Greenhouse Project

My big addition to the farm this season is the greenhouse/sunspace, which will be a polyethylene passive solar structure extended out from the south-facing back porch of our house.  As well as being a greenhouse for spring starts, tender crops like peppers, and some hardier crops throughout the winter, it will do double duty as a secondary passive solar heating system for our not-so-well-insulated house (also known as “the fridge” or “the wind tunnel”).

Passive solar design can be as complex as you want it to be, but the basic principles are simple.  During the day, even what little solar energy we get in Vancouver in the winter will collect in the greenhouse in the form of short-wave radiation, and warm the thermal mass that will be located there — we’ll use big containers filled with water to store the heat.  The heat will then radiate back as long-wave radiation that doesn’t go through the plastic sheeting as readily, and by natural convection the heat will transfer into the house through the open back door for secondary heating.  At night when it’s cold I’ll have to shut the back door in order to keep the process from reversing and sucking heat out of the house into the greenhouse.  Small price to pay if it extends my growing season and also keeps our heating bills down.  I’ll add a small composter in the greenhouse which will provide extra heat as it decomposes, helping to moderate the climate further during the coldest parts of the year (and we won’t have to walk outside in the pouring rain to the back of the yard to empty the kitchen compost!) And the best part is, by scrounging the lumber from Craigslist and using a wood foundation, we’ll complete the whole project for under a hundred bucks and prevent a bunch of stuff from going to the landfill.  Urban sustainable living at its best!

It’s been an interesting couple of days, working on this project.  To begin with, we’ve been talking about doing this for a couple of months now and not really doing anything on it.  Then it started snowing and we realized that we’d better get our collective acts together and bust this thing out.  If we’d gotten on it back in October when we first found the lumber we might have had a couple months of extra solar heating, but it just kept falling off the bottom of the list somehow.  As it stands, we’re working in about four inches of snow — hardly ideal.  It does make it easy to see if people walk in my garden beds, however…  not really sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I should say that while I do posses a wide array of skills, carpentry is not one of them.  I can build with cob, and earthbags, and if you need a hippie beach shelter made of sticks and string and scarves, I’m your girl.  But two-by-fours and power tools have never been my favourite.  Lucky for me my wonderful partner Jon is a carpenter by trade, and when I first proposed building a greenhouse he reassured me that the two of us could put it up in a couple of days.  And he was right – in a couple of afternoons we have it all put together and ready for the plastic to go on tomorrow.

Now when I say “we,” in all actuality I mean “he;” other than a couple hours of holding boards in place and taking measurements, I really wasn’t much help.  And here, I feel a little twinge of something… strange.  A conflict.  On the one hand, I don’t really want to operate loud heavy dangerous tools or haul lumber around.  And for someone who runs my own business and has nobody to pass the buck to, the novelty of letting somebody else be the responsible one and just following directions is quite entertaining — having a project get completed through someone else’s labour instead of my own is even better.  But there’s also part of me that feels a little uncomfortable being up in the kitchen making soup while my partner is outside hammering and sawing away.

I know, somewhere out there I’m sure there’s a woman carpenter whose male partner is a chef, and it’s no big deal. But still I get nervous whenever I catch myself doing the Woman Things.  Even though I’m good at them, even though I’d way rather bake bread than swing a hammer, and even though I know that both Jon and I value my skillset just as much as his.  Part of it is that I don’t want to be a hypocrite; I don’t want to leave him to do the hard, dangerous work just because He’s The Man.  What right would I have to resist being gender-typed into doing certain kinds of work if I turned around and did the same to him?  And I don’t want to sell myself short, either.  Disempowering gender roles have always been all around me, all around all of us, crowding into the mental space it takes to build a sense of Self and skewing the process.  I am never sure, when I choose the Woman Work over the Man Work, if I’m really doing so of my own free choice or if it’s just old patterns, old fears asserting themselves and yanking me toward their path and away from my own.

I tell myself that I know that I could do any of those tasks if I wanted to — but the truth is, I really don’t want to.  I like cooking, and I’m damned good at it, and it’s just as important a part of the labour as doing the building to make sure that the ones doing the building are fed.  But no matter what I do, I always feel that little twinge, that moment’s pause and wondering, is this really what I want?  And you know, maybe that’s the point.  If feminism is about anything, it’s about creating a space for people to make choices about who and what they’re going to be.  Asking ourselves questions and being okay with moments of conflict and indecision are part of the process of recognizing our own complexity — the most precious thing we have, the thing that stereotypes about gender steal away from us.  It’s a lot more complex than “woman cook, man hammer,” and the feminist revolution is about illuminating that complexity.  So I tell myself to welcome those moments of conflict, to make the most of them; but also to trust myself and be happy with the decision that I make because I know that it’s coming from an authentic place within me.

Whew!  You can bet I’ll be rolling that one around in my mind whenever I work in my brand new greenhouse.  And probably tomorrow when I’m stapling the plastic on, too.  With a big, heavy, loud tool.  So there.


3 Responses

  1. I HAVE PICTURES … but I’m posting them on the Farmhouse blog! Ha ha ha 🙂


  2. Your feelings about the greenhouse-build are similar to the ones i had yesterday. Each of my sons, separately, brought me some empty cans from their houses so i could make them into cutworm collars for my brassicas. Most of the cans have those miserable rounded bottoms. Some of the cans are big enough for 2 or 3 collars. My younger son also dropped off his saws-all for me to use on the cans. My older son said, no, that’s like using a machine gun to kill a fly. He brought me a bag with 4 different hand tools, then went to work. As i stood there hacksawing away, i reflected that i wouldn’t have minded if either one had offered to cut the cans in exchange for a freshly baked loaf of bread! Guess i raised them too well.

  3. Super site – i will come back again soon:D

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