Winter, Winter, Go Away
Yes, it has been a while since I reported from Cactus Hill. Summer and autumn have gone, and it seems as if winter will never go. I had really hoped for a relatively mild winter. Mother Nature obviously has no interest in my desires. :( Temperatures in January and February have been way below average. Cactus Hill has routinely experienced night temperatures below 15 degrees F. (-9.5 C) with five nights dropping below 5 degrees F. (-15 C). I understand that many areas of North America and Europe are much colder than this but the over-wintering of much of my cactus and succulent collection is based on temperatures being average... MOST... of the time. If you are not familiar with my over-winter system, he's a look at it.
I have three of these over-wintering boxes, I call them frames, from the horticultural term cold frames. The difference from a typical cold frame is I have a small electrical heater in each frame. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. (10 C), the frames are covered in plastic, as seen below.
When temperatures drop below 30 degrees F. (-1 C) I add a second layer of plastic cover, and when temperatures drop below 15 degrees F. (-9.5 C) I place a blanket between the two layers of plastic. For the past 15 years this system has worked well for me. Plants over-winter in good condition with the strong light and cool to cold night temperatures; the heaters maintain the low temperature at 42 degrees F. (5.5 C) Four years ago we experienced heavy snowfalls, and the frames performed well in the snow.
But this winter more than 10 nights have experienced low temperatures below 5 degrees F. (-15 C) and this is a danger point, because if one of the heaters fail, or we lose electrical power, the temperatures in the frames will drop below freezing in less than three hours. During these nights I must check the temperatures in the frames every few hours in order to have time to fix a problem quickly. Each frame has a thermometer that sends a wireless signal back to the house. Thus, I can monitor the temperatures in the frames without going outside. I know this is all part of the system I have decided to use to get my plants through the winter, but most winters, average winters, are easy to deal with, but this winter has just be tough. So, winter, winter, go away, I'm more than ready for spring.