Sunday, June 30, 2019

Day 10

2005 pumpkin AKA "Uncle Sam"
I usually take measurements on the pumpkins 10 days after pollination to see how they are growing.  Day 10 measurements don't really mean anything however.  I know one great grower who had some very, very big pumpkins and he said his day 10 measurements were always very small. 

No barn stormers in my patch after just 10 days, but I would have been really surprised if I did have one.  Two days after pollination we were in the 30s for the lows for the next three days.  So about a third of these pumpkins lives have been in cold weather.   The good news is that both pumpkins seem set and are growing okay all considering.

One interesting thing about both plants have been how in sync they have been.  Growth rate has been very similar on the main vine.  Both plants had females at 8 feet and then again at 14 feet and all of the females flowers opened on the same day.   If I were to guess, the 2255 plant might be the better plant, since it is grown outdoors and harsher conditions, but it has kept up.

The one noticeable difference is that 2005 plant is in much better shape.  Winds and frost have taken a toll on the 2255 plant.  I was out by the patch with my daughter and she said, "What is wrong with that plant?"  It is pretty noticeable.  It will be interesting to see where they both end up at the end of the year.  My guess is that wear and tear on the 2255 plant by the end of September will have taken its toll.

I've decided to name the 2005 pumpkin Uncle Sam and the 2255 pumpkin Frosty.  Uncle Sam because of the Federal Governments contribution to the greenhouse and Frosty from the battles the 2255 plant have had to endure.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Little Frost & a New Pollination

So on Monday I found that the 2255 plant did get some front damage.  Took a day for it to really show up.  No destroyed leaves but maybe 1 out of 10 leaves show some damage on them.  The pumpkin on that plant seems to have taken but is growing slow.   I think extra cold temperatures slowed it up.  The day after I pollinated it was in the 30s for the low the next 4 nights.  Hard to get much growth when more than half of the day is below 50 degrees.  Even after that we haven't had a low in the 50s yet.

I pollinated a second female on the plant this morning.  I'll let it grow out 14 days or so and see if it does any better.

2005 pumpkin is growing a little better than the 2255, but not tearing it up.  Its been growing in the same weather as the 2255, so no expectations that it should be blowing it up.  I'm interested in seeing what day 10 looks like for it to see if it is close to par.  If it is then it could be interesting. 

I've come up with names for both of the pumpkins.  Once I have my fruits down to one on each plant I'll make an announcement on the names.  Last week's weather inspired me.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

How to Build a Smart Greenhouse on the Cheap

This video is the culmination of about 4 years of research on the internet on how to build a smart greenhouse.    I share this information here so you don't have to spend all the time that I did  if you want to do so.  At the end of this video it talks about how to get an almost free greenhouse via a grant.

Watch on YouTube here.  I wish I knew where that stupid cricket was that you can hear in that video.  Pretty annoying.

About four years ago, when I knew we were moving to Midway, UT, I started researching how to setup a smart greenhouse for my giant pumpkin growing.  You've heard of smart homes, well, why not a smart greenhouse?   I knew the environment in Midway was going to tougher than Denver's.  We are at over 5,600 feet and the growing season is a whole month shorter than Denver's.  So I started researching how to deal with cool nights and hot days.  A greenhouse was the obvious solution and the new house in Midway has enough land for one.  But a greenhouse can't really control night time temperatures.  The thin plastic really provides no insulation.

So the first solution was to add 55 gallon water barrels painted black and filled with water.  Those black barrels absorb the sun's warmth during the day (85 degrees+ in the water) and then after sun down release that heat during the night.  So far, what I've found is that the greenhouse stays warmer then the outside air for a couple of hours, but not much more than that.

The next solution I came up with to help with the temperatures was a geo thermal system.  I dug out the pumpkin patch soil prior to moving into the house and put corrugated pipe winding back and forth through the whole patch about two feet down in the soil and then covered it.  On one corner of the greenhouse that soil pops up and is attached to an inline fan.  On the opposite corner that same pipe pops up and goes to the top of the greenhouse where it sucks the air in.  That hot air then warms the soil during the day, which can then be radiated into the greenhouse.  You have to be careful not to run it too long however, because I'm told you can burn up the roots.

