Category Archives: greenhouses

3 Picks: France Farmer Suicides, Henlights, Indoor Cropping

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Male farmers in France are 20 percent more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population: A new report says that financial pressures and social isolation are the leading causes. According to figures from France’s National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, revenue from farming fell by 23.6 percent between 2007 and 2008 and a further 35.3 percent between 2008 and 2009. Livestock farmers have been hit the worst.

2) Increasing Egg Production On Small Farms: A Solution To The International Food Crisis? By Abigail Wick.In Berlin on September 20-22, the 2013 Thought for Food Global Summit (TFF) convened thought leaders from 25 countries, including venture capitalists, politicians, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and university students to address the international food crisis from a wide array of disciplines, with the aim of generating collaborative, actionable strategies to feed the planet. … The winning team, from the University of California at Davis, introduced Henlights. A small, solar-powered LED light designed to be hung in chicken coops, Henlight can be used to stimulate increased egg production during darker winter months, when egg production naturally declines. A technique already use in large-scale egg production, Henlight makes this practice affordable for small-scale and family farms.

3) Optimism About the Future of Indoor Food Production: By Tess Riley. Hydroponics and LED lights used in indoor greenhouses, though the systems are expensive to build, have the potential to greatly increase vegetable yields, and protect plants from unpredictable weather. The increasing use of renewables as heat and energy sources in these systems is the way forward.

BONUS: Photos from Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” on the 2013 harvest from around the world.

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

Extend Your Growing Season with Simple Backyard Coldframes or Hoop Gardens

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

This one’s for the gardeners. The days are getting longer and we have a renewed hope for spring, that annual rebirth, the guarantee for a brand new growing season. Yesterday I already heard the first of the season’s Red Winged Blackbirds singing along South Boulder Creek. The Sandhill Cranes will be appearing in Nebraska shortly to fatten up on their way to Siberia, and the gardening catalogues are rolling in, too.

Serious gardeners itch for ways to extend the season both in the early spring and in the late fall. Here’s hoping that some of the photos below will serve to inspire you to take on a project to extend the season in your own space.

Here where I live in plant hardiness Zone 5 in Colorado, we raise greens for all but three months of the year in our backyard, and our seasonal extension comes from adding a four by six foot hoop garden bed. Our hoop garden is located under an evergreen tree which takes advantage of the sun’s angle in the off season for growing, and is shaded in the summertime. By locating it in such a spot we are not only extending the growing season, we have extended the available precious growing space available in the yard.

Don’t forget to know your seeds. By planting greens with the best cold tolerance, you can extend your season even more. Some seeds worth considering are spinach, mache, arugula, chard, claytonia, radish, winter lettuce mixes, italian dandelion, and mizuna.

Below, is a collection of photos of other gardener’s projects meant to inspire you to come up with a design that works well in your space…….

In this first photo, a hoop garden greenhouse was built to fit over an existing raised garden bed.

Next, here is a tidy cold frame made from corrugated plastic and a wooden frame benefiting from the thermal solar collection of the brick wall behind it. Thermal heat can be improved by adding plastic gallon milk jugs filled with water against the back wall of the coldframe, too.

This classic cold frame is located on the protected and sunny south side of a house using wood and plastic as materials.

Here someone has utilized an urban front yard space to grow a garden containing a simple A-frame plastic greenhouse. The small photo to the right shows an inner detail of that same greenhouse space showing us that the frame is constructed with strong bamboo posts.

This simple project was done by a boy with just plastic and left over bricks. The family will be able to reclaim the space easily for their summer garden.

This gardener used jars as mini-greenhouses to start seeds. The setup extended the season just slightly for lettuces grown on a protected bench behind a house.

The photo below shows us what appears to be the gardening space of a very serious Chicago gardener. Multiple growing beds are covered with spun polyester garden fabric and black plastic mulch is covering spaces between the beds.

For those desiring something bigger, here’s a simple, small backyard greenhouse that was a d.i.y. project using plastic and a wood frame with a corrugated plastic roof. (It looks like it needs a spot protected from the wind.)

Finally, this busy grower utilized indoor windows to the maximum, to start tomatoes early in recycled plastic food containers.

Hot 5: Short Corn. Solar Caps. Melinda Gates. Dr. Lindsay Campbell. Anthropocene video.

1. Purdue Researcher Has Developed Short Corn Plants Requiring Fewer Inputs But Having Equivalent Yields
A man by the name of Burkhard Schultz, a plant researcher at Purdue thinks that short varieties of corn and other grains could be the answer to farming in the future. With equivalent yields, the smaller plants would require less water and fertilizer. He has already created tiny corn by using a fungicide called propiconazole to inhibit steroid biosynthesis to “feminize” the plants, greatly reducing the cost of the research involved. This could also aid seed producers and potentially create grass that doesn’t need mowed as often. The overall environmental impact of farming could be reduced.


