Let's talk greenhouses. Rather, let's talk about how to build a greenhouse.
I've dreamed of them as long as I can remember – lusting after not only the practical aspect of protected and extended growing, but also the beauty. For some reason, I think of old European homes with vined in green houses tucked onto the back corner of the estates, bursting with orchids and exotic plants.
Fine. Mine isn't nearly that exciting. There are no orchids or vines to be had. But that's okay. Because baby, we've got a greenhouse! And that alone is worth serious celebration!
With this greenhouse, we'll be able to not only extend our harvest year round but also begin our starts in a safe and protected place, getting them off to an early start (much unlike the chicken-tomato massacre we had this past year – coupled with the constant dirty mess in the bathroom!).
Because we so strongly desire to grow our own food here on Beatha Fonn, adding a greenhouse – even a small one – was an important step. We live in North Central Washington where winters are coooooold. Unless you're growing in a greenhouse, you're not growing at all. We may even have to double insulate our plantings inside – it's that cold. But still, greens, carrots, radish, broccoli, and a small handful of other cold-loving plants should survive the winter nicely and allow us to harvest fresh produce through the winter.
Did anyone else just jump up and down with enthusiasm? Because I did.
There are a few things we learned while making this greenhouse. And I'm happy to share. There's an on-running joke in our house:
Projects always cost twice as much, look half as good, and take twice as long as you anticipate.
Ain't that the truth. And naturally, the greenhouse was no exception.
It wasn't exactly cheap. And it wasn't exactly easy. But wow – isn't it AWESOME? Originally, we were wanting to build an inexpensive hoop house, made of greenhouse plastic and PVC pipes. Cheap. Easy. Wonderful.
But then we remembered about the zillion mile per hour winds that we constantly get up here on the hill – particularly in the fall and spring. We'd have to design a serious hoop house to withstand these winds. Hmm… the wheels were turning…
We're no architects but eventually we had to conclude (we're, like, so Sherlock Holmes-ish) that a hoop house would simply not do here. We're too exposed to too many harsh elements. On top of the hill we sit. And on top of the hill we shall stand.
Thus began the design of a stick-built greenhouse. The real deal. Sunken into the ground… nailed and screwed… solid and secure. I think in the long run, though it cost much more than anticipated, it'll pay off in the long run. I can't imagine having to fix torn plastic in the middle of a wind storm or replace broken piping. I see the greenhouse as an investment into Beatha Fonn – and really, for this blog. After all, a chef needs fresh ingredients, does she not?
So let's take a look at the process.
How To Build A Greenhouse
1. First, we selected one of the only flat pieces of land that we have on our sloped property. Currently, said flat piece of land was covered in storage potatoes that were thriving. Lush and beautiful, I fear they took the brunt of having a greenhouse built around them rather poorly. It was a sacrifice. Sorry potatoes. Without heavy equipment available to us to flatten a piece of land, we really didn't have many options as to where the greenhouse would actually sit. This piece of land required no prep and was already an established garden bed, which made the work lessened for prepping the soil for Fall planting. I'll take it!
2. Second, we selected our greenhouse plans. As Stuart often reminds me, he is not a builder. Nor does he really desire to be. That being said, he's still a fairly capable carpenter. We decided to (roughly) follow these plans as presented HERE. I thought about writing them all, retyping them exactly the way we redid them, and sharing the instructions that way. But frankly, we're not nearly as precise or organized as this lovely lady is. So instead, I'm going to point you straight there and show you the real instructions from someone who actually follows them.
We modified the plans to result in a 10 foot by 16 foot greenhouse.
3. After the site and greenhouse plans were selected, we had to save up for the materials. Like aforementioned, we weren't budgeting for a greenhouse this big or this expensive, so it took a bit of saving (thanks Dave Ramsey!) to save up for the lumber and the plastic sheeting. We did get there, eventually, and were able to run to the lumber store to stock up.
– 4 concrete blocks
– 4 5/8″ x 10″ galvanized screws
– 2 2x4x10 boards
– 4 2x4x16 boards
– 16 2x4x8 boards
– 2 boxes of 1 1/4″ exterior screws
– 21 12′ sheets of greenhouse plastic paneling
– 4 8′ sheets of greenhouse plastic paneling
– 9 packages (5-count each) of Suntuf horizontal wood stripping
Stuart assembled the bulk of the greenhouse in the shop and then threw it in the back of ‘ol Bess to bring it up to the work site.
