Chili harvesting, greenhouse project 

It is late August and the first batch of chillies is getting ready for harvesting. The first ones to produce good yield were Fire Flame and Thai Rawit. Others that also had produced some ripe chillies at this point were: Habanero Hot Lemon, Madame Jeannette, Lemon Drop, Fatalii, Trepadeira da Werner and Moruga Scorpion. There are also Aji Cristal and Aji Fantasy crops coming along, bit later. The giant of them all was Moruga Scorpion, which really flourished in the heat of this summer. Most habaneros and thai chillies remained small in contrast, but still producing nice pods. The only real failure this summer was my excess watering almost killing the sole Trepadeira da Werner. Next summer, the automatic irrigation with the Blumat system is probably in order. This summer it was all manual, since we were close at home  whole summer. 

Greenhouse: Waiting for the harvest

This is the first summer when our greenhouse is in use. So far everything seems to have gone just fine, even while we have been so busy in other areas that we have not really got so much time for the garden or the greenhouse. Even with just minimal care, most greenhouse plants seem to do well – Laura’s tomatoes exceedingly so, they have grown into real giants. My chillies would had profited from earlier change to the greenhouse and to larger pots, but I did not have the electric heater at that time. So my plants are mostly small to medium in size, but on the other hand the idea of this first summer was not so much to maximise the crop, but to test a wide variety of plants, and then see where to specialize in the future. For that purspose, my small but fruit-filled plants suit very well. Here are some photos taken from the greenhouse today.

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Greenhouse: container for growing bags

Today another key element for our greenhouse was completed. Tomatoes will be cultivated in Biolan brand growing bags (“kasvusäkki”), and our DIY version involves preparing containers that include water tanks and soil-filled pipes that connect the growing bags with the water reservoir. The setup is completed with spiral-shaped, aluminium supports of Juliana that help tomatoes to grow upwards.
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Greenhouse: the heater

Yesterday, the heater for our greenhouse finally arrived and we can now actually keep the plants in the greenhouse, around the clock. As you can see from the Netatmo screenshots from below, the morning temperature outside was 1,7°C, but with the help of our heater (BioGreen Palma Digit, including Thermo 1 digital thermostat), the temperature inside greenhouse remained comfortable 12-13 degrees. The safety instructions for the heater say that there should be 40-50 cm empty space between the heater and our wooden plant crates, plus c. 1,5 meters empty space ahead, where the heater directs the hot air flow – this proved to be bit of a challenge in our small Juliana, but putting the heater on top of a metal chair for the night also the safety considerations have now worked out fine, I think. And chillies seem to like the move to outdoors, they get more light and the moist air of greenhouse is good for them, too. (Got an extra sapling from our kid’s school rummage sale – a Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Red; let’s see how that one turns out…)

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Greenhouse: the water pipes

Today  the watering system of our greenhouse took some nice steps towards completion – the photos below pretty much tell the story, but: we installed a (Bauhaus) black plastic water barrel for temperature control purposes as well, a (Gardena) water tube system to deliver the water below greenhouse structures, and drilled couple of holes for the automatic Blumat watering system – This is still in “closed loop” mode, until the temperature is high enough for leaving plants permanently into the greenhouse. We tried to find a suitable electric heater from Tampere  but it seems no-one has such available.

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Greenhouse project, continued.

New summer is approaching, and the greenhouse project of course continues (see the previous parts of the story, starting from Part 1 onwards). The greenhouse itself, and its foundation with its freezing protection structures appear to have survived the first winter just fine, which is a good starting point. The next challenges are related to temperature and water. The dual challenges of temperature control in a small greenhouse connect to it’s small air-mass getting excessively hot in daytime, and the near-freezing temperatures affecting it to the other extreme in the night time, particularly early in the spring (or late in the autumn). The automatic ventilation of our Juliana greenhouse is based on the single roof window being opened by the gas spring when the air at the top part of the greenhouse gets hot enough. In sunny days though one ventilation window is not necessarily enough, so opening the greenhouse door as well might be necessary. Also, the sensitive young plants need to be protected from direct sunlight somehow; our solution now is based on reflective, aluminium shade fabric that mirrors enough radiation from the sun so that the temperature and light conditions are now closer to optimum.

