Garden Update

Don't Worry, We're Still Here!

I know it's been a while since I've posted. We went on vacation, and then life got in the way. Then, my camera-phone took a little swim (and my photos went for a little swim too). I dusted off my digital camera to find that it wasn't working, either.

Nevertheless, the greenhouse is doing great. We are very impressed with its ability to hold heat, but a little worried about how cold it gets in there if the sun doesn't come out. On cloudy days, it's definitely chilly. The good news is that the plants are inside, so they shouldn't be affected by frost.

To keep the temperature level, we've gotten some large buckets of water to use as thermal mass, which should collect the heat during the day and then disperse it at night.

The biggest challenge I'm having (other than the wet phone) is now that it's dark by the time I get home from work, I can only take photos on the weekend. When I have the camera situation sorted out, I'll be back with more pics.

Thanks for keeping up with us, and hope your holiday season is an enjoyable one.

One Big Planter Box

It's Enormous!

So we've finally got our raised bed installed, thanks to a lot of sweat equity from my husband, family, and friends. It looks lovely, and since it's made of cedar, it smells great and will last forever without imparting any arsenic or BPAs into our food.

Once my current crop of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, and tomatoes is done, we'll be planting some more root vegetables, like potatoes, so we can benefit from the nice depth of the box. It's about 20 inches deep.

It's got strong brackets at each corner and 10 inch timber screws, so we don't have to worry about it blowing away in Hurricane Sandy.

In other news, I think I've almost resolved our inchworm infestation - I'm only finding one a day now. This is probably because we're officially out of cauliflower.

Also, now that it's getting colder, we're enjoying how nice and warm it is in there, and looking forward to some tasty veggies.

So, what are you up to in the garden today? 

Post your updates in the comments.

Hungry Inchworms

We're being invaded!

One of the wonderful things about having our garden inside is that the birds don't spread seeds for weeds all over it, and they don't eat our fruits and veggies.

BUT (and this is a big one), since they can't get into the greenhouse, they can't eat all the bugs off my plants either. This means we've got a bit of an inchworm infestation.

So, I've spent the last few days picking inchworms off my plants. They seemed to find my remaining cauliflower especially delicious.

At this point, it's clear we're going to have to re-plant, or we aren't going to get any cauliflower this year. I hope those nice, fat inchworms enjoyed themselves.

Our Brussels sprouts got some of the same treatment, and the little green guys even made it as far as my arugula. It seems like they don't like green beans too much, so those are safe so far. I've been taking them outside and moving them into the hedge, where they can winter over in comfort - away from all of my tasty veggies.

In other news, our tomatoes, cabbage, beets, and herbs are doing just fine - I'm checking them daily for inchworms and don't see any yet.

So, what's growing in your garden? Have you ever dealt with inchworms? How did you get rid of them?

Bunnies Break into the Greenhouse

We've Been Robbed!

There are a lot of wild bunnies living in our neighborhood, which makes it a cute, but risky, place to garden. I've tried any number of bunny-go-away remedies - they tend to just jump right over the bunny fence, and I've never been entirely comfortable spraying cayenne pepper all over my veggies because I know it hurts them.

So, in my outdoor garden, I do three things:

1) I leave a little clover in between the plants. It grows wild in our yard, adds nitrogen to the soil, and sates bunny hunger.
2) I pick tomatoes just as they start to ripen, or something (bunny, bird, or other) eats them.
3) I grow greens they don't like - like arugula.

I had given up on growing things like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower because rabbits just like them sooooo much. But now that I have a greenhouse, I should be able to grow those, right?

Well, right. Sort of.

The other day, we came home and the door the greenhouse was wide open. It's latched, but not locked. Nothing seemed to be missing so we shut it and then went to run some errands. We came back and hour or two later, and the door was ominously hanging open, again, and you can see in the photo above what the furry culprit did to our cauliflower. I'm hoping I can save it, but I might just need to plant more.

In the mean time, my husband has installed four barrel latches (two in front, two in back), so that the doors stay closed no matter what. This will also help keep the heat in, which we  need since it's getting cooler.

