Smart survival tips from Norway

By Dag from Ringerike

Smart survival tips from Norway

By Dag from Ringerike

This spring has been against normal, as usual as we say, in the south of Norway. Warm days (plus 20 C) in March, a very cold April and May, the greening of the trees about one week late. Then a week ago 4 days with temperatures between 25 and 30 C. What we see now is that the Greenland High has moved east and pumping cold air through northern Europe. This oscillation is quite a challenge for a hobby gardener.

Well, after reading Robert’s books some years ago, I realized that I had to make use of all the tools that I learned from my father, who was a gardener beyond the Arctic Circle in the Lofoton Islands.

In the greenhouses seeding was done in late winter, early spring, and during May the plants were moved into beds with 20 cm high wood walls and covered with glass frames. To protect the plants against frosty nights the glass frames were covered with straw mats. In late June, early July, the cauliflowers could be put into open beds, and pray for the summer….

I bought a greenhouse 4 years ago for the purpose of growing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. I learned from the Canadians in Alberta to put up a concrete wall on the north side of the greenhouse and lay concrete plates on the floor. This accumulated the heat during the day and raised the temperature during the night. Last year I made a similar bed as my father used with 20 cm high wood walls and covered it with polycarbonate frames. Growing salads and pourree (leeks) in pots in the bed was a success.

This year year I have laid concrete plates (20 x 40 cm, or 40 x 40 cm and 5 cm thick) on the bed floor to avoid the evaporation cooling with a soil floor. The salads, the pourrees will be growing there. And also, this year, looking at my strawberry fields struggling, I dug up the plants, put them into 10 liter buckets, and placed them in the greenhouse and in the bed. It is amazing, the plants have really been thriving and the flowers have come very fast forward, the fruits have started forming.

Farmers here in the south use tunnels of plastic cover to grow salad or lettuce, but the purpose is to get two or three harvests during a season. So this technique is well known, but my point was that I had to use this technique to secure my one year harvest because the weather or climate oscillate so much during the growing season the last three years.

My learning of the experiences with this freak weather, with periods of northern Norway climate during spring and summer in the south of Norway, I am going make more walled beds with polycarbonate glass frames to avoid the cool periods and the drowning rain events. It is something to think about that a technique designed for beyond Arctic Circle growing has to be applied in the south of Norway to secure the harvest of my vegetables.

I would be interested to see the responds from other “hobby gardeners” – more learning.

11 thoughts on “Smart survival tips from Norway”

  1. @ Dag
    I only took up gardening last year so I am not exactly proficient, but I know that bok choy(pak choi, Chinese cabbage) is very cold tolerant and is a staple in Asia. In fact it prefers the cold. Not freezing but between 40-50F it will do best. I found your article very interesting, both because you mentioned your father gardening north of the arctic circle and because you are experiencing such dicey weather in an area that should be far more temperate.
    Good luck. Maybe the knowledge you gained from your father would make a good book or pamphlet? Since the weather is taking a turn for the cold many people could benefit from such hard won experience.

  2. Hi Dag, thanks so much for your inspiring story. Just recently I bought a tunnel house 40 mt x 6 mtr and wondered how to keep the warmth in the soil, you’ve provided the answer for me, thanks again. I’m also thinking of elevating the ground level at least by a meter in case of floods but also to receive more heat. The roof and south/west side walls ( coldest side in N.Z.) will have acrylic plates/sheets which are hardier and more durable then plastic. Part of this tunnelhouse will be used to shelter my goats and cows during extreme weather like today. It’s snowing everywhere in the South Island of N.Z. and will continue all day, some parts towards the Southern Alps will receive up to 1 meter snow ! I’ve got no records of when this happened last in June ! Keep safe.

  3. Here in Belfast March was relatively warm but April and the first three weeks of May there was a noticeable chill. After a warm last week in May, June has seen the chill return.
    Near my home, bluebells normally bloom in the middle of May at a particular location, 1000 feet above sea-level. To date (4th June) there is little sign of this happening.

  4. Hi Dag I’m living in northern Italy, far south from you, but this year I started an experimental cultivation of peanuts. Due to rain and low temperatures it seems my experiment doesen’t work. Maybe using your method could lead to something…

  5. Dag,
    Another tip is to paint the concrete black or put a black dye in at the mix when making it. Yet another is to put a big plastic water water container in the greenhouse to act as both a source of water and a storage heater. We face similar problems here in the Scottish Highlands as the climate is quite similar to western Norway and I found these things worked very well to help with Pumpkins and Cape Gooseberries.

    beste hilsener og lykke til min venn.

