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My frugal greenhouse / polytunnel build

 
pollinator
Posts: 96
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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The mission

Living on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia is beautiful - but it has its drawbacks. I need a greenhouse just as much to divert the rain as I do for the season extension. My first season gardening here was a disaster. Between the slugs, deer, and neverending rain - I managed to eke out a wonderous supply of tea herbs – but not much else from the garden.

To solve several of these issues that led to such a disappointing production (besides still learning the land and its ways) I set out to build a greenhouse, and apply as many permaculture principles to the thing I could.


Requirements and constraints

  • I already knew I would likely need to purchase poly for this, so it should cut out as many outside inputs as possible
  • It should be built in such a way that I can recycle, reuse or salvage as many materials as possible
  • The design can’t be too complex, because I’m just not that handy (yet)
  • It should be relatively cheap
  • It should survive the crazy winter winds (the islanders up there eat 100km/h gusts for breakfast)
  • It should be large enough to grow a significant amount of food - on all axes
  • The door and path should be wide enough to allow a wheelbarrow through
  • It should fit somewhere out of the way while optimizing sun exposure



  • Designing

    I’ve been a fan of Edible Acres’ YouTube channel for years now - and always enjoyed their experiments. One of these experiments is the cattle panel greenhouse. This design seemed to fit all the criteria I had for this project so naturally, I got to work.

    For the most part, I knew my designs would largely have the be based on the material I could acquire for this project. I needed something to form the shape and hold the poly.

    I set out clearing an area that was overgrown with salmonberry bushes, and staking out approximate sizes. There were very little earthworks required, besides clearing a few salmonberry rootballs and covering the area in a few wheel-barrow loads of sand in an attempt to improve drainage around the future greenhouse.

    It was already early spring by this time, and I had started and acquired a ton of seedlings that were ready to grow.


    Acquiring materials

    One thing I always hated about the property was that the surrounding woods had been used as a dumping site in years past. However, as they say in permaculture: the problem becomes the solution. I scrounged around and took stock of everything I had at my disposal.

    ➤ Find the full list of materials and more on the build process in the original post.

    Unexpected success

    One of my favourite aspects of this setup was the vertical space. Although the greenhouse itself is only 6’6” high, there is ample room for vining plants to grow up the sides, using the mesh as a trellis. This worked remarkably well for vining squash. It was a wonderful surprise to walk into the greenhouse and admire all my hanging spaghetti squash as they brightened towards harvest. Tomatoes were a lot easier to manage, with jute tied to the top of the arch guiding the plants along in between the squash.

    The tomatoes and spaghetti squash flourished here. Many of the other crops did not. It could be attributed to several factors (as is gardening), but both of these crops are especially well suited towards this environment. I think I’ll be doubling up on these next time!

    As an added bonus, the greenhouse seemed to prove an ideal habitat for the little green tree-frogs we’ve seen around the yard. At one point we counted over 20 of them hanging out in the greenhouse! They loved the spots between the slabs of the raised bed and the poly. Nice and point, and ready for action if any bugs should come near. Being a source of heat, it also attracted a number of bugs so it made for a perfect tree frog habitat. The frogs in the picture below lived in the cannabis plant for over a week, nestled in the leaves.



    Mistakes and what I would do differently

    My biggest mistake has nothing to do with the design of this greenhouse, but with how I put the garden beds together; I built the frames before putting the cardboard and leaf mould down - in an attempt to smother the grass and buttercup underneath. What I should have done was place the cardboard and leaves down before framing the beds, so the buttercups and grass wouldn’t have as much room to creep through the cracks.

    Another issue is water saturation. I placed the greenhouse on a flat spot, at the bottom of a slight pitch. When it rains for days on end (as it does up here) this ground get very saturated, and the water seeps through the soil into the greenhouse, creating a terribly wet environment. If I had thought about this or had the means, I might have dug 9” down and filled the area with sand or gravel to assist in the drainage of the area. For now, I may have to dig a small diversion ditch around the backside of the greenhouse.



    One of my favourite parts of permaculture and gardening is experimentation. You can gain so much more from first-hand experience, and if you have the means to improve your outputs with even less input - why not give it a try?

    If you've got any DIY greenhouse successes or failures, I'd love to see some of them!

    For a bonus picture of my "pest control" roommates, and more details of what my build process looked like, check out the original post.

     
    Posts: 101
    Location: Far Northern California Coast, Far South Pacific Northwest
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    Looks like a success!

