Monday, April 18, 2016

Newspaper Plant Pot Experiment

For many years I've used thousands of 6 and 8 ounce yoghurt cups and dozens of plastic vacuum-formed seedling trays to grow out seedlings. They work but both are too short (less than 3 inches): roots soon hit the bottom where they wind round and round and tangle. Stretching roots out when transplanting damages them, slowing growth. Though it's easy to remove plants from the separate yoghurt cups, only 24 fit in common flats (10.5" x 21"). Many more plants fit in the seedling trays (72) but it is challenging to remove them one by one without damaging tender roots and stems. A better system would not require removing young plants from their container that would dissolve into the soil.
Flat with 24 Each 6 or 8 Ounce Yoghurt Containers: They Take Too Much Space!
Bottom View: Plastic Seedling Tray with 72 Positions (2.4" Tall)
Top View: Seedling Tray
A sophisticated Japanese system uses paper honeycombs that enable seeds to grow to an appropriate size and then flats are automatically planted very rapidly, with each plant appropriately spaced without removing the paper. But these are suitable for high volume closely spaced salad growers, not for larger plants or flowers. There are also systems for forming paper cups using newspaper but these are typically less than 3 inches tall. I wanted tubes closer to 6 inches tall. 

After trying a few diameters and lengths, I settled on paper tubes wrapped around a short length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe (1.625" OD) because three rows of three tubes fit nicely inside tall square plastic flower pots. Eight of these pots, with nine paper tubes in each fit perfectly in a flat, the same number, 72, as the seedling trays. Each tube holds the same amount of growing medium as an eight ounce yoghurt cup but takes up one-third the space. 
White Glue Used to Form Newspaper (5.5" x 7") Into Tubes (Around 1.5" PVC Pipe)
Basket and Trug Filled with Paper Tubes
Tray Holding Eight Square Plastic Pots That Hold Nine Paper Tubes Each
Tube-Filling Process - 50:50 Seed Starting Medium:Composted Manure 
Seed Sprouting Operation
Planting Tomato Seedlings: One Per Tube
Flat Transport System to Greenhouse
Paper Tube Growing Experiments: Five Types of Onions, Cabbages, Flowers and Tomatoes 
Peppers Growing in Yoghurt Cups
Above: Flowers Growing in Various Shallow Cups; Below: Lettuce and Parsley
If these paper tubes filled with growing medium and a seedling are easy to plant, and the onions, cabbage and tomatoes grow without hesitation, this new technique will take over the messy yoghurt container system. They have been deteriorating for years and take time to collect, clean and store. The space they take growing limits how many plants we can fit in the greenhouse. We'll be able to fit three times as many using the paper tubes! I can make a few hundred during a typical DVD, fewer if there are subtitles I have to read!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Renewing the Chicken Tractor Roof

Every few years we have to replace the tarp that covers the snug side of the chicken tractor. We live on a hill that has few trees or structures to block wind that shreds any loose fabric, especially if there is something hard or sharp to rub against. The structure of the pen consists of aluminum angles that are fairly smooth but holes appear even where fabric rubs these. This time I used the old and holy tarps to cushion the new tarp where it hits the rafters in hopes that it will extend its life another few years.
Shredded Tarp That Lasted Only Two Years on the Roof of the Chicken Tractor

I sewed pockets on the four edges of the tarp to capture aluminum rods that make it easy to stretch it over the top. Then only the eight ends of the rods need be fixed to the frame and there is no loose fabric to flap and wear out. This roof not only keeps our chickens and guinea fowl dry and cozy, it prevents predators from seeing them. The other side of the pen is covered with fencing both to keep our birds inside and other critters outside.
Chicken Tractor Without Roof

Inside View Showing Nesting Boxes and Roosting Shelf, Upper Left

View Opposite Photo #2 Showing Wear Pattern Against Nesting Boxes

Tarp Wearing Through Where It Rubs on Metal Corners But the Nesting Boxes Are Backed by Metal

Chicken Tractor with New Roof, Ready for Birds!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Seedling Freeze Emergency

It's April 4 and we are having the biggest snowstorm of the year! This would be great for skiing cross country (which we haven't been able to do yet this winter!) but the accompanying cold weather is threatening our pepper and eggplant seedlings. Our greenhouse has not cooled below 45 degrees for weeks and our flats of sensitive plants there are thriving. But tonight it's heading well below 20 degrees and with the greenhouse temperature just below 40 degrees at  noon, we could lose many hundreds of peppers and eggplants. It would take six to eight weeks to grow replacements!
Over 300 Pepper and Eggplant Seedlings Growing Above Beds of Lettuce and Parsley
With outdoor temperatures now hovering near 20 degrees it would be very difficult to move these sensitive plants back into our warm house, 300 feet away. So we needed to add some heat. The flats of seedlings ride on a long beam so a member suspended above the flats can support both lights and a plastic film tent. Inside the tent, fluorescent and LED lights should add enough heat to keep the plants from freezing.
A Slender Member Suspended from the Rafters Supports A Fluorescent and LED Light 
Wrapping Plastic Around the Member and Plants Should Keep the Baby Plants Warm
Shoveling away the pile of snow that developed at the base of the greenhouse glazing allowed most of the rest of the snow to slide down, opening the glazing to the sky. Even though it continued snowing all afternoon, the temperature inside the greenhouse went up a few degrees.
Snow Piling Up at the Base Keeps the Rest of the Snow from Sliding 

Shoveling Away the Piles at the Base Allows Most of the Snow to Slide Down, Opening the Glazing to the Sky