My Story as Told by a Greenhouse
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
–John Lennon, Imagine
Long before we were talking about green houses, we were making use of solar power to warm up our greenhouses. My father built a small cold frame on the south side of our house so my mother could get her seeds started early. The growing season in western Nebraska, before global warming, was 3½ months at best. I have often wondered where we would be today in energy use if we had incorporated solar power into our home construction way back in 1931. The basic technology was available, no? I recall, as a chilled child, sitting in a chair soaking up the sun’s warmth and reading a book. This was better than standing in front of an old cast-iron kitchen stove. Maybe using the sun’s endless, free power didn’t appeal to the equally powerful oil companies who wanted to sell us petroleum products. Greed again?
I have been a gardener all my life. I learned how to care for the soil and raise good veggies from my mother in the 1930s. Gardening there in those cold, dry times was a challenge compared to planting in Southern California. There is some truth to the saying that all you have to do in that climate is to throw seeds at the ground, add some water, and let the warm sun do the rest.
Thankfully, our property is small and easy to care for. I have other things to do than cutting and caring for a big lawn and a monster house. The same question arises: What is this short life all about? My Native American friends sum it up in one sentence: “Life is about walking in balance with all your relations.” To walk in balance means that in whatever we do, we never take more than we give. Things get out of balance when we get greedy. Greed causes harm to all our relations.
One of the reasons I garden is that I love fresh veggies and don’t care to go to a supermarket. Those places are so huge that I fear getting lost inside and not being able to find my way out. Maybe I need to go there with a GPS. Heading down some of the aisles, I feel like I need a respirator to keep my lungs safe from breathing in toxic fumes. I didn’t grow up with processed food, soft drinks, and sugary breakfast cereals. What I need to buy for myself could be shelved in a room about the size of our small local health food store–vegetables, fruits, soap, nuts, whole grain cereals, good bread, eggs from chickens that have actually seen the light of day, and yes, toilet paper. In the big markets I find row after row of items I just don’t need. A Google search says that the number of different items in a mega-store can be well over 50,000! Is that true? If it is, that puts the stretch to my imagination. Does anyone else find this strange? I sit here searching for words to try and make sense of it all.
WHEN I WAS IN CALIFORNIA, I once lived in a house that was built in an old, seldom-seen style. It was a house built without wall studs that some people call box framing. This is the way I built my little greenhouse tucked away on a back corner in full view of the morning sun.
Not far from where we live is a manufacturing plant that makes sheets of plywood. At one time, this factory used wood from our long-gone, old-growth trees. Nowadays, the skins (thin sheets) peeled from trees that make up the layers of plywood are shipped in from other countries. This is the end of the road for some of the world’s life-giving rain forests. The skins arrive loaded on pallets that are 4 ft. wide and 8 ft. long. The pallets are made mostly from mahogany boards. That’s right, mahogany boards, enough to make a woodworker’s mouth water. I bought 10 pallets for $2 each and dismantled them. All of the boards were a full 1 in. thick, up to 20 in. wide, and knot free! The 3-in. by 4-in. stringers under the boards were from other species of hardwood trees. Some of these I recognized as rosewood, which I made into jewelry boxes for gifts. Am I missing something? Should I find it hard to believe that such precious wood is being used for pallets?
I don’t have a huge garden, but it produces more than my wife and I can eat. Three years ago, we asked the farmer we work for if we could have a small spot on one of his tables among the fruit to sell our veggies. The first year, we sold $96 worth of fresh, organic, good-tasting carrots, onions, kale, spinach, chard, herbs, squash, cucumbers, and lettuce. The second year we sold $176 worth. This year, with the help of our greenhouse, we were up to $580. Not a fortune, but it does show how much you can grow from even a rather small, well-tended garden plot. It was lots of fun, and shoppers had fresh, healthy food for their table. And for us, we received more than enough money to buy next year’s seeds for the coming planting season.
I pray for enlightened leadership. I look deeply into my own heart trying to find a solution to some of our profound problems. My heart tells me to tend to my own backyard; that what I do there is what the world and all my neighbors need. Sometimes it’s a lonely journey. As the old gospel song says, “You have to walk that lonesome valley. You have to walk it by yourself. Ain’t nobody else gonna walk it for you. You have to walk it by yourself.” Can we at least hold hands as we continue on?
Rather than despair, I rise in the morning, put on my clothes, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and bow to the eastern sun with gratitude for another day.
Mixed with other duties, I find time to till my garden knowing that the sun, rain, and Mother Earth will work their magic on the precious seeds I hold in my hand. I find joy holding my own children and now grandchildren, some who live too far away, telling them I love them, giving them hugs, telling them stories, and showing them where to look for bees, snakes (yes, even snakes), ladybugs, birds, and butterflies that are as sacred as themselves. I give joyful thanks for the wholesome soup and fresh-made meals that my wife prepares to keep our bodies strong and heal our spirits. I am eternally grateful that I have a blanket and a warm place to sleep.
Please tell me, is there something else in life that I should be doing?
This greenhouse is built without wall studs. The siding is screwed directly to the floor frame.
Here's the completed structure. You can see how simply this is constructed.
My granddaughter Julia helps me water my new seedlings.