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Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Building a Cheap Greenhouse

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI can’t believe I haven’t written about our greenhouse. We’ve been using it for at least a year and a half now, and I’ve been oddly silent about it. I guess it’s probably because it’s not 100 percent complete. We have one small area that still needs a permanent covering, the windows need new glazing, and it is in desperate need of new paint. But it’s still functional and gets a lot of use. And it only cost us about $300.

greenhouse1

That might sound like a lot of money until you consider that this greenhouse is 8 by 12 feet and uses glass glazing. Buying a glass greenhouse that size will generally run you around $5,000.

Why a glass greenhouse? Why not just make a hoop house to save money? Hoop houses are great, don’t get me wrong, but they just don’t stand the test of time. While they are cheaper to make upfront, there are some concerns you have to take into consideration. The material usually used for hoop houses is plastic sheeting, which doesn’t last more than a few years, even if it is UV-resistant greenhouse plastic film. I’d prefer not to have to add more plastic to the landfill or spend the money replacing it. Also, you have to give special consideration to the hoop structure. PVC pipe will degrade the plastic through chemical reaction faster than it normally would degrade (and most isn’t UV resistant), so you either have to wrap the pipe or use another material, like galvanized pipe, which increases the cost. Plus, we have a very windy site for most of the year, and plastic sheeting just wouldn’t hold up.

Polycarbonate greenhouses also degrade from UV but last substantially longer than poly film. Polycarbonate is a plastic, and even though it may hold up for 10 to 20 years when properly treated with UV stabilizers, it will discolor and become more opaque after time. It also becomes brittle. Double-walled polycarbonate adds the benefit of being more insulating than both glass and film. It can be quite pricey, though. Not as expensive as buying glass specifically for a greenhouse, but if you can do glass, which is superior to both film and polycarbonate, for less than either, why wouldn’t you?

windows

It’s all about the windows. It is amazing how many people are trying to offload free windows. Craigslist is where we scored the majority of ours. We also scored a free door, which was half-window, from my best friend, who had just bought a house and wanted to replace her front door. We stockpiled old windows until we had what we felt was enough to begin building. Before starting, we laid out the panes on the ground so we could get the right configuration to fit the walls of the greenhouse. Do this carefully. We had a few casualties but fortunately had enough windows to make up the difference. We also made sure that we had some windows with frames so we could open them as needed when it got hot in the summer.

leveling

Next, we had to figure out where to site the greenhouse. We had a space on the north edge of our property that wasn’t shaded, and it wouldn’t shade out anything. We made the long 12-foot wall south facing to maximize sun exposure. We also decided that, since the north wall is facing a fence, we could just use plywood for it. We framed up the structure with new lumber, which is where a good portion of the money we spent went. The most costly part of this job, however, was the roofing material. We used some of the extra pavers we had on hand to level the structure, since our ground slopes. It was also imperative that we add extra bracing, as the weight of the windows can be quite substantial.

windows going in

The biggest score from our window search were these two 6-foot-long windows that someone had purchased and never bothered using. They easily spanned the whole lower half of our south-facing wall. It was a tight fit, but we got them in. From our next-door neighbor, we also got narrower windows that flank the door (seen in the first photo).

Greenhouse

Once we got most of the windows in on the south-facing wall, we started framing the door and getting the roof joists up. Sexy, ain’t it? We decided to do a simple sloped roof rather than a gable so that the south side would get even more sun exposure, especially in the winter, when the sun angle is lower and when we need the greenhouse the most. One note: A door that comes with a jamb will make framing much easier.

greenhouse2

Once the door was in, we were able to finish up adding windows and roofing. For that, we used clear corrugated plastic sheeting. It’s not a particularly pretty greenhouse and it does need a coat of paint, but it’s definitely functional.

greenhouse

Of course, you also have to think about the interior. Where are you going to put plants? And what about the floor? We scored some pea gravel off of Freecycle, enough to put down a nice 3-inch layer. We put down weed cloth first, though, so we won’t be fighting the never-ending onslaught of bindweed and Bermuda grass inside. Tom build a fantastic 8-foot-long potting bench out of scrap wood, and we bought some heavy duty utility baker’s racks for the plants. We’ll probably switch the locations of these, putting the potting bench on the east-facing wall and the racks on the south-facing wall, so we can add another rack. We’re also using an old compost bin (our chickens do all of our composting now) as soil storage.

Have you built your own cheap greenhouse out of scavenged materials? Do you have photos or tips to share? Post them below!