But before that, we had to sink these square cement block things. What are they called? I can't remember. What I do remember is that when we were designing the greenhouse, we both agreed that we'd have to find someway to anchor it into the ground against said winds. Otherwise, we'd have a very expensive and dangerous kite on our hands. And so, we (I use this word very vaguely) dug holes and sunk the concrete blocks. The blocks had been fitted with large bolts that ran through the center and into the horizontal frame of the greenhouse. Thus, the greenhouse was bolted to the ground via concrete blocks. Follow me?
After that, it's all sort of vague in my book. Stuart knew what he was doing, but I lost track at words like “tresses” and “rafters”. I helped as much as a super large pregnant woman could, but dare I say my contributions were much more of the “micro-managing” sort. The sort that are really helpful, and not annoying at all, to husbands who are slaving away on their wife's project in 105 degree heat.
After a week of on-and-off labor, the frame of the greenhouse was completed and level – not as easy as one would imagine. We are constantly reminded that “we're not experts in this” on the farm. Let's just add carpentry to that list. In the end, despite a few thrown objects and some mild cursing, the greenhouse was at least standing.
Sorry. This photo has nothing to do with anything. But just. Ahem. Never mind.
And then we had to put on the plastic sheeting.
Which – lo and behold – should not be left out in said 105 degree heat. Even though it's marketed as greenhouse plastic sheeting. Because said greenhouse plastic sheeting will actually, physically begin to melt in said heat. We saved it in time but were left with less than perfect ripples in the sheeting.
That made hanging it up fun.
And that was a sarcastic comment.
Here's a few tips for hanging greenhouse plastic sheeting:
1. 3″ wood screws are not necessary. Save yourself the misery, take a trip to town, and get the 1″ screws that you actually need. Or it will, quite literally, take you three times as long to screw the plastic sheeting to the frame of the greenhouse.
2. Have a drill that works. Because you'll be screwing in roughly 1,203,177 screws. And if you don't, it'll slip out of the screw, stripping the metal, hit your thumb a million times, and cause four letter words to all too easily slip out. Sorry. Truth.
3. Breakdown halfway through and go by your husband a new drill. For Heaven's sake. He's suffered enough.
4. DO NOT try and cut the plastic with fabric scissors or any sort of mechanical saw. I don't care what anyone says or how many YouTube videos you watch. It won't work. Instead, invest in a cheap pair of THESE BAD BOYS and move on with your life. (I just saved you at least 5 hours of frustrating experience. You can send thank you notes anytime.)
It took a few days to get all of the plastic sheeting hung and in place. Again, it wasn't easy and often involved balancing on the hood of golf carts and rigged ladders to get it into place.
Plus, this large ‘ol pregnant woman kept complaining about how hot it was and how hard it was for her to hold these 2 pound sheets of plastic above her head while husband screwed them in. Some people can be such babies…
Alas, the project did come to a close. And the mangled potatoes inside the greenhouse were thankful. Not only had they been mangled by feet and ladders for weeks, but they'd also been broken into by some very disobedient laying hens time after time after time. Poor, poor potatoes.
The last task to complete the greenhouse was not nearly as functional as it was for my personal, aesthetic desire. I mean, sure, the greenhouse needed a door but it didn't need a dooooooorr. But I wanted it to have one. And so we spent the better part of an entire day hunting through antique stores to find the perfect fit. Which, naturally, wasn't the perfect fit at all. In fact, in involved an entire extra day of manual labor to widen the door frame.
But unfortunately, once Mama gets her mind set, it's pretty hard to change it. And Mama wanted this luxurious, romantic door on her greenhouse.
I love my husband desperately. He didn't complain one time.
After the door frame was widened and multiple drops of sweat and blood were shed in the hanging process, the project was at last complete. The greenhouse stands gloriously strong and full of potential. It's rustic charm just beginning to peek out.
I still need to lay a brick entrance pad to avoid any dirt/mud issues come winter.
And naturally, I need a radical pot and topiary or something to pronounce the entrance in true European fashion.
And, of course, I had to at least plant a small garden on the side with perennial flowers and strawberries. Because as soon as my husband finished the project, naturally, he wanted to shovel wheelbarrows full of dirt at my command.
Did I mention I love him desperately?
All in all, I couldn't be more happy with the greenhouse. It's more than I expected and is a huge addition to the farm. With our currently 106 degree temperatures, it's also roughly 892 degrees inside. Which tells me it's working. And unless you're wrapped in ice packs, you don't enter. It's the no man zone right now.
So you want to know how much it costs, do you?
Fine. Let's air the dirty laundry.
Plastic Sheeting/Wood Stripping: $557.57
Snips (for cutting plastic): $9.00
Concrete Blocks: $17.98
Screws for blocks: $10.28
Total Project Cost: $745.96
Not cheap – but doable. It was an investment. That's no secret. But I'm so thankful for it and will treasure it for years and years and years to come.