Solar Energy Greenhouse Makes It Feel Like Springtime

Create a low-cost solar energy greenhouse from leftover building materials.


| November/December 1983



Finished Greenhouse

Voilà! Our finished greenhouse!


Photo by Jackie Spaulding

We created a greenhouse from discarded logs, rough-cut lumber, and a few panes of glass!

Two winters ago, my husband Bill suffered a heart attack. Fortunately, it wasn't too serious . . . but, while recovering, he did have to slow down the pace of his life for a while. Now Bill's a very hardworking man (he's a dedicated veterinarian, and we operate a 200 acre farm . . . with 30 dairy cows, 22 horses, and sundry other livestock, plus a huge outdoor garden). So I knew it wouldn't be easy for him to reduce his activities and keep from going crazy from idleness.

Plan "A" 

To preserve Bill's (and my) sanity, then, we constructed a temporary 10' X 16' solar greenhouse on the south wall of our home. We jokingly referred to this structure — built from a double layer of plastic, some poles, and salvaged grain doors (for bench tops) — as the "Coronary Care Unit." But don't laugh: The little addition did the trick! Our garden house kept my husband cheerfully occupied tending potted plants indoors . . . instead of out tackling farm chores in below-zero weather. In fact, we found our new space to be so cheerful that we even placed a table and chairs in one corner of it, so we could enjoy reading or lunching amid green and growing things (with their wonderful humid smell)!

Our low-cost greenhouse warmed up to the 70's during the day (not bad for northern Minnesota, where the daytime high is often below zero) . . . and, with the help of a kerosene heater, kept plants in the 50's at night (even when outside temperatures plummeted to -50 degrees Fahrenheit). The only problems with the little makeshift structure were that it was temporary and cramped. What we really needed was an honest-to-goodness permanent (and spacious!) greenhouse. However, coming up with a design for one that would complement the rustic character of our 100 year-old log home had us stumped.

Fortune Smiles 

Then one day, after my husband had gotten back on his feet and was returning home from a vet call, he spied a huge pile of spruce logs left from the demolition of a neighbor's two story log house. The poles were long and clean and looked to be in perfect condition, so Bill asked the owner what he planned to do with the heap . . . and was told it was going to be advertised as firewood. Firewood, my eye! Those logs were a perfect match for our house. So the next day — with the help of two strong-muscled carpenter friends — we rushed right over and collected our new building supplies!

cam ziminski
6/2/2009 7:40:11 AM

you've become the inspiration for my first-time greenhouse plans!! in my search on countless sites, most of what i've seen have been your typical plain jane glass and aluminum model. considering what i created in my head, i hadn't come close to seeing a greenhouse that has the charm and interest as yours! my idea was to use some leftover fake stone, logs or a version of them and used sliding glass doors in an inviting way. the sterility of all the plans i'd seen was not looking good, and i had a more interesting, personalized picture in my vision. your greenhouse is a combination of all the things i hoped to put together. thanks for revitalizing my dream. i know you've put yours together with love.






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