Time Stamps: 0:25 My greenhouse goals / 0:43 Managing olives and citrus in the winter / 1:45 Tour of plants / 3:43 Insulating the greenhouse / 4:50 4 Ways to Heat Your Greenhouse
Four ways to heat your greenhouse this winter season:
1. Greenhouse Grade Plastic
I wrapped my entire greenhouse with hoophouse plastic to keep drafts away and hold heat within the structure. I literally wrapped the entire house with the plastic and affixed with a staple gun. I found mine here: Happybuy Greenhouse Film 15 x 40
A heater is an obvious choice, especially on extremely cold days, however it quickly drains energy. If the greenhouse isn’t properly sealed or has drafts, any heat generated by the heater will rise and escape. Improperly attached extension cords can cause a fire.
3. Thermal Mass from Water Drums
Large 50-gallon drums can be filled with water. Water loses heat more slowly than air. If plants are crowded around the drums, they will benefit from the atmospheric heat provided by the drum. In the spring, water from the drum can be used to water plants.
4. Reflective Insulation Board
If you have a wall to spare, or can sacrifice the north side of your greenhouse, a large sheet of reflective insulation can be helpful. The insulation maintains heat within the greenhouse, while the mirror-like surface of the board captures and reflects light and heat from the sun back into the greenhouse.
Other options include a composting floor, and erecting your greenhouse on the side of your home to take advantage of heat. Straw bales can form a perimeter at the base of the greenhouse, but just remember heat rises—if the roofline is not sealed, heat will escape. Finally, I paint my greenhouse interior black to attract the sun’s rays and hold heat.
Did you know that the peak production time for one strawberry plant is 1-3 years? After three seasons, productivity declines. This is why nature sends daughters, or duplicate plants of the mother, outward on shoots. These shoots are called runners. I take advantage of this system by letting my strawberries reproduce in place. But when healthy plants start spilling into walkways, I transplant these free plants to new beds and growing guilds. It’s so incredibly easy and fall is a great time to split.
Strawberry plants are incredible weed suppressors. When planted densely like in my blueberry and valerian guild in the first video, they remove the task of weeding, keep the soil cool, and help maintain moisture, all while providing fruit. And because folks always share their issues about pests taking their berries, I cage mine from birds with hardware cloth or netting when in production. A motion activated sprinkler does wonders too.
This year I installed a Mediterranean guild home to olives, artichokes, rosemary, lavender and thyme. While I chose varieties most suitable to my climate, I’ve researched artichoke winter care and here’s what I’m installing. We are getting our first freeze this evening (these plants have successfully withstood frosts already) so it’s time to hibernate these artichokes for the season.
I start by tying the leaves of the artichoke plant together in a bundle. This protects the crown. After tying, I cut the leaves off just above the string or twine. The remaining standing bundle is roughly 6-8" in height. I choose to mulch the surrounding soil and other guild members with the trimmed artichoke leaves. I also add chopped comfrey leaves as a green manure at this time along with fallen maple, oak, or other dried leaves from around the farm. An upside pot is affixed on the artichoke bundle for protection from the elements. To secure the pot in place over the winter months, I top the pot with a rock. Bedding or mulch can be added around the base of the pot to make sure gaps are filled in where the pot makes contact with the soil.
Imperial Artichokes can withstand frosts so once winter temperatures begin to ease and we head back into the spring season, I'll be removing the protective pot. From there the bundles will be untied and new growth will be allowed to emerge.
Cover cropping seems to be trendy and there's good reason for it--this "green manure" adds loads of nutrients and organic matter to gardens and growing spaces. I was suspicious the first time I was sowing cover crops; that there was more hype than real benefit. But I was shocked at the visible difference and improvement in my soil.
Cover crops are not harvestable like a vegetable or fruit crop. Instead, they're grown for the nutrients, cover, and tilth improvement they offer soil. In the fall cover crops can be sown into the garden. They grow and protect soil all winter long, preventing erosion, solarization, and runoff. Come spring, the cover crops are chopped and dropped, grazed, or removed (I have another video on that). Ideally the crop would be chopped and allowed to decompose in place. Any nutrients left in the plant during its lifecycle is returned to the soil as it decays, also increasing the amount of organic matter.
I use a mix of cover crops to perform multiple functions; soil cover, weed reduction, to loosen compacted soil, to attract beneficial insects at spring thaw, fix nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and pull soluble nutrients up from soil layers. I purchased this pre-mixed blend from True Leaf Market. You can also research cover crop varieties and their benefits at the Rodale Institute's website and create your own blend.
Time Stamps: Organizing Bulbs 0:53 / Permaculture Benefits 3:15 / Mulching with Hemp 4:42
This past May I visited a tulip farm out in Washington called Roozengaarde. I was intrigued by the blooms thriving in partial shade, under pine trees, and in visibly poor soil. Before getting caught up in the view and spending loads of money on bulb orders, I did a little research on the contributions tulips make to the permaculture garden (if any). Turns out, these beauties offer a lot more than just a view.
Where I visited and purchased bulbs from: https://www.tulips.com/
Varieties I planted include Brisbane, La Belle Epoque, Frozen Night, Charming Beauty, Charming Lady, Red Princess, Louvre Orange, Black Hero, and Gudoshnik.
