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My Gardens

Ornamental Garden

Fruit and Vegtable Garden

A closer look in the garden.

Spring 2007 Plum blossums

My Gardens and gardening.

I have been gardening for many years with gardens in the desert (Phoenix, AZ) high altitudes (Flagstaff, AZ) and here in Wisconsin. My gardens and gardening are an important part of my life. Besides the therapeutic value that gardening provides, growing my own food allows me to choose the varieties I want to eat. I can choose varieties for better taste and nutritional value. Most choices you will find in the supermarkets are those that ship and store well and may be treated with herbicides and pesticides, or possibly contaminated with E-coli. And let's not forget the GMO crops that go unlabeled on the store shelves. If you have your own garden you get to choose what you eat and how it was grown.

I grow most of my plants from seed. That gives me the opportunity to try plants that you just can't find elsewhere. Yes, some seeds can be very difficult to germinate, but I enjoy the challenge. I don't mind the extra wait for the plants to mature because I can select from the best seedlings and have superior plants in the long run, and at a much lower cost. With trees you need to have a long term perspective on gardening. Many of the trees in the photos have been grown from seeds and are now producing fruit. Fruit trees don't usually come true from seed but that provides opportunities for having something unique in your garden. With a little breeding know how and proper selections some very high quality fruit trees can be produced by the experienced gardener. It takes some time to learn the finer points of gardening, but it's well worth the effort.

I always have to try something new or different. Each January I scour the seed catalogs and search the Internet for those things that catch my eye. I usually want many more new varieties than I possibly could grow, and after making out my wish list, pick out those that I just can't do without. Well, I probably could but choose not to. My wife understands this most of the time. She does most of the work with the flower garden and containers near the house. The fruit and vegetable garden are my responsibility. I also grow a variety of small grains in the garden to mill into flour. My greenhouse gives me the chance to grow plants that otherwise would not be possible. In it I grow: dwarf citrus, strawberry guava, many different varieties of cactus, etc... It opens up a lot of options for me. Check out the pictures and article below.

Picture of my Solar Greenhouse just after completion.

Container grown plants in the rear of the greenhouse.

Newly planted beds in the early part of Winter.

Early Spring after the first Winter season. If you compare the pictures you will see that considerable growth occured through the Winter and most all of the plants survived quite well.

Close up of the Tower of Jewels plant. It grew to over six feet tall and was covered with hundreds of blooms. The Tower of Jewels plant is a biennial more suited to California than Prairie Farm, Wisconsin.

My Solar Greenhouse
The quick answer to what a True Solar Greenhouse is.....is that it is capable of collecting all of the energy it needs from sunlight to maintain suitable temperatures for plant survival and growth. But it's not that simple. It also has to be able to store and distribute the excess heat for those days when the sun does not shine. Here in Prairie Farm, WI (zone 3) the sun has a nasty habit of not shining when it is needed the most in the late Fall and Winter.

I had wanted a greenhouse for many years but could not justify the costs of heating one through the cold months. Here that means at least October through April and probably parts of May and September also. There are plans for solar greenhouses out there on the Internet and there are several books that have been published on the subject. The designs offered would perform well in Zone 5 and up, but I doubted whether they would be sufficient for my climate. They also had limited growing space for their size. After learning what I could from available sources, I took the plunge and designed my own, keeping in mind my needs and wants and also my ability to build it. Big dreams never become reality if they are beyond your means to accomplish them.

So with plans in hand, I went about the task of assembling the materials needed for building it. Costs were about $1,200 at the local lumber yards. They would have been a lot more if I had not taken advantage of free materials from friends and neighbors. With some help setting rafters and such, the framing was up. Finishing it off took longer than expected. Particular care must be taken to ensure that there is no air infiltration from the outside or unwanted heat escape from the inside of the greenhouse. Moisture migration into the walls is a very serious problem and must not be allowed, so tape up every seam in the moisture barrier. You want to have complete control over air and heat flow in and out of the greenhouse. Green treated lumber is a must where glazing meets framework and anywhere else moisture will be encountered, and if you have any doubts, use green treated lumber exclusively in the construction.

You will notice from the pictures that my greenhouse only has glazing facing south. This is the most common practice with solar greenhouses. It is the most energy efficient way and the plants still receive plenty of sunlight. Most do not have a glazed knee-wall like mine has. In an area with a lot of snowfall, this allows for the snow to slide off the roof glazing and not block sunlight. It also allows for greater height above the planting beds and easier access to them. Not shoveling snow and maximizing the interior space were important to me. I also chose a 45 degree angle for the roof glazing, which is not the theoretically best angle for this location. You want the sun's rays to be nearly perpendicular to the glazing when the sun is at its lowest at the start of winter, to maximize heat gain. I have two things to say about that. First, the available sunshine at that time of year in this area is very limited and you get very little heat gain when the sun is not shining. Secondly, by choosing the 45 degree angle, it allowed me to use standard length lumber with almost no waste. This cut costs and allowed me to spend more in other areas which more than made up for the theoretical losses.

