Got garden pests? Try a screenhouse! This is a decorative, practical and Eco-friendly way to grow safe and healthy edibles.
With bizarre weather in many areas wildlife is being forced to search more aggressively for food. If you are growing your own vegetable garden, this can mean that protecting your produce for yourself is getting harder.
In my case I’d tried just about everything from natural deterrents to electric netting and it still wasn’t enough. Once the local wildlife put the word out there was a marvelous feasting center in the area, my productive vegetable gardens were decimated. In the end, the only option left was to physically bar unwanted critters. But the most determined (rats and mice) found ways to invade any fencing, netting or other containment I tried. –Until I built my screenhouse. Here’s how I did it.
I had enjoyed cultivating and propagating interesting plants for years with my woven plastic covered, aluminum framed greenhouse. But not only had my priorities changed, I was tired of looking out of my back slider doors at the big white balloon-like structure. It was time to make that greenhouse useful again. And to make it an attractive part of the view from inside the house as well.
The plastic fabric covered greenhouse in winter. Not every glamorous!
Building the screenhouse
Removing the plastic cover was easy, especially since it was already falling apart. The metal frame, anchored into the ground was 12’ x 16’. It wasn’t as large as I would have wished, but it fit well in the space and would serve my basic needs.
I built two large raised planters with wood (no preservatives). The bottoms were lined with ½” wire ‘hardware cloth’ to keep out gophers and moles. The insides were lined with waterproof leftover off-cuts of rubber sheeting from when I built my own pond several years ago. The outside wood was protected with water seal, screwed together, and painted. I leveled the ground and surrounded the base of the raised beds with 3/4” gravel, leaving a pathway down the middle of pea gravel (which is easier on the feet).
Building the raised beds. Lower beds would take less fill. The bottom halves of these were layered with compostable materials.
The metal greenhouse framework was covered with sheets of more ½” hardware cloth – spaced wide enough for pollinators to enter, but too small for even little field mice. (Sides were buried down into the ground to discourage diggers from tunneling under the bottom.)
Wooden framed double doors (open here) allow for easy entry.
I built double doors for easy entry and made sure there were multiple latches to keep out even the clever raccoons. Irrigation is provided by a drip system supplemented by some manual hosing in very dry, hot periods. Since I live where the summer sun is so strong it can burn tomatoes, I added a thin shade cloth for a roof and spray painted lines to suggest shingles. All materials were secured to the frame and each other by sewing with flexible metal wire.
I had a lot of old wood lattice left over from previous construction as well as pieces of wood from broken trellises. I laced on a fake façade of lattice painted ( to match my house), tied together frames of recycled scrap wood for the illusion of window shapes, and added shutters (one pair cut in half for two small ‘windows’). This way the ugly white plastic balloon of a greenhouse was now a little cottage that housed my raised vegetable garden planters – the top half filled with aged compost from friends I knew who had horses and other stock animals. Adding light-weight flower boxes to the faux outside wall was the final touch.
For the first time in years, I am harvesting organic, tasty fresh vegetables again. The raised gardens are gentle on my back, use water efficiently and help me easily see any insect invasions so I can remove them before they become a real problem. The view from inside my house no longer shows an eyesore; instead I see a cute little cottage. You can adapt this idea by building your own frame or using any other strong skelleton like a greenhouse frame (without the expensive panels) or a do-it-yourself carport frame. Decorate yours any way you want, or just keep it simple.
So far I am thrilled with the replacement of my old greenhouse. I don’t have to use poisons or harm wildlife to protect my fruits and vegetables, care is easy, efficient and low maintenance, and a previous eye-sore has now become the focal point of the back garden. Even the pets can’t wreak havoc with my growing area. It truly has become the ultimate edible garden solution — and I think I’ve tried just about everything else!
I am currently working on building a miniature picket fence for the garden of potted plants that populate the area outside the doorway of the screenhouse. This way the most tender plants can be fully protected inside the ‘house’ while I can expand my growing space into containers for the less bothered edibles.
