Cold Weather Growing

Welcome to February 7th, 2021. I woke up to a cold and blustery 6F (six degrees Fahrenheit) outside temperature with a -6F wind chill this morning. That’s 5 degrees colder than the local meteorologists had predicted midday yesterday. My first thought of the morning concerned my greenhouse and its delicate plants — tomato plant seedlings, Marigold seedlings, Mums, Rosemary, Peppermint, and a Gerber Daisy — inside. The lettuce was the only plant in the greenhouse that would survive below freezing temperatures. Last night was the test. Did I plan for cold weather appropriately enough? Or did my plants freeze?

Tomato seedlings reach for the grow light.

Running out to check on the greenhouse, I unzipped the polypropylene cover and peered inside. In the frigid 6F morning air, my face was met with a blast of 72F air.

Yippee!! I was successful. My plants survived!!

Greenhouse 1.0

My greenhouse, affectionately referred to, by me, as Greenhouse 1.0, maintained its 72F temperature overnight. Actually, it keeps the temperature between 67.1F and 72.3F. But not by itself. It has help. I bought this greenhouse on in early October 2020. For 3 months, I’ve prepared to deal with single degree (F) overnight low temperatures. Last night was the first time since I erected this greenhouse that we actually had single digit weather. Over the next week, we expect at least 10 more days of similar weather.

Greenhouse 1.0
Greenhouse 1.0

A Series of Posts

And so begins a series of blog posts about my greenhouse adventure. The first few posts will be definitive — this is what I did, and why — to get to the current configuration. Then, I will post my challenges as I face them, before I even have a solution. I will welcome your ideas and suggestions about how to proceed. I want to collaborate with my readers. For me, this is a learning experience and it’s fun. Why not join me on this adventure?

This is not a commercial venture. I have no intention to make it a commercial venture. Money is not unlimited. In-fact, I’d rather do something effective on a shoestring budget that I learn from, than spend big bucks for a complete system that I don’t need to think about. For me, it’s not about growing plants, but figuring out what I have to do to grow plants.

The Purpose

Greenhouse 1.0 was purchased with a specific purpose in mind: Grow lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard over the Winter in my east central Missouri backyard, in the heart of suburbia. The more I learned, the more I wanted to do. Today, I’m thrilled at successfully maintaining a 66 degree temperature differential between the inside temperature and the outside temperature with a 12mph wind. Looking to the future, we have hatched a plan for a bigger greenhouse — Greenhouse 2.0 — where my 6′ 5″ tall self can wander around inside of without hitting my head. Additionally, my wife would like to be able to work in the greenhouse while I’m in there. Greenhouse 1.0 isn’t big enough for both of us to work inside at the same time, and my head either drags on the roof, or I’m bent at the middle. Further, my subdivision has a rule — no out buildings. But many of my neighbors have sheds and such, which violates that rule too. Still, Greenhouse 2.0 will be noticeably bigger than most of those sheds. I’d like to avoid getting a ticket from the home owners’ association.

Who Am I?

My background is in Information Technology. I have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from a long time ago. I have been writing computer code for 40 years. I owned a computer consulting company for 14 years; I worked as the IT Manager, reporting to the CFO, for a 200 employee eating disorder clinic; I worked as the database expert for a petroleum company; I worked for a brewery developing internal software; and I developed flight software for a military contractor for various fighter jet avionics programs; and much more. Most recently, I am finishing the development of a WordPress plugin, which I will make available, for sale, on in the next few weeks.

For gardening, for greenhouse growing, I have zero experience beyond building my wife’s raised gardens, building enclosures (see white piping in the background of the above picture) to repel the deer, tilling the soil each Spring, helping her plant and water her plants, and watching for ripe tomatoes. Gardening is my wife’s hobby, not mine. But me? I like a challenge. And in 2020, the challenge was to find a way to grow vegetables over the winter, and not in the house.

We have lived in our current home for 27 years. For the first 10 to 15 years, we grew a garden in pots on the back patio. Then we made some space and built two raised gardens: 8′ x 4′ x 22″. Everything was fine, until the deer discovered the gardens. In a single year, they forced us to replant the garden 3 times before we just gave up.

Garden Enclosure 1.0

The following year, we erected 10′ pieces of rebar as fence posts and wrapped the whole thing with wildlife netting. For the most part, except for the vertical pieces of rebar, the enclosure was invisible to the neighbors until it got covered with leaves in the fall, or it got covered with snow and ice in the Winter. Unfortunately, the deer couldn’t see it either. They would get their hooves or antlers entangled in the netting and rip it to shreds once or twice each month. Fortunately for our garden, they would just run off after getting free, instead of staying to feast on the now-exposed garden.

