Archive for the ‘Under Glass’ category

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Greenhouse Collapse!

January 31st, 2010

If you’re thinking about building a greenhouse here’s an opportunity to learn from my misfortune.

This is bad.

hoophouse greenhouse collapse from snow load.

Only 3 inches of ice and snow did this to my hoop-house.

When I first built it, my 50 dollar green house had a design flaw to say the least.

After removing the snow from my collapse greenhouse it is almost as good as new.

Fortunately After removing the snow from my collapse greenhouse it’s almost as good as new. But, I think I can prevent this from happening again.

This isn’t a great thing to find on a winters morning, but on the other hand a minor fail like this is just the thing to help improve a design. Fortunately I got the snow off of it before any real damage was done – this time.  If I didn’t live in the (usually) sunny south it wouldn’t have taken me over a year to discover this design flaw.  So – to anyone who’s been inspired by this blog to build a greenhouse…  Sorry about that.

Here’s the thing – as long as rain or snow runs off and doesn’t accumulate which it usually doesn’t – all is well.  It’s even OK for a little bit of snow to accumulate on top, because it just falls right off of the steep sides, and no harm is done.  But once the peak starts to sag then it doesn’t run off like it needs to, and it can build up more weight making it sag even more, which allows more to collect, more weight, more sag… Until you get an ugly surprise.

So here’s what I did.  » Read more: Greenhouse Collapse!

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Honey Bees By Mail

June 9th, 2009

My new bees hanging out at the hive entrance.

The honey bees that I ordered last January arrived in the mail today – actually 4 weeks ago – but that’s when I started this post.  As soon as I picked them up at the post office I misted them with some cool water – they were definitely thirsty – as soon as they got out of the box later they started lapping up water wherever they could find it. Since it was a little bit cool today the bees rode in the cab of the truck to keep them from being chilled on the ride home.

A 3 pound package of bees as it comes through the mail.

The first thing I did to get the bees into the hive was to take out 4 frames to make a space for the bees – then pry the plywood cover off of the package.  The bees will hopefully build nice neat comb in the frames.  I’m using wooden starter strips instead of wax foundation and this is my first ever hive of bees  so the frames are completely empty.

The package contains a can of syrup with a few holes in it for the bees to eat as they move through the mail system.

I'm holding the metal tab that the queen cage is hanging from as I very slowly remove the syrup can. Everything has bees clinging to it so you have to go slow and kind of wiggle things around to keep from injuring them.

After removing the can I kept the bees in the cage by laying the little piece of plywood back over the hole.

Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route.  They really cant wait to get to work.

Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route. They really can't wait to get to work. You can't see the queen in this picture, but she's been marked with a spot of florescent green paint to make her easier to find.

The queen is confined in this cage that comes hanging in the package.  The queen and worker bees were collected from different hives at the commercial apiary where the bees were produced, and don’t immediately accept each other – although the bees that are clinging to the queen cage seem to have because I could see them feeding her (I think).

Anyway, the queen cage has a cork that keeps the queen in for the trip, and under the cork there is supposed to be a plug made out of sugar “candy” that the workers will gnaw away to free the queen.  Unfortunately when I removed the cork there wasn’t any candy – so I put the cork back in and went and got a piece of bread to plug the hole with.  If the queen is still in the cage in a few days I’ll release her during the first inspection.  I should have prepared for this possibility by equiping myself with a marshmallow to plug the hole.  I’m not to worried though – if they don’t eat the bread and free the queen they will feed her through the cage, and she’ll be fine.  I hope.

Don't do this - When introducing a queen into an empty box without foundation just free the queen and put the queen cage in your pocket - seriously don't leave the cage laying around or the bees might cluster on it because of the queen pheremones on it. If you do what I did in this picture you will probably also have to repair the crossed comb that they will build.

After I removed the cork and improvised a plug I hung the queen and her attendants from one of the frames near the center of the hive.  I’ve seen pictures of people having to bend nails and whatnot to improvise a hanger, but the strip of soft sheet metal that this package came with seems to be way easier to use.

