Fifteen-Year-Old Starts from Scratch!

-Submitted by Dr. Nate:

Greenhouse built by a 15-year-old“In August of 1999, I built a small greenhouse on the edge of my parents yard. At the time I was 15 years old. Now I am 17, and the greenhouse has grown with me, along with a lot of help. I owe much thanks to my neighbors who helped me along the way – they gave me construction materials, heating materials, and anything else I needed that they had to give away. I also owe a thanks to Shane- for his book and for his help.

I live in a small town in northern Illinois where the weather is sometimes unpredictable. We enjoy a regular outdoor growing season, but I wanted a greenhouse because of my passion for tropical plants and fresh fruit. The original structure was started with old single pane storm windows and was about 5 feet square. A 6 foot square addition was added in fall. That winter, heating was unsuccessful and I put plants in the house. In spring I met Shane and he told me of the wonders of solar heat. I created another addition to accompany the water and increase southern glazing. I also added a second layer of glazing and improved weather stripping.

That summer, my world of tropicals opened up and soon I found I needed to increase vertical room for my bananas. The new addition used some fiberglass panels for glazing. The summer was warm but successful. That winter, a means of secondary heat became available, so I installed an old potbelly stove. In December, I was forced to construct a 3ft by 3ft section on the northeast corner when temperatures were below freezing. The next 2 days, we received a blizzard, and a day after, the coldest temperature of the season. All winter, only 1 plant, a geranium, died from cold. In spring I re-roofed my east side and enclosed my chimney, thus ending my major construction. (A small airlock is located on the west side as well.) The final building dimensions are about 8.5ft by 11ft by 10ft high.

I also have approximately 300 gallons of stored water. Among my favorite plants are my strawberry and pineapple guavas, a lemon, a lime, an orange, a grapefruit, a bougainvillea, a sea onion, a purple heart, and of course, my bananas. There are also many others, including herbs, and some ornamental flowering plants. My heat is provided primarily by solar, and assisted by wood burning. I am attempting to create all of my own electricity using a photovoltaic and wind combination. For cooling, I am also going to attempt to use a small fogging unit, and an exhaust fan.

Space is at a premium and something always seems to pop up, but it is always a fun challenge. I hope everyone enjoys my long but hopefully interesting story, and I wish everyone success and a sweet reward.”

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