It’s over. I’m done.
Well for now. I went to bed the other night doing a happy dance because I was convinced I had fixed the greenhouse furnace. Now I’m doing a sad waltz because I did not really fix it. Exhibit:
I did get it up to a balmy 70 degrees in there, but sometime during the night the safety system kicked in and it shut down, dipping to a frigid 28. I suspect there is probably something impeding the oil flow and causing the safety to trigger when there isn’t enough fuel for combustion. Suspect:
This old ass oil filter is probably the main culprit here. Other possibilities are an issue with the actual igniter or the thermostat. But, that is for another time, because I have given up.
I have come to the conclusion that the greenhouse I chose to start in is becoming a poorer and poorer choice. It is in the shade way too much and is giant. I was looking around the other greenhouses and realized that the one that is behind the barn and has the chicken coop in it was warmer even with the door open than the one I was working in. Case closed.
So I moved all the sad plants into the sunroom:
And together we shall be sad until spring.
E and I were away for a week and I had high hopes for the furnace to continue working during this time, especially since the high last Friday here was 23 degrees! Well we came back to this:
Turns out the furnace at some point stopped working and I have been on a whirlwind of ups and down the entire day. Let me walk you through it:
DOWN: The furnace stopped working and it was cold and my plants are SAD!
UP: It seems likely the furnace lasted for a bit since the low recorded by my thermometer was only 28 degrees (the low outside was around 17 degrees). Also, most of my plants (minus that super sad avocado above) seemed to be alright. I suspect the furnace was fine until it ran out of oil sometime during the week I was gone.
DOWN: I’m pretty sure the furnace ran out of oil and I thought I put 5 gallons of diesel in right before we left. This will cost a fortune to heat!
UP: Wait – I go get diesel and my gas can is only 2.5 gallons! Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought!
DOWN: I put the new 2.5 gallons of diesel in the tank and press the restart. And no heat. The furnace turns on, I can sort of hear a spraying noise, and then the safety kicks in and the whole thing shuts down. Fuck!
UP: I am determined to fix this! While looking up YouTube videos about fixing furnaces I see something about bleeding your furnace if it runs dry. This seems very likely the issue since I’m pretty positive it ran out of oil (diesel is oil minus the red dye). I gather tools and prepare for battle with this fucker:
First I forget that the heater has to be on for this to work and think that maybe there is a total clog somewhere since I have removed the entire bleeder valve and there no oil to be seen… But luckily I remember! Air and oil sputters out. I try to restart…
DOWN: It does not start. I bleed it more. More air and oil. More oil. Now just oil. A steady of oil.
UP: IT’S ALIVE!!!!
Almost 60 degrees now (plus my really janky thermostat which definitely needs to be replaced – that’s for another time though)
And there you have it, my personal emotional roller-coaster courtesy of Siebring HeatMaster Oil Furnaces and Beckett AFG Oil Burners.
Yeah, yeah – that is not a pretty picture. But it is an important picture. Or, more like, it was an important picture.
I was trying out starting some seeds in the greenhouse in not-quite dead of winter, but in the pretty fricking cold (hello high of 23 degrees!) start of winter. I planted a flat of seeds in an old flat of dead squash babies that were cruelly murdered in the spring of their lifetime by an dead irrigation system battery. I planted some tomatoes and some parthenocarpic squash (which are pretty cool, like baby-Jesus squash they don’t need to be fertilized to grow, or wait maybe that’s Mary – whatever, I’m Jewish). Anyway, these squash are perfect for the greenhouse since they can produce fruit without pollination and the status of bees and other pollinators in the greenhouse is questionable.
And then a little tiny mouse came along and ate all the seeds before they could even have a chance.
Lesson learned – DON’T SET FLATS OF SEEDS ON THE GROUND!
will try again later….
