The smell of fall always puts me in the mood to go back to school. I’m not sure exactly what I’m smelling–leaves mouldering on the ground, wood smoke, or simply air that finally has a humidity of less than 80 percent–but I notice it every year and it pulls me in toward every schoolbus I pass. I was the kid who loved school. In particular, I loved being taught how to do things. I’m the kind of person who reads directions, who asks for help, who really hates the feeling of wasted time when I don’t know how to do something properly. Sadly, these are not traits that come in handy when starting a farm…
This summer, I had grand plans of enrolling in a carpentry class at our local community college. I knew that I would be building a greenhouse and a walk-in cooler this fall, so I hoped to gird myself with knowledge and experienced teachers. But community college costs money and requires time, and we felt strapped for both such things, so my community college dream got put on hold. I enrolled instead at the Open Book Farm School of Hard Knocks and began calling my architect father for construction consultations.
This is the third year in a row that I’ve built a greenhouse. While an apprentice at Caretaker Farm, we disassembled and moved an old hoophouse to a new site on the farm, then last year, at Misty Brook, Andrew and I built a small greenhouse for my market garden. This year we’re scaling up, to a proper 30 by 48 foot structure which I hope will provide all the growing space I will need for years to come. Two practice greenhouses later, you would think that I’d be an expert by now, but you would be very, very wrong. Happily, I am becoming an expert at jerry-rigged solutions to self-generated problems. When all of the arches leaned toward the front of the house, we pulled the whole structure plumb with a ratchet strap attached to the bucket of a tractor. When we realized that our posts were just a hair too far apart, such that a piece of bracing pipe could not quite reach all the necessary posts, we sunk a new post in closer and bolted the windbrace to that. When the door didn’t quite close properly, we shaved a fraction of an inch off of the doorframe (or at least that is the plan for tomorrow…) For all of our errors, the greenhouse seems sturdy and square, ready to shelter my winter crops through the coldest, darkest days of the year.
It still seems magical to me that I will be harvesting fresh greens while snow falls and the mercury plummets, but such in the miracle of a greenhouse. Even without a heater, having the shelter of the walls and roof, row cover over the individual beds, and the daily influx of sun through the plastic are enough to keep carrots, spinach, scallions, lettuce, and other hardy crops alive. It’s the thought of those winter salads and stir-fries that keeps me motivated as I undo and redo and reread the directions for the umpteenth time.
To be fair, I am learning–learning to carry a tape measure and pencil at all times; learning how to drill through metal pipes (use a corded drill); learning how not to misplace my drill bits in the grass every time that I switch them out. I’m sure the next greenhouse will be a piece of cake.