Master Gardener: Greenhouse growing 101
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
I live and garden in Elk River Estates — land of non-potable well water and hordes of voracious grasshoppers. By this time every year, I have had it with trying to grow anything here.
Last year my partner, tired of my late summer garden funk and baffled by my need to grow things, started building a greenhouse. Nestled into the hillside above our house with the back bed surrounded by native soil, it’s an attractive addition to our eclectic solar homestead. The foundation walls use insulated concrete forms, the above ground north wall is insulated standard wood framing and the windows were scavenged.
Roofing stumped us — poly carbonate, fiberglass, acrylic, plastic or glass? Internet research revealed pros and cons to these materials, including durability, cost, weight, light transmission and heat retention. Availability and cost turned out to be the deciding factors in favor of fiberglass.
Then color — white or clear? It turns out that while white fiberglass filters a lot of sunlight, clear fiberglass created a really hot environment. We ended up alternating white and clear, and I’m considering installing a second layer with an air space between for heat retention and insulation.
The windows at ground level are all operable and our spring/fall temperatures require manual venting morning and dusk. It can get very hot in there at the height of summer, and it needs automatic fans and vents. It’s a labor of love.
Lesson #1: A greenhouse kit or geodesic dome with built-in temperature-activated venting and double-paned panels would be far superior but not nearly as charming or low cost as our homemade structure.
The warm conditions were great for warm-season vegies: Tomatoes (note to self: one or two plants is enough), peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and squash will do well. Heat-tolerant lettuce lasted until mid-August; beans didn’t set, but beets, carrots, kale, chard and herbs are thriving. Plant broccoli early, because it turns bitter and inedible in the heat. My stepdaughter finally got her watermelon, but the space and water requirements are not worth it. One zucchini is enough. It’s now time to try a fall planting of cool- and short-season plants — 30-day lettuce, snap peas, spinach, radish and arugula. Maybe mix in strawberries for next year.
Colorado State University Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CSU Extension office at 970-879-0825 and ask to leave a message for the Master Gardeners. Thursday morning office hours and scheduled site visits are currently suspended.
Lesson #2: No grasshoppers equals no pollinators; this means every variety must be self-pollinating or I get to hand pollinate, which is entertaining and time consuming. Set mouse traps early as rodents like carrots and radish tops. Enjoy.
Jackie Buratovich was raised in a central California farm family and loves making things grow in and around a solar home here in Routt County. She received her Master Gardener training in Boulder County in 2003, and acknowledges that while growing conditions here are more challenging, being back in an agricultural community is like coming home.
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