The next solution was shared to me by Ralf Laub and was probably the 2nd best idea he gave me (the best idea saved me thousands of dollars and is shared at the end of the video).  Ralf lives in Vernal and has a very similar growing environment.  In his greenhouse he added one of those portable, camping hot water heaters for showers that he has connected to his irrigation.  That hot water heater warms the water and then is mixed with his regular irrigation water.   The combination of the warmed water and the exhaust from the hot water heater warms the greenhouse early in the morning just before sunrise.  These hot water heaters don't have enough volume (about 3-5 gallons per minute) to run an irrigation system, so that is why you have to mix two irrigation lines together.

For the heat of the day I put in indoor/outdoor fans (thanks mom for the Christmas present--best way to build a smart greenhouse on the cheap) that are controlled by an indoor/outdoor smart plug that can stand a little water.  This smart plug has an app that I can set multiple timers for and I can also manually turn on or off.  Earlier this spring I was in Canada.  I have a Acurite wireless temperature gauge that also has an app and will give me alert messages if the greenhouse gets to hot.  A couple of times I got alerts so I would go to my smart plug app and click the button for the fans and cooled things down fairly quickly.

Also for the heat of the day I added a fogger misting system in the roof of the greenhouse that uses Jain foggers.  It sprays a very fine mist into the air.  Just enough to cool but not so much that the moister stays on the leaves long, which is perfect).  It is controlled by a Rachio sprinkler controller that I love and controls all of the irrigation.   I got it and the state rebated something like $120 off for it because it can help save how much water you use on the lawn.  Rachio also has an app so I can manually run the water as I need from anywhere and set dozens of water schedules.  The downside to Rachio is it isn't cheap, but with the rebate it made it very worth it.

All of these devices have an API that allows you to write scripts (programming experience needed).  My plan is to write a script that automates intelligently the different pieces.  So for example, the fans will come on when it gets over 84 degrees, but turn off when it gets below 84.  But also, when the foggers turn on the fans will turn off for 1 minute and then turn back on.

Does all of this stuff work and is it worth the time and effort?  The honest answer to that is I think so, but time will tell.   Most of the stuff I talk about in the video has only been up and running for a week or less.  Circumstances and time have set me behind this year.  Originally I planned to have most all of this done back in April.  So I really lost the advantages of it to this point, so hopefully I can make up some of that lost time now.  I can tell you I've never had leaves look so good at this point of the season.

Is some of this stuff an unfair advantage?   Yes and no, but mostly no.  Even with all of this smart greenhouse stuff my growing environment isn't even close to someone that is growing in Ohio or Rhode Island outdoors.  Today is the 2nd day of summer and it was 37 degrees last night (greenhouse was just 6 degrees warmer with heat lamps and a space heater running, plus all of the rest of the stuff I mentioned).  Tonight is forecasted for 32 degrees (this isn't normal).   An average summer nighttime low in July for me is usually only 50-54 degrees.  I just looked at Ron Wallace's night time temperatures for July of least year and he is usually between 60-70 degrees at night.  His highs typically don't get much more than 90.   So I would take his environment over my greenhouse every time.  For me, the greenhouse is just a way to try to get things closer to normal.

I hope you enjoy the video.  I hope it saved you some time, got you some good ideas, helps you grow bigger and saves you some money.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Project Over 3 Years in the Making; Geo Thermal in the Pumpkin Patch

I figured I would have had a lot of this stuff done back in March, but such is life.   The good news:  geothermal is up and running.  I started researching about geothermal systems about 4 years ago when we were deciding to move.  Before we moved into the house I had the one patch dug out and put in corrugated pipe which was then covered.  Today I finally hooked up the inline fan to the pipe and ran it for the first time and it works.

