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Baker’s Twine: The Most Versatile Gardening Tool

Baker’s Twine: The Most Versatile Gardening Tool

It’s crazy to me that I haven’t written about this before. I use this tool all the time in the garden, and I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I never just came out and admitted that this item is truly the best thing to […]

Plants you Should Never Buy as Seedlings

Plants you Should Never Buy as Seedlings

You’ve definitely seen them. At a garden center, or even some supermarkets, you’ve seen those racks of those happy little seedlings in their little plastic pots. Plant starts that are so perfect, so ready, and at only $3.99 each! But I’m warning you: some of […]

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

Assembly and Review of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

The OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse (like these) was a Christmas gift, and I assembled it in February. It has been serving as a vegetable seedling grow house and greenhouse for some tender succulents since then, and I’m ready to give my opinion of it in detail.

Why buy a Greenhouse?

Living in the Bay Area in a sunny zone, a cold frames and greenhouses aren’t really necessary to grow plants early in the season. Our growing season is very long. But, in a foggier area, the greenhouse could help start plants outside earlier with the added warmth that builds up throughout the day in a greenhouse. In my case, I wanted to start seeds without the use of lights, and without taking up precious space in my already crowded home, as I usually did each spring.

Why did you choose the OGrow Double Greenhouse?

There are many greenhouses that look like the same exact product, but use a sticker to brand themselves. This is one of them. There are many out there available on Amazon.

I was looking for a walk-in greenhouse, with ample shelving and with the slightly shielded exterior plastic. I knew that the plain, clear plastic would be way too hot in sunny Brisbane.

Box graphics of the OGrow Deluxe Walk-In Greenhouse

Assembly

The unboxing shot!

The contents of the box were clearly labeled. Each type of connector was in a labeled bag, and the instructions referred to them by letter or number, making it easy to find the right pieces. But, the instructions were brief and not 100% clear, so if you don’t like assembling furniture generally, you may want a helper to lend a hand and help figure out the more tricky parts.

The bags were clearly labeled to match the instructions and diagrams.

The instructions were in steps that identified the pieces needed for that step, and then the procedure for that step. The greenhouse is built from bottom to top, and generally makes sense as you go. If you have weeds or grass underneath the area you’re placing your greenhouse, be sure to cover them up before you get started. It also makes kneeling to fit things together easier as you go.

The underlayment and first level complete
Progress on the frame
The full frame assembled (and bonus kid helper)

You will need to pick up the whole greenhouse frame and flip it on its sides to fully fit the roof pieces together. The frame is not heavy, but it is awkward if you are constructing it in a tight place like the tiny patio I was using. Also, getting the pipe pieces to fit fully into one another did take some strength, so be aware that if you cannot put real weight on things, you may need someone to help you assemble the full greenhouse. Being tall can also help–I’m 5′ 8″ and assembled the whole thing myself, but the roof pieces involved some tippy-toe action.

Closeup of racks showing structural zip-ties. Without them, the racks would slide and pop off the frame easily.

Once the frame is assembled completely, you will use the included zip ties to attach the racks to the frame, four per rack, in the corners. This seems a little wonky to me, and as I plan on taking it down for the remainder of the summer, this means I will need to get more zip ties when I assemble it again next year. I may try to find a better, reusable solution for attaching the racks. And yes, you MUST attach the racks. They sit slightly high when placed on the frame, so if you left them unattached, I can see a lot of accidental hip-bumping leading to plants on the ground.

The fully-assembled greenhouse

Putting the cover on is a hilarious reminder of how little dignity we humans truly have. The instructions advise opening the zippers first and rolling up the door, which was certainly necessary. If it’s a hot day, you may want to leave this step until evening, as the greenhouse does its job well, even with the two windows and door wide open.

