Friday, October 23, 2009

Greenhouse update - Phase 6: Move-in Day

I actually moved the plants into the greenhouse nearly a week ago, but I am just now getting to posting pictures of the interior with the plants moved in.

I bought three wonderful shelving units from Aldi (discount grocery store) for a sale price that is less than half their normal going price.  They come with 5 shelves each and I only need 3-4 shelves for each unit, since I have to allow room for the height of the plants.  That left me with extra shelves, which I used to combine two units out of three kits!  My remaining kit is on the opposite wall.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="504" caption="Two units of kitchen shelves, combined to make 3."]Two units of kitchen shelves, combined to make 3.[/caption]

I configured the heights of the shelves to allow for special plants that have trellises attached or are taller and need more head room.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Looking left once you enter the door."]Looking left once you enter the door.[/caption]

Then I spent a good deal of time on Friday and Saturday of last week, moving all my plants from the garage or inside the house into their new home in the greenhouse.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="368" caption="Looking ahead and to the left once you enter the door."]Looking ahead and to the left once you enter the door.[/caption]

I still have quite a bit of rearranging to do and have not made the best use of my space.  There are still some shelves that are empty, while there are a couple of plants sitting on the floor.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="368" caption="Looking ahead and to the right once you enter the door."]Looking ahead and to the right once you enter the door.[/caption]

I'm sure I will be moving plants around quite a bit until I feel that everything is settled in place.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Looking to the right once you enter the door."]Looking to the right once you enter the door.[/caption]

I also plan to hang a metal rod (which I have on hand) under the house eave, which will allow me to hang some hanging baskets in my greenhouse.  I might also put some hooks on some of the rafters, to allow me to hang more plants over time.  But we'll just see what types of plants I end up acquiring in the future!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="View of the exterior of the greenhouse this morning."]View of the exterior of the greenhouse this morning.[/caption]

See other phases of the project here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Greenhouse update - First heater night

We are certainly feeling Fall here in Oklahoma.  A couple of cool fronts have sweeped through over the last week, moving the overnight lows into the 40s.

After getting the greenhouse roof in place and the door hung, I moved all of my plants into the greenhouse on Saturday and they spent their first night in their new home Saturday night, with an overnight low of 40 F.  My greenhouse stayed just below 60, with the heater kicking on and off during the night.  The next day I adjusted the thermostat to keep the greenhouse a little warmer, and the following night the temperature dropped to just about 53 and the heater kept the greenhouse between 61 and 62 all night.  Over the last two nights the heater has not had to come on and the greenhouse has stayed about 3 or 4 degrees warmer than the overnight low.


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="524" caption="Temperature over the last 72 hours in my greenhouse (click for larger image)"]Temperature over the last 72 hours in my greenhouse[/caption]

The plot above shows a sawtooth pattern when the heater is kicking on and off.  You can see the night when my heater came on 12 different times over a 9 hour period.  The following two nights the temperature gradually decreased, but never low enough to trigger the heater.

I should state, that I am still not finished with the greenhouse.  The soffits are still open, so I have simply stuffed a couple towels in the gaping holes to keep air from leaking out of the eaves for the time being.  I should get the soffits attached later this week.

Also, I just finished the trim around the door and put weather stripping in place on Monday, which probably helped the greenhouse stay warmer over the last two nights.

I still haven't had a big test with a freeze outside, but I feel pretty confident now that with the soffits in place, my heater will keep the interior right around 60 degrees, which will make my plants very happy.

Stay tuned for pictures of my finishing touches and the plants in place!

See other phases of the project here:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Greenhouse update - Phase 5: Polycarbonate

The greenhouse is coming along.  Unfortunately the cold weather came before I finished, so Christie and I spent about an hour last Friday night, hauling all of my plants into the garage.

The final component (besides the details) to the greenhouse construction is the fastening of the walls and roof.  The material I have chosen to use is triple-wall polycarbonate panels.  These panels come in 6' by 24' sheets.  Yes, you read that right: twenty-four feet long.  The double-wall polycarbonate comes in much more manageable sizes because it is more commonly used.  The triple-wall is generally delivered in big trucks to the site of the greenhouse and assembled by a crew.  It's not commonly used for hobby greenhouses the size of mine.  When we picked up the panels at the greenhouse supply store in Oklahoma City, we had to take a circular saw with us and cut the polycarbonate on site so that it would fit in our trailer.

Then I made the mistake of unloading the polycarbonate in the backyard and letting it sit in the rain for a week.  The rain doesn't hurt the polycarbonate, but I had not capped off the ends and prepared them for hanging, so the walls filled with water.  The water is not easy to remove, let me add.

