Monday, November 21, 2022

Designing and Building a Greenhouse maximizing Heating and Cooling

This past Spring my husband built me a greenhouse from recycled windows and wood. So far it's been amazing. I'm very happy that we kept it small as it is easier to heat in the Winter. Not to mention to maintain and clean. It's a 8' x 8' x 8' lean to, which in itself has provided many benefits. 

When designing a greenhouse, heating and cooling of the space and providing good ventilation are crucial. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best and cheapest way to heat a greenhouse.

We positioned it south / east and the house blocks the hot Summer west sun at the end of the day, helping it not overheat. 

Several design decisions have helped with saving heating costs. Our house exterior wall is brick so there is no worry of rotting siding or other damage to the house. It also retains a little heat as the sun shines on it during the day and it's one less exposed wall that looses heat during winter. Inside the greenhouse is a window that connects to the laundry room. In Summer we can raise it and insert a window fan when the greenhouse gets too hot and in Winter open it during the day to let the heat into the house. A stagnant locked up space will cause your plants to burn up or mildew in the Summer and Fall high humidity. 

On the greenhouse itself, we installed 2 windows and a door that can be opened for air flow. During the hottest of Summer months, we have an electric computer fan mounted up near the roof that I plug in when the temperature starts climbing. It moves just enough air to not burn up my plants on 100 degree days. I also have a table fan that I turn on for a few hours each day year round.

To heat the space, initially I tried a 1200 watt heater fan that we had on hand and it did little to keep the temperature up during the coldest part of the night. I immediately gave up on using it at all. Several other small greenhouse owners recommended a smaller heater that used only 200 watts. It put out just as much heat using a lot less energy to run compared to my 1200 watt heater. It is my initial "cheap" blast of heat as the sun sets in Winter months. It provides enough heat in the Fall until very late in the morning. At that time another stronger heat source needs to run in tandem to keep the heat up around 50 degrees. 

My secondary and main heat source is a portable electric oil heater that I had on hand. It has 2 settings, so far I've only needed the 600W setting but I can add another 900W if temps drop below 20 degrees. Last night was the coldest night yet, getting down to 23 degrees and I kept my greenhouse a cozy 47 inside. My set up keeps it typically 20 degrees higher than the outdoor temperature. Because it was going to be so cold, I did hang an old wool blanket over part of the front windows and a temporary strip of bubble wrap over 1/2 of the side windows where my sensitive plants are located.

A must have is an automatic temperature driven dual outlet plug. I have both heaters plugged into this device so during the night when the temperature drops the units operate separately and come on at different temperature levels. It's a way to save $ and not just manually turn on units as night approaches and run all night. They turn off and on at temperatures that I have set. It also displays the current greenhouse temperature. It has worked magically. 

When you build your greenhouse, keep in mind that any sort of crack or draft is going to be really hard to keep heated unless you don't care how much money you toss at it. A lot of people suggest insulating with greenhouse grade bubble wrap. I have used stiff removable packing bubble wrap sparingly so far because my cucumbers are still coming on (I do not want to block the light during the day). I might eventually need to lower the roof area closer to plants with bubble wrap as January nears when I expect the cucs will stop producing. It would help save heating costs and keep plants cozier.

~Rebecca 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Fall is a great time to buy a Lemon Tree

Fall is it the prime time that Lemon Trees produce fruit for the picking, at least in Virginia!  A friend told me about a local farm that sells Lemon Trees! Bill has propagated 100's of Meyer Lemon shrubs. Conveniently located near the Ivy Landfill (we go there every few months to dispose of household trash and recyclables) I picked up a gallon sized shrub. 

My shrub in my heated Greenhouse all cozy
Bill helped us select the perfect specimen having 7 lemons developing along with fragrant blooms. I did not realize that it takes 9 months from bloom to fruit harvest. Wowza. So right now is a great time to snag a lemon tree and enjoy some fruit over the Winter months. 

They can be successfully enjoyed indoors in your brightest sunny window. To aid in pollination, you can take a paintbrush and lightly transfer pollen from bloom to bloom to encourage a robust crop. It's best to move them outdoors in the Spring once all signs of frost have abated. 

Quarters Farm also sells fresh eggs and has a 175 year old home for daily rent that would be a great remote Winter hideaway.

The greenhouse does not have standard hours but Bill is very flexible as to when you can snag a Lemon tree or pick up some eggs. Just send him an email (listed on their website) to set up a time when you are over that way.

~ Rebecca  

    


Friday, May 27, 2022

Making Homemade Wildflower Jelly Canning Tips and Guide to Success

I've been experimenting with making and canning Jelly using wildflowers. Each year I watch our abundance of edible Spring flowers grow and fade in the yard not using any of the plant. Prior to any lawn mowing, typically in April in Virginia, the Violets and Dandelions first appear. Later in May after a few mows our Rosa Rugosa, climbing Roses, and Elderberry begin to bloom. Every Fall I harvest Rosehips from my Rosa Rugosa so I had a jar of dried hips in the refrigerator that I also infused and incorporated.

