Gardening Failures

Gardening, plants

I am a newbie when it comes to growing food. I have had both success and failure gardening with native perennials but attempts to grow fruits and vegetables have mostly resulted in failure. In 2017, we owned a small house on a very shady 0.14 acres. I supposed we were doomed from the start, but we decided to experiment with growing vegetables anyway.

The south side of the house was shaded out by the neighbor’s large Pin Oak, and to the west we faced a 1480-foot mountain (Bearfort Mountain), which resulted in an early sunset. Stationing the raised beds on the east side if the house would have been more productive, but that was the front of the house where shrubs and various other plants were proudly displayed. The north side was our last resort, so we placed a few 4’x 4’ raised beds where the plants would receive a few hours of morning sun before the sun became hidden behind the house and trees.

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Before the fence. Did anyone bring a level?

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Rising stars

We started way too many seeds indoors and we had space for only 3 raised beds, so many of the seedlings had to be thinned out eventually. We put the beets, carrots, cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in the ground around Mother’s Day. The plants did grow, but they just did not get enough sunlight, which meant a very low yield for some plants like peppers and eggplant. The tomatoes developed slowly, and many remained green into the fall. We pulled them off before the frost killed them in hopes that they would ripen on a windowsill, but they weren’t that far along.

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Mildewy Squash. A trellis would have helped.

We harvested tiny carrots and beets, which did not develop well either due to due lack of sunlight (and probably insufficient soil depth). Some plants shaded out other plants due to the arrangement of the raised beds, but we had no choice due to property boundaries. The only good news was that we did not experience and major pest issues that year. At the end of this little experiment, we confirmed that that adequate sunlight and soil depth (depending on the crop) are essential. If we continued to live on that property, I think we would have used that same space to grow shade tolerant herbs or replace the beds with more shade-loving, deer resistant native perennials.

Today, in our new location, we are armed with more space, a greenhouse, and better light conditions. It is time to give the vegetable garden another shot. Mistakes will be made, from which I hope to learn and adjust what needs adjusting. Happy gardening!

Hobby Greenhouse

Gardening, plants

We have always dreamed about having a greenhouse. Build it out of wood and PVC pipe? I’d like to, but I’m not there yet. So, as a first time go at it, I decided to get a greenhouse kit, which included aluminum, plastic parts, and polycarbonate panels for assembly. We went with the Palram Mythos 6 x 14. At this time, it sold for around $1,000. Not too big, not too small, and most importantly – “not a permanent structure”!

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After a bit of research, I learned that a sturdy wood or concrete base is highly recommended. I have seen YouTube videos where people put up that same greenhouse without a base and it seemed functional. Without a base, you would need to make sure to anchor the greenhouse to the ground to prevent it from moving in inclement weather. Also, the ground must be perfectly level to avoid assembly issues.

For my base, I used 4″x 4″ untreated cedar. Cedar is a naturally rot-resistant wood, which makes it a great choice for outdoor projects. Of course, it will rot after a few years, so I’ll need to replace the base eventually. I hear pressure treated wood is fine too because they no longer use arsenic, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

For site preparation and base construction, I used this tutorial from ACF Greenhouses for general reference and modified as needed. Before constructing the wood base, I leveled out a roughly 8’ x 16’ area using a hand-tiller (to remove the grass), hard rake, and tamper. Next, I laid down a weed barrier where I planned to put the base. I cut the cedar wood to fit a 6’ x 14’ greenhouse by making a couple of 45° angle cuts to connect pieces in the middle where needed. The corners of the base were connected using a ratchet wrench and 8” lag screws. Plenty of mistakes were made along the way!

Time to assemble the greenhouse! Warning: there is (at the time I am writing this) a typo on the front page of the Palram Mythos instruction manual where it indicates greenhouse dimensions in inches for the 6’ x 14’ model (the inches do not equal the feet specified). You can imagine the rage when I thought I had to redo the base and the relief when I realized they had made a boo-boo.

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It took about 15 hours to put up the greenhouse by myself, but I’m not very swift. If assembling by yourself, I find the hardest part is getting the long sides of the greenhouse to stay upright until the cross-bar is installed at the top to secure each side. I used a wheel-barrow and some chairs on the outside and inside of each side to hold it up until I installed the cross-bars. Generally, the greenhouse assembly for this model is pretty good, no major headaches.

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I had also purchased an anchor kit to secure the greenhouse to the ground, but I realized I did not need it, so I returned it. Instead, I secured the greenhouse to the wood base with wood screws. Shortly after, we had 45 mph winds overnight and it did not budge. I only had to re-adjust one of the roof panels that became slightly displaced.

We then got 13 inches of snow, including a 2-inch-thick layer of ice. The greenhouse held up nicely through it all. I went out to clean the snow off the roof a few times just in case, and to let light in, but the ice remained until it melted. I plan to use the greenhouse to get a head start on sowing seeds for spring and to grow cold hardy crops like kale and spinach for late fall and winter harvest!