Here's a mug shot so we can identify the criminal if we see them again....

Setting Up (Green)housekeeping

It's time for a little interior decorating.

 We got a lot done this weekend. First, we went on a lumberyard adventure. After pricing out all of the options, we decided to do the raised beds in cedar, rather than composite lumber. We're actually happier with this choice - it's more expensive than regular pressure-treated lumber, but won't leach arsenic into our plants.

Cedar also turned out to be cheaper than composite, is all-natural and will pretty much last forever. Regular, non-pressure-treated lumber from most other wood won't work either - pine, for example, would rot and have to be replaced every year.

So, we got the lumber, rebar, and other supplies for the raised beds, and set the lumber in the greenhouse to season a bit while we go back to our regular jobs this week.

Then, it was time to move the rest of my plants into the greenhouse, as well as some other creature comforts. It was also time to move my green beans into a roomier pot. They seemed a little traumatized, but I'm hoping they'll perk up again in a few days. Our greens, cauliflower,  and Brussels sprouts seem to be enjoying the nice weather in there, and the tomato, beet, and cabbage seedlings are small, but hanging in there until I have more room for them.

We took a well-deserved break in our sunny, warm space. We're still amazed at the temperature difference between inside and outside.

Next weekend, we'll be taking a stab at getting the raised beds together. My husband will be the star of the show - this kind of building project is his specialty and he's got it all planned out.

So, what's growing with you? Please leave a note in the comments.

The Greenhouse is Complete!

We have a greenhouse!

Greenhouse door
It's done - it's built - it has at least one plant in it! It took five weekends, but it's built! We are so excited.

Roller for weather stripping The last step was putting on the doors. There are four  - two in the front and two in the back.

There was also more weather stripping to do. I can't recommend enough that you find one of these weather-stripping rollers at your local hardware store - it made installing and adjusting our weather stripping a LOT easier.

Finished greenhouseArugula in the greenhouseAfter five weekends of work, sweat, a little blood, and a lot of parts, we were finally done. We closed the doors and found an almost instantaneous increase in temperature - it's almost too hot in there for plants now, but this will be a good thing in a few weeks when it starts to get chilly out.

Then it was time to put our first plant in the greenhouse. I have some arugula that's  been waiting to go in there - of course we have plenty of room. Now that we've christened the greenhouse with the first plant, we're ready to create the raised beds.

We're planning to build two beds along the lefthand side of the structure - each about 5 feet by three feet, with a little pathway in between so we can reach the whole planting areas without stepping on our delicate plants.
Our greenhouse

We want to use composite lumber - most of the pressure-treated stuff is infused with arsenic and we don't want than in our beets and tomatoes.

If we use non-pressure treated wood, then it will rot in a couple of years and we'll have to tear down the beds and rebuild them.

So, the best choice is to spend more money up front for beds that will hold up well for years, and that won't leach arsenic into our garden.

At this point, we're looking into suppliers and pricing it out; in the mean time, we'll be gathering other furniture, plants, etc. to place in our space.

Finally, here's a bonus shot of Tito, who was supervising our work from the cool shade of the shed.

Tito in the shed

So, what's your garden up to these days? Please share in the comments.

Next time: Seedling update, moving plants from our house to the greenhouse.

On Weather Stripping

Oh weather stripping, bane of our existence.

Here's a photo of weather stripping
Necessary evil, sucking up our time. I could probably write an ode to how hard weather stripping is to install, how much it hurts the hands, and how many hours it took to position it around every panel in the greenhouse. But I won't.

I'll just say I'm glad it's done, and grateful to my husband for taking care of it for us.

We've also got the skylights fully installed, and they're designed using a hydraulic hinge with a liquid that expands when it gets warm and opens the window to vent the heat out of the greenhouse. When it cools down, the liquid contracts and the window closes.

Greenhouse with skylight and weather stripping

We're in the home stretch - it's just the doors and then it's time to work on the interior. As soon as the doors are on, we can start moving plants out there, which is timely as nights are starting to get cool.

