Greenhouse Dream Realized (Part 2)

Is there something that you’ve always wanted, or wanted to do, and haven’t yet acquired or accomplished it? What is that one thing you’ve always wanted but have never, yet, bought or built, or done?

I’ve always wanted a greenhouse. A proper greenhouse. Last year I built a glass greenhouse out of used patio doors and storm windows and it was very inexpensive and it’s awesome! It’s also pretty narrow so I needed/wanted more room.

I had been given a sheet of plastic by my friend Ian from his old greenhouse and last year I built a makeshift frame to keep it off my plants. I covered up my plants at night and rolled the cover back up during the day. It was a brilliant idea and a stupid idea. (I wrote about it here.) I think I got cheap and didn’t want to invest in the PVC pipe for the greenhouse design I was thinking about. I was a little skeptical that it would work out as well as the images in the magazine suggested that it would.

I had a design in mind from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service here;

Mother Earth News also has many wonderful greenhouse plans that have inspired my dream of building one.

I was going to be building it in our old barn foundation, so it’s actually a very large raised bed on a concrete floor. This prevented me from driving stakes down into the ground to anchor it for winds. So I dug a trench down to the floor and put one of the 2×4’s I used last year on my ill-fated design, then attached it to an upper 2 x4 at soil level. Then I put some big rocks on the lower 2×4 and back filled. A normal person would just work with the soil he had, but I, of course, had to head off the to woods and back fill with more topsoil to build up the level of the garden.

new greenhouse

So that took a while. Then Michelle and I put the PVC skeleton frame together and I anchored it to the 2×4 frame with plastic electric conduit fasteners. I managed to find a box of them at the “Habitat for Humanity” reused building supply depot in Kingston a while ago. What a find!

Then we pulled the plastic over the frame. I fastened it at the base and Michelle wrapped the ends. I got her to do the ends and the door because I have always been “gift-wrapping challenged” and really, this was just a big gift-wrap job at the ends.


And there it was! We have a greenhouse! “Don’t look now, but guess who hit the big time!” I can cancel my hike up Kilimanjaro and that new convertible sports car because I’ve realized my dream!  I’VE GOT A GREENHOUSE!

Last year Michelle and I noticed that everything we planted in the greenhouse did exceptionally well and grew much faster than stuff we had to plant later in the regular garden. Last year I had about 8 rows across this bed, but Michelle insisted that I cut back because everything was way too close together last year. So I planted one row outside the greenhouse, and only planted 5 rows of tomatoes and peppers inside. This is hard for me. After 35 years of gardening I am still unable to project how big plants will be in August, so I still plant them way too close together. There seems to be an inordinate amount of waste space in there right now, so I’m probably on track for proper spacing by season end.


I planted much earlier inside the greenhouse than I did outside. I placed two large black rain barrels full of water to absorb heat during the day and hopefully radiate it back during the evening. I planted some tomatoes that Michelle had started in the house this winter. They seemed pretty root bound and like they’d come to the end of their ability to thrive in the cell pack and potting soil. Frankly, I was hesitant to even plant them because they had a purple tinge to them. Within in a few days they were completely green and now they are just taking off! They are big and healthy and totally awesome! Tell me again why I waited so long for a greenhouse?


One day a few weeks ago it was quite chilly and while I was working the garden it started to rain. I love rain, and am happy to work through it as long as there isn’t any lightning around. But this was one of those days when I could tell if that I got soaked I would get chilled and so I wouldn’t last long outside. So I headed to the greenhouse. I hadn’t planted anything yet and the soil needed turning over since I’d dumped wheelbarrows full of soil from the woods and some weeds had started. So I spent about 30 minutes in there and it was very “Zen-like.” I know I use that term too often but I can’t think of any other way to describe the feeling.  It just seemed right. Rain was falling on the greenhouse but inside I was warm and dry. And I was able to stand upright and had lots of room to move around. It was really awesome.

I think one of the other reasons that Michelle and I have been hesitant to invest a lot of money in a greenhouse is that in our climate, unless we added a source of heat to the greenhouse, we will really just be using it as a season extender. And frankly last year we were pretty exhausted and happy to wind the CSA down in October to recover from the drought. We’d love to have a heated greenhouse to use for starting plants and we may be getting close as the number of members in our CSA continues to grow. We certainly love spending time in this one. I think I’m just about ready to pull the trigger on a large, steel greenhouse, closer to the house and with more room to grow. We approach any investment like this cautiously. We want to make sure it’s a practical choice. Lots of people seem to move to the country, but a tractor, buy a horse, put up a $3,000 greenhouse, and eventually just use it for storage. We will have no problem filling it up with vegetables using every square inch of it for as many months of the year as possible. They are a divine place to spend time.

A Note from Michelle – Recently we shared one milestone, our 30th wedding anniversary on June 4, 2013. Today we celebrate another milestone – it’s been 15 years since we signed the paperwork and became the proud owners of a century-old farmhouse and 150 acres of bush and forest and ponds that we now call “Sunflower Farm.”

6 Responses to “Greenhouse Dream Realized (Part 2)”

  • JimC:

    Congratulations for you both Cam & Michelle. We just celebrated 40 a couple of months ago.
    Also great that you can see the benefits of a hothouse. I have lived in a temperate area in Australia for 40 years now, an area which isn’t quite as cold as you but nearly every year we will see the snow on the hills just kilometres away. Our big killer is frosts, often down to -6-9C. In that time I have had 3 moves and each time I have erected a hothouse of some sort. Each time it gets better. It will certainly extend the season and sometimes carry right through to the next. Currently I have 8-9 year old capsicums and 2 year old tomatoes. Their production might appear to be down compared to the vigour of freshly planted seedlings but when compared to full season over the extended time I am sure their production is on par.
    Your “zen-like” comment sounds to me more like a little sauna, even in the middle of winter. I enjoy my hothouse in the middle of winter when compared to cold windy weather outside.
    Have a look at my garden here

  • John:

    Hey Cam … 30 years just means that Michelle did an excellent training job. Trust me, Suzie has done the same with me. Congrats on the greenhouse, this I know will be put to real good use. At Lee Valley tools the other day and was pleased to see they carry your All you can eat gardening book. All the best to Michelle and yourself. Happy growing.

  • Neil B. (Orleans):

    Happy 30th anniversary Cam and Michelle! Congrats on your 15 years at Sunflower Farm!

    I just read Mike Day’s post on the SunnyJohn website. Very interesting.
    A friend of mine will be building a greenhouse with this type of heating system. He is setting up his greenhouse as an aquaponics system. He is planning to build the north wall of his greenhouse with straw bales.

  • Ken and Madeline Snider:

    Congratulations on your anniversary. We will celebrate our 68th one this Aug. We don’t have a greenhouse though!!Good for you. Hope we can get back later in the season to see it!!

  • Mike Day:

    Hey Cam,

    Congrats on the 30 and 15 year milestones!

    We are in the process of developing a three season greenhouse. We are using a passive solar design and while we have available a recycled gas heater our expectation is that with the possible exception of those anomaly -20 degree nights we expect to manage with no supplemental heat from the beginning April to the end of Oct.

    We are using a SHCS (subterranean heating and cooling system) also known as a climate battery. Here’s a web link that explains the principles behind the concept

    While we did buy a tractor, had a horse, and built a greenhouse for storage space (35 years ago..)we’re hoping not to repeat that experience.

    Mike Day
    Rocky Mtn. House

  • Congrats on both your anniversaries! As they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun!”

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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