Greenhouse year in review – 2009

DSCN1452It’s been a mixed year in the greenhouse. I wouldn’t call it an unqualified success, though it had its good points. Here goes:

The Good

  • I got to start gardening March 1. Not a whole lot *happened*, but it made me feel good.
  • The peas in the greenhouse bore fruit 6 weeks earlier than the peas outside.
  • The green beans planted in late August bore about 2-3 weeks earlier than the beans outside.
  • The yellow pear tomatoes in the greenhouse were the only tomatoes that produced anything at all this year.
  • Topless sunbathing in late February!

The Perplexing

  • The greenhouse peas took 11 weeks to bear. The ones planted outside took nine weeks.
  • The hot-loving vegetables didn’t love the greenhouse. They looked pale and sickly. The okra was under a foot tall and produced five pods between two plants.
  • The greenhouse only held 5-10 degrees over the outside temp during the cold months, and even less than that in the summer.

The Downright Annoying

  • Aphids. Everywhere.
  • More tomato hornworms than I’ve ever had in all my gardens combined. Ok, that’s still only 5, but…
  • Occasional rabbits and chipmunks inside the greenhouse, snacking, building nests, having late-night poker parties, and generally carrying on.
  • The gutters broke off in a late-season snowstorm. Even when I got them back up, they didn’t collect enough water to make water barrels worth the trouble.

So here are my theories about what’s going on.

  • The soil in the greenhouse is the worst soil in my garden. I put down 4″ of composted horse manure last October and planted in that. In my regular raised beds, I don’t need to dig at all; by the end of the season, the roots and worms have done all the work. However, the clay under the greenhouse was smoothed off with a bucket loader before we built, and that clay layer remained impermeable. When I stuck a digging fork in last week, I was shocked (as in, jolted up the arms and into my bones) to discover the “soil” was 2″ deep over a rock-hard layer of hardpan clay.
  • I need to water the greenhouse every day. Maybe that’ll improve when I improve the soil, though.
  • An 8×12 greenhouse does not have the thermal mass to hold temperature. It heats up too fast and cools down quickly, as well.
  • This greenhouse model – a Rion kit – is probably also just leakier than your standard polyfilm hoop house. I bought it because it’s pretty, but I don’t think it’s as functional as a plastic quonset hut.

What I’m going to do:

  • Build raised beds inside the greenhouse – 8″ deep. Fill with composted horse manure and dig it in to break up the clay layer. This will improve the soil drastically and let the soil heat up faster in the spring. Better soil will retain water better and help the plants be stronger, both for growing and for staving off insects.
  • Install a brick path down the middle to retain some heat. Even if it doesn’t work, it’ll be neat; my folks are going to loan me some bricks from the brick walk around the train station I grew up in (scroll to the bottom…), so there’ll be a little of my growing-up homestead in my adult home.
  • Be better about watering next summer.
  • Place bales of straw around the perimeter to stave off the freezing of the soil to extend the fall harvest.


  1. leisa said,

    September 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    >>Occasional rabbits and chipmunks inside the greenhouse, snacking, buliding nests, having late-night poker parties, and generally carrying on<<

    I have a small greenhouse, with a couple of shelves, thats it. My chickens decided one day that they would like to try and get in, and one even managed to lay an egg inside it. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a big one and try and keep wild animals from getting in as well (although I'd classify my chickens of being pretty 'wild')…

  2. September 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

    […] Now is a good time to clean your greenhouse! Some advantages and disadvantages of a greenhouse: […]

  3. June Barker said,

    September 15, 2010 at 5:29 am

    I have a tidy up every so often in my greenhouse as I have pots & saucers with flower heads waiting 2 dry out 4 seeds everywhere, & 2 bins which need emptying, 1 for plastic ect stuff & 1 for garden stuff in2 compost bin. My big Agave Americana has been living in there cos I planted it in a pot with no drainage & now its 2 big 2 get it out, & cos of weather, all the rain, I didnt want the roots 2 get waterlogged. When having a good turnout in there I forget half the things I have got.

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