It’s been a chilly April, so I didn’t mind taking on the greenhouse while my husband digs up dozens of tree stumps outdoors. I’ve got seedling started in that sultry heat, including Baker Creek heirloom moon and stars watermelons
, cantaloupe and tomatoes.
Yesterday neighbor John said that a former owner used to grow grapes in the greenhouse – more than 10 years ago, which is the last time the greenhouse was actually used. When we bought the garden last June, it was a jungle of weeds and spider webs creeping over rusty tools
. It's only 2x2.5 meters (6.5x8ft), but pretty nicely built by someone who seemed to have known what he was doing. And I assume it was a he – I’ve heard stories about a previous owner whose mom spent the every season living in the garden house until she was 93. He built a lot of good stuff for her.
I think it’s an aluminum frame. It doesn’t rust, even where the paint has chipped off. The glass needs to be cleaned and caulked, but all the panes are in place, they’re just cracked here and there (and I found replacement windows inside). All this rests on a solid concrete foundation that goes about 2ft into the ground.
To the left of the door is an underground concrete box – maybe 4 feet deep – with a solid wood hinged top. I originally though it was a water well, because it was dark and wet at the bottom. But when I showed it to neighbor Andy, he picked up a rake, dropped it in and we heard a solid “thunk”. As it turns out, what I thought was water is just damp dead roly polies.
“It’s a ‘refrigerator’,” he told me. “They used in the old days before solar panels.” (There’s a small one under the floor in my garden house, too.) It’s so deep, I don’t know how you could really put it to use. If anyone has a clue, let me know…
Pretty much the entire greenhouse was paved with concrete tiles, which I removed, leaving just a path down the middle. Then I started digging up all the weeds: equisetum arvense (horsetail), aegopodium podagraria (bishops weed), something lush that grows in clumps of tiny annoying bulbs, and lots of tough stringy birch roots from the victims of our chain and handsaw massacre.
Thank goodness I am small and limber – sitting spread-eagle and digging between my legs has been the only real way to get the job done. I’ve been using a cheap trowel that has a sharply cut hole at the top that gives me blisters, a little hand rake I got from my dearly-departed mother-in-law that bends too easily, some clippers (to cut through the roots) that I am quickly dulling. And my iPhone on iTunes shuffle.
What with this thick black clay, I found it best to dig in with the hand rake, so I don’t cut up the equisetum rhizomes – I rake and rake and rake to excavate the longest whole rhizome, because each little piece I miss or break off will become a new horror. Then I rip up the tree roots, which loosens the soil, reveals more rhizomes and helps move me along the greenhouse rows.
All in all, I’ve spent a good 3 days at this, and have one day to go. My harvest is an industrial trash bag full of rhizomes and roots and a very sore back. Neighbors stop by to look, and some admit their envy. There aren’t many greenhouses in this part of our complex, and new ones are pricey.
My inspiration is down the road in the village of Schellingwoude – a garden that runs in a long narrow strips from the top of the dike down to the cute little church below. It’s super tidy, and towards the back is a greenhouse that, in the summer, bursts with tomatoes. That’s I want. A greenhouse on the dike to be proud of!