The plans for the watering system involve the use of Blumat automated watering system and a dark plastic water tank – this will both help to keep the moisture levels good, and dark water tank will also store warmth during daytime, and release it at night, helping to balance cold nights. While our chilies will be fed by Blumat system the tomatoes will get their own, handmade plant pot/water tank system. (This is still under construction.) Temperature and hydrometer functions are provided by the outdoor Netatmo unit, which has a nice smartphone app.

Today, there were many spring tasks in the garden, and one involved moving the chilli saplings (which had overgrown their small pots) into larger pots, with some fresh soil. It would be so nice to be able to just leave the chillies into the greenhouse already, but nights in Finland in early May are just too cold – so, since we do not have a petrol or electric heater for nights, the chilli plants need to be carried indoors every night, and back in the morning, as long as the cold nights go on. Let’s see how long it takes for me to go out and get that heater…

Building a greenhouse, pt. 6. Ready?

The final part of setting up the Juliana Compact greenhouse kit involved fitting and fixing the actual glass parts. This was pretty simple and straightforward in theory: if the base structure is correct in every regard, then one just needs to place the tempered glass pieces into the right holes at the aluminium frame and lock them into place. In practice this was not quite so easy, of course. The sealing of glass into the frame requires using either silicone gun or weatherstripping (stips of soft thermoplastic rubber) to provide an elastic base, and then applying the plastic lock strips (“M strips”) to lock glass sheets into place. (The lock strip plastic hardens in low temperatures, so this was a rush against time – setting sun and dropping temperatures would make the installation impossible.) We decided to use the weatherstripping option, which proved to be a good choice – even while the base and aluminium frame appeared to be pretty straight, there was still need to carefully move each sheet of glass several times during their installation attempts, and this would have been really difficult to do with messy silicone hardening and complicating things up. We decided also not to use acetone or any other strong solvent to clean the aluminium strips of grease, even while Juliana’s instructions told so (we were tipped by an expert that acetone actually ruins the cover paint from the frame, so using it would be a bad idea).

The need for repeated moving and fine-tuning of each glass related to the final precision test required by the Juliana kit: the “M strips” used for locking glasses need suitable, c. 1 mm insets or slots that go down all the way on both sides of each glass sheet, otherwise the M strips do not lock into place. That evenly distributed one millimeter tolerance proved to be rather tough challenge to reach. In our case we got majority of glass sheets installed with only moderate trouble, but in few, last glass installations we had to use tricks like matchsticks as holders that kept glass in place, while two persons – working in sync – both gently twisted and pressed powerfully inwards two M lock strips at both sides of a glass sheet, moving from top towards bottom at even pace, so that the 1 mm gap remained evenly distributed at both sides even while M stips tended to press and move glass sheets sideways. There is a picture below that hopefully illustrates this – there needs to be a suitable gap between the aluminium profile and the edge of glass sheet, while the glass sheet must rest on top of the weatherstipping, that is fixed very close to the inner edge of aluminium profile. At one point we were simultaneously fine-tuning three large sheets of glass, holding them with one hand in place, while pressing the M strips into place. And we did it!

There are so many pitfalls waiting in both printed instruction guidelines and online Juliana guides that it is perhaps surprising that people actually manage to put these things together, in more or less satisfactory manner. Apparently many customers actually end up either calling the importer for help, or order a professional to set things up. Which might be a good idea. But: if you do all this yourself, it will be a real-life 3D spatial and problem-solving challenge and a good way to spend several days (or: weeks) of your precious free time – so why not enjoy it?

When the final sheet of glass was locked in place, it turned out that the door did not work properly any more (framework had tilted or shifted slightly during the glass installation, so that the door now slightly grinds against its frame when closed). But I do not care so much any more, no doubt we will find some solution to that also, eventually. I am already thinking of the next summer, and how to monitor temperature, humidity, and how to maintain the correct irrigation level in my chili pots. I have already the Blumat automatic watering system, and there is now also an extra wireless Netatmo sensor unit set up in the greenhouse for testing purposes, plus a solar cell powered led lights for some ambience and night time illumination of this “glass box”. – Thanks for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed your garden of summer, too!

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