We had to use a combination of hair dryer, leaf blower, heater and dehumidifier to remove the moisture in the walls.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Open end of polycarbonate panel, taped with clear breathable medical tape to allow water to run out the bottom end."]Open end of polycarbonate panel, taped with clear breathable medical tape to allow water to run out the bottom end.[/caption]

Next we had to do the normal preparation for hanging the panels.  Before a panel is hung, you must first cap off the top of the panel with aluminum tape and then a u-shaped bracket of polycarbonate.  The bottom of the panel is capped off with porous tape (to allow condensation draining) and then another u-shaped bracket.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="First panel being installed.  The film with labels was removed after the panel was attached."]First panel being installed[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="Seam of two panels meeting at a stud. You can barely notice."]Seam of two panels meeting at a stud. You can barely notice.[/caption]

After a couple of hours of work on both Saturday and Sunday, we had hung all of the walls and only had the roof left.  By that time we were pretty proficient in terms of taping and capping the panels.  The only difficulty with the roof was being able to reach over to screw the panels into the rafters.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Multiple panels fitting together over the door. You can see the aluminum tape used to cap the top sides of the panels."]Multiple panels fitting together over the door. You can see the aluminum tape used to cap the top sides of the panels.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="View of greenhouse with all polycarbonate panels installed.  You can't really see the greenhouse roof from this angle, but trust me - it looks just like the walls."]View of greenhouse with all polycarbonate panels installed.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="360" caption="View inside of the greenhouse through the doorway."]View inside of the greenhouse through the doorway.[/caption]

There is still plenty of work to do in order for my greenhouse to be plant ready: caulking, finish the door installation, attach the soffits (which are currently open), stain any remaining unfinished wood.

In my next greenhouse update, I'll take you inside to see the shelves that I have purchased!

See other phases of the project here:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Flower Confidential

Have you ever wondered how far the flowers at your local florist shop traveled to reach your vase?  Have you ever wondered what their life is like or who brought them to flower?

There's a new book available by Amy Stewart called Wicked Plants, which doesn't tell you any of that.  Wicked Plants has been getting lots of publicity in the plant world lately, so I put my name on the hold list at the library.  While I was waiting on that book to become available, I looked into other books by Stewart, including Flower Confidential, which tells the story of the international flower producing market.  That book does answer all your questions about the cut flower industry.

Flower Confidential is an entertaining read, written in the same format as Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire.  The sections of the book are divided into Breeding, Selling and Growing.  Each chapter uses separate flowers from different parts of the world as illustrative examples of the flower industry.  Gerbera daisies, Roses, Tulips and Lilies are all used to tell about different facets of this unique industry.

I have to admit, the book had more information on the cut flower industry than I cared to know.  But it was the subject of the book, so I can't fault Amy Stewart for that.  The parts I most enjoyed were sections describing the different growers with whom she visited and what their growing methods and interests were.

Some things I learned

The entire book was filled with information that I had never heard before, but a couple of little things struck me as particularly interesting.

When flower breeders began to try to force plants to bloom out of season, it was loosely determined that photoperiod determined when many different plants bloom.  Photoperiod is number of daylight hours available each day.  Most people would be content to know that this is important in determining when flowers would bloom.  Growers could either force plants to flower or hold them back by manipulating the hours of light available to their plants.  The manipulation could be done by using artificial lighting during dark hours and shades during the light hours, to make sure the desired photoperiod was met.  However, there were some horticulturalists that were a little more curious than the average grower who wondered, Is it really the number of daylight hours, or is it the number of dark hours? You might say that it doesn't really matter, since the two are related.  However, the scientists were able to set up a completely controlled growing environment, in which they created different day lengths.  For example, in a covered building, they were able to simulated 26 or 30 hour days and varied the number of hours in which the plants received light.  They determined that the number of dark hours was the actual trigger that initiated the blooming process.  In other words, regardless of the time from one sunrise to the next sunrise, a plant requires a specific number of dark hours to initiate the blooming process.  If the length of the entire day varies, but the number of dark hours stays constant, the plant would still be triggered to bloom.  Cool, huh?

On a completely different note, I learned about a unique type of flower auction that is held in the Netherlands.  I didn't know that flower auctions were even held in the Netherlands, but I was more surprised to hear about the format of these auctions.  A large round scale is available for each cut flower that is being put on auction.  Picture a produce scale from the grocery store, except that the value is displayed with a little digital light around the rim of the circle.  And the value is the cost per stem of a particular cut flower.  The top of the "clock" represents $1.00 and the bottom represents 50 cents.  For a value greater than $1, a different colored light is used to represent dollars, much like an hour hand on a clock.

