From the Ground Up, Part I
GREENHOUSE LAYOUT AND DESIGN
When we began to consider ideas for the layout of our greenhouse, we wanted to use space as efficiently as possible. Using vertical space was high on the priority list. Finding ways to store supplies and tools so that they’d be within quick reach was equally important. We also wanted to be able to relax and enjoy the indoor gardens without taking too much space away from our primary goal: growing food.
While the idea of having paths wide enough to navigate a wheelbarrow through seemed very practical, it also meant giving up prime real estate for an infrequent need. We decided on narrow pathways. We chose to use stack stones for the walls of the growing beds, because they could be easily placed to conform to the layout we wanted. They also weren’t going to need to be replaced like wood-based walls might.
It took two days for us to build the walls for the growing beds. We created a main perimeter bed and a large, somewhat butterfly-shaped bed for the center of the greenhouse. A path bisecting the center bed allowed us to reach all of the growing area so as to avoid having to stand on (and consequently compress) the soil. We built the perimeter wall a bit higher than the center island, which created a more open feel yet with no loss of growing capability; it also required less soil.
We filled the beds with a dump truck load of soil using family teamwork and a bucket brigade system. It took time, but less than anticipated. Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure that being able to use a wheelbarrow would have made it go faster. The bucket system allowed us to quickly dump the soil right where we wanted it to go. Using the bucket system was more conducive to a “many hands make light work” approach as well.
Several gentle watering sessions were required to thoroughly and evenly moisten the soil. The fun part—planting—was the prize at the end of the garden bed building phase.
Stone walls require a bigger footprint, but we’ve been very happy with the trade-off. The eight-inch walls have become essential shelving for trays of starts and potted plants. They act as heat sinks in the winter and help with evaporative cooling in the summer. They provide extra seating when visitors arrive and give the careful gardener a handy stepstool for tying up tomatoes. One critical use for the walls that we hadn’t anticipated is for curing our winter squash crop after harvest. (The greenhouse provides the perfect warm, humid environment that squash need for one to two weeks after harvest.)
A judicious use of space and stone walls in the greenhouse have helped us create an optimal growing footprint as well as a multifunctional work surface. Many vegetables later, we’re happy with the design.
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