I found out a few days later that this was a horrible mistake – the bees started building comb off of the queen cage instead of from the starter strips in the frames.  More about that later.

Usually in package bee installation how tos you are instructed to shake the bees out through the 3 inch hole left by the syrup can – lots of shaking involved which doesn’t look too pleasant for the bees.  However I just took the screen loose on the side of the box to open up the entire side as instructed in this beemaster video on installing a package of bees.

Then the whole bunch comes out with very little effort or trauma to the bees.

Now just carefully replace all of the frames – slowly wiggle them in to give the bees a chance to get out of the way.  It seems impossible from the way this picture looks, but I don’t think I killed a single one.

Now carefully replace the inner cover.  That piece of plywood with the round hole and screen is just laying over a corresponding round hole in the inner cover.  My idea is to feed the bees without them getting into the upper chamber.  We’ll see how it works.  By the way I made all of the hive parts except the frames from scratch.  I’m planning to use 8 frame medium depth hive bodies for everything.

Notice that the bees aren’t attacking me at all.  I doubt if I would have been stung even without the bee suit – but It’s going to be a while before I get that cocky.

The jar of syrup has a few holes punched in the lid and goes right over the screen.  If they drink that too quick I’ll use a gallon paint can later.

Now an empty hive body, and the outer cover.

If I had been on the ball I would have placed the entrance reducer before I started.

The stick that you can see is corking up the vent hole in the innner cover.  In just a few minutes the bees were all moving inside and flying around the yard orienting themselves.  In a few hours they were already bringing in pollen from the blackberry flowers.

This process might look intimidating, but after all of the waiting I really enjoyed the whole thing  – I didn’t get stung.  I had worried that when I dumped all of those bees out they would all just rise up and fly away if I didn’t do everything exactly right.  But the thing is they don’t seem to want to fly away.  It’s almost like if you had been cooped up in a greyhound bus for 3 days and then you were deposited right into a five star hotel with an open buffet – what they really seemed to want to do was settle in and make theirselves at home.

Photography by my lovely and fearless wife Shirley – who was not wearing a bee suit.

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6 Months In the Greenhouse

April 16th, 2009
My greenhouse is cram packed in April.

My little greenhouse is cram packed in April.

I built my 50 dollar greenhouse about 6 months ago and I thought some of you might be interested in what I’ve done with it and how it’s performed so far.  I have not used any artificial heat in my greenhouse at all – so it does get cold in there – but the climate in the greenhouse is much more temperate than it is outside. I’ve found that even in the worst weather we have here in zone 6 cold hardy things like spinach and lettuce keep on growing all winter long – although at a slower rate than if it were warmer.

I haven’t installed any kind of automated ventilation system so far – I just watch the weather forecast and if it’s supposed to be a warm sunny day I open one of the doors in the morning, and close it in the evening.  This has worked pretty well, but I must admit that there have been times that it was already in the 90s before I got around to ventilating.  I’ve really been surprised that all of my lettuce hasn’t bolted because of it, but so far (April 15) none of it has.  I must admit that during periods of moderate weather the greenhouse is almost like having livestock in that it requires a little bit of attention every day.  Also, it should be obvious that you have to water in the greenhouse even if it rains outside – however your plants are protected from the trauma of snow, hail, and torrential rain.

In Middle Tennessee (zone 6b) you can’t grow tropical plants or produce fruits like tomatoes through the winter in an unheated greenhouse like this.  There are growers in our area which do grow “hothouse” tomatoes so I know that it’s possible to do it, but I don’t see that as being practical for me.  If you live in a warmer zone however it might be for you – check around to see what other people are doing in their greenhouses.

