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Last updated 03/02/2010

Murray's tale (published February 2010)
by Murray Thompson, Ontario, Canada 
Murray Thompson

To Family, friends, fellow gardening enthusiasts, and fellow members of the Canadian Chrysanthemum & Dahlia Society and some dahlia and chrysanthemum enthusiast friends around the world.... and before I go any further, I wish you all a great 2010, good health, God's blessings, and that you will have an opportunity to extend a hand to someone less fortunate!

A bit of a newsletter on my attempts to learn how to operate a greenhouse, some dahlia talk, and getting some chrysanthemums properly started this year..(Hey, I continue to hope!) 

Greenhouse came out second best ..
As some of you know, I lost my original greenhouse this summer - it came out second-best in a collision with a falling Manitoba Maple branch.  After all discussions were complete with my insurance folks, a new one arrived in a box in October, and with engineering talent from Al Dormer, we got the new kit up and useable in the two weeks following...and moved the November-blooming mums (gigantics) inside - kinda late, but better than never!

Some thoughts on preserving dahlia tubers
Talking about late, I was hoping this year to bury some dahlias in the garden this year, in a few different ways, just a bit under the soil, and cover with about 18" of leaves - just to see the potential for having viable tubers for next year.  My belief is that some should survive.  I was able to get some unfrozen earth from under about 10" of leaves even after a two week period of temps between -7C and -16C.  I know that straw would be better than leaves (due to the tubular nature of straw) but I don't have any.  I also think that covering the leaves with a plastic sheet would be beneficial, just to keep the melting snow running to one side.  My dad once stored a wagon-load of cabbages under straw, and I was amazed how many survived...a little icky on the outside, but the inside was superbly crunchy & well preserved)

I was amazed this year with the results of having left a dozen and a half dahlias outside through several -7C nights - after growing all year in 6" pots.  Instead of leaving them as pot-tubers, I opened up half the batch, and only one was slush - the rest all looked quite good.  We will see in the spring if they remain viable - and I'd be optimistic. 

My Propagation box
Then fast-forward to my New Years' Eve - Using the end of a 12' box which brought me some greenhouse piece-parts, I assembled my home-brew version of a propagation box...which is just shy of 4' long by just over 2' wide, giving me about 8 sq feet.  The cable was rated for 7 sq ft if used outdoors, and up to 12 sq ft if used this box will potentially be a little warmer than the next one, which will be the same width but a little longer.

The directions said I was to put gravel or coarse sand in the bottom for drainage (so will need to make drain holes yet) then use earth, not sand, on top of the gravel to surround the heating coils and the machine-cloth both top & bottom.  Damp earth is to spread the warmth.  The heating cables are attached to the underside of the mesh, to prevent any tools used from cutting the cable.  The metal mesh also helps to distribute the heat.  The thermostat is just over a foot inside the box, following the cord from the spot where it enters the box (near the green criss-crossed wire)  There are two short blocks attached to the mesh near the center, because I thought it might be better to keep the mesh more horizontal - not dipping in the center.  Anyway, the whole center piece drops into the larger box. 
 As Al points out, I will need higher sides before I can put a glass top in place.  Rating of cable is 100 watts, and is intended to keep the heat in the low 70'sF.

State of the Lates
Next - the state of my Lates in their 3-gallon pots (I just cut the old stems back, did not repot).  Just the area on and under the table - not the houseplants off to the right, and not the occasional Aloe Vera or spice either. 

I'm told I can start taking some cuttings of these lates - and I am going to try to be more dilligent in record-keeping this year.  Also to spread the taking of cuttings over a greater period than last year.  Some of the lessons learned after a near brush with disaster last year...when I thought the whole crop was lost for blooms.  While it was a long way from exhibition quality, at least I got some nice blooms, and I was grateful for that small mercy!

Life at last in Early Stools
Then there are my boxed stools for the Sept & Oct blooming mums.. just starting to show a little green at this point...

Got home Saturday night about 9:45pm, outside temp abt -12C, and inside temp at 0.4C at shelf height inside - about 2' off the floor.  Two flats and 3 pots were lower, but they should do OK.

