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Turn your Greenhouse into a Nursery or Off-Grid Solutions to Complex Problems

This post is about trying to turn one of my greenhouses into a full time nursery. But it's also about trying to be resourceful in finding simple solutions to somewhat complex variables on a small scale off grid farm operation.

Good reasons for a nursery

Shoulder season for growing food up here close to Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories is pretty short, maybe (if you really stretch it) the end of April, all of May and part of June is the time for seed starting and seedling care. Our solar system is powering a lot of grow lights inside the house. But still the seedlings are better off in the greenhouse under direct sun. Plus I'm running out of space in the living room.

Moving them back and forth, however, takes up close to an hour of my day. And I'm thinking they probably don't like all that transitioning and moving around.

So turning one of my greenhouses into a temporary (day and night) nursery seems to make sense.

Solution and problem #1 - wrong size heater

So I went to install a couple of ceiling fans. Wired in the regulators to throttle the power to a reasonable speed. Then we hooked up a wood stove (most available, reliable and sustainable heat source for us) and fired it up.

It turns out that in between early morning hours and evening hours the fire is hot enough to get up to temperature, meaning between 18ºC-24ºC before and after the sun hits and warms it up nicely. But the stove is not quite big enough to keep a hot enough fire going through the night to hold up against the cold air (still between 0ºC and -9ºC) sinking (or blowing) in through the single pane glass and polycarbonate roofing.

#2 Still a Solution, but not the perfect one

That means for now at least I can more comfortably move the seedlings in the evening after my kids are in bed and in the earlier morning to get the day started and more sun feeding the seedlings.

#3 Fine tuning solution required

So in 2 weeks from now my new second hand larger wood stove will be installed. This will show how well I can keep the greenhouse heated through the night, and how well I can adjust the heat as the temperatures (day and night) can fluctuate pretty significantly.

Conclusion and small scale farming

Sometimes there are simple solutions to a problem or a project.

This one, due to its low cost and low tech approach requires the skill of fine tuning all the involved elements to reach a good work flow, eliminate repetitive tasks and put more energy into (and moving forward with) more and healthier seedlings within the realm of a pretty grassroots and remote off-grid market garden operation.

The key for me is striking the balance between using technology in a fairly rudimentary way to make things easier while still relying on observational skills to manually guide, in this case my seed starting, through an unpredictable and at times volatile northern climate (not just) during the shoulder season.

Most gardeners at this scale have to figure out that balance. And there is much credit and accomplishment gained by being tuned in and navigating change (of weather and other elements) with the help of tools that last because they are simple. And stepping back and thinking about that in a broader sense instead of just pushing harder to do all the work gets us there.

To be continued.

This post is also an open door and invitation to share your small scale ag experience creating sustainable, long lasting farm systems suiting precisely your own needs and interests. It's such a rewarding way of doing things. Please share your thoughts.

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