Finally finally finally. After what seems like years of seeing this thing in my head as a ghostly vision of the future, the greenhouse has it’s form. I’ve been drawing pictures on paper and on Sketchup, talking about it and planning. I was just getting ready to put things in motion at the beginning of last month when I got taken out with a back injury that laid me up for almost 3 weeks. So after all this time, I can walk up on the hill and see one of our dreams in solid form. Let me tell you, it feels really good.
Whenever you see a professionally built greenhouse, understand that the builders most likely ran the poles, if they are metal, through a pipe bender set at an exact radius. this is what gives the thing it’s perfect shape. I don’t have access to one of those, so I had to figure it out on my own. For starters i needed to decide what the exact profile of the arch would be. With the Seed House measuring 14′ total width, a perfect arch with a 7′ radius would have been too small for me. I always feel like my 6’1″ in socks is just a tiny bit too tall for the world. And that many of the earlier builders were around 5’6″. I have a permanent crease in my forehead at 5’11” from all the times I’ve bashed it into low hanging beams. Leah says I build for giants, but in reality, bashing my head into things just puts me in such a rage that I’ve determined to build stuff large enough that I won’t have to either stoop to reach it or duck out of the way to move thru it. So I decided on a final 8′ arch height. What I ended up doing was setting the arch at 7′ but adding a foot on the end of each arch. This way I can stay within the overall width of the Seed House but get the head space so that we can get into the corners of the greenhouse without too much trouble. I spray painted my arch by tying a can of spray paint on a 7′ string attached to a focal point, running out my arch and then adding a perpendicular foot to the ends. The bending proved to be a bit more challenging. I kept seeing the pipe slowly bent between 2 solid posts mounted fairly close together. They couldn’t have sharp edges or they would crease the metal conduit. With all the rain we’ve been getting this year, setting the posts in the ground was not possible, not if i wanted them to stay the same distance apart with all the torque I would be applying. What I ended up doing was attaching blocks of wood to the plywood decking on my Mule and drawing the arch I wanted coming away from the blocks. Getting that perfect bend is not easy, let me tell you. But what I ended up with is pretty close. A few flat spots here and there but not anything that will compromise the overall structure. At least I think so. Once I bent the 10′ sections of conduit into the shape I wanted, I laid them on the pattern I had painted on the ground. This left a 4′ gap at the top.
The gap was simply a matter of bending more pipe to the desired arch and cutting them to length. these were attached together with EMT connectors. Remember, if you are trying this at home to turn the tightening screws towards the inside. This way they won’t puncture the plastic.
Once all the arches were bent into shape and assembled, I cut 40″ sections of 1/2″ rebar for the form pins. These will hold the bottom of the pipes where they reach the ground and prevent the bottom from flying apart. I went with 40″ because I could get 3 of them out of a 10′ piece of bar. These were then pounded just over 2′ into the ground at 4′ spacing along the north and south walls of the greenhouse. They should maybe have gone into the ground a little deeper and stuck out of the ground more than the 13.5″ I set them at, but they are where and what they are for now. Next greenhouse I build will reflect whatever lessons I learn this time.
Once the pins were all set, it was just a matter of dropping the arch forms onto the pins.
The amazing part of this process is that with placing the arches onto their pins, the begin to define the space. I can talk about a
14×23′ greenhouse with an 8′ arch height all day long, but when I had the forms in place and I could actually see the space, it was magical. I think there was actually a rainbow for the briefest of moments and a shooting star went under it when the last one was set.
At this point, I placed the 16′ lengths of 2×6″ form boards(?) along the bottoms and at the center/top of the arch, in order to hold my spacing and lock the structure together. One issue that still needs remedied is that the Seed House is currently sitting too low. It needs to come out of the ground about a foot. There are a number of issues attached to this which I’ll talk about once I figure out how to do it, but what that means for now is that the western arch form is crammed under the roof of the Seed House and squashed just a little bit. One thing at a time.
Leah spent the last week hauling compost up from the garden and laying out the beds for planting. She told me that she was planning on having only 2 beds. One on the north wall and another along the south, but once she started spreading the compost out, she rapidly discovered that the beds (at around 6′ deep), were just too big to reach the outer edges. Instead she went with three beds, 2 narrow ones along the walls and a large central one. This weekend, we celebrated Birthday Month. At least 5 or 6 (if you count the dog) members of my family have Birthdays between the first week of June and the first week of July, so we had a regular old party here at the farm. While I was off saving the city doing a 24 hour shift at the Fire Station, they took time to help plant a bunch of tomatoes, peppers and cabbages that we got from a friend’s greenhouse down the road who sells starts at the Farmers Market. Mind you that many of the tomato and pepper “starts” have fruit hanging off of them and they are over a foot tall. But as it stands, the greenhouse is planted and going.
What remains is building the end walls and setting the doors in them, setting the plastic and the hardware that will hold it in place, and potentially setting up a water catchment system incorporated in the side vents. All of that is in the category of THINGS TO DO NOT TODAY.