If the deer weren’t enough, our own wildlife would make holes in the netting occasionally too. For 18 years, 2002 to 2020, we worked for a local Golden Retriever Rescue organization. The organization closed and disbanded due to lack of volunteers in early 2020. I worked events: fundraising events, public education events, and more. My wife and I fostered 36 Golden Retrievers in our home. Some stayed just a week or two. Others stayed as much as 6 months as they were rehabilitated and readied for adoption into their forever homes. 4 stayed forever. 2 of those 4 have moved on to the Rainbow Bridge — Jasper @ 14.5 years in 2017 and Amos @ 14.5 years in 2019. Remaining are Cooper, who arrived at 18 months old as a terror, and Luke who arrived at 6 months old. Today, Cooper is 11 years old and Luke is 3 years old. Cooper is adept at making new holes in the netting.

Garden Enclosure 2.0

In the Spring of 2020, we decided to replace our rebar and netting enclosures. I built the new enclosures with 1.5″ PVC piping and deer netting. The deer still couldn’t see the netting, but the white PVC piping was clearly visible. The netting lasted the whole season. The white PVC piping kept the deer from getting too close. Cooper, however, punched a hole in the netting after the end of the growing season to chase a ground squirrel. I have to remember to fix that before the start of the Spring 2021 growing season.

Thinking of the Future

While building the new enclosures, we started thinking ahead to Winter 2020/2021. We thought we could turn it into a greenhouse by covering the outside with clear plastic and gluing plastic to the inside of the PVC pipes to create a dead-air-space, which would function, at least a little, as insulation. It is the concept of a dead-air-space which makes double- and triple-paned windows work. Window manufacturers experiment with different gases to use between the panes, but for my purposes, we’d just use normal air.

As Summer 2020 faded into the Fall, it was time to implement our plan and convert our Summer enclosures to Winter greenhouses. Wrapping the exterior of the enclosure with clear plastic would be easy. Unfortunately, adding an insulative inner layer of plastic to create the dead-air-space was proving to be a nightmare. Temperatures were cool and the glue didn’t want to stick to PVC. At this point, I also started asking the question: How would we keep it warm? And the follow-on question: how warm would we have to keep it? Both were excellent questions. Both needed to be answered before continuing. As it turned out, the answers to both questions, would also dictate the size of the greenhouse and what it would look like.

In the next post in this series, I will cover what Greenhouse 1.0 would become, why, how I kept it warm, and what other challenges faced us the first week.

© 2021, PaulSwarthout. All rights reserved.

Wordle, My Strategy for Success

Wordle is a web-based word game created and developed by Josh Wardle. It became publicly available in October 2021. Its popularity exploded quickly and by December of the same year, there were dozens of clones and Android and iPhone apps providing puzzles for their users.

In January 2022, the New York Times purchased the game in its original, 1 puzzle per day, web-based format from the original developer, Josh Wardle. It is rumored to have been a seven-figure purchase price.

The concept is simple. Guess the five-letter English word in 6 tries. The concept is similar to an old board game called Mastermind, which in one form or another dates back to the early to mid-1800s. The board game was for two players. One player was the code maker and the other was the code breaker. The two players would alternate who was the code breaker and who was the code maker. They would score points based on their ability to break the codes. A code would be four colors in a row, where each color could be any of six different colors. The code maker would select the four colors — red – yellow – orange – blue for example — and not tell anyone. It was up to the code breaker to come up with the same code. For each guess, the code breaker would place four colored wooden pegs in four holes on the game board. The code maker would respond with up to four black or white pegs where a black peg indicated that a peg was of the correct color and in the correct location and a white peg indicated that a peg was of the correct color but in the wrong location. Using those clues and their previous guesses, the code breaker would solve the puzzle.

I was introduced to Mastermind in the late 1970s as a single-player computer game on the original Apple II home computer. For a long time, it was one of my favorite games. Although when Wordle burst onto the scene, I hadn’t played Mastermind in more than a decade. Wikipedia has a nice entry for the Mastermind (board game), including pictures of the board, pegs, etc.

Wordle has the same basic rules with a few differences.

Uses colored placeholdersUses letters of the alphabet
4 positions make up the code5 letters make up the code.
Guesses must be valid 5-letter English words.
Responses are black or whiteResponses are green or yellow, but green means the same as black and yellow means the same as white.