Installing Natural Gas
The Natural Gas line was installed in the 2' deep trench I dug about 10 days ago - got a bit cold - the last 60% of the trench was dug after frost set in, so I had to chip out the earth with a pick.  Then we got one day with a +5C day two days after the pipe went in, and I was able to backfill, although again, a lot of frozen chunks will need to settle later.  The heater is due to arrive sometime this next week, and the technician will be back from holidays about Jan 14 to install it.  Hopefully we can get a sunny day to help keep the greenhouse temp above freezing as we cut in the vent holes and gas-feed line.  So far, I have been able to maintain minimum temps with two ceramic heaters.  I was pleased that after I placed the 1" styrofoam insulation on the exterior of the wood base, and caulked it in, a single ceramic heater was sufficient to about -7C.  Much better than last year.  Still I will be happy to get off electricity and onto nat-gas.  This will pay even larger returns when the meters become replaced for one of those 'Smart-meters"  (Sorry, Cedric, but I can stay retired only if I am 'frugal')

Just checked the remote, and the greenhouse temp on the bench is still just over 7C, with the outside temp at -13C on the back deck.

A further note.. my wife Sharion was very pleased to be able to cut some fresh spices for her New Years' dishes - Some sage, rosemary and thyme are out there in pots, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say they are exactly thriving, they are certainly growing and are useable.  Very much still a novelty!

The exchange of Gifts!
My Christmas present to her was a Nintendo DS - her Christmas present to me will likely arrive about the end of January.. a drip-irrigation system which connects to a garden-hose, and will feed about 35 individual pots in the greenhouse - it uses small hoses connected to a main poly-hose.  There is an external timer, which you can turn on/off up to three times a day, and for settable intervals.  I am told that in the summer, the control portion can be removed, and transferred to a garden hose.

Fortunately, the days are getting longer now, and with the calendar out, we see these events coming.... so can spring be all that far away????

Warmest regards to ward off the cold!
Murray Thompson
Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Early Season Events calendar
Feb 06, 2010.................:  Seedy Saturday - East Shore Community Ctr., Pickering, Ont

Feb 20, 2010.................:  Jump On Spring - Toronto Botanical Gardens

Mar 12-14, 2010...........:  Home & Garden Show - GM Center, Oshawa, Ont

Mar 18 - 21, 2010.........:  18th Successful Gardening Show - International Center, Toronto

April 09- 11, 2010 ........:  'For the Love Of Gardening', Evinrude Center, Peterborough, Ont

April 17 & 18, 2010  .....:  '6th Annual Scugog Garden Show' - Reach Rd., Port Perry, Ont

May 08, 09, and 15, 16 ...: Murray's annual plant sale, (It's NOT going to rain either weekend this year!)

May 08,  2010................:  CCDS Annual Plant Sale -9am- at the Toronto Botanical Gardens , (It's NOT going to HAIL this year!)

 Messages to Friends

To Mel B. - my regrets about using only English.  La plupart des regrets sincères, mais je pensais que vous auriez plaisir à être inclus.  Je vais vous voir bientôt en classe.


To Buddy Dean, in Cashiers, North Carolina - I hope to have some stock to send to you this Spring when the weather warms - I have assurances from the Dept of Agriculture the method is easy to follow to get a phyto certificate for mums (they are just hard to import)


To Bill Johnson, Dahlia hybridizer, in Australia - I know you marvel at temps under 0C, so thought I'd include you in this note - From my viewpoint, 35C is unbearably hot, yet you routinely talk of your temps over 40C for days on end.  I'm amazed you can keep things growing.  It's also a little hard to grasp the reality of your going out hoeing in your garden over the Christmas break!


To Paul Barlow,  in Aberdeen - great info on your site - our CCDS members Roy Fox and Al Dormer were quick to have me put a link to your site on our website, and I just wanted to say thanks!  You grow some amazing blooms!


To Ken Stock, dahlia hybridizer in Bournemouth, UK - I miss hearing from you on the dahlia websites, old friend - I admire you for how you support your wife during her illness.


To Joan Cornelius, Niagara Showhouse - a magnificent Chrysanthemum show this year....our small party almost didn't make it, due to an 'adventure' with my vehicle en-route this year.  Fortunately after two hours in a Canadian Tire garage, we were on our way again!  Hope you enjoyed your vacation, but I was sorry to have missed you there at the Showhouse.


Additional images in thumbnail form

murray-prop.jpg (42084 bytes)
Propagator -early stages

murray-prop1.jpg (59100 bytes)
Plants potted on

murray-prop2.jpg (58049 bytes)
More plants potted on - bringing chrysanthemums to life!
© Copyright 2002 Paul Barlow.