Alaska Gardening

Dreams Can Come True

When we first moved to Wasilla, I could not wait to plant tomatoes and cucumbers in an existing greenhouse which had been built in the 1950s by my great-grandfather, Heinie Snider. My dreams of canning my own diced tomatoes, sauces, and salsas to last the winter were dashed though, as that first attempt at greenhouse gardening was a complete failure. There were several reasons why I didn’t manage to produce one red tomato that first year, but the main problem was light. The roof panels were old, and the valley dust embedded in the fiberglass over the years severely limited the light coming through. We could have replaced the panels, but, given the age of the structure, I’m afraid we would have ended up having to take the whole thing down and start over. My husband was all for that idea, but I am a sentimental sap and have a special attachment to the still useful structure.

Heinie Snider building his greenhouse.

Heinie Snider building his greenhouse.

The greenhouse was a source of pride and joy for my great-grandfather, and when I was a very young child I had a traumatic experience involving it. I remember playing in a car in their driveway and pushing the manual gear shift into neutral. I can still visualize the event and feel the panic I felt when the car began rolling slowly down the small hill, heading straight for the greenhouse. It is funny that no one else in my family remembers this incident. The dent in the corner is still there as proof of my early childhood memory. I don’t remember getting in big trouble, or any trouble actually. My Great-grandma Alice must have decided to keep the incident a secret, either to protect me or herself. If I let my husband take down the old greenhouse he would take the dent and other family memories with it. Besides, it is still functional as a shed and makes a great backdrop to one of my perennial gardens.

Since that first experience of greenhouse failure 17 years ago, I had not attempted full greenhouse gardening-until this year. Today I have a new heated greenhouse attached to the back of our garage thanks to a very thoughtful and generous man. “Someday I hope to have a heated greenhouse to start my seeds in, but for now grow lights set up in our basement work just fine.” I wrote those words in the premier issue of Last Frontier Magazine in my Alaska Gardening article. My wonderful boss, Josh Pepperd, at Davis Constructors and Engineers, read my article and he decided to help me realize my dream! Thank you Josh, Jed and everyone at Davis Constructors who helped make this far off dream become a reality.

ย “Three essential elements
to any successful greenhouse are
light, temperature and humidity control.”

It is way too soon for me to offer a lot of advice on greenhouse gardening, but I did manage to grow several tomatoes and cucumbers this past summer and have learned a few of the basics. My oldest grandson-three years old-taught me one simple lesson. When my tomatoes were ripe I would carefully snip them from the vines. One day he proudly presented me with a nice ripe tomato, and in a panic I quickly checked my plants to see which one he pulled down. They all looked great. Turns out ripe tomatoes are easily picked by hand … I really have a lot to learn.

Three essential elements to any successful greenhouse are light, temperature and humidity control. Water and soil management are also important issues, but without enough sunshine, too much or too little heat, and poor ventilation, success will be marginal. Birch, willow, cottonwood and aspen grow like weeds where we live, so my husband and I had to cut several trees down to allow more light in. I knew I wouldn’t be around enough to regulate the temperatures and ventilation manually so thermostats to control a heater and a fan were installed to take care of those greenhouse necessities automatically. Next year I am going to set up an automatic watering system and learn more about seed selection and effective fertilizing techniques.

Prior to this year, my gardening was usually completed by October 1st. All my bulbs would be planted, annuals and vegetables pulled, and tools put away. Now, with my new greenhouse, many thanks again to Josh, we are still enjoying a few tomato plants, fresh lettuces, and herbs.

I have learned some lessons the hard way this summer and I’ve received some great tips and advice from other greenhouse gardeners. My dream of having enough tomatoes to can for the winter has not yet come true, but we had enough for our dinner table and next year is bound to be better.


Story by Wendy Wesser

Categories: Alaska Gardening

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