Closeup of tie loop on cover for securing the greenhouse in case of wind

Finally, you’ll use the attached ties and the loops in the four corners to attach your greenhouse to the ground. The kit comes with some cute little tent pegs that might work in a complete vacuum or indoors, but in high-wind Brisbane, they are totally useless. I tied my greenhouse to my house (two corners), an outside structure (one corner), and a particularly sturdy rose bush (one corner). Make sure the ropes are taut and try to shake the greenhouse yourself BEFORE saying you’re done, and DEFINITELY before you add any tender plants. My greenhouse tie-ups have held up well, and I haven’t had too many issues after strong windstorms.

Review

On the whole, it has been very convenient to have an outdoor greenhouse. I can transplant in it or just outside it without worrying about making a mess. Previously, when I used lights indoors and I needed to pot up tomatoes, for instance, I had to move the whole shebang outside, pot everything up, and then bring it all back. I like this much better. I can also store things like bags of potting soil and vast quantities of perlite in the greenhouse and not worry about lugging them from one part of the yard or house to another.

It gets hot inside, so I tend to do my greenhouse gardening in the early morning or late in the afternoon to evening. For the most part, the plants are happy and do not dry out anywhere near as fast as they would in the open sun. I did learn the hard way that it is too hot for newly transplanted cuttings, which turned into dried herbs in an afternoon. Seedlings that grew up in the greenhouse, however, really enjoy the extra heat.

One benefit I hadn’t even anticipated is how easy it is to harden off from the greenhouse to outside. Even though I got the shielded outer covering for the greenhouse, these plans have known full sun their entire lives. This means when I put them outside to harden them off, it is nowhere near the shock that plants that grow up indoors, or under lights, experience.

The greenhouse is a weird mix of spaces, an outdoor-indoor space, a clean and yet dirty space, and it has been excellent for my garden this year. 

How has it held up?

Because I plan on taking the greenhouse down soon, and because I’ve seen what prolonged sunlight can do to plastics and other materials, I have been especially gentle with the zipper door and the outer covering of the greenhouse. However, the wind has not been very kind, and yet I see no signs of tearing or stitches coming undone. The covering is well intact, and I think it will hold up for several more seasons. I have noticed some discoloration due to the sunlight on the edge stitching, but I didn’t buy it for its looks. I’d say it has help up very well.

What’s also nice about this greenhouse is that they sell replacement covers, so even if the sun, wind, or an animal destroyed the cover, I could get a new one without purchasing a whole new greenhouse kit.

Would you buy it again/recommend it?

I think that if, like me, space is at a premium in your home and you want to start seeds early, a greenhouse like this would definitely be helpful. The price is right as well, as it is not as fancy as some of the more structurally sound green houses, and yet it worked just fine for what I needed it to do. I’m growing seedlings, not hosting garden parties. 

There are also other sizes of greenhouse that I considered, and for even smaller spaces the smaller version of the same greenhouse would be just as useful, but smaller.

If you are looking for the same greenhouse, this one below is the closest to the one I have, though you will find them under various names. They seem to all be the exact same product.

Yes, We have Black Widows in the Bay Area

Yes, We have Black Widows in the Bay Area

I was definitely in denial about black widows. A friend had talked about seeing black widow spiders in her garden, and I just thought to myself, “she’s mistaken.” I mean, I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area for more than a dozen years and never […]

So, Um, Yeah

So, Um, Yeah

I know you’re freaking out, because I am freaking out. We’re all freaking out. A little more or less, depending on time of day, amount of media consumed, number of dependents we’re supposed to home school, percent of productivity we’re expected to be at, etc, […]

2020 Garden Plans

2020 Garden Plans

Sometimes I worry, as spring approaches, that I’ll lose interest in gardening—that there just won’t be anything new to strike my fancy.

But then, the seed catalogs come. And the emails about the new seeds show up in my inbox. And I am smitten, once more, with the perfect possibilities that seeds provide.