The one-puzzle-per-day, New York Times Wordle application, hereinafter just Wordle, provides clues to the success or failure of each of your guesses. Correct letters in the correct position are shown in green. Correct letters in the wrong position are shown in yellow. Incorrect letters are shown in dark gray. At the bottom of the puzzle page, is a keyboard layout. It reflects the letter status of the last or most recent guess. Letters in green in the most recent guess will show in green on the keyboard. Letters in yellow in the most recent guess will show in yellow on the keyboard. Dark gray letters have been used in guesses, but do not appear in the solution. Light gray or white letters haven’t been used yet. I find the display of letters that can still be used to be really helpful by the 4th or 5th guess.

This is the solved puzzle from Oct 3rd, 2022. The background is black because I use my browser in dark mode.

The puzzle guesses are at the top. The letters in green are correct and in the right place. The letters in yellow are correct but in the wrong place. Dark letters are incorrect.

The keyboard at the bottom shows which letters have been used and which letters haven’t been used yet. It also reflects the coloring of the letters in the most recent guess.

Wordle is a lot easier than Mastermind ever was, especially if you play word games often. Unlike Mastermind, whose codes were completely abstract, Wordle’s code words have relationships between the positions/letters, which give you clues toward future guesses. For example, if you’re trying to guess the word ‘SNARE’ and you’ve correctly guessed ‘S??RE’ where ‘S’, ‘R’, and ‘E’ are green and the two ‘?’s ( shown here as ‘?’ but are incorrect letters in the puzzle ) are black, then you know that the first ‘?’ cannot be a ‘B’, or ‘D’, or ‘F’, etc. No 5-letter English words begin with ‘SB’ or ‘SD’ or ‘SF’, etc. In Mastermind, there were no such relationships between the positions to help you resolve the code.

In Wordle, it helps to know the English language. In English, there are approximately 9,000 five-letter words. Remember, ‘words’ from the perspective of the dictionary, do not include proper nouns. ‘Satan’, ‘Sally’, and ‘Sammy’ are names and thus proper nouns. As such, they do not count as words. Wordle recognizes 2,315 solution words and another 10,000+ words that are acceptable guesses.

Wordle also requires a certain amount of luck. Guessing the solution in one or two guesses is pure luck. Guessing the right word when 4 words differ from the solution by 1 letter requires luck. Look at the puzzle shown above. I was really lucky to identify 4 correct letters in my second guess. If I’d chosen STING instead of STINK, I would have won in 2 guesses. However, three 5-letter English words begin with ‘STIN’ (Stink, Stint, Sting.) By adhering to my rules of play, detailed below, I managed to identify the letters ‘STIN’ on my second guess.

What if it had taken me five guesses to identify ‘STIN’? With one guess left and two possible words, all the skill in the world wouldn’t have helped. Winning would be based solely on luck.


A lot has been written about Wordle strategies. You only have to search for ‘Wordle Strategies’ to come up with volumes of information. Statistically, the #1 best word to use for your first guess, is ‘CRANE’. A computer crunched the letters and based on the relative letter frequencies in 5-letter words, ‘CRANE’ covers the most common ones. ‘CRANE’? Really? Nope. I’m not going to use it.

Like probably every player, I have a strategy of my own. I have eight rules that govern my Wordle gameplay. Using these rules, I find the right answer in 3 or 4 guesses more often than I find the answer in 5 or 6 guesses or not at all.

I would never use ‘CRANE’ as my first guess. In fact, because of my rules, it is unlikely that any of my first-guess choices will net me a first-guess win. It is far more likely that the game’s creators excluded the kind of words that I use as a first guess from being potential solutions.

My Strategy

Okay, that’s enough background. I wrote this article to share my strategy with the public. My strategy seems to work well for me. I guess the correct word in 3 or 4 guesses with the occasional 2 guess win, more often than it takes 5 or 6 guesses or I lose completely.

Avoid Obscure Words

The first thing you need to understand is that the creators wanted a game for everyone. Unusual or obscure words like ‘ALACK’ or ‘SOARE’ are unlikely to ever be the answer. Use them if you must as a guess, but recognize that they probably won’t be the answer. In other words, when faced with ‘S?ARE’, guess SCARE or SNARE or SPARE before guessing SOARE. When faced with ‘?LACK’ guess BLACK, CLACK, FLACK, or SLACK before guessing ALACK, or PLACK. Both ALACK and PLACK could be valid solutions in Wordle. But when faced with 6 possible solutions to ‘?LACK’, and three remaining guesses, I always go with the less obscure words first.

For those of you who are saying that PLACK is not an obscure word, I should remind you that the word that sounds the same, which we all know, is PLAQUE. Plack is a small Scottish alloy or copper coin.

