My wife and I always liked the idea of growing our own food and seasonings at home. It made sense from a health as well as a self-reliance perspective. But something always kept us from acting on it when we were living in New York City. The apartment was too small. There was too little natural light. We had too many kids. Fortunately, coming to the Poconos presented us with an unique opportunity to turn our ideas into reality.
After we moved here we found out that while some issues were behind us, there were plenty of challenges to overcome in order to start our garden. For example, we now have plenty of wildlife roaming through our property at all seasons. Deer, bear, geese, rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs. We loved them as much as they loved our plants (okay, maybe “tolerated” is a better word to refer to our fondness for the groundhogs). But we had to figure out a way to fix this potentially unhealthy love triangle, otherwise our garden would not last long. Additionally the winters here are a bit colder and temperatures in the summer can reach the mid 90s on occasion, so we began to worry that our garden might not survive it if it was completely exposed to the elements year-round.
At the same time we also had a few other projects to work on around the house that were of higher priority. One of them was repairing a sunroom we have attached to our dinning room. It was built to let the air flow through it and keep insects out, so it had window screens instead of glass windows. When we first moved some of the screens were ripped off or about to, and within a few days of moving in my 4 year-old son felt like some of the holes weren’t wide enough. Now we had to replace all of them.
Making Lemonade Out of Life’s Lemons
This was one of those situations where the problems could accumulate forever until we paid someone to fix them for us. But because cash is not the most abundant item these days, we had to think in a more creative and resourceful manner to work things out. At the end of summer we felt the solution was going to involve combining all of those issues and solving them all at once – we decided to turn the sunroom into a small greenhouse.
Aside from the financial cost, our decision was based on other contingencies. For starters a sunroom is only useful for a few months of the year when the weather is mild enough. Besides we would rarely ever use it for its intended purpose, at least in the few decades before we reach retirement age and have the time to sit around it and chat. Replacing the screens from our solar room would be very time consuming (time also being a rare commodity for us). So ultimately we didn’t think restoring it would be worth it.
Delivering the Greenhouse
We decided it was best to cover the widows with 4 mil clear plastic sheeting. That would still keep the insects out while allow sunlight to continue to seep in. And it would also protect the plants from the freezing wind while at the same time providing some insulation from the harsh cold weather. And finally since that space was built about 6 feet from the ground, we would not have to do anything else to keep animals out.
We bought two 10 ft. x 25 ft. rolls and initially installed it by simply attaching it to the wood frames with a staple gun. However that was only a temporary solution. After about a month the wind strengthened and blew some of the sheeting in, ripping it off from the staples. We solved that problem by applying duck tape to the edges of the sheeting and re-stapling. That proved to work perfectly, and since then we have not had any instances of the sheeting ripping apart.
Keeping It Cool
To access our sunroom/greenhouse we have to go through a glass door, which keeps the temperature inside the house stable. On the other hand the plants are almost fully exposed to the outside temperature. The summer was especially hot and humid, but that just helped our little garden thrive. The plants were not directly under the sun light, so they kept on growing beautifully. The temperature maxed out around the low to mid-80s inside.
During the winter, we knew the cold would limit or halt the growth of some specimens. Our solution was to assemble a composting tumbler inside our indoors orchard. We worried about the smell, but after some research we found out that the composting would not produce foul odors if done properly. But it would heat up over time – upwards to 120F – and that would be enough to push the temperature inside at least a few degrees higher than outside.
Unfortunately we started the composting business very late in the season and in a bit of a rushed fashion. It was already late November, so the temperatures were already less than ideal for the composting process to get up to speed. Another issue was that to accelerate the action inside the composting bin it is best to chop the ingredients into smaller pieces. The result is that 5 weeks after starting the composting is taking place at an awful slow rate and the temperature has not gone up significantly inside the greenhouse. We shall come back to this issue in the near future to see how it turned out.
Spice It Up or Let It Be?
We are now thinking about enhancing plant growth by installing a hydroponic lighting system in our orchard. It would make up for the lack of sunlight they get in the winter and we could also leave them on during some nights. Installing these would be just a matter of changing the light bulbs. We are also debating whether to install LED or T5 lights, which we need to research further to see which would be the best fit for us. Another idea is to go a step beyond and install glass sheets or sheets made of some type of sturdy clear plastic like acrylic once circumstances permit.
In any case we are off to a promising start. The greenhouse experiment was a success despite some initial setbacks and we now have a real shot at all-season gardening. We will keep you in the loop regarding other ideas we come up with and the solutions we find.
To be continued…