  6. Dag,
    I was also very impressed by the greenhouse methods of the Icelandic Forest Service in their tree nurseries in northern Iceland. Cloches inside polytunnels and black polythene mesh flooring come to mind readily.

  7. well done Dag, another handy idea for you in cold spots is, if? you have livestock then use a wall of where they are as a side for the greenhouse..share warmth, like the real old times when folks lived Over the animal pens, it helped them keep warm, and the urine smelly as it would have been:-) kept moths and insects away:-)
    if you have chickens then train them to come inside the greenhouse in a portable pen,body heat again helps keep the plants happier. and rolls of black poly pipe placed on a wood or metal surface, painted black to absorb extra heat can be run in/around pots or raised beds during the day to warm soil more, you Must! remember to stop the inflow(sealed system) in the late afternoon to stop it then pushing cold through and sapping the warmth you gained. even if you just heat tubs of water inside as an alternative means those tubs then radiate heat at night. even one or half a degree helps.

  8. Agree with John the First. A leaflet with some photos or a small e-book would provide us some interesting reading! A good item for all of us!

  9. Dear readers of Roberts blog.

    Thank you very much for all your feedbacks. It is inspiring for my work in my small villa garden.

    Some more tips from my fathers work. Even beyond the arctic circle the heat during spring or summertime from the sun can be too strong inside a greenhouse. He used a mixture of chalk and milk to paint on the top of the roof on the greenhouses. If it rained to much we had to repeat this operation.

    In my greenhouse I have a hydraulic pump that opens a top window. And when it is to warm, beyond 30 C, I also open one of the side glasses. About the beds, I lift up the frames and put pieces of 5 or 10 cm of wood to lift the frames at the upper end to avoid too high temperatures.

    Yesterday I seeded carrots in 40 milk boxes (1.75 liters, five carrots pr box), covered them with cellofan on the top, to avoid the drying of the seeding soil. When my strawberries have been doing their job, I will replace them with the milk boxes in the bed. I remember, we stored the carrots in the basement of our house in a bed or heap of sand. This method kept them from drying during autumn and winter.

    Greenhouses have normally only one layer of glas. When temperatures outside drop too low, inside you will have air flowing in a downward direction along the glass walls. And outside, the opposit happens, air flows upward along the walls because of the heat transfer. We have two counter direction flows of air, or convection that suck the heat out of the greenhouse. The chineese and the canadians cover their greenhouses during the cold nights in February and March, and the result is less convection cooling. There will also be a thin layer of air between the glass and the cover that act as insolation. My father put up an extra layer of glass in parts of the greenhouses during the winter.

    To Ron Greer. Yes, I have considered to paint the concrete wall black. But there is one advantage by using concrete, additional to store heath, they also breath, they store moisture. And that is important during days with air filled with moisture, rainy days, because, earlier, without the concrete plates and wall, I had problems with fungus on the cucumber flowers because of the saturated air in the greenhouse.

    About heating in extreme cold nights. In early April, we had a minus 8 C night event: I stored 50 liter of warm water in 10 liter bottles or containers. That saved most of my plants. I lost 7 of my tomato plants, but saved 17. So that works, but a blanket over the greenhouse would also have been helping. Learning, learning! Durch Schaden wird man klug, as the germans are saying.

    To Carla, good luck. I remember, in our barn we had a room for the hens. And in the same room also there were two pigs – and that was because the heat from the pigs kept the hens warm, my father explained. That fits into what you write, Laurel.

    In my greenhouse there are three killer spiders (they invited themselves). I greet them every morning. They keep the greenhouse clean of the small spiders that are sucking my cucumber plants.

    I try to avoid pesticides. The flys that love carrots and cauliflowers, are not fond of the smell of onions or garlic. If I see small spiders nets on my plants in the bed, or flys, I am repeatedly spraying the plants with pure water. And it works. Growing plants is about caring – and abit timeconsuming.

    All the Best from Ringerike.

  10. Consider putting the chickens and rabbtis underneath the tables and benches that are covered with plants. If you keep lots of straw in place the chickens will scratch around and not bother the plants and both rabbits and chickens’s manure and body heat will raise the heat index in the green house. You will have warm animals and warm plants and probably a fair number of eggs, too.

    The urine and feces don’t smell because of the straw covering and that was how it was possible to live over the cows and goats in one house as my Swiss ancesters did. LOTS of straw!

    When you are finished with the greenhouse , clear it out and spread the nutrient rich straw on the garden to fertilize everything or add it to the compost if youa re worried about it being too rich.

    If it is still too cold, use a barrel filled half way with straw or hay and wet it down. It will start to smolder and generate heat but be careful, that heat generation is one of the reasons barns burn down at harvest time.

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