One of the things I enjoy about being part of the greater community of garden enthusiasts is the opportunity to meet and interact with others across the country. Last March I attended the Spring Trials – an annual event in which all the new plant introductions are displayed for growers who come from all around the world to order and propagate for future production. At that time, I had a chance to bump into a friend, Dan Heims, president at Terra Nova Nurseries (a professional breeding nursery) located in Portland, Oregon. I was with my friend Shirley Bovshow (catch her as the gardening expert on the Home and Garden Show on the Hallmark Channel for lots of handy gardening tips) when he presented us with a dozen prized kernels of corn. He explained they were very expensive — $5 each – and were the “hottest new item in the edible plant industry”. He had acquired the seeds at a seed conservation group called the Native Seeds Trust and he wanted us to test them out.
Shirley and I divided our little treasure trove in half and parted ways. I have no idea if she ever grew them since her shooting schedule for the Home and Garden show production took much of her time. But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to check out these mysterious seeds – and find out why they were so special.
The problem was how to grow them. With the extreme lack of rain in the last few years, edibles in my area have become difficult to grow due to hoards of invading wildlife suffering from drought-induced starvation. I live in an area particularly hard hit, so I needed to find help growing the corn while my new enclosed growing space was still under construction. I turned to a friend, Lillian, who had safely enclosed cages already built and fully functional. Thus began my great Glass Gem Corn experiment.
I started the seeds at my place in one gallon containers and once they were two inches high, transferred them to fifteen gallon pots in Lillian’s safe enclosure. One of the seedlings grew without any chlorophyll and could not sustain itself for long, but the other five thrived.
In the caged garden, our five plants reached five feet tall despite their limited container space. They set cobs, unmolested by rodents that certainly would have adored the toothsome treats had they been in my exposed garden. The corn needed no special treatment and Lillian handled it the same as all her other vegetables. As the silks began to dry, she was concerned about the proper time to pick the ears. She tested a small cob, slipping it into the microwave to see how it would taste and was surprised when the kernels started to pop. At that time I was not aware that this was to be expected. I needed to learn a little more about these mysterious seeds.
I contacted Dan Heims and followed all the excitement on the Internet where he directed me. Once I understood these the Glass Gem Corn is not a sweet corn – the kind best for eating fresh and the most frequently grown corn in home gardens — I knew Lillian did not need to worry about harvesting at the right time. Indian corn, grown for grinding into flour, or popping corn is dried before use. Corn can be dried either on the stalks or off. In humid areas it can take a long time to dry unless harvested and kept in a special, dry place. In our chaparral the autumn air is drier than root cellars made especially for the purpose, so drying on the stalks is perfect – so long as rodents are denied access.
This cob sports a whole rainbow of colors!
Glass Gem Corn is considered the most colorful corn ever bred. The multicolored kernels range through the entire rainbow and can look like glass beads – hence the name. Although this is not sweet corn, it is supposed to make a superior flower and exceptionally tasty popcorn. The startling colors make it stand out from other Indian corn varieties used for crafts and decor. In Oklahoma half century ago, a part-Cherokee farmer named Carl Barnes painstakingly cross bred only his most decorative plants until he came up with the Glass Gem line. The corn is a fully natural result of cross-pollination, grown organically and completely free of any engineering. Barnes passed on his seed collection to student and friend, Greg Schoen who continued the breeding. In 2010 Schoen requested the Native Seeds/SEARCH Trust in Arizona store seeds at their carefully controlled storage center. Bill McDorman, then a seedsman at the trust (and now the Executive Director) was curious about the name of these corn seeds and planted some in his own garden so see what would grow. He was amazed at the result and offered the first batch of seeds for sale in 2012. They were immediately snapped up. The seeds Dan had given me were from this first crop. Since then a second, larger crop has been planted and was just harvested. They should be available for purchase anytime now.
Some of the ears sport brilliant colors, others are more muted. Most of them have a wide range of coloring within each cob. There are more excellent photos at the Native Seeds/SEARCH site.
Lillian and I will be popping some of the corn. We didn’t grow enough to produce ample ground flour. But the most colorful ears will offer up some seasonal décor and seed material for next year’s crop. We won’t have enough to share, but — maybe next year? If our great Glass Gem Corn experiment has inspired you to try growing some of your own, check out the original source at http://www.nativeseeds.org/about-us/pressreleases/186-glass-gem-corn-now-available. I have seen seeds for sale on Amazon.com and a couple of other sites, but I cannot guarantee these are the pure Glass Gem variety.