In past years I've attempted to can food from the garden and it was a very frustrating experience. All the equipment and boiling and preparation made me crazy. It's was a lot easier to just freeze fruit and veggies. At that time I decided to get rid of most of my canning jars for the exception of cute little jelly jars. It's taken me 15 years to unearthed the equipment and experiment with jelly making.


I find jelly or jam making with fruit much more intensive and frustrating. You have to boil down the fruit, decide to either strain or not strain and then hope and pray it sets. Splattering goo all over the kitchen. I've had a terrible time in the past making this work. After experimenting with petal Jelly making, I have found it easier and more likely to set. Jams are made with all fruit, Jellies with liquid extracts from petals or fruit.

Fortunately now you can purchase low to no sugar pectin so I used the pink box of Sure Gel. I halved the normal amount of sugar (which always seemed really gross to me) and supplemented with 3 teeny scoops of Trader Joes Stevia. The sweetness of the final product was spot on and possibly even a little bit too sugar infused for me. I will experiment next Spring with 1/2 a cup less sugar. Tweaking the sugar in the regular Sure Gel product is a big no no as it does not set up.

I engrossed myself in watching jelly canning videos and read numerous jelly making books to ensure success. All of this preparation still did not result in complete success. Jelly making is a true art to master and one simple mistake can ruin your batch, which is very infuriating and caused me to swear off canning 15 years ago!

My Violet Dandelion Jelly was fortunately not a complete let down. The flavor was fascinatingly delicious, light and beautiful. Sadly the set was my typical problem. Edible but somewhat runny. My disastrous attempt at making my beloved Black Raspberry Jelly 15 years ago runny like water (probably because I didn't add all the sugar required in a normal box of Sure Gel). 

Online instructions advised to cover petals with too hot and too much water, diluting it more than necessary. Petals are delicate so boiling water should sit for 10 minutes before being poured over the petals. Next year when the Violets appear I will also pick a cup more than I originally used to also boost the flavor.

My second attempt, after a month of getting over the first stressful attempt, I forced myself to get back on the horse and make Rose Rosehip Elderberry Jelly. Running out of Rose Jelly from Lidl, I was motivated to find a replacement. I noticed the delicate white Elderberry flowers were in bloom and needed to supplement my Rose petals (I didn't have near enough) so I also added them to the mix. I mainly had white petals which didn't add enough pink color to the finished product so I infused rosehips for 15 minutes in boiling water then strained, to bump up the flavor and color.

I took meticulous notes when making my first batch of Jelly so went back online to research it all again to perfect the second batch. I used a Jelly thermometer as instructions stated the liquid needed to hit 220 degrees for 1 minute on the final boil. My two different gauges never exceeded 200 degrees. So I don't know if my stove just can't get that hot or if their is an error in the temperature recommendation but 200 is all I could push out of my heat source. If you don't have a gauge or it never exceeds 200 degrees you will need to boil it strong for 2 minutes. If you have a gauge and can hit 220 degrees, a strong boil for 1 minute is what is advised online.

I also bumped up my lemon from 3 to 7 tsp, to encourage setting. Lemon is a natural source of pectin (a thickener). I also read to not stir during the final boil and during my first batch I stirred the entire time and never stopped. 

The resulting product of Rose Elderberry Jelly was much improved. I had a perfect set and I believe it was more due to letting it cook during the final boil for 2 minutes and not stirring. I'm not so sure the lemon was the factor in it setting up but I'll find out next Spring when I give it another go, reducing the lemon back down as it had a little too much of a citrus flavor for my taste. The Rose flavor could have been much more pronounced so I'll boost up the petals from 1 cup to at least 2. I didn't get much of a hint of elderberry but the fragrance was lovely so worth using again. I did put boiling water on the Elderberry petals and this was way too hot for the teeny delicate flowers and seemed to burn them! NOT GOOD. So next Spring I'll let the boiling water sit for 10 minutes before infusing.

Tips in conclusion: 1) Steep petals in minimum amount of off the boil water required to cover petals. 2) Follow pectin box instructions carefully. 3) Be sure to add 4 tsp lemon. 4) After your liquid poofs up for the final boil let it boil for 2 minutes. 5) Do not stir during the final boil, stir lightly after finished only to incorporate any gel from the bottom and sides of pan. 6) Take the time to skim off all foam and eat, it's a delicacy. 7) Keep flat seal tops in boiling water until ready to use. 8) Fill all jars with liquid and then add all seals as it does start gelling. 9) Do not overtighten the rings but secure as air needs to escape from the jar outward. 10) Can in a deep deep pan for 5 minutes. 11) Put crumpled aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan to elevate jars if you don't have a rack.

Of the 2 flavor concoctions, I really liked the Violet Dandelion but there is hope for the Rose Elderberry if I bump up the number of fragrant rose petals next year. 

I hope you have success your first attempt after reading my tips! It's a challenge the first time but does get easier with each try :)

On a side note, make sure your lawn has not been sprayed, fertilized or the like. You only want to consume organic flowers not chemical poisons.

~ Rebecca


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