Greenhouse #2, winter’s wrath, and other news

So it’s time I provided an update, in case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything in months, or if we’re still in business, or what. Basically it’s a challenge when one has such a wide range of responsibilities running a small business to stay on top of every end of things all the time, but that’s ok – I’ve kind of accepted that’s just the way it works. Related to that, some of you may be wondering if I’m ever going to send out an e-mail newsletter. You may have signed up months or even years ago and never received anything. Well it’s coming someday… really…!

The last couple months we have been super busy building greenhouse #2. Although we got a nice early start on this one (unlike greenhouse #1) I did not work quite as consistently on it (i.e. I allowed myself to be distracted by other work and responsibilities at times), resulting in a minor disaster at the end of November when winter decided to arrive before Thanksgiving. Actually, we just finished up the greenhouse on November 29, which is still ahead of when we finished greenhouse #1 last year.

Some historical perspective on our November freeze might be helpful to appreciate why we weren’t more concerned, or had trouble believing it could really happen. (In fact, I can still hardly believe it happened!) Really serious November freezes are quite rare in the Pacific Northwest; however, they are especially damaging to plants, because they may not have ‘shut down’ growth/metabolizing for the season to achieve sufficient dormancy for full hardiness. We had a November freeze in 2006, but it was nearly the end of the month so practically December anyways, and a few degrees less cold than this one (though with plenty of snow!). In 1985 we had a November freeze of about the same severity and timing as this one (2010), but the cold weather persisted longer into December. (In fact one of my childhood memories is sledding down NE 135th St. on Thanksgiving when we lived in Seattle.) In 1955 we had one that was both earlier (Nov 12-17) and colder – I really can’t imagine what that must have been like as far as plant damage! But that’s really about it. And with these things being 25 and 30 years apart, does anyone really feel they need to worry that’s it’s going to happen again this year? I consider these things to be freak occurrences.

So while we could have been more prepared, we still did reasonably well considering the circumstances. The greenhouse was well underway by the time rumors of Arctic air started creeping into the long range forecasts. However working mostly solo it still took me until the evening of November 20 – and by then we were a bit below freezing – to get the plastic on the greenhouse (which I consider to be a major milestone of constructing a greenhouse, since it doesn’t really work without it!). But I didn’t get it fully secured. And then the following day came something that caught me totally off guard – a remarkable dump of snow that was completely missed by forecasters. I had hoped to use Nov 21st to finish securing the plastic and move plants in, but instead much of the day was spent just trying to knock snow off the greenhouses as fast as it was accumulating, to prevent them from collapsing. On top of that the wind came up threatening to blow the plastic off. Then it dropped to 17 degrees that night and 12 the following night making it our worst November blast in 25 years.

So with not managing to get all the plants moved in as quickly as I would have liked, I have a number of injured and dead plants. But it’s not a major disaster and could have been much worse…. and anyways, most of the really special plants were safely in the first greenhouse which never froze.

Then last Sunday and Monday Nov 28-29 the snow was melted enough that I could shovel the rest out of the way, and with some help from family I re-tightened and properly secured the plastic.

The greenhouses are heated with 70K BTU portable forced air heaters that run on (preferably) kerosene or (less expensive) diesel fuel with an electric igniter. I have had pretty good luck with them so far although one of my old ones has been unreliable and I had to replace it for this event.

One question you might be wondering is – if we’re growing stuff suitable for the Northwest’s climate, why does it all have to go in a greenhouse to avoid freezing in the winter? Well let’s remember for one, this was a freak event. But the main reason is that plants are much more vulnerable to freeze damage sitting in little pots that can freeze solid on top of the ground, than they are once in the ground and established. Numerous studies have shown that the roots of many plants (especially woody plants) are much less frost hardy than the top growth. In short a lot of this stuff would be fine through our winters in the ground or would still be worth planting even if some damage were to occur in that rare freak event. Also we’re obviously not in one of the region’s mildest microclimates; many of our customers can succeed with a lot more marginally hardy items than we can.

Stay tuned for more exciting news which will hopefully include something about a new and updated plant catalog with some previously unannounced items!


Greenhouse progress well underway, October 11.


A day after the big snow Nov 23. I was pretty much too busy to take pictures on the 22nd.


Moving plants into the new greenhouse! Actually, I still had some extra space even when I was finished, remarkably.


As you can see the plastic is still not firmly attached; in fact, the snow was the main thing holding it down at the corners for a while.


View of greenhouses with only a few plants left outside at this point.


Evening shot of greenhouses. At this point the temperature is dropping off to the mid teens.


Nursery cart tracks from the shade house. I brought in all the plants from the shade house.

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