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Diggin' It

What 'no technical knowledge' really means in greenhouse construction

By / April 24, 2009

Alexandra Marks in front of her new greenhouse which, despite what the sales pitch said, did indeed require plenty of technical knowledge to assemble.

Photo courtesy Alexandra Marks

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Finally, the Saturday morning had arrived when I had my greenhouse kit, a neighbor arriving with a backhoe and a son, and the confidence that soon I would be moving my many trays of nascent seedlings from the sunny corner of the living room floor into a protected, healthy growing environment. (In their current state, one always risked a dog either lifting a leg or chasing an errant ball right heart into the lovingly nurtured flats.)

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It was past time to get my greenhouse up – technical knowledge or not. (If you may remember, the key reason I bought the Juliana Compact 6.5 was because it advertised that “no technical knowledge” was needed to assemble it.)

Now, here I was going to begin a detailed description of the arrival of the backhoe, the short conference between my neighbor Brian (who has plenty of technical knowledge – he builds foundations for a living), his son, and myself, coffee in hand over the one page of English in the manual. But why bore you?

Suffice it to say that within a matter of minutes the decision was made to bring two more people to the task – a friend of Brian’s son and my partner, Martin. Brian also made it clear – to ensure that we did the foundation just right – we needed a professional quality surveyor’s auto-level and a series of other tools beyond my ken.

And then he looked at me. “What about the floor?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” I said. “It’s going to be a dirt floor – it’s a greenhouse.”

Brian proceeded to talk about watering, the production of mud, and the impact of a frost. He then suggested I consider buying a load of gravel and enough lumber to build a separate frame around the foundation.

You may remember that when I told Martin the greenhouse cost only $1,200 and would take us only two days to put up, he laughed and assured me both would be double or triple my estimate. He had now arrived to help and was smiling knowingly as I agreed with Brian to further purchases.

Brian then left to get the gravel, lumber, and auto-level, while his son, his son’s friend, and I began trying to figure out how to put the frame together by laying the dozens of pieces of aluminum out across the yard. Martin, meanwhile, threw the ball for the dogs.

Thus began the work of building my greenhouse, which ended up lasting three full days during which many parts of the frame that had been assembled soon thereafter had be taken apart because we’d either done it backward or with the wrong piece.

The same process was followed for the installation of the polycarbonate windows, which had to be snapped into the frame only to be snapped out again because, despite our best efforts, something just wasn’t quite right.

But finally, after three days of assiduously trying to follow the pictures in the manual, an enormous amount of trial and error, and probably another $2,000 in unexpected labor and materials, I was able to move my seedlings into their safe, sunny new home (provided, that is, that one of the dogs doesn’t come bounding in looking for a ball.)

So here is my advice to anyone else wanting to buy a do-it-yourself greenhouse kit: Caution!!!! Before deciding on any kit, do far more research than I did, at sites such as Greenhouse Gardener's Companion and BackyardGardner.com are full of great tips and links to other information.

When researching which greenhouse to buy, visit different sites such as greenhousemegastore and Greenhouses.com. Although they’re commercial sites – they want to sell you a greenhouse, probably one that requires “no technical knowledge to assemble” – many also have blogs and links to other gardening sites. Also, while there read the manuals (many are online) of several products before you decide which one to purchase.

If I could do it over again, I’d also talk to the manufacturer, look for online communities of others who’ve assembled the same product, or companies that offers a simple how-to-CDs.

That said, now that my lovely, little Juliana Compact 6.5 is up and, I hope, put together properly, I can see how ingeniously it’s designed. In fact, I think I could easily build another one now in just two days, as advertised. But the reason is that now, I have technical knowledge, and plenty of it!

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of blog posts about the adventures of a new greenhouse owner. Links to the first two are in the text above. Next: Seedlings in the greenhouse: How do they grow?

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