Recovering the Greenhouse and Growing Four Seasons
GROWING FOUR SEASONS IN ZONE 5
Jamie built our 60′ x 28′ greenhouse in 2006 after being inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book, “Four-Season Harvest“. We do not heat the greenhouse, even though we’re in Planting Zone 5, but by using Eliot Coleman’s techniques we are able to grow cool weather vegetables all winter long! The trick is to plant the winter harvest crop by August 1st, giving the plants plenty of time to grow to their prime before the days get short and the weather gets cold. Once cold weather sets in you protect the plants with plastic row covers draped over hoops and secured on all sides. That’s it! Then all winter long you can pull back the plastic and pick veggies that are fully alive, green and healthy. During the winter the plants don’t continue to grow bigger; they go dormant. On a sunny, CT winter day the temperature in the greenhouse will rise to 70° and higher! Even on cloudy days it’s warm and wonderful inside. The row covers hold in moisture and as a result the plants hardly ever need to be watered. It’s such a joy to witness them happily tucked in – even during lengthy, extremely cold New England weather. The smell of damp, steamy earth greets you each time the covers are lifted, temporarily transporting you from winter into a lovely microclimate of summer.
This year Jamie planted our winter harvest crop late, but because we are having unseasonably warm, autumn weather it doesn’t really matter except for the carrots. They are not full grown yet, so we’ll leave them until the spring and enjoy an early carrot harvest. Early spring is also when Jamie will plant seedlings to be eventually transplanted into the various gardens. Having the greenhouse affords many growing options and benefits.
A SHREDDED MESS
The 6 mil plastic layers covering the greenhouse degrade over time and get cloudy, which means not as much sunlight gets through. You are supposed to recover every 4 or 5 years. It’s quite an expense, so Jamie put it off as long as possible. Last winter, when the plastic was 7+ years old and degraded beyond the tipping point, it became brittle from extreme temperatures and suddenly ripped to shreds one night during a bad wind storm. The sound of the plastic whipping in the wind was unsettling; I was afraid a piece might rip off and fly against someone’s house or block a neighbor’s chimney. But by morning when surveying the damage it was clear that thankfully no pieces went airborne.
SAVING UP FOR THE FACE LIFT
This summer Jamie saved up to buy new plastic and other supplies by selling our bumper crop of raspberries to New Morning Market as well as some veggies to neighbors. Jehovah Witnesses’ stopped by one day in early summer, and when they saw the gardens instead of preaching they asked if they could buy veggies. For the rest of the summer we were on their radar and Jehovah Witnesses’ would periodically come in carloads to walk the gardens and buy some of the bounty.
When Jamie originally built the greenhouse our daughter and son helped him pull the plastic over the frame; they were 11 and 14 years old at the time. This time the plan was for me to help Jamie with the greenhouse project. He needed a calm day without much wind and was watching the weather channel waiting for the right moment; on a Friday he told me the big day was that following Tuesday. I woke up the very next morning and found Jamie up on the big ladder attaching the plastic to one of the ends – he had measured and pulled the plastic over on his own! When I asked him, “WHY?!”, he mumbled something very unconvincing about it being a calm morning and he couldn’t resist. I think he just wanted to prove he could do it all by himself, even at the ripe age of 63! On Tuesday we did measure and pull over the second layer together. I probably made the project harder though, because I kept making him wait while I took photos to document the process