Watched "Fork to Fork," Need advice for non heated greenhouse (Zone 6B)


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Hello everyone, I just finished watching the 6 part series "Fork to Fork." While this small batch of videos did contain lots of information on organic farming and food preparation, it didn't really answer some of the daunting questions that come with starting a vegetable garden. I'll try and organize this so the people attempting to help can give concise answers.

To give you some insight into what I'm trying to accomplish, I will tell you that I plan to use an unheated greenhouse (measuring about 75 ft long by 25 ft wide, Nearly 12 feet of head space.) I am not positive on the type of film used, but there are two layers surround the sides of the greenhouse with a solid material used for the ends. The greenhouse was built to code and is currently not in use, so I am trying to make the most of it that I possibly can. The main problem with the placement of the greenhouse is that it does not get sun until later in the morning this time of year because of a building blocking the sun (I didn't have a thing to do with it's construction.) It was really hard for me to fathom why they wouldn't build it into a south facing hill... But I digress. I believe this already limits the kinds of plants that can have a great deal of success in the greenhouse already. The average frost date (likely later this year) for the green house area is April 26th, and the first fall frost is October 20th.

Originally I had intended to use an aquaponics set up combined with donated hydroponics equipment to give the plants their nutrients (trusting nature and others personal anecdotal experiences to deliver the proper amounts,) but was not given access to use the equipment. Instead, we will have to make use with what was not used in the last two years. Looking around inside the greenhouse revealed that they had used the common black plastic containers (hangers and planters) as well as several clay pots. They also had various watering cans and hand tools. There is a surplus of "Premier spaghmum peat moss" taking up a lot of space in the corner of the green house. However, I failed to find any (organic) plant food or nutrients. So, I'll begin to list my questions...

  1. How can I begin to make my own soil to begin starting plants? Can i utilize what was left in the greenhouse (Peat moss, and perlite)? Initially I considered buying a bale of Premier Horticulture Promix and combining the right ratio of bat guano, cow manure, and earth worm castings
  2. Am I going to be limited to seedlings and cold hearty plants due to the climate and unheated greenhouse?
  3. Would it be wise to stat a vermicomposter so that I don't have to pay for worm castings or compost next go around?
  4. The budget of this project without mentioned supplies HAS TO BE less than $500, and is likely to be less than that. I understand I might not even be able to use half of that space effectively, but is it even realistic with my budget?
  5. Can I use any cloning techniques to help increase my vegetable / flower yield without increasing the costs too much?
  6. Our group is planning on growing at least 3 varieties of vegetables and 3 flowers. Can I use these interchangeably as they do with crop rotation??
Thanks in advance for checking out my thread and for your time. I look forward to your responses.
 
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Start with plants: the health of the plants will tell you how well whatever system you choose is working.

I have a simple solar greenhouse: just a wooden frame covered with plastic. I like to cover my bed of plants with three layers on exceptionally cold nights and it is a big help. I got the idea from Eliot Coleman's books, which you probably would enjoy reading. He talks about what he does here: http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/
 
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Thanks for the reply Terri! I hate to ask more of you, but do you know of any free sources for similar information?
 
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Thanks for the reply Terri! I hate to ask more of you, but do you know of any free sources for similar information?
Just about any public library can get you in all of his how-to books if you request them. Simply call up your closest public library and ask for his books!

I would be happy to answer any questions that I can, but your greenhouse is very different than mine.
 
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You can clone tomato and cucumber plants by pinching out side shoots when 3 inches long, Split the bottom inch, taking all but the top leaves off, and "striking" in damp compost.

They soon catch up.
 
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Thanks for the update, I had read about people using tomato's in that way. Do you personally do this?
 
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That's good to know! So, as far as adding fertilizers to use in growing media, will the use of slow release or fast release depend on what you're growing? Also, how do you go about making the ratio?
 
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That's good to know! So, as far as adding fertilizers to use in growing media, will the use of slow release or fast release depend on what you're growing? Also, how do you go about making the ratio?
If you plan what you're going to grow and where your going to grow it, it's quite possible to vary the fertiliser regime of those different areas to suit.

I'd keep away, as much as possible, from fast fertilisers, the nitrogen tends to leech out quickly from the soil, such that the quantities you have to use are so large that salts can, over time, build up in the soil. Save them for times of emergency, when your plants require a fast pick-me-up.