Here’s a video showing the cropping of the corn as it dries on its stalks. There’s been some talk that the colorful claims are a hoax. As you see here, they are not! Peeling back the covering on each ear was as fun as unwrapping holiday presents!
Planting blueberries in a pot not only allows this tasty, acid-loving plant to grow where soil is alkaline, but makes the plant decorative enough to flank a front door entryway.
For generations, American home owners have come to think the only acceptable look for the front yard is a few flower beds, maybe a shade tree and a carpet of green grass. Making yard space useful for exercise, hobbies or growing fruits and vegetables has been relegated to the hidden spaces behind the house – if done at all. It’s time to rethink garden design.
One of the most popular trends these days is removing lawns and substituting fruits and vegetables. Gardening experts across the country are working hard to promote the concept but not everyone is convinced. Not only are there many home owners who are still enamored with their water-hungry lawns, but there are plenty of home owner associations and cities that are mired in old ways of thinking.
First and foremost, lawns are nothing but a habit that originated in the early 1900’s when the fashion-conscious adopted lawns in the United States to compete with the landscapes of the British Isles. Lawns were virtually unknown in the drier climates of North America but became commonplace as people who’d grown up in moist climates moved into drier areas and brought along their demand for now-familiar lawns. So long as water was abundant, no one really complained about the proliferation of lawns. But with recent population growth, water demands and drought, this habit needs to be rethought.
There are now more reasons than ever to replace lawns with better choices. With the rising costs of growing food, the high incidence of hunger, the concern over fuel use for food shipments and the number of tainted-food recalls, it seems only logical to use garden space for something better than a brain-washed habit of clipped grass.
Most fruits and vegetables do require using a fair amount of water, but rather than rewarding the grower with hours of mowing and finicky edging, the result is healthy, tasty edibles. – And freshly cropped food is both healthier and tastier than food that has been shipped since both flavor and nutrients start degrading soon after harvest. Growing your own food also lets you select interesting or favorite varieties and organic growing methods.
There really are plenty of reasons to grow edibles in your front yard.
If you want to replace your lawn, growing fruits and vegetables make a good choice.
There are many decorative edibles that fruit, flower or offer foliage to make them as ornamental as traditional choices.
Think of how much more fun it would be to welcome guests at your front door with an elegant pot filled with brightly colored, snack-able berries berries to greet them.
Sometimes a backyard is either unavailable or less than ideal for growing edibles. If your front yard is the sunniest space for growing food, you can put that ideal space to use.
Grow climbers, create decorative designs or even design edging with edible plants. You can paint any picture your want — just like with garden flowers — using edible plants.
Consider planting in raised gardens. Not only can you make ornamental structures with stone, wood, bamboo, brick or block, but you can make the containers artistic with décor or paint. Raised gardens will also keep your fruits and vegetables safe from neighbors’ pets. (Or your own!)
Add shade to the front of your home with fruit trees. Fruit and nut trees can offer just as much shade and beauty as non-edible ornamental trees. Some food-producing trees are showy in flower, colorful with fruit and some even turn dramatic colors in the autumn.
Sharing excess produce is a wonderful way to strike up a friendship with your neighbors, cheer up a friend or help the hungry by donating to a food bank.
Growing fruits and vegetables is a fun way to involve the whole family in an active, productive project — both children and seniors.
And don’t forget all the good exercise and vitamin D gardening will add to strengthen your body.
One more thing to consider: you can have a unique and downright beautiful garden by growing edibles up front. With a little imagination, a fruit and vegetable garden can beat out the over-used grass-tree-and-flower-planter garden with creative design ideas.
These are just some reasons front yards are becoming the perfect home for edible gardens. Help change the attitudes of the unimaginative. And the next time you have to drag out your lawn mower or pay a big water bill, ask yourself if you might not make your front garden more colorful, artistic and productive by replacing it with an edible garden. You can have a front garden that is the envy of your neighbors, help balance the planet and expand our attitudes towards gardening. Now isn’t that an interesting thought?
Jane Schwartz Gates is a professional landscaping contractor, author, artist, and public speaker. Jane was born in New England. She started drawing before she could walk and spent her favorite childhood times in nature and in the garden, later earning her Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. A post graduate degree in art and design followed from the Academia di Perugia in Italy.