2. Gardening: Solar Caps can be Used as Mini-Greenhouses

I spoke with Mikl Brawner of Harlequin’s Gardens, my favorite nursery here in Boulder, about a product which he is promoting called a “solar cap.” According to Brawner, a commercial tomato grower in Wyoming developed it to help tomatoes get an early start in Wyoming’s cooler climate. Brawner has been able to start tomatoes in mid-April which produce by July using these caps. The cap is made up of a frame similar to a short tomato cage surrounded by a water filled bag similar to a wall o water complete with a plastic cover. He puts a slit in the cover to plant the tomato and then lets it grow through the slit as it gets taller all season long. Most importantly, the device needs set up a few days prior to planting the tomato to warm the soil first, which makes microorganisms available to the tomato plant.


3. TED Talk by Melinda Gates: Let’s Put Birth Control Back on the Agenda

In April of this year, Melinda Gates gave a TED talk in Germany saying that the issue of contraception “should be a totally uncontroversial topic. But unfortunately, it’s become incredibly controversial.” She makes the case for the world to re-examine an issue she intends to lend her voice to for the next decade.


4. Australian University of Sydney Agriculture Professor Speaks of His Concerns about Peak Oil and Agriculture

Sydney University Agriculture and Environment Professor Dr. Lindsay Campbell is concerned about “peak oil” in agriculture.

He listed these changes which he sees ahead:

  • will change the way farmers farm
  • will change the way farmers export, changing their target markets
  • will increase the price of farm chemicals, nitrogen, and phosphate
  • will increase freight costs from farm to market (which currently represents 10-12% the cost of the commodity)
  • predicts that farmers will be turning back the clock to the 1970s
  • legumes will again be used to fix nitrogen
  • farmers will turn from today’s specialization back to mixed farming systems


5. Anthropocene: Why You Should Get Used to the Age of Man

Design for Small Lean-To Greenhouses

This is a century-old design for constructing a small, glass greenhouse lean-to (or free-standing). Don’t miss the seven photos that I’ve added at the end of the post which illustrate modern adaptations to these old instructions for your inspiration. With the abundance of materials (including recyclables) available today, please innovate to improve on this old design!


Small Greenhouses

The farmer who would make his crops of vegetables most profitable, or the small gardener who would have an early supply of early vegetables for home use or market must employ some kind of glass structures to hasten these crops. The hotbed or cold frame have been much in use in the past, but the cost of sash, shutters and mats is nearly as much as the materials needed for a permanent structure, while the labor of caring for cold frames or hotbeds is often much more than that of the small greenhouse. In the latter one may work with comfort no matter what the weather may be outside. It requires much more skill to run hotbeds successfully.

Small greenhouses may be built against the south side of the house or stable, Figures 1 and 2, or they may be built entirely away from other buildings, but the shelter of larger buildings on the north or west will be found of great advantage. If one has a basement to the house or stable, a lean-to house may be built, and heat from the open cellar in a large measure will heat the greenhouse in the mild weather of fall and spring.

Material for Construction

A cheap and efficient house may be made by setting chestnut or cedar posts in the ground, covering the sides with lining boards, then two thicknesses of tarred building paper and sheathing outside, Figure 3. Cement, stone or brick will be cheaper in the end. The durability of glass structures will depend much upon the form of the materials. Clear cypress is now more used than any other material. Sills should be of the form shown in Figure 4. Plates may be made of plank as in Figure 3, or as in Figure 5. Sash bars should have grooves along the sides to catch the drip from the glass, as in Figure 6.

The glass for ordinary work may be No. 2 double thick, large sizes, 16x 20 inches or 20 x 24 inches, being much used. Smaller sizes will be cheaper in price, but more sash bars will be needed, and they cut off much of the sunlight. The glass should be put in with putty, made with about one-third white lead in it, and firmly tacked with triangular zinc tacks of large size, or the double-pointed tacks, which are so bent as to prevent the glass form slipping down.

Set Glass in Warm Weather

Glazing should be done during the summer or early fall, as putty will soon become loose if frozen before well hardened.

In building there should be no mortises, but all joints be made by toeing in with long, slender nails. All woodwork should be thoroughly painted before fitting, and all joints filled with white lead paint. After all is done the frame should be painted before the glass is put in.

The most important and expensive feature of the small greenhouse is the heating. If one has a hot water or steam heater in the house, to which the glass house is attached, it will be a very simple matter to carry pipes through, as at a, a, Figures 1 and 2. Hot air also may be let into such houses, or a small kerosene heater in very cold weather may be used, if the house is built opening into the cellar.

Ventilators must be located as shown in Figures 1 and 2, at b, b. Very small structures may be run without much heat if opening into cellars or other heated rooms by having shutters or curtains to draw down at night and in very cold, cloudy weather.

Covering with Hotbed Sash

Houses of small size may be made by building a frame upon which hotbed sash may be screwed. If one has the sash this is a cheap way of building, and such a house has the advantage that the sash may be entirely removed during the summer, but it is very difficult to make a close house with such sash.

The woodwork of greenhouses and hotbed sash should have a coat of thin linseed oil paint every second year. Much of the success to be obtained from any glass structure will depend upon the skill of the operator, and the thermometer, both outside and in, must be watched very closely. The temperature should be maintained as nearly as possible like that in the open air under which the plants grown thrive the best.


Note that instructions are taken from the 1912 book, “Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them” by Rolfe Cobleigh, which is online through Cornell University. [pdf]


Modern Adaptations to the Above Instructions: