The Greenhouse Dream Fulfilled

| 5/17/2012 9:18:35 AM

Tags: gardening, greenhouse, re using old windows, Cam Mather,

As soon as I discovered the old barn foundation on our property 14 years ago, I fantasized about turning it into a garden. At the time the foundation was in the middle of a forest. And it had a small forest growing inside of it.

Over the years I took down the large trees around it and used them for firewood. Then I had to tackle the inside. The door openings were too narrow to allow any power equipment in, so I just hacked everything out with shovels and axes. It was a jungle of sumac and other small trees, vines and every other kind of stubborn, deep-rooted native plant. Even though it had a concrete floor, the plants had found many places to get their roots through that concrete, and they weren’t going to go quietly into the night. It’s the kind of activity that has allowed me to eat excessive amounts of Black Forest cake, guilt-free.

As I cleaned it up I scraped up the soil and made several small raised beds. Our heat loving plants do really well planted in the barn foundation since the thermal mass of the concrete absorbs the heat of the sun during the day and then radiates heat at night, especially early in the season when we still have cold nights.

But ultimately I wanted to use part of the barn foundation for a greenhouse. The logical spot was against the north wall, which gets the most sun. The problem was that this wall has 3 window openings where the heat would have escaped. Also, the wall was cracked and listing. Many years ago when the barn was built the concrete walls were just placed in the sandy soil and over the decades they have shifted. For years I contemplated how to block those windows off. Eventually I bought a bag of mortar and learned how to cement rocks into a window. On top of one of the windows there was a large piece of concrete that had broken free and was hanging precariously, held up by the wooden frame. Eventually I borrowed Ken’s tractor and used it to move the slab into a reasonable position and mortared in more rocks.


So after 14 years of dreaming and scrounging any old storm window or patio door that I could beg, borrow or steal from the dump, this was the year. My friend Hans provided me with some glass that he had removed from a house. When he delivered the glass and I shared my greenhouse plans with him, he said “Cam, do me one favor, take some time and draw this out.” Hans doesn’t know how I work. Hans is a talented architect with a fancy drafting table. I use the “hack things together” strategy to plan my projects. My neighbor Ken also frowns on this method of project planning. Alas, I am 52 and not easily taught new tricks.

10/19/2012 8:56:21 PM

Looks great! You could totally build a small rocket mass heater against the old wall and have a much longer growing season, dare I say year round

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