Wheel of Fortune

Raise your hand if you watched Wheel of Fortune in the 1980s or earlier. In the bonus round, the winner of the regular game would be given a chance to guess a puzzle. They were asked for 5 consonants and 1 vowel. Nearly everybody said ‘RSTNL’ and ‘E’. In more recent years, they gave you those 6 letters and ask the player for 3 additional consonants and 1 additional vowel. I paid attention. I understood the assignment. I try to use those 6 letters (R, S, T, N, L, E) in my first three guesses. In the puzzle shown above, this rule netted me ‘STIN’ in green after 2 guesses.

Vowels are Key

I want to try all 5 vowels, and maybe a ‘Y’ in the first two guesses. Twelve 5-letter English words contain 4 vowels. Three of those twelve words also contain a Wheel of Fortune consonant.

My most common first guess words are ‘ADIEU’, ‘AUDIO’, ‘AUREI’, ‘LOUIE’, and ‘BEAUS’. Aurei, Louie, and Beaus all contain Wheel of Fortune consonants. It takes a bit of luck to pick the right starting word that will give me enough feedback. The second guess also depends on the feedback from the first word.

NEVER Use the Same Incorrect Letter Twice

As you make guesses, Wordle identifies the letters that you’ve guessed correctly in the correct position in the word, the letters you’ve guessed correctly in the wrong position in the word, and the letters that do not appear in the solution. This rule applies to those letters that Wordle identified as not appearing in the solution. Never use these incorrect letters in new guesses. The requirement that each guess must be a valid 5-letter English word, makes coming up with new guesses difficult and makes it tempting to reuse some identified incorrect letters. Don’t do it. Avoid the temptation.

Off the top of your head, how many 5-letter words can you name in 10 seconds, which have an ‘A’ or ‘E’ in them, but no other vowel?

Off the top of your head, how many 5-letter words can you name in 10 seconds, which have an ‘I’ or ‘O’ in them, but no other vowel?

I’ll bet that you came up with more ‘E’ / ‘A’ words than ‘I’ / ‘O’ words. The temptation to reuse letters like ‘E’, ‘A’, ‘R’, ‘S’, ‘T’, etc., is very real. There are several thoughts here.

  • You only have six guesses. Each time you reuse an incorrect letter, you waste one of your six guesses. Each time you reuse an incorrect letter you positively guarantee that your next guess is not the solution.
  • Spending the time to figure out and guess a word that matches what you know so far, could very well be the solution word for your next guess.
  • As letters are eliminated, fewer and fewer 5-letter words are possible. Before the first guess, there are 2,315 possible answers, and another 10,000+ five-letter words are acceptable guesses. Each time a letter is eliminated the number of remaining five-letter words that only contain identified letters and unused letters drops dramatically. If you never reused any letter, then after five guesses you would have tried 25 of the 26 letters in the alphabet. You will have identified most or all of the letters in the solution with one guess left. Modifying your guesses because some were returned as yellow or green would get you to a solution much faster.

As an example, I found ‘GYPSY’ because I moved through the alphabet. In the first two guesses, I had tried all 5 vowels and none were returned as yellow or green, meaning that the word HAD to have a ‘Y’ in it as a substitute for a vowel. After the 3rd guess, I had finished the ‘RSTNL’ consonants and only ‘S’ was yellow. I had guessed and dismissed 15 of the 26 letters in the alphabet. By my fourth guess, GYPSY was the only logical choice. As it turned out, it was the solution.

Move Letters Around

Any letters identified as yellow — correct letter, wrong position — should never be placed in the same position again. You should identify words with that letter in a different position. Can’t think of any? Read the next rule, and then choose wisely. Your next guess might be the answer.

Don’t Skip Known Letters

Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with new guesses that contain all of the identified letters that were either green or yellow. Resist the temptation to ignore a letter to get a new guess. That guarantees the next guess is not the answer.

For example, if your first word is ADIEU and you get a yellow ‘U’, a green ‘D’, and everything else is black, then your second guess should have the correctly placed ‘D’ and a ‘U’ in a different position. Otherwise, you’re just wasting a guess. There are only two 5-letter English words that are possible solutions, one fairly common, and one fairly obscure (I’d never heard of it before).

Take the time to find a guess that takes everything you know so far into account and your next guess could very well be the solution.