    We had a bomb cyclone go through late last winter and destroy my old, second hand kit greenhouse completely. Our goal became similar to yours. What we had on hand, could get up quick and salvage when no longer needed. Ours looks very similar except we don't have many trees and had lots of lumber laying around. Cattle panels are something we always have. All we bought was the plastic, UV rated for five seasons. We covered the ground with black plastic...honestly not even sure why...we'll be pulling that very soon, adding some deep wood chips and utilizing the ground space. Most of what we grow in there is in pots but I'd love to experiment in the ground too.

    You mentioned slugs, that is our number one predator. In fall of 2019 I adopted three female Muscovy ducklings and they have done AMAZING at knocking back the slug population. I had zero slug loss this year. The ducks do nibble the kale, beets and some lettuces but if the plants are established it hasn't been an issue. I will gladly let them snack in trade.
     
    Simon Gooder
    pollinator
    Posts: 96
    Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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    This is great! I’d love to see a picture if you have any.

    Regarding the ducks, they are magnificent slug control, and I had a similar experience. We did let the ducks into the greenhouse when they were younger, but they quickly became snackers. That said, I’d let 2 of them in there once in a while if the plants were mature enough!

    Glad you had such a good experience, even after such a loss from the cyclone!
     
    pollinator
    Posts: 975
    Location: Southern Oregon
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    Very nice. My property came with a poly greenhouse that I have been renovating. I've added ventilation, made it ground squirrel proof and added some thermal mass. I'm quite pleased with the results which allow me to grow year round. I'm still experimenting with what grows well where. So far, the greenhouse is great for winter/spring lettuce, fennel, kohlrabi, cabbage, beets, radishes, early zucchini and cucumbers. Our summers are quite hot with sweet potatoes and okra being the only things that can handle the greenhouse. I'll see if I can come up with some pictures.
     
    gardener
    Posts: 4371
    Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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    Do you not get *any* snow? I'm on Vancouver Island and when we do, it's very heavy and wet. If that's a risk, may I suggest you make up a couple of supports that you can stick in to brace the roof and then remove when the risk is past?
    I soooo... want a green house, but in the short term I'm working on raised beds. I also use ducks for slug control, although I find my Khaki Campbell ducks are more interested than the Muscovy, particularly where the big slugs are concerned.
    Great job!
     
    Simon Gooder
    pollinator
    Posts: 96
    Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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    Stacy Witscher - Sounds like you might be in a higher zone than me, but year-round growing is wonderful. I've been able to grow the cold-weather greens without any issues in the fall/winter, and in the summer the spaghetti squash polycultures are my favourite. These greenhouses are fun!

    Jay Angler - Thanks! I'm on Haida Gwaii, and we may get a few inches for a few days, but that's it. I haven't experienced a snow on it yet, though the arch is steep, and I have no doubt it holds enough heat to keep the few inches of snow melting and sliding off. I suppose a freak snow-storm could happen, but it rarely dips below 2 or 3 here for more than a couple days.

    We had 2 Indian Runners and they were a joy to watch. They went after some scary large slugs (like 15cm long), and most of the time managed to excitedly choke them down.

     
    Posts: 11
    Location: Aurora, Colorado zone 5
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    Looks good. The only flaw I see is on the door is the cross brace should be attached to the board next to the hinges. That way it transfers the weight load to where it can handle it best.
     
    Melonie Corder
    Posts: 101
    Location: Far Northern California Coast, Far South Pacific Northwest
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    Simon Gooder wrote:This is great! I’d love to see a picture if you have any.

    Regarding the ducks, they are magnificent slug control, and I had a similar experience. We did let the ducks into the greenhouse when they were younger, but they quickly became snackers. That said, I’d let 2 of them in there once in a while if the plants were mature enough!

    Glad you had such a good experience, even after such a loss from the cyclone!




    20200116_150817.jpg
    My old greenhouse after bomb cyclone 2020
    My old greenhouse after bomb cyclone 2020
    20200308_091433.jpg
    We plan to add a fan on the back, framed for it
    We plan to add a fan on the back, framed for it
    20200308_091419.jpg
    How it looks now.
    How it looks now.
    20200222_094003.jpg
    Frame
    Frame, see how we recycled a boxframe from our boys bed.
     
    Simon Gooder
    pollinator
    Posts: 96
    Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (7b)
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    Melonie Corder - Yikes - that first one took a beating, but the new one looks fantastically professional. I will definitely keep yours in mind for goals when I build my next one. This looks really fantastic, thank you for sharing.


    Gregory Campbell - Thanks for the tip! I'm very new to carpentry, and have been mainly feeling out my designs organically, but this is a great point I will definitely keep in mind in the future, and I could see it eventually biting me in the ass.
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