Building a small Greenhouse.

by Francesco Zezza

Whoever took a look at the side effects page of MCH should know rather well that a given kind of gardening (Cacti, Orchids, Carnivorous Plants, but not only) is interesting to me. My main aim, until two years ago, were cacti and succulents which I have kept and cultivated for many years, and even led me to the Mexican desert to shot some pictures.

The “actual” problem begun with the arrival of Leonardo (my son who – warmly welcomed - joined us on February 7th, 2003). I found myself looking many times at the kid in the cradle and then, a bit worried, to the cacti … the key points were (I will let you put them in order):

·         Cacti – many of them - can’t stand the Italian winter (the main part at least, since some Opuntia and Agavae are planted outdoors anyway).

·         Thus, many of them have to be kept indoors from the middle of October until the end of March / beginning of April (we used to keep them in the veranda close to the kitchen). With – almost - no watering at all.

·         Cacti have – in many cases long and / or sharp – spines …

·         Leonardo will have to learn to walk someday soon and this means that we have to expect the usual “balance problems” …

Then putting two and two together the end of the story was perfectly clear: the risk of keeping Leonardo wandering around in an environment “populated” by cacti was too high … a stupid loss of balance could turn in a real drama, therefore a GREENHOUSE was the one and only answer !

Up to this point the story is perfectly simple and may be even amusing. However, I had to face (at the same time) the intriguing task of learning to handle something completely new (building my first green house) and absolutely “scaring”: making a decision on size/shape, choosing the brand, where to put it, building techniques, instruments to buy to run it (I’d say a thermometer with internal/external sensor and – may be – a hygrometer), whether or not to add water and electricity facilities (I decided not but, now, with the greenhouse standing there I’m not that sure it’s been the right choice - mainly the lack of a water outlet) and many more issues… Last but not least staying on the “cheap side if the story” was, almost, a must!

What follows is the (short but as detailed as possible) story on how I built my first (and last?) greenhouse. I hope you all will enjoy. To wet your appetite, I may add that exactly the same building can cover an outdoor pond with tropical fish (now I am sure I got your attention). The only difference is that you have to dig a bit deeper...

The whole plan will be presented as follows:

·         Actual building of the greenhouse.

·         Landscaping the greenhouse (shelves, working area, and other small facilities)

·         “Populating” the greenhouse: selecting plants (mostly cacti) that will enter (either only in winter or all year long) the greenhouse.

Let the story begin …

The first step was (I am sure you are not surprised) also the hardest part of the whole project: preparing the site, which means digging the ground to put in place the concrete bottom and of course level it perfectly to allow future shelves and other supports (on which the pots were to be placed) stay absolutely horizontal. And here we go (pity me!!!):

Finally, this is how the place looked like hours and hours later (or should I say days?)

The concrete floor is, at last, in position even if it is still dirty; excess stuff has to be removed.. The tools which are to be used for this are waiting for me (see left side of the picture)!!!

I was bit curious when the actual unpacking begun; this stuff is so different from a tank and all the technical stuff I’m used to deal with …

I then, eagerly, started to check all the instruction sheets (as usually there was NO Italian text!) and the rest to try to understand what I was going to face and check that  everything was there in prime shape…

It’s been a long, sometimes boring job and in the end - regrettably - something was NOT in accordance with the diagrams(see following image)!!!

Again many hours later the square - shaped lower frame was neatly mounted (or at least I suppose so!) in its position. The area has been cleaned a bit and looks nicer  (to look at!) ….

Next step took place in the house’s basement: mounting (by means of screwdrivers, wrenches, bolts and nuts) all the side panels, the sliding door and, finally, two sides (left/right) of the roof. On the right side of roof is also an adjustable window.

In the meantime the real green-house’s “frame” was outside in the garden slowly taking its final shape.

Than the frame (quite light to carry since it is all made from aluminium) had to be moved (and bolted) onto the – previously seen – “lower frame”

Before that, parts of plastic shields (the actual green-house “walls”) had to be put in place. The bolts and nuts which keep them in place will be finally hidden by two low walls running along the left side and the back of my construction. I must confess that this is the point that I started to see the "finish line". It had been a long time since I started this project indeed.

One detail: each panel has – on one side – a small yellow dot (shown in the picture above) to show which of the two sides of Plexiglas has the UV film applied. This side needs to be on the exterior of the greenhouse to be effective. Extreme care had been taken and no panel was found to be misaligned in the end..

The work goes on and on and on. The green-house (better yet the half-finished frame) is in its place, many of its panels are already in place while the frame for the sliding (to the left) door has been placed in its final position.

The picture below shows (in detail) the window placed in one of roof’s side. This is adjustable to allow some control on the humidity level, the air temperature as well as allowing  air circulation.

at last... it is over !!!

A final glance to the whole construction ...

It’s been hard, and now it’s time for me to rest a little, but next winter both my goals will be reached:

A)     a safe house for Leonardo (naturally being always at the top of my priority list) to play in …

B)      a safe (warm/dry) shelter for my beloved cacti

This final pictures show how the green-house itself fits in the general landscape of the garden, the “cactus corner” is in sight in the background.

Next step, as mentioned in the beginning, will be deciding/choosing the actual internal furniture. It will basically consist of three shelves joined together (another DIY project of course). Each shelf will have a different size / height to host different (in size, shape, weight) cacti pots. Possible, future, additions? A small “water reservoir” to host water plants not tolerating the Italian winter and, possibly some native cold water fishes, a further tank is also in the back of my head (not likely to happen but, just in case, please DO NOT report this last point to Stefania!) even tough this will mean adding water and electricity outlets in it… but this is a completely different story and will be reviewed later on … You can see how the interior of the greenhouse looks here !

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