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When we bought the cabin last fall, we inherited this quaint little greenhouse. I love that it is made with recycled windows- a great repurposing project! Unfortunately, it had been neglected for many years and was currently being used to store junk. It needed a lot of work. The paint was almost completely worn off, the wood was rotting in places, ten of the window panes were cracked or missing altogether, there was broken glass all over the ground under the extra windows at the back of the greenhouse, and it had become home to a large colony of ants and a family of bats.


Here is a shot taken during the winter. I was told (by our realtor) that the tire is from a Model T Ford. Any collectors out there?

Of course I fell in love with the greenhouse immediately and couldn’t wait for spring to arrive when I could take on the enormous task of lovingly restoring it back to its original purpose: a vibrant place to grow things here in our short Alberta summers.

Inside, the soil was very dry and dusty and covered in bits of plastic sheeting that disintegrated into a million tiny pieces whenever you tried to pick it up. There were layers and layers of spider webs everywhere.

When spring finally arrived, H and I began by moving all of the junk out. I cleaned the interior thoroughly using a broom, a shop vac and buckets of soap and water. Just under the roof (not pictured here), there is a large rectangular reservoir made of tin. I believe it was used to hold water, which then flowed into a tank which directs the warm water into the irrigation hoses that are buried in the soil. This reservoir was one-quarter full of bat guano! I had to get up on a ladder, and wearing a mask and goggles scraped and swept up bucketfuls of bat poo. I also had to remove the birdhouse as it had an active wasp nest in it. I did this early in the morning while it was still cold and the wasps presumably sleeping. I wrapped the birdhouse in a pillowcase (in case they flew up and swarmed me), gently removed the nails holding it in place and put the birdhouse carefully on the ground some distance away, removing the pillowcase.

I replaced all cracked and missing windows with panes taken from the extra windows that were once leaning against the rear of the greenhouse. Then I taped all of the window glass with painter’s tape, inside and out, in preparation for painting. As you can imagine, the taping was very tedious with all of those individual window panes. (And I taped all of the windows THREE TIMES during this process!) We should have bought shares in the company before I started this project!

Next, I primed all of the wood, inside and out. I had to give it two generous coats as the first coat seemed to be completely absorbed into the old, dry wood.

Here is a look at the interior after priming…

Here is a view of the back of the greenhouse…

Next came two coats of exterior semi-gloss black paint. The roof still looks awful as it needs to be replaced but that will have to be a future project.

Once the paint was dry, I took off all of the painter’s tape and washed the widows thoroughly. Then I re-taped the windows in preparation for caulking. I caulked the interior windows with black caulking, peeling off the tape before it set. This makes the caulking job look ‘clean,’ leaving crisp straight lines. Once again, I cleaned the windows.

Here’s a corner view. You can see where I transplanted some peonies that were previously growing in the front yard. My neighbor C also gave me some rhubarb, which I planted on the left side here.

Here is a view of the front. There is still an old damaged door (not shown here). It has some bats living in it so any time I am working in the greenhouse I can hear them scratching away in there. I will be replacing this door with a secondhand French door from the Architectural Clearing House in Edmonton. Unless any of you have a glass door you want to sell me on the cheap? I’ll even cook you dinner out here as part of the deal…

Here is the back of the greenhouse. I hung up some old rusty tools that I found around the property. I also moved the concrete blocks to the future chicken coop location as they will come in handy as part of the foundation there.

Here are a few shots of the interior…

Inside, H and I removed half of the dry, dusty soil. We added and dug in manure, compost and potting soil and then topped this with three inches of mulch to hold the moisture in. This picture was taken in early June.

I planted four different kinds of tomatoes, six different kinds of chili peppers, six different kinds of basil, parsley, cilantro, summer savory, tarragon, chives and there is a nasturtium plant in there as well. (I also have lots of herbs growing in a separate herb and tea garden as well as in my veggie garden).

Here is a shot taken just today. Notice that the tomatoes are growing up a length of string for support. This is old baling twine that I found near the barn when we were cleaning the manure off of the concrete pad. A length of this twine is tied to a nail on a beam above, the lower end is loosely tied to the base of the tomato plant while it is still young. As the tomato grows you gently wind the string around the plant. Be sure to provide some slack so that the twine doesn’t become too tight.

This is still a work in progress. I still have the door and roof to replace and I would like to caulk the exterior windows. I plan on putting a flagstone path in the ground at the front door along with a few large red clay pots with some bright red flowers. I am also looking for a weathervane to install on the roof. I have planted a few vines at the two front corners of the greenhouse, which, I hope over time will grow up the corners and under the roof line. Next summer, I will install brackets for two hanging baskets for more bright red flowers (yes, I really like red).

All in all, this has been a very useful restoration project so far. Did I mention that the greenhouse already has power, water, shelves to store my terra cotta pots and a little potting table? As it has been a cool, wet spring and summer so far here in Alberta, my plants in the outdoor gardens are healthy but still small. Meanwhile, the plants in the greenhouse are thriving and gigantic in their warm, humid little home. One of my tomatoes is now even touching the ceiling, it has grown so high!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this restoration project take shape. I actually just painted the back wall and installed the rusty tools just this afternoon. We have had so much rain that finishing the painting kept getting postponed.

I’ll keep you posted on any further developments with the greenhouse. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing about your own gardens and restoration projects!