St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works

The Greenhouse Saga Continues...

...this time with a happy ending!

After the last greenhouse from FarmTek was such a piece of junk, the STOGROW farmers were about ready for something to go well. Like I mentioned in the last post, Nancy Hollinger put me in contact with Liz Crombie at Poly-Tex, and the rest was a breeze. We're almost glad that the mess with FarmTek happened because the situation Poly-Tex was just that much better in comparison! Not only did they give us a discount because of the St. Olaf connection, they shipped it for free and we were able to support a business just miles from the farm instead of somewhere in Iowa. The instructions were clear and uncomplicated, but we probably could have set it up without them because the GH was designed so well.

Assembling the structure only required wire cutters, a ladder, and tape measure. The steel part of the GH mainly used a system of nylon washers and wingnuts, and the plastic attached to the house using a fantastic contraption called "wiggle wire" (thank you Mr. Wiggle!) that fastens the plastic into a groove but can be removed, adjusted, and makes it easy to replace or tighten sections of plastic.

Our model is 10'x18' and about 9' high. We moved the plants from Nancy's into their new home and will move the plants from the Science Center greenhouse on Monday.

Again, I can't recommend Poly-Tex enough if you want to purchase a greenhouse kit in MN. You won't be put on hold when you have questions, you'll be able to talk to a real human being (a nice one, too!), and the structures are solid and American made.

In other news, we purchased some pepper, tomato, and eggplant transplants from Lansing Hardware store. Due to the cold night a few weeks ago, our transplant numbers for those three veggies were a bit low, and the transplants (especially the tomatoes) were looking a little weak, so we decided to boost our numbers. It was kind of an expensive business move, but we figured that once harvest time comes around, a $1.29 tomato transplant will pay for itself, more than a non-existent plant would anyway.

Farming during finals proved to be somewhat challenging - Dan and I both had huge papers and projects that we couldn't ignore for the more important work of gardening. : ) However, this abnormally rainy weather gave us a reprieve since there wasn't much we could do during thunderstorms. Next year, however, we'll have to think of a different plan - if it's sunny during finals next year, we won't want to get behind. Maybe our profs will just let us hand everything in after the summer... They'll go for it, right? : )

Plans for the upcoming weeks - Tilling up both plots, direct seeding lettuce mix/carrots/beets/spinach/beans, building some work tables for outside of the greenhouse, getting the transplants in the ground, and establishing a more permanent place for our tools. Also, we're going to have an admin day pretty soon to figure out the more picky paper work, i.e. paying our employee, paying ourselves, how Bon Appetit will pay our account, working schedules, volunteer work days, Farmer's Market stuff.

BIG THANKS TO: Chris Mueller and Curtis Frank for building the GH with us, rain and all.

Speed bumps

The STOGROW farmers have been getting good at jumping through hoops in the past few weeks. Everything had been smooth sailing up until about a week ago. It all started with our greenhouse...

We ordered a 9'x13' greenhouse from a company in Iowa who shall remain nameless (coughcoughFARMTEKcough). When the semi arrived with our precious cargo, it became obvious that the truck driver was late, distracted, and clearly not very concerned with the contents of our boxes. Perhaps he had confused our greenhouse and solar openers with elephant chairs, because that's more or less what they looked like they had been used for. Upon initial examination, everything (miraculously) appeared to be intact. We signed the release and he zoomed off.

A few minutes later, however, we realized that FarmTek had neglected to include instructions with our greenhouse. Perhaps they were trying to flatter us by assuming we were expert builders and had fine-tuned, greenhouse ESP, but Dan and I were less than happy. We called them, they said they would email me the instructions in PDF format. Problem solved.... or not.

Tried to open the attachment. Didn't work. FarmTek sent it again. Didn't work. I finally convinced them to just send the damn thing the old fashioned way. Props to them for trying to save paper, but come on guys... Lesson #1- Sometimes instructions are just better ON PAPER.

To their credit, they did rush ship it and I received the instructions the next day. All was right with the world!! We sent out an email announcing a greenhouse building extravaganza, got some volunteers (thank you Amy, Whitney, Berit, and Britta!) and were all ready on Thursday morning to get this sucker built.

After clearing off the cement slab that was already at the STOGROW site, we quickly learned Lesson #2 - When ordering a kit, always check to make sure all the parts were indeed included in the package. We had started right in with the instructions without checking until all of a sudden we couldn't find the right screws anywhere. Or the washers. Or the right nuts. Oh and look here, half of the plastic pieces are warped and a few of the D-panels are damaged! FarmTek wasn't necessarily doing the best job up until now, but after we realized entire bags of parts were missing and the parts that did arrived were damaged, we were... shall we say... "dissatisfied" with their performance.

After a polite but stern phone call to the FarmTek representative (with whom I was now on a first name basis) the parts were supposedly in the mail. The rep said he'd email me when they were sent. So we waited.... and waited.... and waited. No email. By this point we were getting upset because the Biology Department's greenhouse was completely maxed out. All of the allotted STOGROW space on the tables were filled, some of the space not allotted to STOGROW was filled (sorry Professor Giannini!), the floors were covered, and there were some trays stacked on top of one another. It was getting to be crunch time!

Dan and I decided to just scrap the whole thing and send it back. Except now they are trying to get us to pay for the shipping and handling. They send us a rather chintzy, very expensive greenhouse, damage it on the way, neglect to send us the instructions AND parts, and then want us to pay to send it back? No thank you. Lesson #3- Ask around for advice when it comes to greenhouse shopping. Find a model you like and THEN purchase it.

We'll keep you posted on the greenhouse saga....

Meanwhile, my truly wonderful boss in the History Department, Nancy Hollinger, mentioned that she had a greenhouse and graciously volunteered it for STOGROW use. After filling it with our more established transplants on April 29th, Dan and I could sleep a little better knowing that at least none of our poor transplants were on the cold, dark floor of the greenhouse anymore. Her greenhouse is the solidly constructed "Home Gardener" model, which can be viewed at
(Nancy has the 10'x6', not the 10'x12'.)

Once again, the horizon looked clear!! Actually, we must have been looking in the wrong direction because a cold front was moving in on the horizon in the other direction. When I woke up this morning, it was a chilly 34 degrees F. I didn't even think about the transplants, but Dan did. When he went to go check on them this afternoon, he discovered that about 30% of them had frozen and perished. When he told me I felt their had been a death in the family. And I guess there had been, in a sense. The STOGROW community of volunteers had put hours into those flats of transplants, and now many of our wee peppers, tomatoes, and cukes were mushy, pale-green echoes of plants. Before I get too sentimental about our dearly departed, I should reassure you all that we do indeed have a plan - we'll just have to purchase solanaceous transplants and perhaps rely more on brassicas and direct seeded crops like carrots, salad mix, and spinach. Lesson #4 - Transplants make for poor popsicles. Make sure warmth and sunlight are guaranteed.

Dan and I are both grateful that not everything was lost and are more or less succeeding in keeping our spirits high despite the numerous speed bumps. This is what farming is - making mistakes, turning them into learning opportunities, and trying like hell not to have the same "opportunity" twice!!