Have you ever been asked that absurd question of if you had three wishes, what would you wish for? I can never answer because not only is the question ridiculous but the possibilities are too immense. World peace? Of course. A global commitment to protecting the Earth. Yes. Calorie free brownies that don't taste like cardboard. Definitely. But what I really want is a greenhouse.
In the UK greenhouses seem as ubiquitous as giant, bloated cars are in the United States. Here they are rare creatures, indeed. But lacking the boat load of money required to have one built or the handy skills to build one myself, I have to fall back on my main talents: absolute determination and a large supply of tin foil.
Under all this aluminum fabulousness, are several annuals and a tomato. T5 grow lights hang suspended from the green cords. These shelves in my basement hold my kids old toys and games.
I plant my seeds directly into large plastic cups with holes burned into the bottom with a hot screwdriver tip that I've heated on the stove. This gives them plenty of room to develop strong root systems. It also makes it easy to write the name of the seeds on the cup to avoid confusion. Gomphrena need darkness to germinate so I experimented by covering one cup with newspaper and one cup with foil. The seeds in the newspaper covered cup germinated very quickly while the other cup only has a few seedlings. Bronze fennel grows next to the gomphrena.
I think the germination rate on the ammi and scarlet flax must be close to 100%. Both groups of seedlings have already been thinned heavily. I have the lights very low for the plants that like full sun and higher for those that need partial shade so I don't burn the seedlings.
Growing my seeds in large cups also reduces the need for repeated transplanting. I'll eventually separate this into two groups of seedlings and keep them in their cups until it's time to plant them outside. As the plants grow larger, I'll add a cheap plastic tray to the bottom to keep them watered. Right now, I just mist them with a spray bottle.
This seed starter is much lighter than regular potting soil.
I crimp the top to increase the heat and keep the light from diffusing into the basement. In late April, I'll be setting up more greenhouses to start the nine different types of zinnias I'm growing this year.
Ammi majus isn't commonly grown here but seeds are found at better garden centers. I planted a tiny seedling in too much shade last year and it died but not before being devoured by a fat happy caterpillar. I am absolutely determined to grow it again.
Last year I grew my seeds on my kitchen counter in a makeshift greenhouse constructed from clamp lights attached to gravel filled wine bottles stuffed into sand filled containers. I shrouded the entire thing in foil and the plants thrived. But it took up a lot of space and worked best with seeds sown in tiny pots. With one light currently pressed into service to keep my basil alive all winter, I still had one light available.
So I made another tin foil greenhouse.
By wrapping three sides in foil, I can direct the light and heat onto the plants. By wrapping four sides in foil, I can burn the house down.
I have two cups of Mortgage Lifter tomatoes under the clamp light and one cup under the other grow lights. Another experiment? But of course! I just can't resist.
I tried winter sowing last year and was only mildly successful. There were some complete disasters, but that's life. Of the plants that died, I think the main problem was a lack of drainage and not enough container depth to allow for strong root development. But some plants may have died from sheer spite. I never rule that out.
So this year I tried again with a different approach. Most winter sowing is done in large milk jugs or soda bottles. But since we don't drink much soda and only buy milk in small containers, I decided to use what I had: lots of empty pots. I also decided to only grow plants that tend to self-sow. Nothing makes you feel more successful than growing plants that don't need your help.
These pots are full of seeds! The pot in the front is full of ammi majus, which has a big taproot and dislikes being transplanted. I'm growing ammi under grow lights, too, but am hoping the winter sown ammi germinates so I have extras to give away to friends. By sowing the plants directly into the pots they'll grow in, I won't have to disturb their roots by transplanting them. These pots are full of ammi, parsley, and rudbeckia hirta (black eyed susans)
The smaller pot is full of parsley seeds while the pot in the middle has linaria 'Fairy Bouquet'. It's already started to sprout! I grow a lot of parsley for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars native to this area.
I filled the pots with moist potting soil and then topped them with a few inches of extra seed starting soil. I added thin branches from a recently pruned shrub to hold up the plastic. This pot is full of more bronze fennel seeds. I'm hoping to have lots of plants to give away. Bronze fennel attracts many beneficial insects and is a main food source for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
I bought a super cheapo plastic drop cloth that I cut into pieces to cover my pots. I used the lighter to heat up the screwdriver tip so I could poke holes in the plastic. The tip is red from poking holes in all my red cups.
When I ran out of skinny branches, I used bamboo stakes.
I covered them with plastic, secured the plastic with a bungy cord and then poked holes to allow heat to escape and moisture to enter.
I tried the milk jug method one more time. In case you weren't sure, this jug contains malva 'Zebrina'. But considering the amazing camouflage provided by my duct tape, I'm surprised you can see this jug at all.
This picture was taken Nov. 1, 2013. By the end of the summer the malva was three feet tall. Even as the rest of the garden went dormant, it soldiered on.
It's also known as French hollyhock, although I'm not sure if the French are aware of that.
Native American mason bee on the French hollyhocks. Apparently, this pollen is served on very small plates and pairs well with a crisp baguette and stinky cheese.