“It’ll take twice as long, and be twice as expensive.”
This is a frequently heard adage when you reveal a dream to build any structure bigger than a chicken coop. And the last chicken coop we built proves that such adages can overestimate a builder’s skillset and underestimate their budget. Having built five structures with footprints ranging from 70 to 2070 square feet, we should’ve known better.
But we didn’t. By buying a kit for a greenhouse made by someone else, we assumed that the building process would be more like raising a tent than raising a barn. The truth lies somewhere in between. I spent days drilling over 1000 holes in wood and metal. I spent some sleep-deprived nights dreaming up solutions to seemingly intractable problems that apparently few people in the greenhouse world had pondered before. And I spent all my spare time from March to May constructing framing and preparing for the Big Day. The Big Day would be the day when we would sheathe the greenhouse in a protective skin of plastic.
I assumed that because I had spent so much money and time and brainpower to that point, all we needed was a hired hand, our family, and a calm day to slip the gigantic pieces of cling-wrap over the metal frame. We waited for the right day. We assembled the family and hired our friend Mark. We called our friend’s the DeJongs just in case, because they had shown interest in helping out.
I thought we might be done by noon. When Brian and his daughters showed up late in the morning, we were far from done. When Brian’s wife Anita showed up in the afternoon, we were far from done. But the wind was picking up, tempting our huge plastic pieces to channel their inner kite-ness. Despite my planning and our hard work, without the DeJong’s, the plastic still might not be on the greenhouse.
Everyone had a job, but only one person was paid. Friends like me sometimes cost other people money. Others like the DeJong’s are priceless.
The ancestors of our polka-dot hen, Dottie, came from the Basque region of Spain. It may seem odd that a southern chicken could feel at home as far north as Great Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula, but the two areas share some things in common. One is the almost identical seasonal light and day length: both coastal areas share the same 45-degrees-north latitude as sun-spots like Monaco, Bordeaux, and Tuscany. But in midwinter, there’s no way Dottie could mistake her current home for her ancestors’ on the coast of Spain, or for her more distant ancestors’ home in South-East Asia.
For our chicken’s winter comfort, we want to capture the daylight of southern Europe while insulating them from the frigid winds and temperatures of frozen Lake Huron. It’s not too hard to do–we housed them in our light-filled garage last winter, and plan to introduce them to shelter in a greenhouse next winter. But even poultry from South-East Asia can’t take the summer heat trapped in a greenhouse for long. Which leaves us with a nice problem to have: after evicting Dottie and her friends, what plants can we grow in an environment hotter than a balmy Bruce Peninsula summer?
If we’re going to go south, let’s go a lot further south. How about to Mexico and Peru, two countries that bracket the tropics at the equator? We could grow their peppers and tomatoes. We like fruits and veggies like those and could sell some of them to help pay for the greenhouse/barn.
But an “ordinary” greenhouse barn isn’t enough for us. We want one that we can move around, yet still anchor to the earth so it doesn’t imitate a huge, expensive kite. Many greenhouses or hoop houses are linked to the earth with spiral ground anchors or big beefy metal stakes. This is a challenge at our site: the current depth of soil over bedrock ranges from 2 to 6 inches. What to do when you are surrounded by such boundless constraints? Get creative.
An article in Forbes magazine (July 12, 2013) details how constraints drive genius. How did all-world architect Frank Gehry dream up his iconic billowing steel museum in Bilbao, the capital of Dottie’s Basque homeland? According to creativity experts including Gehry himself, it took constraints. Our greenhouse will not be a work of genius, but the amount of constraints leave a lot of room for creativity to sprout up. Stay tuned for the harvest.
There is a time in late February when a little switch in my head clicks over and I am no longer content with the cabbage slaws that have gotten me though the winter. I want greens: vibrant, lively greens, on my plate and they better be fresh.
Nothing in the local grocery can satisfy my craving. Occasionally, I try the hermetically sealed packs of salad greens and spinach from California. Green, yes. Lifeless, also yes.
Last week, the spinach that overwintered in our raised bed under cover finally was of a size that we could pick it. Also, five of last year’s red oak leaf lettuces were shooting new growth. I gingerly picked the largest leaves from both, thinning where I could. I brought the pickings into the house like the Holy Grail. A quick rinse and we had a proper salad featuring our own hard cooked eggs. It was heavenly.
There is nothing that can compare with freshly picked salad greens given a quick rinse and tossed with your favourite dressing. At some point though, I do look for another way to prepare spinach. One of my favourite ways is to lightly blanch it and toss with a sesame and soy sauce dressing. This is also a favourite of my daughter who has become my dressing chef. See the recipe here.
The spinach that survives the winter is ready to bolt as soon as the weather warms up, which could be any day now. It will be several weeks until the new spinach seedlings are of a size that we can start picking. We will enjoy this abundance while we have it.