Hemp mulch is from Eaton Pet and Pasture (chopped hemp animal bedding): https://www.amazon.com/Eaton-Hemp-Hypoallergenic-Sustainable-Eco-Friendly/dp/B08LQTRFG8
Time Stamps: Forsythia 1:05 / Goumi 1:41/ Sea Berry 2:06 / Food Forest DIY 3:12
Autumn Olive (aka Russian Olive) grows abundantly on my property, in my county, and in my state. As we move through our food forest areas, we're replacing this beautiful, edible, yet invasive specie with a more appropriate alternative.
1. Forsythia doesn't have edible fruit, however, its blossoms are edible in spring. This grower spreads quickly, however, isn't currently on the USDA's list of invasive species. The blossoms also attract hummingbirds and pollinating insects and offer shelter during the winter months for small birds, insects, and wildlife. These shrubs grow well in poor soils, on banks and hillsides, and create dense hedges for privacy. Great for soil erosion too.
2. Goumi offers edible berries that are tart and more suitable for cooking or jam making than eating raw. These plants fix nitrogen into the soil, assist with erosion by holding soil in place, grow 6-10' tall and wide, and are self-fertile. They thrive in USDA growing zones 4-9. Goumi doesn't mind poor soil OR poor air quality and has no major pest or disease issues.
3. Hypophae / Sea Berries / Sea Buckthorn are thick growing shrubs which produce thorns to protect their edible berry clusters. The small berries are an orange-yellow color and are said to taste like a cross between a pineapple and citrus. The berries contain 7x more vitamin C than lemons and provide a food source to the home, resident birds and wildlife. The Sea Berry is suited for zones 2-9 and fixes nitrogen into the soil. To produce fruit, a male and female plant is needed (note one male to every four female plants). While it thrives in full sun, on hillsides, in poor soil, and in many soil consistencies, this shrub hates shade so isn't on the invasive species list by the USDA.
The sunflowers that require no annual planting: meet sunchokes (aka wild sunflowers) and Maximilian sunflowers. Of course they bring a sunflower vibe to growing spaces, but also have all the perks of perennials for the environment.
Tubers loosen compacted soils, blossoms feed pollinators, the woody plant tissue absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than annual plants, they create a safe haven for predatory insects and birds, and they are edible. It’s said Maximilian sunflowers were planted around homes by the early settlers to deter mosquitos, and when their tubers are dried and added to bath water, they relieve pain and inflammation due to arthritis. And let’s not forget to mention the stunning living wall these plants create.
Both sunchokes and Maximilian sunflowers spread by way of edible tubers. Therefore it's essential to plant these crops in a location with moist but well-draining soil. Too much standing water is cause for root rot, and will not only affect the harvestable roots but also threaten the life and productivity of the plants. If plants are allowed to continue to multiply without harvesting the tubers, a dense living wall will remain that can spread more and more every season.
Sweet potatoes aren’t really potatoes. They’re tropical plants with edible roots in the morning glory family. As such, the harvest should be cured differently to create a sweeter flavor.
- Start by planting after the last frost. You can do slips or plant an entire sweet potato. Make sure the soil is loose and nutrient-dense as these are heavy feeding plants.
- Apply a dense layer of straw or mulch at planting time to retain moisture and prevent weeds. I do 10-12” thick. Grow undisturbed all season—no pruning of vines is necessary.
- Stop watering about 7-10 days before you plan to harvest. This prevents cracked skin on the potatoes.
- Harvest with your hands if possible by carefully moving back the vines, soil, and mulch. Lift without a shovel to avoid puncturing the potatoes.
- Sweet potatoes need heat and humidity to cure. I harvest mine when the forecast shows temps are soon to dip and the plant begins to yellow. Do not wash the tubers.
- A shady dry table outdoors is great for curing. Sweet potatoes need 80°F+ temps and 90% humidity according to The Farmer’s Almanac. Cure for two to three weeks before storing long term in a dark, cool, aerated location.
- Sweet potatoes are an amazing ground cover in food forest systems and also do well when grown with sunflowers!
NOTE: deer LOVE sweet potato vines
Let’s revisit permaculture fruit tree guilds, for an apple tree specifically. What is a guild? A guild is a neighborhood of plants that work together to support the main fruiting tree. We strive to include nutrient accumulators, mulchers, a nitrogen fixer, weed suppressors, beneficial insect attractors and bad insect repellers. Often this style of gardening is called companion or polyculture planting.
Want to know what to plant around your fruiting tree? Check out page 160 of my book The Sustainable Homestead for guild “recipes” for loads of different fruit tree varieties.
“When crocuses bloom, plant out chard, kale, lettuce, peas, and spinach.”
Phenology is the study of patterns and cues in nature with regards to plants, animals and insects. These cycles were what marked planting times before seed packets and weather forecasts. You can get truly local, microclimate-specific planting guides by watching what’s blooming in your own yard and learning what to plant. As the season progresses, I’ll share phenology timelines I follow. I’m thinking this will be my next book. 😉
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead® LLC. This historic six-acre permaculture farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, five sheep, two guardian dogs, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.
The Sustainable Homestead, is out for pre-order NOW!