I’ve been working in a garden since I could walk: learning what was a weed to pull and what wasn’t, picking bugs off leaves, learning to dig around roots without disturbing them, and watching stuff flourish for a bountiful harvest and enjoying eating it.
Planting and harvesting required following the seasons and the moon phases. Planting above ground crops happened in the light of the moon while root crops and leafy greens were done in the dark of the moon. We had to wait until after the last expected frost for many crops, and then harvest everything, including green tomatoes, before the first frost in the fall.
Once the garden glistened from the first freeze and the snow fell like a thick blanket, no more gardening could be done until the next spring.
Although I enjoyed playing in snow, gardening is a part of me. I wished I could continue to grow and harvest, even during the winter months, and I spent many years dreaming of a greenhouse.
My first greenhouse didn’t become reality until I was in my 30s. We discovered a flimsy 10’x 12’ kit – we could barely afford – on sale at a local store. I was excited about it. We then purchased four 6×6 treated boards to use as the foundation.
After about a day and a half of hand shoveling dirt and rocks and tweaking the 6×6 boards into place, I finally had the foundation level, square and parallel. Most of the complaints about the kit stated the last few pieces did not fit so I allowed my perfectionism to guide me on the foundation.
Assembling the kit was tedious and, at times, took two people, but I tried to stay focused on the goal – a usable greenhouse.
As we approached finishing the last few panels, my nerves began to tense as I remembered the negative reviews about the kit, in particular, that the last few panels would not fit.
Each panel easily fell into place, and I breathed a sigh of relief. All of the prep work on the foundation had paid off!
My new greenhouse, constructed of polycarbonate panels held in aluminum framework, consisted of four walls, one side with a double sliding door, an A-frame roof with four manually opening vents, and a dirt floor. Now for the fun!
I built a temporary table with scrap wood and placed it inside as a workbench. Since I was not able to afford fancy greenhouse pots and trays, I used what I had, pans from the kitchen and some pots I made from newspaper. Fine soil from the garden was an inexpensive growing medium for seeds.
We built the greenhouse during the summer, and I quickly discovered how hot it got inside. Most of my poor little seedlings could not handle the heat and shriveled up. This was a learning curve.
Even with a fan, I could not grow most plants inside the greenhouse during the summer, it was just too hot. I again focused my efforts on the main garden and my beloved greenhouse became more of a storage unit for the old pots and trays.
By late fall, I had been able to scrounge up enough pots to transplant a few of my plants into the greenhouse; the dirt floor was red clay and not good for growing.
Caring for the plants in the greenhouse took more effort than caring for the main garden. Every morning I manually opened the vents and door and turned on the fan. The fan quickly dried out the soil, which required more frequent watering.
In the evening, when nights would be cold, I closed the vents, turned off the fan, placed covers over the tender plants, and closed the door.
On the days I forgot to open the greenhouse or did not get to the greenhouse until after the sun hit it, many of my plants suffered. Some of the more tender plants died due to the high temperature inside the greenhouse. With full sun on the closed greenhouse, inside temperatures could rise 70 degrees above the outside temperature.
Likewise, closing the greenhouse up at night was just as important. Tender herbs, like basil, are susceptible to cold. I also learned that the friendly little field mice and other critters enjoy a sheltered buffet at night. I had several whole plants uprooted during nights I had forgotten to close the greenhouse.
The winter wasn’t much better that first year.
My greenhouse was not heated. The plants I didn’t kill from frying, freezing or feeding to critters did last a few weeks longer in the greenhouse than in the main garden, but was all the effort worth it? Some may rightfully say “no,” but I still felt a sense of accomplishment and learned a lot that first winter.
Into late winter and early spring, as I developed an intense spring fever, my greenhouse became a haven of hope.
I eagerly busied myself with starting new seeds, but they didn’t sprout as they should have. For some reason, soil temperatures inside the greenhouse mattered just like it did outside. How dare it. I had a greenhouse; everything should grow when I planted it. Nature taught me that was not the case.
Throughout that first spring in the greenhouse, I learned a lot more about the differences and similarities of growing crops inside and outside of it.
I had my first greenhouse almost 15 years. We replaced the polycarbonate panels in the roof and some of the wall panels at about the 10-year mark.
I am now on my second greenhouse. For several years before purchasing our second greenhouse, we did a lot of research on different types.
Follow me as I cover stuff I have learned about greenhouses and growing in them including: types; building foundations and structures; location for sun, wind, and grow zones; cooling, heating, or unheated; cold frames; plants that easily do well in a greenhouse and those that take more effort; etc.
What are you interested in?