November 22, 2017

Crazy About Plants, or Just Plain Crazy?

Greenhouse at Forest's Edge Garden, Hampden

Greenhouse at Forest's Edge Garden, Hampden - Photo by Nathan Fennelly

• By Nathan Fennelly •

As a greenhouse owner, I’ve lost count of the number of times someone said, “Wow, you must really love plants.”

The truth is that if people knew just how much goes into making a six-pack of pansies, it would look a lot more like insanity than love. Over the next few articles, I am going to attempt to purge myself of the insanity by sharing it with the rest of the world.

The first sign of incipient insanity is thinking, “Oh, how hard could it be to build and run a greenhouse?”

The answer is: “You have absolutely no idea.”

We had the great fortune to be friends with the owners of a local greenhouse who were in possession of an extra greenhouse that was just making more work for them in the winter. So we started the process by disassembling the greenhouse from the ground up.

Logically, you’d think it would be better to start from the top, but greenhouse construction is far from logical. The trick is to disassemble all of the supports so that you are left holding a 14-foot tall, 30-foot wide arch. Then you try not to drop it on your co-workers’ heads as you walk it down.

Good luck!

Now that you’ve got the greenhouse down, count your toes and fingers, then find a trailer to move it to its new home. Remember, the greenhouse materials will weigh some four or five thousand pounds, and you’ve now moved it twice: once to get it to ground level and again to put it on a trailer. By the time the greenhouse is offloaded, some 15 thousand pounds of metal has been moved.

Of course, now it’s lying in the future parking lot, a twisted pile of random metal pieces. It’s like an ugly game of pickup sticks meets Lincoln logs meets Jenga meets the worst 3-D puzzle ever.

And, of course, one cannot disassemble a greenhouse while the business is open, so the odds of getting it disassembled and moved, finishing the site work and erecting it again between August and October are fairly slim. So by the time there’s finally a two-and-a-half ton pile of metal bits in the parking lot, the ground is frozen and it’s snowing.

Of course, in the rush to beat the elements before they beat you, you will have gotten the site work done, spread the ground fabric for the floor, stapled it in place and put in the wooden sills with re-bar. Only at this point will the site become unworkable until spring.

With no greenhouse up, it is still imperative to get all of the plants and seeds ordered for spring, hoping in blind panic that the greenhouse will go up before the plants come in.

Finally, March will roll around. Weather will start warming up and time will start running faster than you had ever thought possible.

There is, of course, still three feet of snow sitting on your greenhouse site that has to move before work can begin. But plowing and snow-blowing are out because the sills and ground fabric are down.

“That’s okay,” you’ll think to yourself. “I can just get a propane torch and melt it out, saving my back all that toil.”

As it turns out, you can buy a propane torch, but you’ll discover that it doesn’t come close to doing anything. This leaves one option: shoveling 2,400 square feet of snow, three feet deep. To put it in perspective, that’s about 270 yards or 12 dump truck loads.

At this point, if you don’t stop to ask yourself if you really love plants enough to be doing this, you probably aren’t breathing.

Nathan Fennelly, who has an English degree from the University of Maine, owns and operates Forest’s Edge Garden LLC in Hampden with his wife, Gretchen. Gretchen has always been a plant fanatic and has a horticulture degree, also from UMaine. She has been the driving force in starting their business.