But the clock itself is not what is so unique about this auction, in my mind.  These auctions are held in Aalsmeer in the second largest (by floorspace) building in the world!  But even that is not the unique factor I found so fascinating.  The unique factor here is that the flower auctions are descending-bid auctions.  That is, the auction starts off with a value that is much more than anyone would pay for the item, rather than much less.  Then, the "clock" device begins to tick downwards.  Everyone interested in the available flowers is anxiously watching the dial to see the light approach the value they are willing to bid.  But unlike other auctions, the first bid that is placed is the winner.  So you can decide ahead of time that you will buy this bundle of flowers if the price falls to $1.43 per stem.  You sit there watching and it gets down to $1.47, $1.46, $1.45 and DING!  Your price was too low.  Someone just snatched them up at $1.45!  Next time you might get a little more anxious as the price nears the value you had planned to bid.  This time you end up bidding on the flowers at $1.46 - just to be safe.

Amy Stewart pointed out that, while this form of auction seems very backwards to most people at first hearing, it is actually a lot like how most people make their normal purchasing decisions.  You see an item at the store that you are interested in buying, but you shop around until you find the price low enough that you are willing to purchase it.  Or you wait until later in the season, hoping the store will discount the price.  Either way, whether shopping around or waiting for a mark down, you run the risk of the items all being sold before a lower price is offered.  This is just how the descending-bid auction works.

So it doesn't have much to do with plants, but I found it very interesting.  I hope you did, too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Plant Find: Alocasia lauterbachiana

My wife and I took a short road trip on Sunday to visit a nearby church where one of my good friends is now the associate pastor.  On our way back home, we happened to pass one of my favorite local plant stores, TLC.  (No, really, I didn't realize we were going to be driving right past it.)

Anyway, as you can guess, we stopped in to see what they had.  I kept mental notes of plants that were on my "want to buy" list and then, after seeing the whole store, decided to purchase one of them.  The plant I chose is an Alocasia which I had never seen before and was right up my alley.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Alocasia lauterbachiana"]Alocasia lauterbachiana[/caption]

Alocasias are one of the genera that are commonly called as "elephant ears."  Well, some of them are.  I would be surprised if anyone called this particular plant an elephant ear!  Other genera that use the "elephant ear" common name are Colocasia and Xanthosoma - and maybe a couple of others.  Colocasia and Alocasia are often hard to tell apart, but I have recently heard some good ways to tell them apart.  Alocasias almost always have stems that attach to the edge of the leaves, while Colocasia stems usually attach in the middle of the leaf.  This leaf attachment is known as peltate.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="close up of Alocasia lauterbachiana leaves"]close up of Alocasia lauterbachiana leaves[/caption]

Alocasia lauterbachiana has beautiful leaves that are dark green on top and purple underneath.  The leaves are quite long, slender and lance-shaped, pointing upwards and they are marginally-attached.  That is, the stem that holds the leaf attaches at the edge of the leaf.

While this is the more common way for Alocasia leaves to be attached, some Alocasias have peltate leaves like most of the Colocasias do.  Some notable peltate Alocasias are A. cuprea, A. clypeolata and A. rugosa.  I'm planning on posting soon on the anatomy of plants from the Aroid (Araceae) family.  There is quite a bit of vocabulary that is unique to this family.  My post would include vocabulary referring to leaf structure, parts of leaf, as well as the unique "blooms" of the Aroid family.


I have read that this plant is sort of sensitive and does not like to be repotted or moved around much.  I will be moving it into my greenhouse next week, assuming all goes well, and it should be content in its stable growing environment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is there really such a thing as a "new" plant?

Have you ever found yourself telling someone about a new plant that you saw recently?

There's three kinds of "new" plants in my book:

  1. a hybrid plant which was cultivated by humans and is just introduced on the market,

  2. a naturally occurring species that has just been discovered in the wild,

  3. a plant that has been around for ages but has just come back into style.


I suppose there should be a fourth category - a new naturally occurring species or hybrid - but I won't get into that.

We're probably all familiar with plants in the first category.  Everyday there are new hybrids being produced.  In fact, there are millions of new hybrids being produced.  But only a small fraction of those experiments prove to be successful and make it to the market.  Most of the efforts are concentrated on already popular plants whose market could be widened if certain traits of the plants were improved.  The "improvements" can range from cold hardiness to heat tolerance, drought tolerance to flood tolerance, a number of different light preferences, a variety of variegations, and even the structure of the growth.  Some plants that come to mind would be the vast array of colors that are available in the popular flowering plants - roses, daylilies, tulips, Clematis, etc.  Other common hybrids are in grasses and trees - the foundations of most domestic landscapes.  A new hybrid that I had to buy this year is the Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost.'  It's a beautiful plant for a mixed container, or all by itself.  And it is very heat tolerant.  I might have to try to keep some of mine alive indoors over the winter, since it is only hardy in the warmest USDA zones (10+).