Now let's talk about insulation. In designing the greenhouse, oversized rafters and studs must be used to accommodate the thickness of the needed R-value of the insulation. I used R-23 in the north facing wall and roof and R-19 in the east and west facing walls. Inside I used white styrofoam sheets as a good light reflective wall covering and as added insulation, two inch thick on the north facing wall and ceiling and 1 1/2 inch thick on the walls. In, under, and outside the base of the greenhouse is a buried two inch thick layer of styrofoam to keep frost from getting into the greenhouse. The glazing is double pane on the lower rows of glass and triple pane on the upper row of glass.

Heat storage is accomplished two ways in the greenhouse. The first way is by water collection and storage. I have a 300 gallon stock tank and five 55 gallon drums in the greenhouse to store heat. Secondly, and not to be overlooked, a great deal of heat is stored in the planting beds and floor of the greenhouse. The stored heat in the planting beds is a must to keep cold spots from developing near them, and the heat stored in the floor area passively heats the greenhouse when the sun's not shining. The heat stored in the water tanks is not where it is needed. It is released into the rear of the greenhouse and rises to the peak. To rectify this I use a small fan at the peak of the greenhouse to force the heat back down, and this also eliminates cold spots.

The best location for my greenhouse was some distance from my house and not near power or water. Both of these problems were easy to correct. Water is collected from the roof of the greenhouse in more than sufficient quantities. To run the needed fan and lighting in the greenhouse, a small solar panel is used to charge a 12 volt car battery and keep things running. I also now have a micro wind generator set up next to the greenhouse for those days when the sun doesn't cooperate. The control panel was made up of parts I had laying around. It is not very pretty but does the job. The automatic vent is the wax cylinder type and requires no power to operate.

Like people, greenhouses have their own personalities, and it takes a little time to get to know them. My biggest surprise was that it functioned pretty much the way that I had planned. It takes care of itself most of the time and if I install an automatic watering system it might not need me at all. Just kidding. It has taken me through two seasons now and taught me some things along the way. My vision of it being full of plants like some tropical jungle doesn't work. It is too restrictive on the flow of sunlight in the greenhouse. The plants got plenty of sunlight but the heat storage did not. This lead to overheating of the air in the greenhouse but a drop in the overall heat stored in the greenhouse. This caused larger temperature swings inside the greenhouse and the loss of some of my tropical plants. They required a higher minimum temperature than the greenhouse maintained this season, but it looks like most of the plantings came through with minimal or no damage to them. It took me a little while to figure this out because the first season went so well. The plants were smaller then and were not a problem. More pruning and less dense planting will cure the problem.

The other interesting thing that has happened is that some of the plants in the rear of the greenhouse have switched growing seasons by going dormant or semi-dormant in the Summer and having their main growth in the Winter. I think this is an unintended result of my design. I knew that there would be less light in the rear of the greenhouse in the Summer but still plenty of light for proper plant growth. When I drew up the plans I considered the problem of possible overheating in the Summer and that also became a part of the design. It can be cooler in the rear of the greenhouse in the Summer than it is in the Winter. The combination of both these things is causing the plants to be confused. Plants going into bloom in the Fall and Winter is a very pleasant surprise and maybe I can claim I planned it that way.

*New* Pictures and content on the Appropriate Technology and Alternative Energy page of this website. Find out more about how I use Wind and Solar power to power my Greenhouse.

Update February 1, 2011. This Fall and Winter, so far, has been dominated by cloudy weather and has been a real test on the greenhouse design. It's not looking too bad in the greenhouse now but hopefully we will have some sunny days ahead. I will update this again in the Spring and let you know how things turned out.

2007 Greenhouse photos

Early Spring Cactus flowers and CinnaminVine

Miniature Roses in March

Full sized fruit on dwarf Lemom

If you have any questions or comments feel free to E-mail me at javclan-traders@chibardun.net

Our mailing address is:
Javclan Trading Company
540 11th St.
Prairie Farm, WI 54762

HomeGardens and GreenhouseEthnobotanyAppropriate Technology and Alternative EnergyJavclan Trading CompanyPermacultureAddendum