Last year was our worst growing season in nine years on this site, the spring never really arrived, instead we had cold wet weather well in to June. Our first sowing of sweet corn, hemp and wheat all rotted in the ground and had to be re-sown for what turned out to be a poor crop anyway.
This made us take a long considered review of our system and in particular how we could mitigate this situation if it repeated again in the future. Given our changing weather patterns it seam only logical we will experience such problems with increasing regularity well in to the future. Then on a visit to a local charity warehouse “Emmaus” we discovered dozens of large rejected PVC double glazed window units, we purchased all of them on the spot and returned to collect them a few days later. We then deigned a greenhouse around these units which would extend our growing season and insulate us from the changing weather both literally and figuratively.
The greenhouse is integrated in to the outbuildings which include our volunteers bunkhouse, outside summer kitchen and tool-shed, these were previously pigsty’s. The green house runs north south with the doors facing south and the longest exposure to the west catching the evening sunshine. This is not an ideal situation but it does fill a niche at the back of the outbuildings, to help with maintaining the heat through the cold winter evenings we have installed a large raised bed and filled it with a mixture of cows bedding (cow shit and straw) and oak bark chips from the village sawmill.
This mixture is also a mix we use to heat showers for students and visitors throughout the summer season and it reaches temperatures of plus 60°C. Blow you can see within a day it has reached 21°C this rose to 29°C within a week but never higher to date. We may have to revise the mixture for next year, this will be our growing medium in the greenhouse for the year ahead and then it will be emptied each years and refilled for the winter season.
The hotbed has maintained a temperature well above freezing for the whole winter to date but it has not been fully tested as we usually get temperatures well below freezing and so far a our lowest temperature this winter has been minus -2°C. We regularly experience temperature below -9°C and our most extreme so far has been -21°C, but we have had ideal temperatures to germinate seed in the greenhouse to date.
On the 19th of February we sowed our second batch of seeds for this year and you can see our first batch at the end of the green house have produced great results and are now ready to be pricked our and potted up.
The area at the back of the greenhouse will be used for another raised bed and some potted banana palms and citrus trees to overwinter away from the freezing temperatures which would otherwise kill them.
The greenhouse measures five and half metres by two metres twenty and cost us 1100€ including the timber for the raised-bed. With our Homevour challenge and 16 people on site for courses all summer long we expect this project to yield enough produce this year alone to repay our financial investment, a few more years to repay its carbon footprint but all in all a worthwhile investment.
We will be posting more on the greenhouse as the year progresses to keep you up to date with the production we manage.
All the best, Steve.