Our Greenhouse Project

One thing we realized right away in our gardening in zone 3, is that we needed to have some kind of season extension if we wanted to grow anything beyond the basics. So we decided on building an A-frame greenhouse. Simple and easy, right? Well…. not when you decide to make it 2000sq feet. Yes, that was not a typo. So. What plan did we use? Well, we didn’t. We read lots of e-books, articles and blog posts, watched many youtube videos and then we decided to make up our own plan.

We originally wanted to do a sunken greenhouse using geothermal and use it all year round, based on the ideas and plans of Greenhouse In the Snow in Nebraska where they grow perennials like citrus fruit trees all year round. But we really didn’t have the money or equipment or man-power to make that happen.

We decided on something simpler, an A-frame from 2-6’s mounted on posts set in cement and covered with plastic. To begin with we would grow in the the soil there and later add raised garden beds. This took us 3-4 months to simply build the greenhouse frame and cover with plastic, this was only the two of us though, with occasional help from the children.

The first step was to paint all the boards white. This would help prolong the life of the boards when under the plastic by reflecting light away from the boards instead of soaking in the heat.

Next we sunk the first four posts into the ground and assembled the first 2 “A”s for putting on them. This was not an exact science as we used the width of the A to decide where the second post should go after setting the first post at the correct distance from the fence line. If we do this again, properly surveying the site would be our first step but we are true DIYers, in the sense that it never looks as good as it did on pinterest but hey, it works. Really its not that bad, but it was a learning process.

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So the first 2 A’s were up and now we had something to attach all the rest of the A’s to. This part was the hardest as it really was only the two of us (at this point the children weren’t allowed anywhere near!) lifting those huge frames onto the posts. As we continued down the row of 12 A-frames it was easier in a sense because we didn’t have to hold it as long before it was braced. Really by the end of it we were practically pros. Ha.

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After all the frames were up,it was time to take the final measurements and order the plastic. We ordered from Northern Greenhouse, they were great to work with and a Canadian company (no exchange or customs) and the owner had built A-frame greenhouses before and had great instruction on how to install the plastic. We installed the end panels first and then we were ready for putting the big sheet of plastic over the top.

So how did we get this huge sheet of plastic up and over the A-frame of the greenhouse? Well, since we had no idea ourselves what we were going to do, we didn’t want to bother our friends and neighbors into coming over and hanging out trying to figure it out. “So lets try this…” …”Well, that didn’t work, lets try this now…” etc, we decided to give it a try ourselves.

In the end, we managed to get it just over halfway by moving that ladder around inside the greenhouse, pulling up the plastic and clamping it in place. Then, once we were over the peak of the greenhouse we tied ropes to each end corner and instead of fighting the wind as we had been, we used each gust of wind to balloon out the plastic and then we pulled down on our side and it actually worked! Have you ever played with a parachute as a kid in gym class? Its kind of the same concept and that’s where I got the idea from.

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Here is the finished product, at least it was for then, as you can see, the tilling worked wonders in resurrecting a ton of weeds. In the background you see our organic weed-killers at work. Once we had the greenhouse secured on the sides for the winter we let them out of the cage and they had the run of the greenhouse. They did a good job of taking care of the weeds!

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Here we are during a February melt just last week. As you can see the greenhouse has some low spots! This late winter/early spring we’ll be focusing on getting it ready for this season. We need to fix some ventilation issues by installing a large door at the east end of the greenhouse as well, also the sides of the greenhouse need more lathe holding down the plastic as even with all the doors and windows shut, it still flaps in the breeze. We’ll also be working on the growing beds.

We’ve decided on a simple hand tilling of the the soil in the beds (which need to be marked out first) just to loosen the soil and then we’ll build the soil up on top of the existing top soil. Our topsoil is not very deep here and we hit clay only a few inches down, so rather than trying to dig into the soil and turn it up and amend it, it makes more sense to loosen it a bit for roots and add a lot of compost and soil on top of that, covered with mulch. Our plan is to loosen the soil (only in the beds) then spread a thick layer of tree chip mulch over everything, (we got 3 dumptruck loads in the fall from our local tree toppers). Then we will build with compost and hay. First compost to plant into (I think we’ll probably need a dump truck load of that) then hay to mulch and later we’ll add more hay as the first layer begins to decompose, this is called the Ruth Stout method, or a no-dig garden. It will be a longer process and our plants this year may not be as great as our plants will be in three years or so but it will be an ongoing process that I think will end up producing a better product in the long run.