What I’ve Used My Greenhouse For So Far

Fresh salads all winter – Because I built the greenhouse so late in the fall I didn’t really get the salad greens cranking until after Christmas, but once they did get rolling I’ve had a steady stream of salad greens ever since.  I grew many varieties of lettuce, Teton (F1) spinach, and arugula (planted in mid February – arugula planted outside on the same day failed completely while that in the greenhouse literally grew like weeds) and they have all done great – despite single digit temperatures on multiple occasions these crops continued to grow all winter long, and I’m still picking greens from seeds that were planted in November.  Being able to eat home grown produce all winter long was one of my main goals when I built the greenhouse, and it looks to be easily doable.

Extra early broccoli – Broccoli is one of our favorite vegetables, so as soon as sets became available at the local farmers co-op I planted some in the greenhouse.  Well, I am getting broccoli extra early, but the plants are also bolting to flower extra quick because of the extra heat units that they are getting.  Next year I’m going to plant the spring broccoli under a simple poly tunnel row cover to get a fast start and then remove the cover when florets start to form.  Broccoli as well as the other members of the cabbage family are not freeze tolerant so wont grow throughout the winter in my greenhouse, but should produce extra late in the fall – I’ll see in a few months.

Extra early tomatoes – I’m still working on this.  I planted out celebrity and early girl tomato plants amongst the greens about March 15 – a month before our traditional last frost date – and they have grown very nicely so far.  I don’t know if I’ll actually get early tomatoes out of this experiment, but I have high hopes that I will.  I’ll let you know in a couple of months. Update – I am getting early tomatoes from the early girl plants that I planted out in the greenhouse, but they are only about a week ahead of others that weren’t in the green house.  However, I removed the cover from the greenhouse in April and a few days later we had a cold front go through that might have been a factor – I think I should have waited a bit longer, but the weather had been really nice.  I’ll try again next year.

Enjoy gardening on a cold winter day – This is one of the few things that you can do with a greenhouse that you can’t do in a cold frame.  Even when the sun isn’t shining the complete shelter from the wind makes a remarkable difference in your comfort level, but when the sun is shining it’s like a trip to the Keys.  I took this picture on a sunny day in January when it was 5 degrees outside –

5 degrees outside - 50 degrees inside.

5 degrees outside - 50 degrees inside.

Notice the ice on the inside of the greenhouse plastic – also notice the 70% relative humidity – on a 5 degree day the humidity outside is like zero.  It’s amazing how good 50 degrees can feel when the sun is shining on you and you’re out of the wind.

Garden when it’s raining or snowing – even if all you want to do is pick some lettuce or plant a few seeds – you are always in out of the weather.

Grow out bedding plants – We grew about 6 flats of pansies from seed last fall, but because we got that bright idea a bit too late they weren’t ready to set out until late winter.  The greenhouse was the perfect environment to grow out the tiny plants to a good size to set out.  By the time we had spring bedding plants that we needed to grow out we were out of room in the greenhouse.  Next year I’m going to try to plan for this a bit better.

Things I haven’t done yet

Extra late tomatoes – With some luck we should be able to pick garden fresh tomatoes until almost Thanksgiving.

New potatoes for Thanksgiving – Potatoes are a cool season crop, and I’ve read that you can have fresh new potatoes for Thanksgiving or even Christmas if you plan right.

Propagation – This year we had great success starting seeds indoors under lights by using a home made bottom heat propogating table.  If you have electric service to your greenhouse (I don’t) you could start your seeds in the greenhouse using bottom heat in a cold frame, and you wouldn’t have to have artificial lights.

Forced flowers – This isn’t something that I’m into, but you should be able to force tulips and other spring bulbs into bloom much earlier than normal by bringing them into the greenhouse.

Force strawberries – This is something that I am into.  Next fall when I transplant strawberry daughter plants I might put a few of them into containers so that I can try this.

Kiln dry lumber – in the heat of the summer, cover the floor to minimize humidity, stack stickered lumber, ventilate to remove humidity while elevating temperatures as much as possible.  If you have electric service in your green house you could also seal it up and run a dehumidifier – almost all of the water will be coming from your lumber.  I doubt if I ever do this, but it sounds like a good idea if you can’t use the greenhouse in the heat of the summer anyway.