Bengal cat
In other news, here is a photo of a bengal cat that we have at the animal shelter where I'm a volunteer. She's been adopted, but you can see animals who are available for adoption by visiting and entering your location.

What's next? An update on our plants, and hopefully some more gratuitous cat.

What's going on in your garden? Please share.

Seedling Update and September Garden Pics

The sad business of thinning.

Seedlings - beets, cabbage, tomatoes, catnip
I hate thinning out my seedlings. I feel like a plant murderess.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell which ones to take - many of my seedlings are the same size. I looked for seedlings that were straight and looked stronger than the others, even if they were similar in height. There was definitely some guesswork involved! Many of my seedlings were getting too big for my Jiffy seed starting kit and they had to be moved into bigger pots and given a bit more space.

Tito the cat plays plant-sitter to our seedlings
Seedling farm, with feline plant-sitter.
One bonus of seedling-murder was that I was then able to make myself a delicious microgreen salad. Baby beets and cabbage are really tasty. I still don't have enough carrots for thinning out, but my tomatoes, cabbage, beets, and catnip were ready to go into pots. One important thing to remember when thinning out seedlings is to simply clip them at the soil line; don't try to pull them out of the dirt. At this point, roots are very delicate and you can destroy your remaining plants that way.

Meanwhile, in our outdoor garden...

Here's what's going on:

Grasshopper resting in garden basil plant

We had a guest in the basil...

Our ancho chiles are nice and hot - they're working out great for our salsa and chili now that fall is here.

And a tomato plant we'd thought was dead thanks to our very hot summer is producing new fruit now that the weather's a little cooler.

Next time: We're going to be installing the doors and putting on the finishing touches to the structure. It's already warm and humid in there, even without doors that close. Then, I'll be able to move our seedlings out there, and start building the raised beds.

What's going on in your garden? Please share!

Greenhouse Construction Update - We Have a Structure!

Isn't she lovely? 

We have made a lot of progress this weekend. First, we finished the roof of the greenhouse, which was by far the fussiest part. There were a lot of trim pieces that were hard to attach, and the windows kept sliding around and falling out. But we got it all done eventually. It would have been a lot easier if we had a flat space to work on - maybe like a driveway or something, but we didn't - our property has a bit of a slope.

After that, we put up the wall supports and the side windows. These went in pretty quick, with few problems. After that, we rounded up the neighbors and carried the roof over to place it on top of the walls. We had some adjusting to do, but overall, this was also pretty trouble-free. We think this is going to be a pretty good greenhouse - even without the doors, we can feel a big temperature difference inside and outside.The neighbors are asking for wintertime  hothouse tomatoes already! We  hope we can provide some.

Here's a couple of pics of where we've gotten so far. The structure itself will be done once we've installed the doors. Then, it's time to build the raised beds and put in the plants.

And finally, one last photo. While all of this was going on, our feline plant-sitter was taking good care of our seedlings....

Next post: I'll be providing another seedling update, and some great shots I caught of our outdoor garden.

Seedling Update, As Promised

So I promised you a seedling update in my last post. Here's where we're at:

First, the bad news....the seeds I saved from my garden this summer, from cucumbers and arugula, don't seem to be coming up.

I need to be more careful about my seed saving technique next time - maybe I let the seeds get too dried out or something.

But now for good news...the green beans are doing famously. I already had to move them out of the seed starting kit and into bigger pots. I've staked them on sticks from the backyard since I didn't have any short stakes handy and put them in a sunny window, where they will continue to grow while we finish assembling the greenhouse and building the raised beds.

In other news, the beets, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, and catnip are all coming up.

Even though I overwatered simply everything, my Jiffy seed starting kit was able to handle the drainage issue. I'll definitely be using it again.

The next step will be to thin out the plants - we can't have more than one plant growing in one peat pellet for too much longer.

Today's helpful hint:  It can be really dangerous for your remaining plants to rip the seedlings you want to thin out right out of the dirt. It can upset everything and destroy roots you want to keep. The best thing to do is to simply cut the seedlings you don't want, right at the soil line. If there's no leaves, there's no photosynthesis, and the plant won't continue to grow.