What I’ll be growing this year

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are always in my garden, but this year I’m cutting back from 3 varieties to just 2. I want to focus on 1 sauce type and one slicer. And, while I will be sticking with my old favorite sauce tomato San Marzano for its insane productivity, I have to decided to take a break from my favorite slicer (Gold Medal) and go for a new one: Pineapple. I’m hoping it will have the flavor and beauty of Gold Medal, but with heavier yield and less blemishes. 

Peppers

I had good luck last year with my mini bell peppers, but my daughter didn’t like the heavy concentration of bitter seeds inside their small form. So, I will be going for regular-size bell peppers with the attractive orange Coral Belle.

Carrots

My kids are like rabbits and we go through a ton of baby carrots every week. Why not grow them myself? They are not impressed with multi-colored carrots because those tend to be spicier and more flavorful–they like their standard carrot flavor, thank you very much. For them, I’m growing Danvers 126. I addition to being a great standard carrot, it does well in heavy soils, so I don’t have to worry about the roots getting into the clay below my compost layer and growing in wacky ways.

Kale

I used to grow kale every year, and then one year it slipped my mind and that was 3 years ago. Yikes! I love freshly harvested Lacinato/Toscano kale–so crunchy and fresh. The stuff you buy at the store, or even the farmer’s markets, cannot compare! I’ll be using my saved seeds from a particularly large (8+ ft!) volunteer kale plant from 3 years ago. I know that the germination rate may be iffy, but I have a lot of seeds left and will just over-plant and then thin as necessary.

Watermelon

This is an experiment of sorts. When I first began seriously gardening in the Bay Area, I tried growing both gourds and watermelon with terrible results. But, I was an amateur in our weather, and now that I’ve gotten gourds to thrive, I am ready to tackle a new challenge. I picked two faster-to-fruit varieties of different sizes so hopefully at least one will do well: Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet.

Gourds

Speaking of gourds, I’m looking to up the ante. Last year I got tons of Spinning Gourds and quite a few Bottle/Birdhouse and Corsican gourds that are happily molding over on my porch. Since I don’t even know what projects I’ll use those for yet, I figure I should grow a different type, and so I am going BIG. Bushel Basket gourds can grow to 24″ across, and can make great storage containers. I’m looking forward to seeing what they look like, if they grow well here.

Flowers

Last year, I focused on veggies and my only flowers were marigolds because their bug-repellent properties. This year I will be trying to grow some more exciting varieties. I’ve recently discovered a LOCAL seed company called The Living Seed Company, and since I had already purchased my veggies seeds for the season, I decided flowers would be a great way to try them out! I’ll be planting “Radiance” Cosmos (my daughter will love pink flowers!), some cute Bachelor Buttons, and the super-cool looking (and named!) Love-in-a-Mist.

What I will NOT be growing this year

Mouse Melons

They were very cute, and oh-so-prolific, but they just weren’t all that tasty. And, maybe the recipes were to blame, but even pickled, I wasn’t that excited about them (and I love me some pickles!). The most fun we had with them (other than the Calico Critters photo shoot) was when I took them to my daughter’s preschool so the kids could play with them.

Read all about Mouse Melons

Corn

The Glass Gem popcorn came out super well, and I will be publishing a belated article about it soon, but I honestly have WAY too much popcorn right now, and that’s after feeding the whole preschool one afternoon. I think it will need to be a bi-annual thing.

This year, I’m focusing mostly on things I know we will eat, and on producing more of the food we buy in our garden. What’s your garden focus for 2020?

What to Plant in September

What to Plant in September

Even as fall looms ahead of us, our warm September weather keeps the tomatoes, cucumbers, and gourds growing strong. And while the wild blackberries in full sun may have shriveled up, the ones in shady spots are just now fruiting plump, tasty berries. Here is […]

Have you checked out these Naked Ladies?

Have you checked out these Naked Ladies?