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2016 Quick Recap

At the beginning of 2016 we sat down and planned out what to do with our income over the winter and spring. We decided we needed a truck for hauling hay and animals, a grow light for starting plants and we needed to till up the garden as well as a larger area for planting other things and we also wanted to build a greenhouse. For animals we needed to refresh our egg laying flock and I wanted heritage birds this time. We also needed a billy goat to breed our dairy goat in the fall so we could have more milk again.

In March we purchased our grow light for starting plants indoors. This turned out to be more difficult than we had anticipated because we didn’t realize just how close to the light plants need to be to not be “leggy”. So we started many little tiny seeds in little tiny peat plugs that fit into one little tray under the light with no problems, but that didn’t last for very long. It only took a couple weeks to outgrow the light and we ended up with plants sprawled all over our small room. Most of the plants survived transplanting and I did get a decent harvest. img_3402

We did purchase a big diesel 1 ton duelly truck but we’ve since realized that it is much more than we need. Yes, it would haul cattle and hay bales and all kinds of huge things, but it’s a little overkill for us. Besides which, the truck is rather unpredictable and neither of us being mechanics means it doesn’t work half the time! Rather frustrating to have a big truck sitting in the driveway while you haul firewood, pigs and goats in the back of your car anyway.

In April we purchased our billy goat as a bottle-fed kid from the dairy we originally bought our dairy goat Didi from. Since they knew we want to keep any females we get from this mating, they called us when they had a buckling born from good hand-milking lines (good milk and easy to milk). He was such a cute little guy (an Alpine-Toggenburg cross). The children named him Stormy and enjoyed bottle feeding him right from the start. It did take him a while to outgrow his habit of trying to get milk from a human’s hand, arm, sleeve or pantleg, which was a little annoying on occasion but so cute!

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In April we also tilled a portion of our land and then completely re-dug and re-designed the garden. Future note to those who want to till land that hasn’t been worked in a really long time: Don’t! It needs to be plowed not tilled if you want to turn the soil well. It was a nightmare trying to pull the tractor tiller through huge clods of soil and grass that kept bunching up under the tiller. We overseeded much of this land in clover for our bees and our goats, after we staked out the parameters of our greenhouse and garden.

The garden redesign worked beautifully. I chose to do long (36′) rows of 3′ wide raised beds (just mounded soil at this point) so that I could more easily figure out exactly how much of each crop I was planting for harvest.This year I also started strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and asparagus.

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Rhubarb in the front square with Jerusalem artichoke to the right.

Unfortunately our harvest wasn’t the greatest because we got so busy building our greenhouse and it took so much more time than we had anticipated that much of the garden got completely overgrown with “weeds”. An interesting note, when we tilled in the spring, we also tilled under all the straw mulch from last year, and as you can see in the picture below in front of the sunflowers, it grew barley! So if you do much with straw, be careful with tilling that, it is not a sterile product and if given the chance, it will sprout. I never would have found out what all the grass was if I hadn’t completely given up on my garlic patch because I couldn’t tell what was grass and what was garlic. I let it grow and later a farmer friend took a look and asked why we were growing barley.

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Our chickens were purchased in May, I did get a small flock (one rooster and 6 hens) of juvenile mixed-breed heritage birds. They have some Maran, some Americauna and some Barred Rock in them. We also got 6 silkie chicks. These were meant as pets for the children but they are a little young to be able to handle them now that the chicks are mature and it turns out we have 3 roos and 3 hens! For now, then hens make great broody moms and will hatch out whatever eggs I want them to (I hope).

 

Our entire summer was spent working on the greenhouse, with a few quick breaks for family visits and a 2 day camping trip. Our trip was lovely and some much needed family time away from the busy worklife of the farm. Please see my post on the greenhouse for more information about that.

 

Harvest time always comes so quickly and we never seem to be completely prepared for all the produce. I didn’t get the potato or tomato harvest I was expecting, the potatoes because of not weeding the patch, and the tomatoes because of not getting them out into the greenhouse soon enough. Still, there was the mid season harvests of peas, beets and beans, and salad greens and then the carrots and squash just before the frost. All in all it was a very productive year for work on the farm. We are looking forward to what 2017 brings.