After I've done the thinning, I'll wait for my new plants to grow a little more and then transfer them to pots until the raised beds are ready.

So, what's going on in your garden? Please let me know in the comments.

Finishing the Base, Starting the Roof

We sure got a lot done this weekend, between rainstorms, of course!


On Saturday, we secured the base to the foundation. Remember the problem we had with the bolts that wouldn't fit because the heads were too  big? We ordered some replacement bolts, and the smaller heads worked great with the special drill bit extender we found.

Helpful hint: Dip the ends of your screws in a bit of dishwashing liquid, and they'll go into the wood far more easily. The soap is slippery and will reduce the friction, helping you to keep the screws going in straight and reducing the heat generated by your drill. 

We actually needed two drill bits for this job - the one on the bottom of the photo to the left drove the screws in, and the one at the top drilled the pilot holes.

Second helpful hint: We were lucky enough to have a friend stop by while we were doing this, and he loaned us an extra drill. It saved a LOT of time not to have to switch drill bits every two minutes!

Third helpful hint: Before you drive all those screws into your foundation timbers, make sure you square everything off. We measured and re-measured every time we sunk a new set of bolts, alternating sides of the structure so things wouldn't get skewed.

Use a square to make sure the corners are straight.
About half an hour after we finished securing the base to our foundation timbers, it started pouring rain, so that meant work for Saturday was done.


Sunday's weather was glorious, so we spent most of the day assembling the roof. First, we assembled two pediments (the end parts of the roof). These were pretty fussy - a lot of parts, plus the polycarbonate window panels. We got the hang of it eventually - the second pediment was far easier than the first. After that, it was time to assemble the roof skeleton, and attach the cables that will stabilize the structure and the brackets that will hold the windows later.

Fourth helpful hint: Some of the parts fit very, very tightly, so dish soap came to our rescue again. Dipping the parts in soap and water helped them snap right in. If you don't want to use soap and water, silicone spray will also do the trick.

Here's the roof, sitting next to the base. Can't wait to get those window panels in!

What's next? 

I'll be providing a  seedling update in a few days, and we'll be putting up the wall supports and installing all the window panes next weekend, as long as the weather holds.

Seeds, Glorious Seeds

While we are waiting for the weather to improve so that we can finish assembling our greenhouse kit, I'm starting our seeds so they'll be ready to plant when we have our raised beds all put together.

So, what are we planting, seedwise? At this point, I'm going for...

- Two kinds of tomatoes (Long Keepers and Siberian Reds)
- Red and green cabbage
- Arugula
- Catnip
- Cucumbers
- Beets
- Carrots
- Green beans

We've also got some seedlings - Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and some more greens (just for insurance), and we're planning to graft and/or transplant some of the herbs, peppers, and tomatoes we have growing outside now.

I've had bad luck with seeds before, so I found a seed-starting kit at my local garden center. Basically, the kit begins with peat pellets that expand in water. Once they're nice and damp, you just add seeds to each pellet. The pellets come in a handy tray with a lid - kind of like a miniature greenhouse. The most important thing to remember, other than to avoid the temptation to overwater them, is to label what you've planted - a lot of baby plants look the same.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this works, and post updates as things start to sprout. I have a long  history of overwatering, so wish me luck!

So, what are your hints on seed starting? I know the soil needs to be kept warm. Do you all use heat mats, or find another way? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

Assembling the Base

This weekend, we were hoping to assemble most of the greenhouse kit, but rain prevented us from getting as far as we wanted to. Still, we got the base done, and that was pretty good.

Things went pretty well before it rained, thanks to some planning ahead. Last weekend, we unpacked all of the boxes (there were eight), and sorted out all of the parts. This helped a LOT - we put like with like, and wrote the part numbers on the boxes. We were also able to see if we were missing anything (we weren't). 

So many parts, so little time.
Then it was time to lay out everything we would need for this part of the project. It seems a little fussy, but it was worth it. We had all the parts we needed and didn't have to go back and dig around for more parts. So far, so good. Working together, we got all the parts together snapped it all in place, and put in some fastening pins to keep everything attached in a few hours.