I don’t know of anything that I would want to grow in my greenhouse in the heat of the summer (cacti?) and I intend to take the plastic off of the frame once the weather is reliably warm so that I can use the space for regular crops during the summer, and also to make the plastic last longer.


It’s turned out to be a good choice to grow in raised beds instead of in containers – containers would require much more frequent watering, and would be much more likely to freeze than the soil in my raised beds.  However, next fall I’m going to add a thick weed free layer of enriched  soil to the top of the greenhouse beds to help suppress weeds.  Weeds haven’t been a huge issue in my greenhouse because it’s relatively small, and fortunately most of them have been chickweed – which is quite tasty.


Fungus gnats – These little buggers hatched out in early winter for a few weeks every time the weather would warm up for a few days.

Fungus gnats look like tiny mosquitos and hatch out in the soil to feed on organic matter.

Fungus gnats look like tiny mosquitos and hatch out in the soil to feed on organic matter.

Supposedly they damage your tender young plants by feeding on the roots in the larval stage, but I couldn’t really see any evidence of this.  They mostly just beat their selves to death on the inside of the plastic.

Moles – Our area has been experiencing a biblical type plague of mole for the last few years.  Some areas of my yard are solid with mole tunnels, and they have done some damage in the garden as well.  So far I haven’t found any way to control them that I’m comfortable with.  I’ve  seen plenty of evidence of moles inside of the greenhouse, but so far very little damage to what I’m growing.

That’s it – so far I haven’t really had any problems at all with insects, disease, or vermin in my greenhouse.  I’m probably jinxing it by saying so.

Now that I have a little bit of experience under my belt using my small greenhouse I see that this is a tool that I enjoy using and that can extend the productivity of my garden throughout the entire year.  I wish I had built it sooner.

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Simple Plastic Tunnel Cold Frame or Row Cover

March 3rd, 2009
This plastic tunnel is being used inside of the greenhouse to protect tender plants against a late hard freeze - very effectively I might add.

This plastic tunnel is being used inside of the greenhouse to protect tender plants against a late hard freeze - very effectively I might add.

A simple plastic tunnel like this can serve as a cold frame to grow salad greens  all winter long, to grow out tomatoes and other tender plants, to extend the season for an early Spring start or a late Fall harvest, or even as a screen house to keep birds off of your strawberries or vine borer moths off of your squashes.  You can also use one of these to dry out water logged beds and warm up the soil so that you can begin planting  in early Spring. These devices are so useful, cheap, easy, and quick to build that everyone should have at least one – it’s almost as good as having your own polytunnel greenhouse. » Read more: Simple Plastic Tunnel Cold Frame or Row Cover

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Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

January 26th, 2009
That sweet corn is way too close together - the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.
That sweet corn inter-planted with pole beans (an experiment) is way too close together – the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.

Recommended Spacing for Intensive Planting  Methods

Plant Inches Plant Inches
Asparagus 15 – 18 Lettuce, head 10 – 12
Beans, lima 4 – 6 Lettuce, leaf 4 – 6
Beans, pole 6 – 12 Melons 18 – 24
Beans, bush 4 – 6 Mustard 6 – 9
Beets 2 – 4 Okra 12 – 18
Broccoli 12 – 18 Onion 2 – 4
Brussels sprouts 15 – 18 Peas 2 – 4
Cabbage 15 – 18 Peppers 12 – 15
Cabbage, Chinese 10 – 12 Potatoes 10 – 12
Carrots 2 – 3 Pumpkins 24 – 36
Cauliflower 15 – 18 Radishes 2 – 3
Cucumber 12 – 18 Rutabaga 4 – 6
Chard, Swiss 6 – 9 Southern pea 3 – 4
Collards 12 – 15 Spinach 4 – 6
Endive 15 – 18 Squash, summer 18 – 24
Eggplant 18 – 24 Squash, winter 24 – 36
Kale 15 – 18 Sweet corn 15 – 18
Kohlrabi 6 – 9 Tomatoes 18 – 24
Leeks 3 – 6 Turnip 4 – 6

Arizona State University Master Gardener Manual: Intensive Gardening Methods. » Read more: Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

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Grow All Winter In a Cold Frame Made From Recycled Materials

January 8th, 2009

A simple cold frame is an easy, economical way to get more out of  your garden.

