The Greenhouse Project

Fresh mesclun salad, grown in our greenhouse in April 2014.

Fresh mesclun salad, grown in our greenhouse in April 2014.

Life is a series of projects, I feel. It’s just a matter of whether they make you feel defeated or exhilarated. I certainly have my fair share of the former, but in general my life sequence of projects is just what I need to keep me going. I hate being idle. I’m lucky to share my life with a great partner, my husband, whose view on the value of projects is more or less aligned with my own. The fact that we are in general agreement about most things makes life go smoothly. And, that great arguments can ensue over the fine details keeps life spicy and interesting!

One of our latest projects is the greenhouse. Anyone who knows us personally will agree how in tune with our lifestyle this project really is! We love growing food–as the descendent of a family of landscapers, I love growing anything. Our vegetable garden is huge. We eat fresh and homegrown all summer long and put a lot of food by for use during the cold winter months. The greenhouse, we hoped, would extend the growing season and supply us with more months of fresh, nutritious food.

Looking through the transparent polycarbonate panels, you can see the raised beds filled with spinach, lettuce and this spring's vegetable seedlings.

Looking through the transparent polycarbonate panels, you can see the raised beds filled with spinach, lettuce and this spring’s vegetable seedlings.

 

We installed the greenhouse in the late summer of 2013, so we’re just in the infancy of making the most of our latest project. We researched many different kinds of greenhouses, of all styles, materials, shapes, sizes, and brands. Ultimately we decided on the Hoklartherm Riga V–a German-made brand that we felt would best fit our needs and our aesthetic desires, while being able to withstand the harsh winters of upstate New York better than any of the others.  So far, we’re impressed with its sturdiness and its looks.DSC_7769

We began by digging trenches to conform with the format of the greenhouse base.  In these trenches we would sink six treated 4×4 posts to anchor the greenhouse and support the wooden foundation frame. We would also bury 2″ thick insulation board into the trenches to further protect the interior environment from the cold winter temperatures. According to a Mother Earth News Article on greenhouses, insulation board buried around the perimeter of a greenhouse not only keeps the cold out, but helps to draw up warmer earth temperatures into the interior of the greenhouse.

 

The finished foundation frame.

The finished foundation frame.

View of the installed insulation board. The scrap pieces were naturally fun for a boy to smash!

View of the installed insulation board. The scrap pieces were naturally fun for a boy to smash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using a transit, we made sure the foundation was perfectly level. Then we buried the posts and the insulation board and got ready for the installation of the greenhouse. The Riga V is a greenhouse kit. It comes with everything you need to build the full greenhouse, except the base. Everything is DIY, including window and door assembly, and the installation of the aluminum frame and the polycarbonate panels.

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To put it together, you start at the back by securing the end wall (which we had preassembled in the garage, along with the front wall, the windows, and the door) in an upright position.  The three main horizontal frame pieces consist of two base rods and an apex rod, all prefabricated with slots into which the polycarbonate panel edges would fit securely and become locked in place.  The curved, vertical side rods, also with grooves to fix the panels into place, get slid down the length of the horizontal rods, starting in the front.  Once you get them into their approximate final position, you can start flexing the polycarbonate panels into the grooves of the base rods and the apex rod, then slide these into the grooves of the vertical frame pieces. Starting at the back, the panels become permanently sandwiched into position between the vertical frame rods, until you finally reach the end when you complete the entire process of sandwiching and stabilizing by attaching the front wall to the greenhouse. The final touches are installing the windows and the door. Voila! Greenhouse!

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The almost-finished greenhouse. Installing the weather-proofing rubber gasket around the door and windows.

View of the interior in early April. You can see the bright green of the spinach starting to grow after over-wintering. The yellow foliage is the fall's spinach, which also over-wintered, but whose growth was basically over.

View of the interior in early April. You can see the bright green of the spinach starting to grow after over-wintering. The yellow foliage is the fall’s spinach, which also over-wintered, but whose growth was basically over.

We built semi-permanent planter boxes out of rough-cut hemlock. I keep the soil filled and fertile with compost and chicken manure. I’m still experimenting with how to make the most of our new garden space. After the planter boxes were completed, I successfully transplanted some peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes from my garden, which were not destined to last much longer with the soon-to-come frost. The plants carried on in the greenhouse long after the outdoor garden was finished.

 

 

 

 

 

View of some of the planter boxes in mid April.

View of some of the planter boxes in mid April.

I also experimented with a late fall crop of spinach, which also did well. And in two other boxes, I planted a very late crop of spinach which only just began to grow before the extreme cold set in. However, it overwintered along with some lettuce I had seeded at the same time, and when the temperatures began warming in late winter, the plants grew again. We have been eating fresh greens since early April. That might not seem like anything spectacular, especially now that the warmer May temperatures are melting away our memories of winter, but New York saw a long and cold winter this year. Spring came late. It’s now early May, and the spinach in my outdoor garden is only just coming up. Over the past month from two planter boxes filled with spinach, we’ve harvested an abundance of crispy dark green leaves, with over 32 quarts of raw leaves overflowing from two large stainless steel bowls in one picking! For us, the extra months of fresh vegetables were heavenly, and I can’t wait to experiment more with the new climate we’ve created!

My greenhouse spinach is getting ready to bolt and I’ve already cleared one of the boxes to prepare for something else. I have one more small harvest coming from the second before it too makes way for another vegetable. But over the course of a month of eating more spinach than I could hope for, my mesclun crop has flourished and fresh salads are now common place. My Swiss Chard is almost ready to delight us with it’s first delicious offering. And the kids and I have spent many a cool morning basking in the warmth and humidity of the greenhouse while starting flowers and a variety of vegetables from seed.

This spring I intend to plant a garden of flowers around the greenhouse to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I’ll also plant my herbs there. The first stage of this project is over, but it is one that will never cease to exist and we anticipate years of increased enjoyment in our garden.

 

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