Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our simple greenhouse

The first summer after we moved here, a friend in Illinois gave us chickens. I built a couple movable chicken houses for them and moved them nearly every day across the yard. For the winter I decided to build a greenhouse for them to live in. I was influenced by some of Joel Salatin's writings and his description of the benefits of this sort of housing arrangement for wintering fowl.

Now, I suppose I could have gone out and bought a greenhouse or a kit for one, but that would've cost more money than I wanted to spend. I am often creatively finding ways to spend little or no money to accomplish the ends I desire (some people call me cheap, but what do they know?). So, I spent less than $100 to build a 20' x 12' greenhouse. I used cedar poles I cut to form a rectangle on the ground. I drilled holes along the two long sides into which I inserted 20 foot lengths of 3/4" electrical conduit pvc. Using recycled lumber, I framed the two ends. On one I installed an old storm door that had been left in the barn, and in the other I put a storm window (also left by the previous owner). I covered the structure with 6 mil clear plastic I bought at Lowes. This came in a 100' roll -- enough to cover the structure 4 times. I nailed the plastic secure at the bottom edges. In order to keep the chickens from tearing the plastic, I put 4' poultry netting around the inside. I then had an unheated greenhouse.

The chickens liked it alright -- at least they seemed to (none ever actually said so). They scratched and did chicken things inside, but the winter wasn't that cold. So, I let them roam around outside on nice days. Eventually, I built them their own permanent house in the spring.

I used the greenhouse to start plants for the garden in the spring. I learned fairly soon that I couldn't expect plastic that isn't UV-treated to last for more than a season. It's not a big deal to recover it, thankfully. Three summers ago I used the greenhouse as a solar kiln. I stickered lumber (stacked in layers with 1" x 1" sticks running crossways which allows ventilation between layers) from a local sawmill inside the greenhouse, set up a couple of fans, and was able to dry the green lumber to 12% moisture content in about a month.

That fall I wanted to try growing greens in the greenhouse for winter salads, but I hadn't moved the last batch of dried lumber out. So, I built another smaller and more temporary greenhouse with moldy hay bales, short lengths of pvc, and more plastic. I had to crawl inside this one as there wasn't room to stand up. However, it worked great for salads, and we enjoyed fresh greens almost all winter.

This year, I redid the original greenhouse. I drove pieces of 1/2" tubing into the ground over which I slipped the 3/4" pvc on 3 foot centers. This allowed the sides to be a little more vertical before they curve across the top. That makes the space more useable up to the edges. I incorporated quite a bit of nice compost, compliments of Josey the cow, into the soil. I was able to plant seeds for lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard, holland tyfon greens, arugula, mache, radishes, turnips, and carrots at the beginning of November. That was a little later than I intended, but I was able to get the ground soaked nicely with rain before covering the greenhouse by waiting. I also planted some garlic in it.

The plants are growing fairly well, especially considering the cold temperatures we've had so far this year. It's been in the 20s quite a few nights and even into the teens a few. Yesterday, I dug up some plants from the regular garden which I planted for a fall crop and transplanted them into the greenhouse. This includes some chard and pak choi. They should enjoy the warmer temperatures. It can be freezing outside, but if the sun is shining, it'll be near 90 degrees in the greenhouse.

I'm looking forward to our first salad this winter. There will be some young greens that will need to be thinned before long. That'll make a nice, tender salad to enjoy.



Great green house. Ive often thought about building one but just dont have the room. I suspect my water beds int he spring are as close as I get. Great blog and I look forward to following it.

Georgetown, KY


David, thanks for your comment. I'd like to read more about your water beds. I'll see if I can find some info on your blog. I'll keep up with your blog -- it looks interesting. I appreciate being able to read about others' efforts at sustainability.

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