Pay Attention to Letters That Go Together……

…and those that don’t. This is an idea that you learn when playing word games. For example, if you have a green ‘H’ on the end, like ‘????H’, then the fourth ‘?’ is limited to ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘P’, ‘S’, ‘T’, or a vowel. An ‘H’ in the second letter position could mean the first letter is a ‘C’, ‘P’, ‘S’, ‘T’, ‘W’, or a vowel. English is loaded with examples:

  • ‘RK’ but not ‘RL’ on the end,
  • ‘TR’ at the beginning but not at the end,
  • ‘TR’, ‘TH’, or ‘TW’ at the beginning, but not ‘TL’, ‘TC’, or ‘TM’,
  • ‘ND’ at the end, but not at the beginning,
  • ‘SC’, ‘SH’, ‘SK’, ‘SL’, ‘SM’, ‘SN’, ‘SP’, ‘SQ’, ‘ST’, ‘SV’, ‘SW’ but not ‘SB’, ‘SD’, ‘SF’, ‘SG’, ‘SJ’, ‘SR’, ‘SS’, ‘SX’, or ‘SZ’,
  • and hundreds, perhaps thousands, more examples.

Being aware of typical letter combinations can take you cautiously into the less common letters when it becomes obvious that the solution will not be limited to common letters.

Be a Rulebreaker When it’s Time

Don’t be rigid with the rules. GYPSY, USURP, and DOUBT (all answers to previous puzzles) took me outside my rules. Know when it’s time to break the rules and do it with confidence.

A Wordle Example, using my rules

Let’s try ‘LOUIE’ for the first guess. Wordle responds with 5 black letters. None of the letters ‘L’, ‘O’, ‘U’, ‘I’, or ‘E’ appear in the solution.

At this point, you’ve guessed 4 of the 5 vowels and an ‘L’ from ‘RSTNL’ and ‘E’ fame. You need to pick a new word with an ‘A’, and at least a couple of letters from among ‘R’, ‘S’, ‘T’, and ‘N’. And none of the original 5 letters.

Let’s choose ‘STRAY’ as the second guess. Wordle responds with a green ‘S’, a green ‘Y’, a yellow ‘A’, and a dark gray ‘T’, and ‘R’.

What do we know? You’ve tried and ruled out ‘RTL-EIOU’, so none of the letters in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th positions are ‘R’, ‘T’, ‘L’, ‘E’, ‘I’, ‘O’, or ‘U’. The solution starts with an ‘S’, ends with a ‘Y’, and the second or third letter is an ‘A’. After 2 guesses, the 4th letter is still a mystery.

What else do we know? We know that the 4th letter cannot be a ‘Y’ because no 5-letter-English-word ends in ‘YY’. We know that the second letter cannot be an ‘S’ because no 5-letter-English-word starts with ‘SS’. Further, of the fifteen 5-letter-English-words that begin with ‘SY’, only ‘SYNCS’ doesn’t contain any of the letters we’ve already ruled out. And ‘SYNCS’ doesn’t contain an ‘A’, so that’s not the solution either. So the second letter cannot be a ‘Y’.

‘A’ could be the 2nd letter or 3rd letter. The last guess, with ‘A’ as the 4th letter, returned it as yellow — right letter, wrong position — so the 4th letter is not an ‘A’. The puzzle solution is guaranteed to match either ‘SA??Y’ or ‘S?A?Y’.

PatternAll Possible Matching Words
SA??YSaggy, Sandy, Sappy, Sassy, Savvy
SxA?YShady, Shaky, Snaky, Spacy, Swamy
The solution is one of these words.

We have 4 guesses remaining and we’ve narrowed the list of possible answers from 2,315 to just 9. We have just a 44% chance of winning. Keeping with my rules, ‘RSTL’ have each been tried, and ‘N’ remains. Make the third guess as ‘SANDY’. Wordle responds with a green ‘S’, a yellow ‘A’, a dark gray ‘ND’, and a green ‘Y’.

‘A’ MUST be the 3rd letter. ‘N’ is ruled out. So is ‘D’. The solution will match ‘SxAxY’ leaving, only, Shaky, Spacy, and Swamy. You have 3 guesses remaining and 3 possible answers. Your chance of solving the puzzle in six guesses or less is now 100%. Guess Spacy, Shaky, and Swamy (or Shaky, Spacy, and Swamy) in that order for the win in 4, 5, or 6 guesses.

Final Thought

I love games that make me think. That’s one reason I like word games. With most word games, you either know the answers or you can figure them out. If you aren’t able to figure it out, you lose. I don’t mind losing because I was unable to figure out the right answer. But I hate losing because I figured everything out and then the win came down to a lucky guess. That’s one reason why Mastermind was one of my favorite games. It never came down to a guess. You were either successful in figuring out the answer or you weren’t. Luck had almost nothing to do with winning or losing. To keep Wordle interesting, even for those people who don’t regularly play word games, there has to be a certain amount of luck.

© 2022, PaulSwarthout. All rights reserved.