Geothermal 2016 - X is about where the stump is now
At 11:30 today I turned it on for the first time and took the soil temperature with a probe the goes 4 inches down.  With two nights of 34 degrees in the forecast, I've been scrambling again to figure out how to keep the plants warm and if I could warm the soil so that radiant heat would help keep the plants from freezing (someone forgot to tell the weatherman that it is the first weekend of summer).   Eddy Z had warned me that he burnt up his roots with his geothermal system his first year, so I knew to not to do too much.  At the same time I wanted to give it a test to see how much I could warm the soil for the big freeze.  I've had the temps mostly around 84 degrees in the greenhouse most of the day, but let it get up to 94 degrees when I first turned the fan on.  

The pipe that goes underground goes up to the top of the greenhouse so the air that is pulled in is probably 4-7 degrees warmer than what my temperature gauge shows.   I put my hand at the exhaust end of the pipe to feel the air coming out after about 1/3 hour.  It was clearly cooler than the air in the greenhouse.  Eddy had told me that the soil warms a fair amount more at the intake end of the pipes and heats less at the other end, which makes sense, so I have the intake end at the stump end of the plant.

At 4:30 today I shut the fan down and took the soil temperature again at the same spot that I took the temperature earlier.  I was pleasantly surprised.   When I started the soil was 68 degrees.  When I stopped it 5 hours later it was 80 degrees.  Not bad.  That is actually more warming than I would have supposed.  This will be particularly nice in the early parts of future seasons when the soil is cold.

In other news, I'll be pollinating both plants tomorrow.  Both at about 14-15ish feet.  My thought is to cross the 2005 and 2255 together.   Then depending on what pollen is available to possibly sibb cross the 2255 or cross with the 282, but I haven't checked to see what males I have available.  More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Last Two Weeks

Okay, I'm a bit behind on my posts, but I've been busy.  I posted on Facebook that my growing has felt like I'm swimming up a waterfall, but things are better now.   This last Sunday it hit 27 degrees for the low, so somebody obviously didn't tell the weatherman that it is June.  The day before that we had strong, sustained winds for the entire day and all of the hoop houses had significant damage to the plastic, but the plants were protected enough to be fine.

The next day I took an extra hoop house and added it to the end to extend it and then used chairs to create a wing for the side vines that were out of the hoop house.   I had obsessively been watching the weather, so even 10 days before I knew the frost was coming.  I assumed eventually it would get updated to something like 40 degrees, but as the day grew closer the foretasted low went from 32 to 28  as it approached.  Officially at the house it was something like 27 degrees.  In June!

I know of more than one pumpkin grower and gardener that lost plants.  I feel sorry for them.  Hard to deal with these large plants and temperatures that low.  Using multiple tarps, heat lamps, blankets and light bulbs the plants stayed happy.  As for me, not quite as happy to be spending time trying to keep plants happy rather than trying to grow big pumpkins.

When the plants are in hoop houses it is hard to do a great job of watering.  I got the plants out yesterday finally and then gave them some heavy watering today after burying vines with humic acid, seaweed, mycos, azos and Actinovate.

I've been pretty good about doing EC testing this year and have been giving the plants a lot more fertilizer this year than I have in the past.  This sandy soil seems to really leach nutrients faster than I thought, so in particularly nitrogen has been going down at a rate of about 100% more than I've typically done in the past.  Today I gave both patches a pretty good dose of nitrogen with just a little phosphorous, potassium and iron.  I prefer spoon feeding with divided doses, but I hope to till the last of the cover crop this afternoon and I wanted to till it all in together.

The 2255 plant right now I would say is the champ of the patch.  Which is a little disappointing.  Not that the 2255 seed isn't good, but the 2005 plant is in the greenhouse, which should mean it is getting a little more TLC, but it is a little behind in growth.  The bigger issue is that 2005 plant doesn't like it when it gets even a little warm and folds when it gets over 85 degrees and I'm not sure why.  Both 2005s that I started were that way.   I'm increasing water on it to see if that makes it happier.

Both plants are around 13-14 foot in length right now I would guess and growing quickly.  Both also have a female flower in the vine tip so I would guess I'm 7-8 days out from pollinating right now.  Timing is good.  That will give about 100 days to the first weigh-off.   Usually around days 90 to 105 a pumpkin has stopped growing or just barely growing, so I should be able to get almost everything out of them if can get these pollinations to take.