Archive for September, 2012

Pains of glass: Trials and tribulations putting up my second-hand greenhouse.

It’s like it’s always been there

It is only now that I feel enough time has passed and I’m able to write about putting up my second hand greenhouse.  Before now it’s been too raw. Literally, my hands have only just recovered from the tiny cuts and bruises.

It was November last year that my husband spotted an ad in the local newsagents selling a 10×8 greenhouse, £50 ono, buyer dismantles and collects. I’ve always wanted a greenhouse, but the only ones we could afford at the moment were either tiny or ugly or more often, both. Second hand seemed the perfect solution.


Nearly a year later and I can happily say it has been a tremendous success and for the first time ever I have a glut of tomatoes. I’ve resorted to handing out bags of the things on the school run. Sure people think I’m a weirdo, but I’m fulfilled in the knowledge that my friends are getting at least one of their five-a-day free of air miles and chemicals, courtesy of my greenhouse.

A second hand green house was a challenge and there are some things I would definitely do differently.

Golden rule number 1: Before you start dismantling the greenhouse, take pictures.

(..of the greenhouse, obviously). You’ll need to know what bit goes where when you’re putting it back up again. Some people take detailed notes or label all the pieces, but that can take a while and I didn’t want to impinge on the seller’s hospitality for too long, plus I’d forgotten to bring paper and pens so I just whipped out my phone and took loads of snaps of every joint from every angle.  They proved invaluable two months later when I was standing in front of a pile of jumbled aluminium, wondering where to start.

Golden rule number 2: Do not have a row with the person helping you half way through the job.

This is definitely a minimum two person job. I know this because I did it on my own.

Golden rule number 3: Do not stack or carry sheets of glass more than three at a time.

This is quite a precise figure. Four will break every time. Second hand glass is inevitably more fragile than new and replacement glass was our biggest expenditure after the purchase cost. There are 78 individual panes of glass in my greenhouse, a couple were broken when we bought it and I cracked a couple when I was putting it up. Another 8 were broken just by being stacked in multiples of more than three, until we learned our lesson.

Golden rule number 4: Work out how many z and w clips you’ll need then triple it.

For the greenhouse erecting virgins among you (that sounds so wrong) a w clip is what presses the glass into place against the frame and is so called because it looks like a w. A z clip is what holds the overlapping glass panes and looks a bit like a z. When you’re taking a greenhouse apart those beggars will fly off all over the place. In fact it’s a really good idea to wear safety glasses. I thought I’d managed to find and collect most of them to reuse, so when it came to putting it up again I only bought a couple of bags which meant I had to keep sending my husband out to get more. Had I been more organised and worked out exactly how many I needed I’d have saved myself a lot of time and money as they’re much cheaper on the internet than at a DIY store, but that’s just not the kind ofperson I am.

Golden rule number 5: When deciding on your base, take what you should do, subtract what you can’t afford and add what you have the resources for. What you’ll be left with is a compromise which you live with.

There’s a good chance that when you’re buying a second hand greenhouse you won’t be able to take to base too because it will be cemented into its original location. This leaves you deciding how to secure the greenhouse at home. I was lucky because we happened to have a concrete greenhouse blocks left by the previous owners and they happened to be an almost perfect fit. There was still some bodging required, involving hitting things very hard with a hammer. I consulted my brother who does building engineer type stuff for a living. After taking a look he gave my base an encouraging thumbs up with a less encouraging philosophical aside that ‘nothing lasts foerver’. I can live with this.


Golden rule number 6: Don’t put up a greenhouse on a windy day.

..or, if you can help it a cold day or a wet day. However given that there are probably other things you want to be doing on warm dry days, at least try to get the thing up in just one day. However given that you might be doing it on your own again because your husband is looking after the kids, then at least make sure that the glazing is done in one day. There is a very sound reason for this. If it’s only half done, the breath of a passing swallow will be enough to break the glass.


