Celery and Chopin (How to Build a Greenhouse)

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It’s finally spring (anything seems like spring after Barrow) and we plant our garden. I build racks that fit into the window frame so I can play Chopin and watch the Celery grow (Broccoli and Beethoven?). It’s still below freezing at night so we start early. Martina went nuts in the Fairbanks garden center and bought about a million seeds–so we’ve our work cut out for us.

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Here is where we started two years ago with an overgrown field; we bring in Reid Bros. Construction and their humongous excavator and begin to bury the old foundation reserving the soil to the surface:

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Once it’s level, we’re ready to build a greenhouse–look at this beautiful black soil:

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Our soil is very acidic and many areas of SE Alaska don’t have any soil at all. We live on a point formed by a huge drainage area which is fortunate for us. But wear gloves–it will take off your fingerprints and make it hard to play the Chopin….

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Here I lay out the foundation for our greenhouse: 12′ X 24′ and about 9′ high. I use untreated yellow cedar 4″ X 6″ X 12′ beams double-stacked and spiked together in a rectangle. Inside this frame, I construct four equally sized raised beds using 2″ X 6″ X 12′ planks fastened with 4″ teflon coated fasteners. This whole process takes me less than a day.

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So what’s the first thing that shows up? Deer of course–and we haven’t planted a thing! The deer fence is not complete and they know it so I hurriedly enclose the garden with herring seine from our local dump.

The frames are constructed flat on the ground, on top of each other for consistancy, with the same yellow cedar 2″ X 4″. I install them on 4′ centers which is the width of most panels (actually 48 1/4″ but you’ll need the extra width for the ends). I strengthen the elbows with plywood gussets using quick-drive fasteners. This whole phase took me less than a day–and it was pouring rain. Martina helped me upright the frames on the foundation and voila! we have a greenhouse frame. Here is the whole layout with the Bavarian garden on the left and the vegetable garden on the right–we’re ready…..

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And here’s our first season but only with temporary plastic covering:

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Our seasons are exquisite! Colors are rich and the the summer growing season, while short, has a lot of solar energy. The clear cladding for the greenhouse is ordered from Laird Plastics in Seattle but is drop-shipped from PolyGal who manufactures it. It’s an 8mm thick extruded plastic, UV protected double wall construction (triple wall is available) and can support my weight it’s so strong. The whole installation process took me just two days–using a battery powered driver. I put a 2″ eve over the vertical walls to divert rain out of these channels and into an internal sprinkler system storing the excess in barrels for dry times.

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Total time–6 days and under $3000 and what a beauty! This photo was taken mid April and already it’s capable of storing 85F temps inside. Time to move in our starts during the day:

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Got my shelves up, hooks for hanging plants, radio for tunes. What more do you need? Chopin!

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