Better to use slower fertilisers as much as possible, organic or not, as these do less damage to the soil microbes, and even help.
Bulkier fertilisers, like manure, don't just add nutrients, especially nitrogen, but build soil structure at the same time, although you have to be careful not to add it too fresh, as it can burn the roots of your plants. Seaweed is excellent too, if you can get it, because, not only does it add bulk, it also improves moisture retention, and it is rich in both natural plant growth hormones and trace elements, which it absorbs from the sea.

Compost tea, especially, imv, actively aerated compost tea, works, not by adding nutrients itself, but more by stimulating microbial soil activity, in order to make the nutrients already in the soil, more easily available to your plants.

Fish, blood and bone/hoof and horn/comfrey/hen's blood/rock dust/bonemeal/woodash.
Some of the many slower organic fertilisers available, that you can use to achieve the nutrient levels that you want.

Growmore/Q4/slow release pellets.
A few of the slower non-organic fertilisers.

Find out which your plants prefer, group them together, if possible, and build your regime from there.

One final point, tomato feed is used by many as a high potash feed for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, aubergines, etc, but because it is lowish in the basic three nutrients (Nitrogen Phosphorus Kalium=potassium) it is not regarded as a fertiliser as such. Organic and inorganic variations are available.

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask further questions; if I can't answer them, I'm sure there are other members who can.
 
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I can see I have some homework to do before I can give you a decent response, thanks for taking the time to educate me! :)
 
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I can see I have some homework to do before I can give you a decent response, thanks for taking the time to educate me! :)
Don't let it scare you, it looks more complicated than it is.
Many of your plants can be grouped together, in terms of the nutrients they need, and once you realise the key, it becomes far simpler.
 
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Looks more complicated than it is? That's good to know, I'm racking my brain over here!

I did have a chance to talk to a landscaping retailer (bad move? hehe) about the prices on some of his products. He seemed to think that i would have more success using Promix than I would using the miracle grow that I had priced at $5.00 a cubic foot. Granted, this could be because he's selling the promix by the bale at $28.99 for 3.8 cubic feet. He mentioned promix was a sterile growing medium, and that most "growers" are using liquid fertilizers to supplement nutrients. I found this bizarre considering that you would think of liquid fertilizers as a quick fix more than a means of sustaining plant nutrition. At any rate, I think its going to be easiest starting off to use a commercial mix. I had looked at the fox farm products and found that they're pretty competitively priced in this area (about 50% from online.) I was also told that we've missed the boat as far as trying to start flowers for a mothers day sale and that we will be forced to start using plugs or starters. This is a problem because most local places aren't quite open yet, as we've had solid snow up until this week. Are online vendors trustworthy?
 
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You're in the US; customer service in the UK is terrible.
I'd imagine you're a bit late for Mother's day flowers even with plug plants.
 
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I sincerely hope that I can prove you wrong with my inexperienced execution of greenhouse growing! :D We went out and put some seeds in trays Friday to just kind of test the waters and see what happens. Hopefully this can be followed up by a more thorough and knowledgeable execution once I better my understanding through these books.

I did have a chance to check some other local libraries, and managed to get Four Season Harvest and The New Organic Grower that you recommended, Terri.

From the book "New Organic Grower," I notice that the chapters 1 - 5 do not necessarily apply to me since this is not a for profit situation. I know that I will need to read through chapters 6-14 (These deal with Planning and Observation; crop rotations; green manures; tillage; soil fertility; farm-generated fertility; direct seeding; transplanting; and finally soil blocks.) But I am trying to focus on key information where possible as I'm trying to juggle school and this side project.

Likewise, there are chapters in the "Four-season Harvest" book that do not apply to me, or had already been covered in his later publishing I mentioned earlier. I notice chapters 2, 4, 5, and 9 (Living soil; planning and cultivating; cold frame; and growing tips for 50 vegetable crops respectively) to be of the most importance to me. Does he address any of the issues he talks about differently between these two books?

Also, the professor backing this club does not think it necessary to use organic soil, and from what I have been reading, our results will be less than desirable without the use of soil that has macro and micro nutrients as well as being a "living" soil. I have to speak at a meeting on Monday about the cost break down of the project and how I would allocate the maximum $500 budget for the year. Are there any options that aren't fox farm (about 20-30% more expensive by weight(compared to miracle grow)) or mixing up truckloads of organic compost at a time?

Sorry if my questions are redundant, I should have organized this better xD
 

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