Don’t worry, I’m talking about the beautiful, fragrant, and totally weird flower that pops up this time of year, right after all its foliage had died back. The Belladonna Amaryllis (AKA Belladonna Lily, AKA Resurrection Lily, AKA Naked Ladies) is ablaze just about everywhere sunny […]

Mouse Melons: The Cutest Fruit

Mouse Melons: The Cutest Fruit

There are many beautiful fruits out there, and I’m sure you’ve grown some that you thought were drop-dead gorgeous. But would you say many of them were cute?

Let’s say you’ve got a plant that looks like the biggest garden fruit, i.e. watermelon, but is the size of a grape tomato. Voila! Cutest fruit around.

Mouse melons, or cucamelons, are relatively new to the gardening community, and images of handfuls of these tiny melons are showing up all over the internet. So small, so cute, so many adorable photo opportunities.

Bunny Calico Critter viewing the Mouse Melon harvest
Mouse Melons happen to be the perfect size “watermelon” for Calico Critters to enjoy.

Growing Mouse Melons

A tiny cucamelon and its flower. To show the size, the twine it is climbing is kitchen twine, less than 1/8 inch thick.

They grow a lot like cucumbers, just smaller (if you need more of a guide on growing them, check out my Cucumber Growing Guide). And when I say smaller, I mean like a bonsai cucumber vine. The leaves are so small, the vines feel very delicate, and the flowers are downright miniature. They would do well in a hanging basket or medium-to-large pot, or in the ground.

Cucamelon vines
This view shows you how little of my bamboo trellis the full-grown vines take up. That’s 3 vines growing at the far end going up the white twine.

You can trellis them, but be sure to offer them something very thin to grasp onto, like twine. Because of their tiny size, my bamboo trellis branches were too wide for it to grip. And, be sure to protect the vines from strong wind, or your fruit may go flying. I happened to plant them close enough to our grape trellis that the wind was blocked by grape leaves and my mouse melons thrived.

Where to Get Mouse Melon Seeds

Botanical Interests is where I obtained my seeds, and they sprouted and grew very well. 

Harvesting and Flavor

A nearly ripe cucamelon
An almost-ripe mouse melon. I would give it a day or two before picking, to let the green fade, so I get that yummy sour flavor.

So at first I was wholly unimpressed with the flavor of these little guys (even though popping a whole little fruit into your mouth and crunching on it is very satisfying). The flavor was basically “bland cucumber” (yes, that’s possible). I was picking them before they got too large (roughly large-grape-sized) thinking that, like cucumbers and squash, they would get less tasty when larger.

But, I find that if you harvest when they get a bit larger, more like a grape tomato, when the color fades a bit, they have a slightly sour taste that’s very interesting. Another name for them is Mexican sour gherkin, so that makes sense to me now.

I hope that I can get enough to pickle some, because I think that would make a great snack. However, I only have about 5 vines in the two mounds I planted, and sadly, that’s just not producing enough for a huge harvest. And huge for these little guys would be like filling a pint jar.

If you want to have more on hand than a novelty photo prop and a fun off-the-vine nibble, I would grow several more hills of them–at least 20 plants. Luckily, due to their tiny size, you won’t need that much room to do that.

Update September 10, 2019: So, it turns out my cucamelon vines were just getting started producing, and my two hills gave me more than enough fruit to make some refrigerator pickles. I used this recipe but found it is off on volume (it says the liquid you make is for 1 pint, but it’s actually double that). So, I have two quart jars with 1 cup each of mouse melons in them, but it means room to add more later, so I ain’t complaining!

Harvested Mouse Melons
My huge 2-cup harvest!
Cooking pickling liquid
Creating the flavorful pickling liquid using home-grown jalapenos, plus garlic and bay leaves.
Jar of cucamelon pickles in the fridge
My cucamelons in the fridge, just starting their flavorful journey to pickledom.
What to Plant in August

What to Plant in August

In the heat of the summer, spring-planted crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn, and cucumbers are going nuts. It’s hard to believe it’s already time to start thinking about fall planting! Cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale need to be planted now or in September […]