July 2011

I visited a friend and walked into his greenhouse on a hard, clear day in February.  The door swung behind us, and whoosh, the cold was gone.  Inside it was twenty degrees and the broccoli seedlings sent up the heavenly damp smell of growing things, an April smell.  I was hooked then, I knew I needed one of these things.  At first, I must confess, it was not so much to grow food as to have a big box of Spring out there in the farmyard.  Who wouldn’t want, on a miserable February day, to step into the next season through a simple door?  It was only when I discovered Eliot Coleman and his four-season harvesting (see links) that I realised the significance of its potential and plotted to stuff it full of edible delights.

It’s taller than it looks. April 2011

Right off the bat, I knew I wanted the greenhouse to be mobile.  Crop rotation is essential in all food farming, and a moveable structure would mean I could rotate the greenhouse crops through the raised box pattern I had planned.  Luckily for me, the Costco car shelter frame I procured was not only free, it was light.  And the many commercial greenhouses in the Fraser Valley meant that finding some used poly was easy; when one large outfit replaced its sidewalls, I had enough plastic to cover my small frame many times over.   Alas, the challenges of assembling a greenhouse alone on a cold, blustery day in the rain are many.

First is positioning the thing.  A great fan of Costco shelters (I house two horses and the sheep under them), I was aware of their dimensions and had set the raised boxes at a tight fit.  But after assembling it in the driveway, walking a 6-legged steel octopus into place over boxes in foot deep mud seemed to take forever. This leg. That leg. This leg. THAT leg.  Little did I realise it was easy compared to getting the poly up over the ten-foot roof struts.  I’d slide it up to the centre, it would blow off.  I’d slide up the right corner and secure it, then the left corner would blow off.  When I finally managed to slide the entire thing into place and stopped for potty break, it blew into neighbour’s field across the road. Eventually, in a blessed moment of seven minutes’ calm, it did go up, and stayed there with some frantic temporary duct taping.

The door frames and ends I constructed of repurposed studs, salvaged from a demolished shed. The only exception was the bottom board, as to span the wide base I needed a single piece more than 12 feet long.  The lathing along the base was some old used baseboard from my parents’ house–in fact, I seem to remember having painted it myself, still on the old walls, some 20 years previously. For over an hour, I tacked the plastic in place, pulling and straightening as best I could.

Finishing that last bit of lathing, I could hardly wait to step through the unfinished door.  The sun had peeped out, and I was dying to know if my little makeshift room would be able to do what seemed somehow magical.  Would it? Could it? I slipped inside and smiled.  I had crossed from a cool windy April into a warm May afternoon–and the food would be coming soon.

Leaving at this point is a bad idea unless you need some exercise. April 2011.

I added a wood frame for the door. April 2011.

When you become a farmer, and thereby broke, never underestimate the power of Craigslist.  It’s become a useful tool in populating Horse Drawn Farms with that marvel of marvels: free stuff.  Like most surburban Gen X-ers, I spent most of my early shopping  years equating free stuff with junk.  If it was sitting out at the end of someone’s driveway, that’s what it was.  Junk.  But poverty has enlightened me.  No more shall those odds and ends of lumber, old chairs and busted up vacuum cleaners be passed by with upturned nose.  I’ve become that weirdo in the ball cap, cruising the suburbs in my pickup truck at ten kilometres an hour, peering at the wonderful potentials of Spring Clean Up Week.  Those mountains of delight!  Those caverns of treasure!  And Craigslist….ah, bless dear Craigslist.  No street prowling required, you simply scroll through the offerings for what you might need.   Thus, HDF was able to procure some raised beds, pre-assembled and in perfect shape.  And greenhouse bits, how wonderful.  The frame from an old car shelter from a backyard.  The poly from a hothouse producer replacing his covers.  And lumber of all shapes and sizes to hold everything together.  Yes, farmers: free is easy, and free is beautiful.

April 2011.A free car shelter frame. The dog wasn't free, he cost us a fortune.

April 2011. Filling the free boxes from Craiglist: a soil blend over the double-dug bases.