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' - a newish hybrid that is a very popular annual container plant"]Euphorbia Diamond Frost - a newish hybrid that is a very popular annual container plant[/caption]

The second category - newly discovered naturally occurring species - is an interesting category.  Today there is little area on the planet that hasn't been precisely mapped and cataloged.  On the other hand, there are many remote locations which are just beginning to take note of their particular endemic species (plants that only grow in that one unique location).  New species are being discovered fairly often.  One day that discovery process will probably grind to a halt, but we're not there yet!  I am on the International Aroid Society's mailing list and it is very exciting to receive emails from some of the leading scientists in the world who are conducting research in the field and reporting back to the Aroid community about new species and whatnot.  (By the way, you don't have to be a member of the IAS to be on the mailing list.)

Ironically, after having written most of this post, but before publishing to my blog, I ran across a news story about research in the eastern Himalayas which has uncovered 353 new species of plant and animal life.  The news story was focused on the animals, but I found that 242 of the 353 new species were plants (including Orchids, Poppies, Palm trees, Bamboos, Ferns, Clematis and Impatiens).  If you want to read more, here's the news story and here's the actual report.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="208" caption="A newly-discovered orchid species - Liparis dongchenii"]A newly-discovered orchid species - Liparis dongchenii[/caption]

I happened upon another plant recently that caught my eye.  The plant was being sold as a ground cover at Lowe's, but I would have happily bought it as a tropical house plant.  The plant had very slender, dark green leaves along long, trailing stems that creep along the ground.  The midvein of each leaf was vibrant white or silver and  with some subtle silver veins reaching out to the tips.  The plant was labeled Euonymous 'Wolong Ghost.'  I immediately thought of the Wolong Nature Preserve in China.  This is the area that was hit harshly by the earthquakes last year and is one of the few places where the Giant Pandas are still roaming in the wild.  After doing a little research online, I found out that this plant was named as such because it was collected in the Wolong Nature Preserve and brought back to the US for propagation!  I also read in the one review on Dave's Garden that this plant makes a lousy ground cover because of its growth rate.  That was fine by me, since I wanted to keep it in a pot.  It's beauty probably wouldn't be appreciated as a ground cover anyway.  I bought 2 of the little plants the next day and put them in a pot, which now sits on my desk at work (and receives lots of compliments).

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="359" caption="Euonymous fortunei 'Wolong Ghost' - selected by growers at Hersonswood"]Euonymous fortunei Wolong Ghost[/caption]

The third category is a very interesting one.  I think about it from time to time.  It recently came to mind when I was reading Ken Druse's Planthropology.  It may be hard to admit, but mankind's fondness for different plants is just as susceptible to fads and trends as clothes are.  Bell bottoms were reinvented and re-marketed recently with the boot bottom jeans; simple tulips are coming back into favor after decades of more frilly, elaborate roses.  It's all part of the human factor.

We don't find favor in plants solely because they are useful to us or because one plant serves a better purpose than another.  While there is no objective measure of beauty that I know of, we wouldn't even use it if we found one.  Some plants are grown solely because of their hideousness (which you could also argue is in the eye of the beholder - or wincer).

And the definition of beauty is always changing.  At one time, heavier people were considered more beautiful because it meant that they were wealthy and did little work themselves.  There are plants coming in to fashion today that have been neglected for years or some that have never been considered beautiful in a landscape setting before.  One example would be the use of native grasses and weedy-looking wildflowers.  While people have probably enjoyed the beauty of these plants in nature before, they were reluctant to dig them up and replant them in an organized flowerbed until recently.

One interesting fad is that plants are beginning to be appreciated for their hardiness and native attributes.  As our culture is increasingly more aware of conserving energy and water, gardeners are acknowledging that plants which grow well naturally in their area are probably the best ones to plant in their garden.  They will be better attuned to the local annual rainfall and light amounts and require less water from a hose.

Horticulturalists have been capitalizing on the trend of cold hardy and drought tolerant plants by making new hybrids with more vibrant colors than the naturally occurring species.  (Here is an article, if you're interested.)  But those plants really belong in my first category, not this one.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Vibrant new coneflower hybrid - Echinacea 'Twilight'.  This plant retains the drought tolerance and profuse blooming of the naturally-occurring species.  Picture courtesy of Itsaul Plants (www.itsaulplants.com)"]Vibrant new coneflower hybrid - Echinacea Twilight.  Picture courtesy of Itsaul Plants (www.itsaulplants.com)[/caption]

You could even say that some garden trends follow the economy well.  I haven't done a study myself, but I would bet that the ratio of perennials to annuals purchased each year would correlate pretty well with the overall health of the national economy.  When you have less money to spend, you're unlikely to spend it on plants that will only be around for a season.

Gardening itself is really an art form.  And just like other forms of art, there are always new styles being invented and old styles being rediscovered and appreciated.