Monday, September 16, 2013

SweetWater's Going Green

Welcome back to SweetWater! We have been busy working away the past few weeks and have a lot to share.  Not only are we cutting hay, but we built an impressive greenhouse that will hopefully keep us growing well into the winter months.  All in all, the greenhouse is 65 feet long and 16 feet wide. So we have plenty of room to really expand our produce.  I am happy to say that we found a place that sells heirloom seeds which means that most of our plants will produce viable seeds.  Nate and I would personally prefer to avoid GMO foods like the infamous "Big M."  Most of their products are designed to only grow for one planting and the seeds are useless.  We might have a few naughty plants in there, but overall we should have a good amount of heirloom varieties growing.

When we started this project, I was thinking we would grab a few PVC pipes, some plastic, and create a basic structure to keep those critters & bugs out of the garden.  Happily, Nate felt it was worth the time away from working on the tractor to build a more permanent structure.  Now we have a greenhouse that should weather the elements and put up a good fight against the invading goats, chickens, & dogs.

Even though we had to invest about $1000 toward the materials and a week of our time to build the greenhouse, we saved ourselves thousands of dollars by doing it ourselves. Our final product would most likely cost about $6000.00 to buy and have constructed for us.  So in the end the money and the time were totally worth it.  Plus if we get a few good crops that we can cook, freeze, can, and supplement animal feed then we will have earned our money back in no time.

Nate constantly amazes me with his ideas. Even though I often scratch my head in the beginning stages of projects trying to understand his plans, he always seems to make these amazing cost effective structures that really work. Let's just look at the greenhouse to see what I am talking about.

The Construction Phase:

We already had the raised beds and Topsy Turvy Planters constructed using free pallets & A-frames we found on Craigslist.  We brought up fresh soil and sand from around the creek.  This allowed us to save money on support posts, rebar, PVC pipes, ventilation fans and greenhouse grade plastic.  Once we were done putting down the soil, Nate cut the rebar and drilled it through treated 4x4s using an electric drill contraption he made. The drill pounded the rebar into the ground; which saved Nate's arms from having to manually pound the rebar into the ground.  Besides making it easier, it also made the job go by super fast.  Meanwhile, I got to play on the chop saw, cut the PVC pipes, and glue them together in order to span the width of the greenhouse. Nate continued to frame the door, fan windows, and back wall.  I stuck the pipes on the rebar creating an arc over the greenhouse. Then I screwed the pipes to the top of the 4x4 roof beams running lengthwise.  Nate added some more soil along the inside wall so I could grow more plants on the ground and then we were on to the final stages of the greenhouse.

The Finishing Touches & Final Product:

To finish the greenhouse we had to drape the 6 mil UV protected greenhouse plastic over the arced pipes.  Of course this is when our perfectly clear skies decided we needed a few gusts of wind.  So we had to secure the sides down quickly.  We sandwiched the plastic between the 4x4 ground supports and treated 2x4s.  Nate closed off the two ends with boards which also secured the plastic on the front and back.  He designed a swinging door using our scrap pieces, installed front and back fans, and added temperature controlled vents on each end.  Finally, we realized that due to the size of the greenhouse we needed to install an attic exhaust vent in the middle of the structure.  This part was tricky, but fun.  I lifted Nate in the bucket of the Case tractor and very carefully moved him over the roof of the greenhouse.  Definitely a good way to learn how to operate the bucket controls.  One mistake and I would have destroyed some pricey greenhouse plastic.  Fortunately, the exhaust vent mission was a success.

Nate and I both added some final touches to complete the greenhouse.  He ran electrical lines through so we could run the fans and added a thermostat that automatically turns the fans on and off depending on the temperature.  Meanwhile, I got to have some fun playing with paint.  Besides painting the front and back of the greenhouse, I painted a door sign on some scrap wood and made these fun little stone vegetable markers.

Nate and I are pretty proud of the final product.  Oh and Nate is going to install a drip system from a rain water collection tank we are going to set up.  That will help save us some trips to fill up our house water tank and give me more time to weed, prune, and babysit the attention seeking critters. Silly goaties! As of now, I just finished planting seeds yesterday. I already have some seeds sprouting. I am excited because I have a bunch of vegetables and herbs I have never used before.  This means we will get to try out new recipes down the road.  Of course now we have farm fresh eggs from our chickens and therefore lots of new options for our omelets! 

Before I sign off, I have to share with you our Topsy Turvy Mania.  Our neighbor mentioned she liked using Topsy Turvies for growing her tomatoes.  Nate and I happened to find some Topsy Turvies for about $1 at Big Lots so we scooped up a bunch and gave them a try.  We have been pretty impressed so far.  Although they are marketed for mainly tomatoes, we took the majority of our last crop out of the beds and transferred them over to the Topsy Turvies.  A lot of the crops are doing better than they did in the bed!!  So as of now we are Topsy Turvy converts.  We will keep you posted on how they hold out through the next crop.

Life is always busy here on SweetWater and we are happy that you are sharing our adventures with us.  We hope to keep the farm thriving and growing as grandpa & grandma Palmer had envisioned years ago.  I know some of our friends and family have wanted to help us in our goal to develop a sustainable working farm.  I just added a donate button to the blog and website.  Of course we would welcome the donations and would use them towards maintaining and creating a sustainable farm. We also welcome suggestions and ideas.  I am always up for gardening tips and do it yourself projects.  So if your donations come in ideas, tips, and suggestions, we would love that too!

Wondering about some of our upcoming sustainable living projects? Here are just a few projects on our horizon: incorporate alternative energy sources (solar, wind, & water) to the farm, and develop innovative ways to use the hay bales (hay bale gardening & hay insulated barns/buildings). 

Well, first we have to get this hay cutting thing under our belts then we will be off on the next project. Next time I will fill you in on the hay cutting process.  I can't wait!!!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm!

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew


  1. Well done Nate and Lily! The greenhouse looks attractive, functional, and very well built! We can't wait to see it up close and step inside its atmosphere!
    David and Tresa

  2. Can we head into the greenhouse an get a tan on a winter visit? :-) Looks terrific Nate and Lily and a real blessing come harvest time on the inside. Reminds me a little bit of the Lindeman home in Ninilchik and that is a high compliment! Look forward to a visit - sooner rather tna later. Blessings, Rick

  3. IMPRESSIVE results!!! You're both bringing the life back into the farm...and, the farm is responding in kind!! Enjoy ALL the fruits of your labor!!

  4. Hi Nathan and Lily -
    What you're doing looks like very hard (but fulfilling) work - would love to see it someday! Miss you here Nathan - sorry you can't be with us for Christmas - (your mom mentioned that the animals are an issue)-you will be missed!
    Love to you -

  5. Wow ! You guys work HARD ! It all sounds very exciting and fulfilling !