My tomato plants did terribly this year in the garden. Horribly even. I started a bunch in the greenhouse and then the irrigation failed and all the seedlings died. I planted some store bought (I know- the horror!) in the garden and harvested maybe two tomatoes. The rest either came down with a terrible case of blight and never ripened, or ripened and promptly were eaten by some animal (I will find you) which chewed out the inside of every single tomato. It’s like there’s not enough water around and they just had to get at the juicy insides of all the tomatoes!
So I bought some tomatoes. A whole bushel. And boy did I have grand plans for those tomatoes – BIG plans as it were. They were so pretty!
But in buying them I made the first mistake of many with those tomatoes – I bought them on a Monday. Mondays are terrible in their own right, but as a day to start big plans which don’t involve your day job, they are really the worst possible choice you can make. The main issue with tomatoes and canning them is that you need to get the peels off them and unless you don’t mind scalding yourself by handling tomatoes that have literally been boiling two seconds beforehand, it is a somewhat long process.
I started off really strong. We had our wood stove going since it was chilly so I used the top to set out tomatoes in my big crock to cook a little overnight with the residual heat. The next morning they had burst open, but not totally disintegrated so I could easily slip off the skins and squeeze out some seeds before tossing them in another pot for sauce. I also used some to make a salsa with some peppers and corn that I had. Of course since I started too late at night I had to move the salsa into the fridge overnight so I could can it the next day. I also cored some and set them in the oven with residual heat to skin the next day. And them promptly forgot about them. For three days. (I’m not entirely sure how I didn’t use the oven for three days, but things happen.) So when I did discover them, they were not pretty. In the spirit of my Bubby and her green sour cream which she swore was still edible, I was tempted to salvage what I could, but, in the end I threw the lot in the compost and cried. The compost was probably a good choice, the crying was maybe a little silly, but I was overwhelmed and feeling like a failure and sad about the wasted tomatoes.
The next day I set out to can the salsa and pasta sauce. I had the pressure canner filled with water, the pasta sauce in the big crock, and my salsa in a big pot. I was trying to do something foolish like half balance the pot off the stove to maneuver the crock in front of the canner and ended up with that picture above. It looks like someone got stabbed! There was salsa everywhere – on the floor, on the stove, under the stove, on the wall, in my shoes, in my hair! It was the worst salsa catastrophe I’ve ever witnessed. Luckily E helped me clean up, because after this second tomato disaster I was feeling incredibly useless and extremely frustrated by my apparent incompetence. And for the second time in a week I cried about tomatoes.
BUT- things I learned!
- Never buy tomatoes on a Monday! More generally, never start a big, time-sensitive project on a Monday. I had been so impatient to get started with acquiring and canning tomatoes that I didn’t even consider that I had a full work-week ahead and probably wouldn’t have enough time to handle all of them. Friday is a much more reasonable day to buy a bushel of tomatoes.
- Mistakes happen, tomatoes rot, and sometimes you cry – but in the end it’s not a life or death situation. I am thankful that we’re not totally dependent on our crops to survive, we have good jobs and if I really wanted to, I could buy more tomatoes.
- The Blight! Apparently growing tomatoes in this area was really easy up until about ten years ago. The lady at the farm where I bought the tomatoes told me that ever since a big hurricane hit ten years ago, tomato blight has been a huge issue in this area. This is definitely going on my list of things to remember.
- I need a freezer, a big one. Or another fridge. Or both. When in doubt or running low on time, I’m pretty sure the answer is always the same – throw it in the freezer.
I know, I know, that is a thing of beauty! But seriously, that is the beginning of my pond in the greenhouse. Water has one of the highest capacities to hold heat of pretty any much material on Earth so it is a great way to keep a greenhouse warm at night when the sun isn’t shining and you haven’t figured out how the furnaces work and don’t really want to. So I made a pond – I dug a bit, I used approximately fifteen tons of cinder blocks (or at least that is how my back feels), I got a pond liner, and I filled it with some water.
And now I have to undo all of that.
Silly me figured that the location I was building it was a good one since it was close to the electrical outlets my dad put in (thanks Bernavel!), and I will need a pump in the pond to keep the water moving and fulfill my dreams of some crazy pond-based irrigation system.
