Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Greenhouses and Letting Go

Well folks, if you've ever lusted after a greenhouse like I did for so many years...

...well, my first impression is that they're a bit overrated.

I should qualify that statement. It's not that a greenhouse can't be a valuable tool when it comes to growing plants... it's just that it's not exactly the cure-all that I once imagined it would be.

It did extend the growing season for a few weeks, but wasn't able to protect the plants once we got into the "hard freeze" category.

I'm sure that not all greenhouses are created equal. I've seen greenhouse panels that are double or even triple walled, and I would imagine that they would do a much better job of holding in the heat than my little temporary model did.

Now, I didn't have a huge amount of thermal mass in there - I'm sure that would have helped. I did fill about a dozen gallon jugs of water and scattered them about, but it wasn't nearly enough to warm such a large space.

And I didn't even venture into the world of greenhouse heaters. Plus the plants inside were all warm weather stuff... cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. I'm sure cold weather plants like greens or peas would have fared better.

But here's the other part of the issue. The thing gets REALLY hot really quickly once the sun starts shining on it. Seriously, I tried to get out there to open it up by 9:30 each morning, and it was still in the mid-90's by then. After everything died, I didn't bother, and the temperature soared to over 120! So if you did grow cool weather crops in there, you'd probably have the opposite problem of it getting too hot!

Hmmmm.... so I'm starting to understand how it is that greenhouse grown veggies have such a big carbon footprint! Fans and heaters seem to be an essential part of making the things work.

So, I've taken off the cover, packed it away, and closed up the garden for the season. To tell the truth, I'm sorta relieved, because dealing with the thing took WAY more work than I thought it would, and I'm glad to be done with the gardening season so I can rest a bit and get ready for next spring.

I'm not sure if I'll use the cover again next spring or not. The hail protection part of the project still made it totally worthwhile, just not sure that the greenhouse part is worth the trouble.

So gardening is done for the year, but you know, seasons change, the circle turns, and that's the way things are "supposed to be." Things are born, they live, and then they die...

Speaking of which, the Colorado folk music community is reeling with the recent loss of one of our own. Chuck Pyle, who was known as the "Zen Cowboy," died suddenly last week.

They're not really sure what happened yet. He was out fishing and when he didn't come home by dark, his wife went out to search for him and found him face down in the water. Don't know if it was a medical thing or just a tragic accident, but it does reinforce the reality that nobody gets out alive.

Chuck was an amazing songwriter and performer, and his songs are among my very favorites. So I'll leave you with a few of them, as well as a few of my favorite "Chuck-isms."

Start slow and taper off...
Always ride the horse in the direction it's goin'...
Don't believe everything that you think!

Rest in Peace, Zen Cowboy.


  1. I have a "real" greenhouse. Has twin wall polycarbonate roof. The two roof vents operate with wax filled cylinders - when the temperature rises the wax expands and pushes the vent open. When temperature drops the wax contracts and the vents close. I think there are cylinders available in a couple / three different temperature ranges.

    I know they are used for cold frame sash too.

    So if you could add a rigid panel and vent to the roof, the cylinder will self-actuate without your assistance or any electricity.

    1. Ooooo.... Now that sounds really nifty! I'll have to do some research and see if I might be able to rig something like that for next year.

      CatMan and I also just had a long talk about thermal mass, and apparently it not only helps keep it warm at night, but also helps keep it cooler during the day. So I think there is still much experimenting to be done before I give up entirely.

  2. I have a little lean-to green house which I use for starting things off before they get planted is naturally a little ventilated because there is a gap between the top of it and the top of the fence (the back is open and not glazed).
    Might try growing a pepper plant in it this year too...(it's only small so only space for one!)
    The main problem is making myself plant stuff when it needs to be planted, not when I finally can be bothered after procrastinating a lot!

    1. I've used little mini-greenhouses like that for starting seeds, and didn't really have so much problems with temperature fluctuations - but it might be because I lined them with bottles of water, which provided enough thermal mass to equalize the temperature... Anyhow, I'm totally with you in terms of planting things at the right times. I had big plans to winter over some spinach this year, but alas, I didn't get around to planting it in time. Oh well... there's always next year!

    2. I am excellent at buying seeds and making lists, just not so excellent at getting off bum and doing!

      Must remember that it is supposed to be enjoyable too..!

    3. Ha! Well, I suck at buying seed and making lists. I'm great at diving in... just not so great at follow through! :-)

  3. I'm sorry that I am learning about Chuck Pyle after his death. Love his Chuckisms, especially "Don't believe everything you think." The "Keep it Simple" song reminds me very much of a John Prine who is one of the best around for turning a lyric.
    I'm sure that Chuck will be very much missed.

    1. Well, as Chuck would say: When you find a fork in the road, take it!

      It is a terrible loss. I didn't know him personally, but many of my friends did, and folks are having a real hard time with it. I think John Prine is a great comparison. Anyhow, since his passing, they've put his entire collection of albums up on YouTube. So if you want to listen to more, here's a link. But where he really shined was in concert... sigh.