Golden rule number 7: Wear gloves and get a pair of long toothed pliers.

The pliers tip was given to me by the bloke who works in our local garden centre. He looked at my poor swollen hands and diagnosed that I was in the process of putting up a greenhouse (also I was buying w clips at the time, which probably gave him a clue). He’d recently put up several for display in one day. After a few moments comparing callouses (again, sounds wrong) he suggested I do myself a favour and use pointy pliers to snap w clips into place instead of soft pink fingers. As for the gloves, it may seem obvious, but sometimes you worry that they’ll cause you to slip and drop a pane of glass. Consider this; broken glass costing a few pounds to replace – or a trip to hospital and never playing the banjo again.


In conclusion

I’ve already written way too much on this really, but if you’re thinking of DIYing yourself a second hand greenhouse then I hope this helps.  Meanwhile let some pictures of my bountiful fruits inspire you.




Hens and hormones

Goldie, Julia and Isabel

Over the summer we had a bit of a scare with one of our hens. Our grey Speckled Star Julia began to moult heavily. She stopped laying and we couldn’t entice her out of the coop, although she seemed otherwise healthy.

Was she being bullied by the other hens? Did she have some sort of parasite we couldn’t see? Was she ill or in pain?

Pretty early on in our chicken adventure we ruled out ever going to a vet on purely economic grounds. We like the chickens, but they are not pets and paying £35 (which may well just be an initial fee) for a bird which costs £15 to replace, just doesn’t add up.

So we decided that if one gets ill, they’ll be despatched. Still that doesn’t mean I’m getting the cleaver out just because a hen acts a bit funny, so I got online to discover what was wrong and if we should be digging a hole in the garden yet.

Turns out she was broody. She was ripping feathers off her belly so she could be closer to the eggs. That’s why we couldn’t get her out of the coop and why she’d stopped producing her own eggs.

Following advice, we basically left her to get over it, eventually locking up the coop during the day so that she couldn’t indulge in her obsession.

For several weeks the moody, broody chicken continued moping about the place in a slightly creepy Miss Haversham way, but eventually she did come to terms with her barren future and get on with supplying us with breakfast.

A massive relief as I’m not sure that I’m ready to deal with the consequences of our no vet policy quite yet, although the day will certainly come eventually. Then I’ll have another dilemma. Bury or eat?

Allota work

Weird panaoramic veiw of the plot.

Panoramic plot. taken while messing aound with my new camera

The problem with an a allotment is that once you let it get a bit out of hand, it’s easy to let it slip away entirely. You put it off until you have enough time to make a real impact on the rampaging weeds and overgrown grass. Of course that time never comes and as the weight of responsibility mounts with every quick harvesting trip, pretty soon you’re not even doing that anymore.

Trying to assuage the guilt, I’d written off this summer, promising that as soon as the kids go back to school I’ll throw myself into it. And now the time has come and as good as my word, I’ve spent more time on the plot in the last fortnight than the previous six months put together.

I’m even being thorough, taking bags of weeds and grass to the tip rather than leaving it to pile up in ugly ineffective compost heaps. I’ve also come to the conclusion that when it comes to turning over a bed matted with weeds, then you can either do it quickly or do it properly. At the moment, I’m going for the latter, but this could change if the weather turns.

I have now gone from desperately avoiding the allotment, to itching to be down there and getting on with it. Laid out with a bad cold means a few days absence has knocked my over-ambitious plans off schedule, but that’s a good thing as I think I was starting to get a bit obsessed.

There are other things which need doing. I have stuff to get on with in the garden at home, DIY around the house, some volunteer work I’m committed to, a course I’m taking, the occasional blog and there’s always the mundane housework which I have to do to justify my financial dependency on my working husband. Sadly you can only throw an outraged, don’t-you-oppress-me-you-misogynist-bastard scene so many times before you just have to get on with the ironing.

So things are inevitably slowing down from my initial zealous pace, but I’m getting there.