A Peek Inside Our Greenhouse and an Intro to “Hot Beds”

May 3, 2011 · 26 comments

Outdoor strawberries won't ripen for another month and a half.

Just over two years ago, Henry the Husband and a couple friends framed and covered our 30′ x 96′ semi-gable greenhouse. He put in four raised beds that run the length of the tunnel with two foot aisles between them. Trees are planted in the beds at five-foot intervals. We have nectarines, peaches, guavas, pomegranates, a loquat, apricots, and goji berries but mostly citrus including relatively cold-hardy satsuma mandarins and a pomelo, a meyer lemon, a limequat, kumquats, a few valencias, and a kishu mandarin. Among the trees, Henry has grown an abundance of seasonal greens and veggies: radishes, turnips, broccoli, cilantro, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, melons, cauliflower, peppers, and a variety of leafy salad ingredients. Each bed has two rows of strawberries that are beginning to bear fruit for the third year now. Occasional pollinator attractors like calendula, Tithonia, California poppies, and clover are interspersed among the edibles.  Plants like cilantro and parsley are left to go to seed so that they also attract beneficial insects and pollinators.

Most of the citrus trees in the greenhouse are finishing up blooming and beginning to set fruit.

This cilantro is going to seed, providing good food for beneficial insects.



30' x 96' semi-gable poly tunnel with yew-framed raised beds

We've been eating salad out of the greenhouse all winter.






Our first pomelo, and the thing is huge! We're not quite sure when it will be ripe enough to eat.

Henry is growing broccoli from seed he saved last year selected for heat tolerance and resprouting for successive harvests












Last November, Henry hauled in about eight yards of fresh horse manure mixed with sawdust. He packed it up to two feet deep in the center aisle between raised beds, added red worms and lime, and watered it in. As the manure composted over the winter, it stayed about 70°, boosting the temperature of the entire greenhouse a little bit. The warm compost was used to root cuttings of redwood, cedar, and other species. He also moved some of our chickens into a fenced aisle of the greenhouse to accumulate straw and chicken manure. At 120° in it’s core, this chicken waste was used propagation platform for starting early squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and peppers. A similar hot-bed technique was popular during the Victorian Period in England where adventurous gardeners raised pineapples in temperate climates. Last weekend, all the composted manure was dug up and spread around citrus trees and other plants for fertility and water-retentive mulching.

Mulching a citrus tree with composted manure

The cleaned out hot bed/aisle










There's a whole lot of worms in the compost.

Compost and straw mulch on potatoes, citrus trees, and parsley

Potatoes planted in February










chicory and red chard starts

A cucumber start with a sow-bug shield

Some chard and more mulch on a Satsuma mandarin tree







Sweet clover planted for fertility and food for pollinators


{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Kami kahler May 3, 2011 at 8:15 am

What an awesome greenhouse! Inspiration at it’s best!!


Camille May 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm



cynthia May 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

talk dirty to me! this blog and pics made my cold, windy, michigan heart sing! just wonderful and sooooo inspiring!!!! p.s. i’d loved henry the husband if i’d have known, lol!!!!!


laura May 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

this is wonderful! i love greenhouses, food, and smart ways of doing things. Brillant ideas with compost and heating. I’ll have to check the link out more!


Camille May 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm

The whole Victorian English pineapple thing is pretty amazing. Definitely worth a little attention.


Baby Aunt Sue May 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm

these may be dumb questions but… how do you get pollinators into a relatively closed system like a greenhouse? and do the pollinator life cycles get mixed up since the green house temps don’t match the seasonal temps outside?


Henry May 4, 2011 at 7:56 am

Most of the early pollination like peaches and nectarines is done by paper wasps, houseflies, or by hand, since they bloom in mid-February. There is a lot of nesting habitat and constant food supply for solitary bees in the greenhouse, most families of native bees are represented, as well as hover flies and some very confused and disoriented honey bees. The native bees seem to come and go when I have the sides and ends open during hot weather, the honey bees can’t fly high enough to orient so they usually get trapped :( x ?


Henry May 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

that should be :( x ∞


Heather May 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

holy crap this is so amazing.


Camille May 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Thanks for reading!


mandy May 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Amazing post, it makes me want to find a garden to dig in, been looking for some type of community garden, I’m in an apartment at the moment and am considering a dwarf lime tree along with greens on the balcony…I just love seeing your space and hope to read more in the future, please keep writing!


Camille May 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Henry says, “A Eustis limequat would be best. Put it in at least a 5-gallon pot. If it’s going to be below 28°, string it up with Christmas lights and throw a blanket over the top.” There’s a nursery between Chico and Durham that’s good for citrus selection. but we can’t remember the name of it.

And yes, I’ll be writing lots more about lots of different things.


