Sunday, August 28, 2005

First Serious Sign of Autumn: Greenhouse Dreaming

The drifting leaves and flocking birds, just another data point. The back-to-school sales and harvest-theme knick-knacks in the drugstore, no big deal. The day that I notice "Hey, it's almost dark out!" and the clock reads much earlier than I thought it would, that's what tells me that fall is coming. Because hard on the heels of that thought is, "What am I doing for a greenhouse this winter?! I don't have lettuce seedlings started! I haven't planted carrots or beets! I need to get compost and top-dress things again before it gets rainy! AAAAAAGH!"

A little high-strung? Moi? Pas du temp! Okay, maybe sometimes...

This year is the first time that I get to contemplate *serious* greenhousery, as this is our first year of owning our own place. Hurray! Since we purchased in February, it will be our first fall and winter here, so it's time to garden!
San Jose makeshift greenhouse
At the old place in San Jose, I sketched out a quick PVC-frame greenhouse to cover with 10 - 12 mm "painter's dropcloth" type plastic. With some timely spousal assistance, it was built and put into service, and extended the tomato season nicely. To anchor it to the ground, we simply used cable-ties to attach it to metal garden stakes. Unfortunately I didn't plan adequately for roof bracing, to keep puddles of rainwater from collecting in the two large 3 x 3 areas of the roof. The weight of the puddled water, plus some nasty wind action, actually snapped the joints, which are a more brittle material than the PVC poles. Bah!

There are zillions of different DIY greenhouses out there. We need one will be attractive enough not to generate complaints from neighbors or the managers of the complex, relatively easy to assemble in a weekend, and of course, not scandalously expensive. A plethora of greenhouse kits are available out there for all sizes and budgets. The two sites we found particularly helpful were Greenhouse Kits and ACF Greenhouses. We narrowed it down to the Rion GH40 or
the HG Enthusiast

Both were in a similar size (6 ft x 8 ft) and price range. Being nerds, as well as practicalists, we were already leaning toward the HG greenhouse because of the 4 ft expansion kits that allow one to extend the greenhouse. Then a comment on the Greenhouse Kits page showing the Rion gave me a scare, with someone describing how they liked it but it took 'several weekends' to put up and they had a number of missing or damaged small parts which they had to get replaced. In contrast, the HG parent site offered an extremely compelling video, showing the flexibility and shatter resistance of the material, plus the ease of assembly (by a pair of *cough* older adults such as ourselves). Testimonials on the various greenhouse vendor pages, and the on the manufacturer's site, indicated that assembly would take 3 to 5 hours, not 'several weekends'. This, with the expansion capability, provided the final nudge to choosing the HG model.

It's pretty common for us to save $50 - $200+ on a big-ticket item by investing an hour or so in Froogle searches, but greenhouse kits are sufficiently unusual that the effort provided no deals, but did illuminate some vendor differences. We found that ACF Greenhouses offered a free fitted shade cover (usually an extra $60 - $80) as well as the standard free shipping, through August 31st. Sold!

Now I'm really hyper about the garden, and wondering if we should put the greenhouse all on the patio squares or raise a border by the garden beds to make it half on dirt, half on the patio. That way we could simply leave all the peppers in the ground, and possibly the cucumber trellis as well, and winter them over that way. That gives us a good chance of overwintering significant numbers of aphids though (ugh!) or spider mites (double ugh!) as there will surely be one or two on the plants. I'm also not sure about pollination for the peppers-- out of the wind, would they be self-pollinating? I have visions of putting in a bee skep for next spring, and having a bee entrance into the greenhouse from the skep, as well as an outdoor entrance. I've studied bee keeping extensively, but have never actually done it. I broached the subject to my neighbors, most of whom are also gardeners, and they are all rather enthusiastic! But I'd best do a lot more homework before planning any bee activity in my backyard. That's a topic for a future post!


Blogger Rocket said...

How do those greenhouse kits compare to the ones from I really like the ones I see on there, but I still not sure who to go with. Any insight would be appreciated!

8:25 AM PDT  

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