New Greenhouse!

So this is kind of old news now for those of you who have been following our Facebook page, but I have been keeping super busy as you will see.  We finally have a real greenhouse!  What a relief!  It was really down to the wire getting it up before the big freeze, too. Before saying any more, I must stop to thank family and friends, without whose help this wouldn’t have been finished before the big freeze.  So… thanks, family and friends! Especially my mom.

Last winter (2008-09) was a bit of a disaster. We had just moved to Sequim, and we built a small greenhouse, but it wasn’t really big enough to hold all the plants I needed to protect, nor did I manage to get everything in there before the big freeze hit in December 2008. I had so many damaged and dead plants that I had trouble finding much that I could bring to plant sales in the spring of 2009. What a bummer – I knew I MUSTN’T let that happen again!!! This year, we had to do better.

After I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it until late August, because the plants, and my customers, were more important; it took me until mid-October to figure out how I could get hold of a tractor with an auger to dig post holes in our rocky ground. Apparently this service is difficult to get on the Peninsula. I eventually found a place where I could rent one myself, but it wasn’t cheap.  Finally on a cold and foggy October day, I did it. I about killed the auger on those rocks. At one point I snapped a bolt, and then I went and bought a replacement bolt.  Digging in the rocks was not easy and for the most part, I couldn’t get the holes deep enough, and they had to be picked at by hand.  At the very left side of the picture you can see some of the holes with rocks around them. And then setting the posts was a tedious process as well.  The picture above shows our progress as of October 28. The posts are all in and we have started spreading gravel (also not cheap!) so that the plants will have adequate drainage.

Then November was a race against time. We were already having some frosts down to the 27-29 degree range, and with no greenhouse, I had all the really tender plants as protected as possible in the shade house and other places under overhead canopy… just hoping nothing worse would come until the greenhouse was finished. We were also getting tons of rain, which greatly limited available outdoor work time without getting my tools all wet/rusty. (We ended up with about three times our average rainfall amount for the period Oct 15 – Nov 30!) I spent many hours late at night under the moonlight and in freezing weather assembling the wood frame and aluminum hoops and other braces. On Thanksgiving my parents and brother stayed after dinner to help stretch and staple down the groundcover cloth. (Who wants to watch football when you could staple groundcover cloth?)

Finally on Dec 1 the plastic went on. That wasn’t easy either, as it could only be done during the brief hours the sun was hitting it, because it would tighten up as soon as it got too cold. So it ended up taking two days and it still isn’t on perfectly, so it will have to be touched up in the spring. No big deal; it doesn’t look perfect but it’s on there securely enough that the recent windstorms haven’t managed to blow it off. We only put a single layer of plastic on it. We may add another sheet in the future, but we didn’t have time to deal with it just then. I was so busy on this greenhouse during November that I didn’t really stop to take pictures… so we jump to Dec 2 for the next picture:

It’s done! Time to breathe a quick sigh of relief. But not time to rest yet, because the weather forecast now looks ominous.  It might get cold. But how cold? They don’t know. But it’s not a time to take any chances.  I’ve got to start moving plants!

Look at all this space! Or so it seems right now. It’s 20′ x 84′ or 1,680 square feet – bigger than our house!  I had a few tables from earlier projects that I dragged in there. Then I started moving plants.

December 6 and the Arctic blast has struck! Those tracks are from me moving plants… back and forth… back and forth. I successfully prioritized and got all the really tender stuff in there before this picture was taken.  However I kept working a couple days into the freeze since I didn’t know just how much colder it would get, and felt I should just keep going until the greenhouse was totally packed out, to do the best possible thing for my plants. (That structure to the right is the 2008 greenhouse, which has had its plastic removed and is now the shade house.)

Greenhouse filling progress as of Dec 6. My mom is to be thanked for babysitting my little boy while I moved all these plants.  It took a long time!!

December 10 and I’m done moving plants. At the end, the plants I moved in were frozen solid of course – but those last plants were species that could tolerate a couple days of that.  Now it’s really full… and it’s really cold outside! Still, I opened up the doors while it was sunny so the air could circulate through it.

The coldest temperature we had during the big freeze was 16°F on the morning of Dec 9. With the heater running full blast it didn’t drop below 38°F inside the greenhouse. Pretty much all the plants I left outside had already survived the previous winter – which was colder – outside, so I knew they would be fine. These plants were also helped by the fact that the temperature outside rose to 32°F or warmer every day, unlike the previous winter when we had many highs below freezing.

The greenhouse is heated (only when it’s below freezing outside) with a portable forced air heater than runs on either diesel fuel or kerosene.  I’ve been using diesel because it’s easier to get. I used it last year as well and it has been wonderfully reliable. Unfortunately on the super cold nights (below about 26-27) I have to go out there at 4:30 am and fill it back up with fuel – a small price to pay for keeping my plants alive. In the future I hope to install some solar heat capturers to reduce the need to run the heater for all those 25-32 degree frosts.

Here’s a view from the other end.

Looks great, right? But even with all those plants safely tucked inside, there’s still plenty to keep me busy. I moved all the plants that I had packed into the center aisle – the hardiest ones – back outside, since they are sort of in the way. Experience has shown that if I can’t easily see or reach the plants, I kill them. I went through and top-dressed everything as I moved it out. Now I’m doing the same for the plants that will remain in the greenhouse. January has been so warm that I’ve had to do quite a bit of watering and soon I’ll be potting up seedlings and cuttings.  Since the New Year I’ve only had to run the heater once.

Two or three plants were accidentally left out in the cold and died.  I’ll have to try to get a replacement Ochagavia carnea – oops.  But it wasn’t nearly a disaster on the scale of the previous winter, when many of my plants were damaged to the point of needing all of summer 2009 to recover, and some died outright.  All in all the greenhouse is a major success story for the business, and a great way to start 2010 off on the right foot!  Hope you enjoyed the documentary.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Randy/GA
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 01:39:37

    Ian, Glad to hear about the new expanded greenhouse! You really deserve it. This one will do until you can go larger and more high-tech. Our fall was mild and very wet, a tiny bit of frost in mid October, no freeze until Thanksgiving. I am so tired of all the heavy rains…have repaired my driveway twice this winter. Early January was really cold/dry/windy, moderate since then. Wonder what the weather holds for the winter games? Thanks for the update. Plan to start following you on Facebook…. will have my daughter teach me. Randy

    Reply

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