But then, as often happens on these kinds of jobs, we ran into a bit of a snag. We needed to bolt the base to the foundation so our greenhouse wouldn't fall over, blow away, or shift in the wind and weather.

The heads on the lag bolts we had ordered earlier were too big - there wasn't enough space for the hex bolts and the drill bit to get the bolts into the gap allotted to them. It happens. 
We went shopping for some replacements, but our local hardware store didn't have anything big enough. So we ordered some more and packed it in for the day.

In the end, this wasn't a bad thing - it began raining and didn't stop for most of the rest of the weekend, so it was a good thing we put all our parts and tools away anyhow.

So, all told, at this point, we've completed the foundation, including leveling the ground, putting down a layer of landscape fabric, sand, and then gravel, and then we've built the base for the greenhouse and set that on top of the timbers that surround our foundation. It looks like this:

Next up: The roof, the roof, we're going to assemble the roof. In other news: seeds - will they sprout?

Please tell us what you think? Are you bored, inspired, confused?

Building the Foundation

We're getting ready to build our greenhouse, but first it needs a proper foundation.

It's important that our greenhouse doesn't blow away in the wind, or sink into the ground. We'll be building some raised beds in there too, and they'll need proper support or they'll collapse.

We're lucky enough to have a good friend who's a landscaper and he helped us to choose a site, level it, and build the foundation. We chose 6x6 pressure treated framing lumber for extra strength and stability, and it will be further strengthened with rebar (steel reinforcing bars) so it won't go anywhere.

Key takeway if you're trying this: We ordered our greenhouse as the foundation was being built, and we waited until we had the base of the greenhouse in hand to do some final measurements for placement. We didn't sink the rebar until we had measured everything again. The manufacturer of our greenhouse provided great specs, but we just wanted to make sure. Measure twice, sink the rebar once - it's good advice.

On choosing the site for the greenhouse: We chose a site near the end of our yard so we wouldn't have a greenhouse in the middle of everything. It will get winter sun, which is what we want. It will be sunny in the summer too, but not as sunny as some parts of our yard. The soil under it is well drained and good quality- though we'll be making it better with raised beds.

Up Next: Finishing the Foundation, and starting to assemble our greenhouse kit!

Welcome to Tito's Greenhouse!

So who are we, and why are we blogging?

My name is Leah. I live in Falls Church, Virginia, and I love growing vegetables in my garden.

This fall, my husband and I are putting a greenhouse in our backyard, and we’re going to share the experience with you.

This is pretty advanced gardening for us. Though we’ve had a small vegetable garden for several years now – some herbs and peppers, some tomatoes and a few cucumbers, and a bunch of greens. So, why are we jumping from a 101 level garden to some pretty serious plant-related activity?

Starting the foundation of the greenhouse
Getting started.
  • It was my birthday, and my husband said "Do you want a greenhouse?" and I said, "Yes!" It's something we've been thinking about for a while now.
  • We eat healthier when we provide some of our own food. 
  • We need to eat healthier, big time – we could be in better shape and we're not getting any younger. 
  • We’re not survivalists or doomsday preppers, but we know that food is getting more expensive, especially the healthy kind. This year’s drought also means that prices will continue to rise.
  • If we can grow great-tasting tomatoes in December, we’ll be over the moon. Plus, my dad will be really, really excited. 
  • While it’s better for the environment for us to eat organic greens grown without pesticides, it’s not so great if those greens have to travel thousands of miles to get to us. 
  • Maybe we’re just gluttons for punishment. 
  • But mostly, gardening makes us happy. It’s deeply satisfying on a spiritual and practical level to nurture living things, and in return, get something from them that nurtures us back. 

Thanks for following us on this journey. We’re planning to walk you through the building and layout of the greenhouse, plus all the growing of lovely, lovely green things. If it all works out, there will be recipes and gardening tips too.

For the curious, Tito is our cat and we named the blog (and the greenhouse) for him. We'll be growing some catnip for him in there along with some tomatoes, carrots, greens, and other goodies. 

Here's Tito, catting around.