How Jordan Ferney Revived the Old Greenhouse Everyone Told Her to Tear Down| domino

by decwells
How Jordan Ferney Revived the Old Greenhouse Everyone Told Her to Tear Down| domino

One of the biggest draws to buying my family’s weekend home in upstate New York in 2019 was the ramshackle greenhouse in the backyard. It fell over and half the windows were broken. But before we closed on the house, my husband was painting a logo and I got quotes on greenhouse glass – I knew it was the one.

Redoing the whole house (it was in similar shape) would be so expensive and take a lot of time, so the greenhouse and surrounding garden was this little bite-sized project that I knew I could start and finish. I ended up doing most of the work myself, just because I was impatient. Refining this structure became a coping mechanism for everything that was going on. I couldn’t control the rest of the renovation or the building permits or the fact that Roe f. Wade is overturned, but me could go outside and pull weeds. All that seemed to matter was that I had a garden for the first time.

black house exterior and vegetable garden

But I also felt paralyzed. I was very afraid of failure, so I bought a bunch of gardening books, one of which was Martha Stewart’s Gardening 101. She writes a lot about how sometimes things just don’t work. A light bulb went off: You are allowed to fail. There was suddenly this freedom to waste, you know? That’s really how I started to find success.

Expect it to be difficult

interior of greenhouse

At first everyone I talked to told me to tear down the greenhouse – the lead paint and broken glass alone was a nightmare, not to mention the mold eating its way through almost every wooden post. I thought it would cost $2,000 to renovate it and be done in a week – which was actually the time it took us to strip just the peeling part. Of course, it took six weeks in total and we found out that the structure is much more fragile than we thought. All of the workbenches needed to be rebuilt, and we gave them a fresh coat of gray paint—similar to its original color from the 1980s.

Make the garden work for you

baskets of fresh produce on a linen blanket

Some advice: Have someone install the water system right away. Because we’re not home every day—we split our time between there and our apartment in New York City—I didn’t want to worry about the squash or kale going thirsty if we skipped a weekend. But with in-ground irrigation, I can just leave it alone. The drip system releases water on a timer into the soil. Once it’s set up, you don’t do anything; the plants just grow and thrive.

Think beyond fruits and vegetables

look in through the window of glass greenhouse

I collect fragrant geraniums, which live in the greenhouse. I think I have 16 varieties; some smell like vanilla, others like cinnamon. It’s my nerdy fascination. The inside of the greenhouse is obviously a little more protected, so I also keep some tomato plants to discourage the chipmunks (more on that later).

I’ve gotten into the habit of taking the potted plants in my apartment there for a few days if they’re in an odd growth phase or looking gloomy. Whether I repot them or cut them back, I let them grow a little more on their own. And then when they’re cute again, I bring them back to town. It’s like my personal plant hospital.

Join a Facebook group

tomatoes grow

I’d say gardeners are the group most likely to give unsolicited advice on the internet, apart from parents the times I was pregnant. It’s not always bad — I’ll post and ask what a certain plant is or about ripeness indicators, and immediately there are 20 comments with so much detail. I have learned a lot from people all over the country.

The best thing this community has taught me is when you start growing tomatoes, plant them slightly sideways so their stems turn into roots underground. Then you will have a stronger root system and they are less likely to fall over without sticks.

Create your own shadow

bamboo mat covering radish

A few of the plants get very hot in summer heat waves. I was looking for some kind of shade, but everything was plastic. I finally found this rolling bamboo mat and cut it into pieces to put on sticks. I no longer have to worry about things that like partial shade, like green beans. Your growing season lasts longer because the vegetables that normally like cooler temperatures can take their time. However, in a greenhouse I recommend using a solar powered fan. This is the best way I have found to get a nice breeze without running power to the structure.

Pick your battles

woven baskets that protect plants

I swear it was me versus the groundhogs for at least three weeks. They ate everything, and it would really affect my mood. This year we installed new fences around the garden and baskets over the more vulnerable plants (such as strawberries). The weave is quite open, so sunlight still comes through. I hope this will help. But I love how open the yard looks and feels, so I didn’t want to cover every bed with wire fencing.

In theory I don’t mind sharing. If it’s part of the ecosystem, that makes me happy. However, I don’t like it when the chipmunks ruin the crops and eat right down to the roots. I’m a little more mentally prepared now that we have cameras. I don’t know what else to do but try again next year.

child holding on to honeycomb

I mean, two years ago I didn’t even have a wheelbarrow; My kids and I moved every bag of dirt by hand. This summer we grew from four beds to nine. Taking care of everything is almost second nature. During the pandemic, I got really good at seeing how the plants were doing. Now I can almost immediately notice a wilting leaf out of the corner of my eye.

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