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

ALL PHOTOS: RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: Homemade Stock (Virtually Free!)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENGood food is expensive. If you grow it and/or raise it yourself, you know how much hard work it takes to put food on your table. A little part of me dies inside when I toss out bits and pieces of unusable food, even if it is going into the compost or out to the chickens. But I’ve learned that I no longer have to waste anything. I can make stock from all the leftovers. I love homemade stock, but again, I’m not a fan of using perfectly good food—and a lot of it—to make a big batch of stock. My homemade stock is the perfect meeting of the two: no waste of food leftovers and no need to use the good parts.

stock

The parts that you wouldn’t eat anyways get used to make more food, meaning stock is virtually free to make. Onion and garlic skins and trimmings, the outer leaves and cores of cabbage, carrot ends and leafy ends of celery, winter squash skin, corn cobs, pepper tops and cores, and the woody stems from herbs like rosemary and thyme are just some of the vegetative parts you can add. We also like to throw in carcasses and bones from roasted chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. Old stewing hens can go in whole; pull the meat off after cooking and use it for later meals. You can just do vegetables if you want, or you can add other types of meat and bone, such as beef or pork. You can even mix the types of animals you use, if you want.

Scraps

There are some things, however, you don’t want to add to your stock. Avoid really starchy foods like potatoes and sweet potatoes. Don’t use toxic or fatty vegetable parts either, like avocado skins and pits or tomato tops (tomato skins and cores are OK).

As you cook various meals, collect all the trimmings and put them in a bag and freeze them. This allows you to collect a large amount of scraps to make a big batch of stock. You can also do smaller amounts and make just enough stock for a pot of soup, but since time is at a premium for some us, it works better to do big batches and then pressure can the stock for later use. You can also freeze the stock if you have plenty of freezer space, which unfortunately is also at a premium for us. One-gallon freezer bags work great for this. You can use some types of Mason jars to freeze the stock, as well, but it takes longer to defrost those. With gallon freezer bags, all you need to do is heat the outside enough so that it slips out of the bag into a large pot. The other benefit of freezing the stock rather than pressure canning is that you can skip the step of refrigerating it so you can skim the fat off. Just cool it down first before putting it into containers. (You don’t want to melt the bag or stress the glass more than necessary.)

water

Once you have enough scraps, put them in a large stock pot and add just enough water so that the scraps are nearly covered. We use a big 7-gallon stock pot, so we wait until we have a LOT of scraps. You can choose to add salt now, later, or not at all. I like to wait until it’s almost done so I can taste it. The amount of salt will depend on your personal preference and how much stock you make at once. It isn’t necessary, though, if you are concerned about your salt intake.

A good stock is going to take several hours to make. Turn the heat on high and get it up to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let it simmer on the stove for several hours, usually about eight hours. Occasionally add more water as needed. You will know it’s done when the carcasses completely fall apart and the stock has a good flavor. Taste it occasionally. When you like the flavor, it’s done. Allow it to cool and then, with some large tongs, start pulling out the larger pieces of scraps to discard. If there’s meat you can pick, you can start pulling it off and putting it in another bowl. Once all of the large scraps are out, line a colander with cheese cloth and strain the remaining broth to get out the small bits and pieces you couldn’t remove with the tongs.

Once strained it, you can freeze or pressure can it. If you pressure can, put the stock in the fridge for at least 24 hours. You want the fats in it to solidify so you can skim them off. You can skip this step if you are only doing vegetable stock.

Since I’ve started making my own stock, I’ve found that I no longer have to buy it because the scraps we produce are enough to make stock regularly. Bonus is that it’s healthier because there isn’t any MSG (or MSG by another name), and you can control the sodium.

MORE FROM HOMEGROWN:

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

 

10 Food Resolutions for 2014 (Good News: No Dieting Involved)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

 

Haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions yet? No worries. HOMEGROWN has you covered with ten ways to change the world in 2014, starting in your own backyard. Shovels ready? Let’s dig in!

1. Finally learn what all those food labels mean.

2. Plan a week’s meals ahead of time.

3. Start an educational garden for kids . . .

HOMEGROWN-10-resolutions-garden-kids

4. . . . or an edible garden for an adult in need.

5. Buy a whole pig.

6. Host a food swap.

HOMEGROWN-10-resolutions-host-food-swap

7. Build a food community.

8. Launch a food recovery program.

HOMEGROWN-10-resolutions-food-recovery-program

9. Start a CSA (even if you don’t have a farm).

10. Write a HOMEGROWN 101!

Want to start on a slightly smaller scale? Visit the HOMEGROWN 101 library for how-tos on all kinds of projects, from roasting your own coffee to growing asparagus. And keep us posted on how things go!

 

PHOTOS: (KID-FRIENDLY GARDEN) COURTESY OF CITY BLOSSOMS; (FOOD SWAP JAR) GREGORY HAN; (PREPARING SQUASH) COURTESY OF THE GREENHOUSE