers etc., which all like their "feet" warm, on February 1st to ensure the tomatoes in particular get good growth going before the high summer night temps stop fruit set.
So a little bit about the greenhouse I am using then the "keeping a healthy greenhouse in the desert" information. [Picture functioning greenhouse - notice the door is open - that is important!]
TIP: I use jiffy pellets for starting seeds and I soak the pellets in HOT water to expand them. By the time they have expanded, the pellet has cooled slightly but is still warm and this gives the seeds a bit of warmth to launch the germination. The first seedlings broke through about 8 days later.
I am delighted with this mini greenhouse and will take it down about the 1st week in March, when the danger of overnight frost is over.
In the past I have always started seeds on my racks outside, in full sun, schlepping the trays back and forth to their overnight warm area in our water heater shed. The greenhouse has made my seed starting so much easier AND on a chilly day I can work inside of it enjoying the warmth even on over cast days. I do-not-do-cold-well.
Using and Maintaining a Healthy Greenhouse in the Desert.
First, what do I mean by a "healthy" greenhouse?
1) there is maximum air circulation during the day
2) moisture and excess heat build-up is allowed to be released during the day
Do both of these functions by opening the doors and windows during the day, except on completely overcast days.
If you do not keep these actions in focus you can easily create an environment where you will encourage pests (like spider mites) to completely destroy your plants and waste all your hard work At the very least you will encourage damaging molds and cook the plants. There is a real name for this problem "sick greenhouse."
Do Not Discount the intensity of our winter sun on an enclosed environment. Think about the last time you got in your car in a parking lot on a cold but sunny day. Nice and warm in the car, right? Remember all the warnings about children, pets and elderly in closed cars? Same applies to your plants in a greenhouse.
The primary function of a greenhouse in the desert is to start frost-sensitive plants. Once the day time temperatures are in the high 80s (mid-March) you risk cooking the plants even with the doors open.
So, plan on using your greenhouse from approximately mid-November to end of February or, 1st week or two in March. With short use, you should get more years out of your plastic cover when properly dried and stored.
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Transplanting Into Temporary Pots
I had some sweet potato cuttings of a variety called O'Henry given to me by my friend Jacq Davis over at Epic Yard Farm. The O'Henry is supposed to taste like chestnuts, so I thought I would add this to my summer sweet potato patch, but want to give these frost sensitive vines a good head start by transplanting them and keeping them in the greenhouse. I also took some cuttings from my "Molokai" sweets before I harvested them last week.
Pictured the sweet potato transplanting in the left upper corner and then the process of taking the small amaryllis babies out and putting them in 4 inch pots. This was a very special project of starting amaryllis from seeds!
Amaryllis flowers are one of the few none edible plants I grow, which started when my dad gave me a plant back in the 80s. Over the last few years I have transplanted the babies through out the gardens. Then I could not resist a gorgeous red and white splashed plant at the farmers market over in Sun City in 2015 and the gorgeous bloom faded and produced a seed pod!!
WOW. I found a lot of details on how to grow amaryllis from seed and followed the general guidelines which indicated it would take a while for 1) the seeds to germinate and 2) for them to be big enough to produce the basic baby bulb. [Close up of the baby bulb on the amaryllis.]
I sowed the seeds of the red / white on July 1, 2015 in a large round pot. 3 days later I decided to check on "Dad's" amaryllis and found a small seed pod and sowed several seeds in a smaller container (pictured in the transplanting collage above). 3 sprouted, 2 survived. Both of these sown amaryllis pots were in a "germination" area in part of my gardens which is automatically watered overhead so I could rely on consistent watering because of the amount of potential time for the seeds to germinate.
You will notice paper towel pieces -- I use paper towel to keep the soil from sifting through the drain holes. Over time the paper will break down, but by then the bottom soil will have firmed up to keep the soil in. The plants won't be in the containers for a long time. I will be selling most and giving some to friends.
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Have a great weekend in the garden and kitchen with your bounty.
-- Catherine, The Herb Lady
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