  4. Too bad about the disappointing first impressions on greenhouse. Looks like you're getting some more ideas, though.

    Thanks for the Chuck Pyle recommendation. I see what you mean--the before-song banter is priceless! I laughed aloud at least twice at the part before "Keep It Simple." Talking blues--an ancient form of rap.

    1. Chuck could banter with the best of them... "For every mile of road, there's 2 miles of ditches - be thankful you're on the road." It is so very sad.

      Anyhow, I'm currently trying to figure out how I might rig an openable window or (even better) a roof vent for the greenhouse. It has side windows which might help... but they're pretty far down. So I might have to cut a hole in the thing to make a top vent. We'll see...

  5. I had the same experience with a greenhouse in AZ. I call mine a giant dehydrator. I tried to move pots in and out as the sun came out unexpectedly but there wasn't much I could do when I was at work and they all died of too much heat in February.

    1. Ha! Well, mine was more like a steam bath than a dehydrator. Seriously, I'd open it up in the morning and my glasses would instantly steam over so I couldn't see a thing. It was like a sauna in there!

      Anyhow, I think Judy's self-opening vents are the way to go... just gotta figure out how I might rig something like that!

  6. I have a greenhouse that we (my husband) puts up at the end of March(weather permitting)
    It allows me to start seeds earlier and get them out to the greenhouse sooner to give them better light conditions. We have to add a heater when we get cold conditions, but after march 31st the chance of frost goes down. If it does get really cold I wrap blankets around the plants as well as the heater.
    It can be a lot of work but I enjoy it, seeing my tomatoes get bigger and ready to go into the ground stronger.
    I've never used it to try and extend the season.....usually by then I'm tired and happy to say goodbye to garden for a few months.
    After the rest I'm ready to start again in January with my little seeds in the basement

    1. I may set it up again in the spring... we'll see how I feel about it. I think that more thermal mass is probably the key. I have really good luck using those wall-o-waters - so maybe some combination could work. I haven't started anything from seed recently because it's soo... um... challenging with the cats. Window space is at a premium around here, and Smoky does not take kindly to having any of it usurped for plants! Plus, he always tries to eat them. So we'll see how I feel about it all as time marches on...

    2. I have a set of lights in the basement. 3 tier, one I use for for germinating with a heater cable underneath, the other 2 with lights. I just use fluorescent lights.
      By March my trays are jam packed...hence the need for a warm spot to put the baby plants.
      I know what you mean about the kitties, I have a plant eater and that has curtailed my use of windows which I used to use as the plants grew.
      I do have to remember to keep the door to the plant room closed, or Fergus would have a feast

    3. I have never tried grow lights... for some reason it has always just struck me as "wrong" somehow. I know that's silly, but it just seems un-natural! But it would allow me to set them up in a Smoky-proof place! Hmmm.... thoughts to ponder...

  7. Sorry to hear about Chuck Pyle, I felt almost as deeply about John Denver's loss. I know I'm a geek but his music was the first I heard growing up that resonated with me. I usually listen to rock.

    I'm also sorry about your greenhouse. I always thought I would like one but never had a place to have one. I think the best ones have lots of thermal mass and can be vented better. The best one I saw was built on to the side of a house that didn't have any doors. To combat the heat problem they opened the windows to the house and set a fan in the window to vent it in and cut back on heating costs for the house.

    Are you sure you don't want to put the greenhouse cover back up and use it as a sauna for yourself during winter. I know I'd love a hot space to go to and thaw a time or two each week. :-)

    1. I was a HUGE John Denver fan. I even wrote him a fan letter when I was a kid heading off to Norway for my student exchange year. And to my utter surprise, he wrote back! It was just a one sentence letter, saying that he was glad his music had touched my life, but it was a very sweet thing to do.

      Anyhow, CatMan and I have been brainstorming ways to add some thermal mass to the greenhouse, and I'm totally in love with the wax cylinder window opener deals that Judy mentioned. I just have to figure out how I might rig one, since you'd need some sort of a rigid panel to make it work. I may end up with the Rube Goldberg greenhouse, but it will be a fun experiment!

      And I know you were joking about using it as a sauna, but I did toy with leaving it up for the cats. In the end I decided to save the UV damage to the cover. Anyhow, we'll see how I feel about it next year.

  8. Replies
    1. Well... I don't want to put you off completely, because I'm sure there's a way to make it work. It's just a bit more complicated than I had imagined it would be!

  9. I'm glad you shared so much about your greenhouse adventure. I'd been wondering about trying to rig something up next year, but from what you're saying, I don't think it would be worth it for us. There's usually one late frost that I have to cover plants for (because I get impatient and plant too early), and then warm/hot weather until hard frosts come. We seem to get to "hard frost" in a hurry. So I'm thinking it's probably not worth the hassle for us. Thanks again for all of the great info!

    1. Well, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up yet...because, you know, I'm stubborn like that. But it's definitely not the panacea that I thought it would be!


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