Victoria May 9, 2011 at 5:41 am

Discovered this wonderful blog via Etsy….Amazing varieties in your greenhouse, I’m ‘marking’ to plan for my own here in Atlanta’s hot, humid climate.
Question – how do you ventilate during the cooler weather (other than opening ends) and do you heat at all? I worked with farms in PA and NJ who all used large greenhouses, one with a corn cob burning stove – some had gotten grants from the state power company for solar panels.


Camille May 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm

The greenhouse isn’t airtight, so ventilating in the winter isn’t a big concern. We open the ends and sides when it gets too hot in the summer and eventually mud the plastic covering to diminish keep the “greenhouse effect” from cooking everything.

We have two big wood-burning insert stoves that we fire up if it’s going to be below 25-27° or so. Henry the Husband is then up every couple hours overnight stoking the fires. Luckily, it’s not usually too cold for too many days in a row around here.


Betty D'Amico May 12, 2011 at 4:07 am

Hi Henry and Camille,

We are your North Carolina relatives, Julian, Betty and Gary. We just got back from visiting with Frank, Tom and Sue. We are very much interested in organics and found out about your website. Look forward to reading about what you’re doing in the greenhouse.


Camille May 12, 2011 at 10:20 am

Very nice to “meet” you. We’re glad that you able to follow along here. We’ve got a bunch of interesting projects coming up, so expect to see more posted here in the coming months.


Amanda R. June 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Question for both you and Henry…how did you learn so much about greenhousing? Was it trial-n-error, or learned while growing up? I’m in the process of adding a small (6’x8′) greenhouse and several raised beds to our yard…and find myself overwhelmed with options and best practices.
Any suggestions on reading/learning materials would be appreciated!
Thank you for sharing!


Henry June 3, 2011 at 7:14 am

We both worked for a decent sized organic truck farm for 5 years, and so learned basic greenhouse stuff there. I also put in a few years at a retail nursery. I would recommend going as big as you can as far as a greenhouse, there is more accumulated heat, and the cost per sq ft goes way down. There is a whole slew of greenhouse books from the 1970’s, some of them are great, some not but they all have some good ideas. You should be able to find them really cheap at you local used bookstore. I would also look at Permaculture books especially stuff by Bill Mollison.


Amanda R. June 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Very cool. Thank you for the direction…I’ll start combing through our local bookstores and the internet. I dream that maybe for my next career move I’m going to get a job at an organic farm…even if I have to donate my time just for the chance to learn. Please keep posting information and tips…there are a lot of us who appreciate the info and are trying to be more self sufficient.


Nick Dunn June 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Did you build this before the snow storm of Dec. 2008 that took down so many greenhouses in the Willamette Valley? Just wondering if you’re in a scant snow area or if the heat from your winter composting keeps the snow at bay? We were told to put up the engineered truss type hoophouse for snow shedding if we went with a semi-gable, so we’re curious about yours of course. We’re in the Portland/Vancouver area.

Wonderful post!


Henry June 12, 2011 at 8:05 am

In 2008 the heavy snow dropped off about 20 miles north of us and the greenhouse was going up at that time and didn’t have any plastic yet. We are at about 850 feet and generally get a lot more snow than the valley floor, but less than the area influenced by the gorge. In my experience the semi-gable does better than the quonset type, they seem to shed snow better. I also have heard different opinions regarding shade cloth, some say it distributes the load and prevents sagging, I say it prevents the snow from shedding off the plastic and causes more collapses. In 2003 or 4 a larger farm that I used to work for lost a bunch of houses and started retrofitting their semi-gables with a “W” truss made from conduit salvaged from the failed houses. I keep the greenhouse at 28 when it snows, and it seems to shed snow just fine.


Throwback at Trapper Creek June 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

Wow, love your greenhouse setup! We lost 3 semi-gable greenhouses in that storm, but our two smaller quonset style greenhouses took the load. We have only rebuilt one which I think will suit us just fine for space. I agree heartily with your observation on shade cloth – take it off before the snow flies or you will have trouble, it does not let snow slide off. (Even with the shade cloth off ours still collapsed.) We are near the Gorge at 1400′ and had a combination of snow and freezing rain. Ice is much heavier than snow :(

Anyone reading this post – heed Henry’s advice on building as large a greenhouse as you can afford you will find something to fill the space.


quoreWerBed June 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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Hilary October 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This is so great to see. What a beautiful garden. I am in my Junior year working towards my BS in environmental science. My brother, along with other members of our family are working on acquiring land to build a sustainable off-grid life out towards Pacific City. It is so great to see what you guys have done, especially your water supply…Nice job finding that spring! This is really exciting to be able to see how you are doing this. Thanks so much for sharing!
Portland, OR


Camille October 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Glad to have you following along, Hilary!


Erika February 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

Awesome blog. I’m hoping to purchase property soon in the metro area and it is really great to see what can grow in this climate. I have aaaaaall sorts of ideas of what I want to plant.


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