Despite Punxsutawny Phil's forecast of 6 more weeks of winter and the heavy 9" of snow that fell throughout the day today, the lengthening daylight hours make it clear that this arctic world can't last too much longer. We are on the days-long count-down to our first seeding.
When we first moved to the farm we planned to build a plastic hoop-house style nursery to start our seeds in early spring, but then realized what a treasure we had in the solar greenhouse, built over 30 years ago by a friend of our landlords' son. It is banked into the hillside on a treeline and the windows enjoy southern exposure. On a recent bitter cold day when the temperature outside hovered in the teens we recorded a high temperature of 118 degrees in the greenhouse as the winter sun poured through the glass. With sufficient thermal mass, (i.e. black barrels full of water), the heat of the sun can be captured and will radiate out during the night, preventing the night-time temperature from plummeting.
Here's the greenhouse as it appeared when we arrived:
Our friends, the previous tenants, installed a new metal roof on the greenhouse and planned to redo the interior. We picked up where they left off. We buttoned up the edges of the greenhouse where water damage was rotting the wood and put in new corners and metal flashing to prevent future leaks. We installed louvers for ventilation on the end walls at either peak.
We decided to stucco the interior to seal in the insulation and cover the old plywood and chipping paint. First we nailed metal lath to the rafters and along the end walls. Next, we created a base-coat stucco mix with sand, portland cement, lime, and warm water. It was much like baking, where the proportions must be just right for the best result, but there is a fudge factor that allows amateurs to whip up a so-so pancake mix with no recipe.
This first coat is called the scratch coat or brown coat, referring to its color and the need to "scratch" it before drying so the next coat adheres. We mixed our scratch coat in our wheelbarrow with hoes and applied it with trowels and hawks (the handheld stucco tray). Doing stucco requires technique and more strength than I expected, especially when stuccoing overhead while balancing on planks!
Sean applying the scratch coat near the roof line: fighting gravity!
After scratching the first coat and allowing it to dry for a couple days, we created a mix for the finish coat on another sunny day. We were trying to replicate the pink tone in the lime stucco on the barn pillars. We dug down below the topsoil, screened the clay/sand soil we found, and incorporated it into our lime & sand mix. It was a beautiful earthy pink. The finish coat included much more lime and water and was much stickier and easy to spread.
We also made a simple lime wash with lime and water to coat the cinder block foundation.
We cleaned out some debris, moved a giant century plant, leveled the ground and laid landscaping fabric. I built tables with 2x4's and hardware cloth for inside and outside the greenhouse and Sean is now putting the finishing touches on shelves for extra flats, using some calculations for sun angle to ensure our higher shelves don't shade plants below.
Stay tuned for seeding updates!