(And yeah I know – that is a super sweet phone charger/speaker set up there. Also the outlets point down to avoid any water situations, but don’t worry – they are GFCI. Safety First!)
But when the outlets were installed it was about mid-summer and that general area was plenty sunny. Now that it’s mid-fall that area is not so sunny. There are some pretty large pine trees close enough to the greenhouse on the southern side that it blocks some of the midday sun in part of the greenhouse. This is not an ideally situated greenhouse – if I were starting from scratch I would have oriented the greenhouse perpendicular to where it is now and set it further back from the trees, thus allowing the most sun absorption during the day. But you get what you get.
And what I got is a pond that is currently in the shade the better part of the day at the time of year when I need it most to retain heat.
- Observe, then build. It would have been nice if I hadn’t been so dead set on putting the pond right near the outlet and actually realized that the sun was going to shift.
- The sun moves! East/West and North/South. (I mean, yes, I obviously knew that, but when you are dependent on the sun for more than a pretty sunset over the city skyline it because a little more apparent)
- Cinder blocks are heavy! But I used them because I have a ton of them and they are actually pretty useful. Next iteration of the pond I will probably dig down further into the ground and only use one layer of blocks around the edges.
And so the pond will be moved. Luckily I didn’t fill it all the way since I was going more for “proof of concept” and conceptually it is a pond in its ability to hold water – cold water.
(Note: it did drop below freezing last night and the low in the greenhouse was only 38 degrees. I’m not sure if the pond had anything to do with that, but at least my plants are still alive)
I spent a lot of time messing with this greenhouse fan – a lot, like the better part of three days. I googled a million things, I texted my friend who is an electrical engineer, I twisted and untwisted and retwisted wires (luckily without electrocuting myself), I emailed the old owners, and I called the manufacturer. See, I was convinced that the vent in one of the greenhouses was installed backwards, or the fan ran the wrong way. The way the fan works it sucks hot air out of the greenhouse, but the vent opens outward, meaning that it doesn’t open automatically when the fan turns on. In fact it becomes harder to open it since the fan is sucking it closed. I rigged the door to swing open when the fan turns on, and I figured that there was something wrong with the set up of the fan and the vent since they didn’t work in the same way.
It turns out that I was wrong – the fans are only meant to run in exhaust mode and the vent is supposed to open against this flow because if the vent opens inward, a stiff wind could blow open the vent and ruin the temperature control. Apparently we are missing a crucial piece of the greenhouse set-up which automatically opens the vent right before the fan turns on.
So lessons learned?
- Sometimes calling people is much easier than trying to research things yourself on the internet. Sure there was a lot of information out there, but some of it wasn’t relevant, was hard to understand, or was just plain wrong. Adding to that was the fact that I wasn’t even entirely certain what I was even looking for – was it the fan or the vent that was wrong? But one call to Dave at the ACME Fan and Greenhouse supply company had me straightened out.
- Drawing electrical diagrams is HARD! This is not pretty:
- Sometimes things don’t need fixing. Technically the fan/vent set up is completely correct, minus the missing part. But….
Lessons NOT learned:
- I’m still not 100% convinced that it is correct! (I know, I am a very hard-headed, stubborn know-it-all!). I understand that it was correct at one point and possibly had all the parts it needed, but that is no longer the case. I could go out and buy one of those automatic openers and hook it up and it would work as intended, or I could figure out how to work with what I have.
- I’m still going to try to kludgy this together somehow. Maybe flip the vent for the summer and wedge it closed for the winter? Maybe some Rube Goldberg machine can open that vent when the fan turns on? Maybe automatic venting that doesn’t even need a fan?
- Ideally the fan will be unnecessary and I would like to not depend on these automatic thingamajigs. Not because I’m a Luddite or hate technology, but because they fail and are hard to fix and make me angry (and the irrigation system battery died and killed all my squash babies earlier this summer). I figure that people managed at one point without all those things, and I can figure out how to as well. Living part time in Philly does make it more complicated, but that sounds like a challenge…