Fresh salad in the cold frame in January

Salad ready to eat in January

You might know that I built a small greenhouse this fall.  Unfortunately by the time I finished it in early November it was pretty late to get started – I have a few things going in there now, but I’ve not really been able to use it to full advantage.  Being able to enjoy the sunshine while I’ve worked in there out of the cold has been nice.  But the truth is that so far this cold frame has been at least as productive as the greenhouse.

While I built my greenhouse on the cheap ($50 out of pocket) building this cold frame actually cost nothing – 100 percent recycled materials» Read more: Grow All Winter In a Cold Frame Made From Recycled Materials

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Building Greenhouse Doors

November 10th, 2008

<< Building the $50 Greenhouse

Welcome back Stumbleupon Gardeners!

If this looks like too much work – I did a much simpler door on the other end.

This weekend I finally got time to start on the doors for my 50 dollar greenhouse.  The design that I came up with is light, strong, simple, and can be built easily and quickly using only a circular saw and a hand drill.  I must admit that I did use a table saw to rip out the stock, and put it through a planer to accurately dimension it, but this was only a convenience, and isn’t at all necessary for a good result.  This polytunnel door design can be built on a set of sawhorses out in the driveway, but it will be a lot easier if you get someone to help you hold things while you saw, drill and fasten parts together. » Read more: Building Greenhouse Doors

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How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

October 27th, 2008
  • First off – you really can build this thing very cheaply, but to do so you have to recycle, freecycle, and scrounge.  If you just go out and buy new everything it will probably cost over $200 – still not bad all in all.
  • This Article is featured in Jan 2010 issue of Birds and Blooms Magazine!
  • Want to find out if this thing works before you read all this?  Read 6 months in the Greenhouse first.
  • Want to see what happens when a few inches of wet snow accumulates on this?  Collapse!
  • Building the Greenhouse Doors is addressed in a separate article – isn’t this enough for one weekend?
My $50 Greenhouse

My $50 Greenhouse

Welcome Stumbleupon Gardeners! How about a Thumb up if you like this article?

Materials list

Construction Steps

Hind Sight – What I would do differently

The planning is over and construction on my hoop house greenhouse has begun.  I’ve rounded up all of the materials and it looks like I’m going to end up with about $50 in a 165 square ft. green house. Granted I already had most of the materials because I’m an incorrigible pack rat, but even if I had bought everything new just for this polytunnel It would still only come to about $120 $150 – less than a dollar per square ft.  Due to the fact that we are in the midst of a global economic meltdown, and the future is a bit uncertain keeping the cost of this project as low as possible is an important consideration. » Read more: How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

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Hoop House – Greenhouse

July 6th, 2008
My $50 Hoop House

I’ve been kicking around the idea of building some kind of greenhouse for several years, but I think that I’ve finally decided that in my case the most practical way to take that plunge is going to be with a small hoop house. The main thing that I think I want to do with a green house is to be able to grow salad greens through the winter, get a head start on spring without having to worry about the occasional late frost that we get here in middle Tennessee, and maybe extend tomato season for a few weeks in the fall.

My garden has two central beds which are 3 feet wide, about 50 feet long, and have a 5 foot wide path between them. I think that I’m going to build my hoop house over these existing beds and the path between them, and design the end walls so that I can still run my lawnmower and rotor tiller through the beds even after the greenhouse is in place. This will make my green house eleven feet wide and probably about 24 feet long. I’m still kind of in the planning/brainstorming stage at this point, but I’ve run across a couple of sites which shows how to economically build a hoop house about this size using common building materials, and this article from Washington State University.

Update: I’ve actually built my greenhouse now and writen a post with lots of pictures about the whole process. My 50 Dollar Hoop House Greenhouse.