In the background of this photo of our just finished hay stack, (see my post Stacking Hay) you can see our barn and the attached greenhouse.

Having a greenhouse has been a dream all my life, and when we designed our barn, the attached greenhouse was on the drawing board from the beginning.  Building it has frenzified our falls for the past three years.

...Building the frame in 2007

The first year after the concrete foundation was poured, timber frame was in place and oak siding attached, we built the greenhouse frame with its tricky angles of uncompromising oak and then stapled a double sheet of plastic to it.  That project was completed in the dark and in a blizzard.

Last fall we replaced the plastic sheet with insulated polycarbonate panels that are actually made in our neighborhood.  Another step forward.

...Fitting the polycarbonate panels in 2008.

This fall we are adding the growing beds along the barn wall made of cedar decking boards we got on sale at Menards.  While Doug builds the boxes, I have been building the soil.  Working on the hard, flat surface of our bonfire circle, I have perfected my recipe:

  1. 1 power wagon full of the clay-hard soil that was removed from the building site where the barn stands.  The wagon holds about 4 wheelbarrows.
  2. 1 bag of peat moss (May God have mercy on my soul—I am so sorry, bogs of Canada.  I won’t do it again now that I understand.)
  3. 2 wheelbarrows of the composted horse manure I have been cooking up thanks to my horse-boarding neighbor across the road. (See my post on the glories of manure, )
  4. 40 pounds sand for good measure.

To get these four materials evenly mixed takes me about three hours of working with a shovel blade to chop the clumps of clay into ever-smaller pieces that are coated with organic material.  It actually reminds me of making pie crust when I mix the butter (clay) with the flour (see 2-4 above).   I’ve never been that good at mixing pie crust, but I’m starting to feel like a real expert at mixing this growing medium.  By the time both growing boxes are complete, they will be bulding with more than 30 full wheelbarrows of this fluffy, friable mix, which I hope plants are going to love.

Very early next spring, we will start cold loving greens followed by tomatoes for our first greenhouse crop.    We don’t expect this greenhouse to function in the dead of winter because we are not going to heat it, but we do hope to greatly extend Wisconsin’s growing season.

...First of two growing boxes complete in 2009

I would love to hear from any of you who have built and operate greenhouses.  We based this plan on all the reading material we could get our hands on, and it is definitely a work in progress.  Since we designed it we have walked in the greenhouse of Roald Gundersen (Roald’s work was recently featured in the New York Times.  Read article here and see slide show here

I love our first greenhouse and have high hopes for it.  It is built to last, has recycled doors, is earth sheltered, and our initial temperature records look positive.  But if we ultimately build an additional greenhouse, it will probably be different and better, based on everything we are learning as we go.

The constant learning is what I like best about digging in the driftless.

Well, it’s just what I like best about everything.

...Greenhouse built by Roald Gundersen

2 replies

  1. Denise,

    The haystack is looking great, and its awesome to hear of the progress of your greenhouse. I don’t have much experience with real greenhouses, but I have begun my own version in the windows of our apartment, and it feels great to be growing again, even if its only s small portion of what I used to be able to my garden in Seattle was phenomenal, but I’m doing my research and have a few tricks up my sleeve for our small landless lot this summer.

    Little off topic here, but I just noticed the Wood Joiners link in your blogroll. Have you guys worked with Mike Yaker? Perhaps for the construction of the barn? I was out at his property about a month ago; really amazing works hes doing. A genuinely good guy.

    Hope to bump into you soon.


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