Wednesday, March 16, 2016

sunroom seed starting or why we bought this house

I mentioned in my 2016 garden update post that the sunroom seed starting last year didn't go that well, and I plan to change things a bit to improve that. Here is the sunroom I am using to start our garden seeds. Photo taken the other day on a sunny, late winter day, as sun angle is starting to increase.

As you can see, I didn't tidy up for the photo, lots of things to notice. Firewood stacks, potting soil bags, self watering containers with herbs that stay green all winter, the big windows that admit sun into the living room, and even a treadmill so my wife can get the blood moving in the dead of winter. We have a big sliding door in to the room, and on sunny winter days, we have even left the door open to let warmer air in to the house.

A bit of history on the sun room. When we started looking for a small farm in this area, we soon found that real estate websites were a good way to get a feel for price ranges and features we might be able to afford (without spending hours traveling). 

Originally, I had wanted to just buy open land, and build a house and everything else from scratch. Arranging everything on permaculture principles and our own ideas sounded great. The farm we saw on the internet and ended up buying had a house, but the house had enough positive feature that  I gave up on my dream of building my own house. Looking back, it was a very lucky turn of events, as house building while still working a full time job would have been a nightmare. 

The sunroom was one of the features that sold us on the house ( I have already talked about the attached root cellar). The sunroom runs the full length of the south face of the house, and captures solar heat quite well.  Large windows between the sunroom and the living space also admit lots of light during the winter. I might go in to more detail later on how and why I ended up rebuilding it, but that's another story.

Starting seeds in here- Because of how I designed the roof overhang, the room actually gets the least direct sunlight during summer, when you don't need it, and gets lots of light during winter and the "shoulder months". The problem is that during nights, temperatures can still get too cold for seedlings to germinate or thrive, so I have used heat mats in the past, but not enough. I will use them even more this time. They are powered through a thermostat, so only come on at night when needed.
Like this one:

A future project is to possibly install thermal blinds on the
 large outer windows to close at night,  and fill some barrels with water to soak up heat during the day and release it during the night. Till then, I will unfortunately be using a lot of watts.

As I finally post this, the onion seeds have all germinated, and are looking good. Brassicas will be next to start in about two weeks.

Our first planting in the soil will be peas and potatoes, but the soil isn't quite ready for them yet. Can't wait!


  1. Hi Steve,

    The sun rooms looks great - but is that deep snow outside the windows?

    Out of curiosity, do you harvest your own firewood? I do here as I have tens of thousands of trees and the forest does need a bit of thinning but it is a huge amount of work.

    Spot on about the house building. Also there is a good Russian proverb about not letting the perfect get in the way of the good. House prices are crazy here which is why I purchased cheap land and built from scratch so as to avoid debt.

    Actually, now that you've written that I can see in the photo that the structure is in very good condition.

    Oh yeah, I don' use the heat mats but plenty of gardeners around here do and they really give you a good months extra growing season and use very little energy.

    You are at a very exciting time of year! Are you planting anything new this year? I always try to add something new or expand something that worked really well the previous year.



  2. Hi Chris- Yes that's snow, but the photo is about three weeks old now. We did not have a huge snow year, but it stayed on the ground quite a while.

    I do harvest my own firewood, and will as long as my back holds up. We unfortunately don't have thousands of trees, much of the hilly areas are in early successional stages, with brush and small invasives that need dealing with. I do have several elms that have been dying of dutch elm disease, so they are already drying out when I drop them. I'll be talking to neighbors with more wooded property to see if I can work shares or something to get economical firewood in the future, as I am burning through the dead elms quickly.

    Starting seeds indoors is pretty necessary for some garden vegetables, the growing season is only so long. I can't imagine how gardeners do it in Canada or northern tier states in the U.S.

    Yes- exciting time- champing at the bit for soil temp and moisture to be ready for getting going in the garden.

    New for this year- Jerusalem artichokes (planted last fall) multiplier onions, beets (finally got them in the rotation!) and flint corn for corn meal. I go in to a bit more detail in a recent post.

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the reply. Occasionally I get together with another neighbour and we drop, cut and split trees for firewood and two people (or even three) make for a much more effective operation. Look after your back though and try to keep it as straight as possible when using the chainsaw so that there is little to no pressure on your lower back - sometimes I even kneel when using the chainsaw and that takes all the weight off the spine.

    Yeah, I wonder about that too - and they keep bees even in places as cold as Canada and Alaska!

    Top work.



  4. My sunroom is my absolute favorite room in the house, too, and also the reason we purchased our home. You are absolutely right about how the lighting and space is wonderful for a cold winter day and is good for growing plants. I've been growing many different varieties of plants and veggies for awhile, and they thrive in my sunroom.