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Looking for a workout

By Nancy Leasman

Early last fall, on a day when I didn’t want to take on a big workout, I dismantled the canopy for the small greenhouse in the garden. It won’t be long before it’s time to reassemble it for the next gardening season.

The greenhouse is only about 8 feet by 10 feet, and roughly 7 feet high at the rounded peak. It’s a framework of metal poles covered with waffle-weave plastic with a lower layer of netting to, in theory, provide a barrier against small garden pests. I performed as assistant when Ron and I assembled it last spring. It involved putting the metal pipes together in the proper order, bolting brackets to hold the assemblage (including pipes inserted into pockets in the canopy and secured on the ends by bolted brackets), and tightening the nuts with the proper tools. The canopy is one piece that fits snugly over the framework and is anchored by horizontal poles slipped into curtain-like pockets a foot from the bottom on two sides. Ron further anchored it by screwing the bottom brackets to a two-by-four on the bottom of each of the two longer sides. Forty-pound bags of rock salt weighed down each corner against the anticipated winds of summer.

My intention in using the greenhouse was to give an early start to green beans and edible pod peas by planting them in the ground in the greenhouse. Same for a few pepper plants and one hill of zucchini. I hung three pots from the framework in which to plant a succession of greens.

The green beans didn’t come up. I replanted and got two plants and one deformed sprout. The peas did an admirable job and it was simple to provide a trellis by attaching strings to large staples inserted into the ground and tying the other ends to the upper poles of the framework. The zucchini thought long and hard before emerging from the ground. The pepper plants attracted small leaf eaters that riddled them with holes. The greens sprouted slowly but never achieved harvest size. There were no successive plantings. It’s likely that I didn’t water them enough.

One morning, as I made my daily walk-about, I found that a raccoon or woodchuck had squeezed between the salt bag on one corner and the pipe encased anchor, torn a 3-foot gash in that supposedly protective netting, knocked down the shovel and two hoes I had stowed in a corner, and escaped without apparently doing damage to the plants. So much for keeping the critters out.

Interestingly, I also planted beans outside the greenhouse. Two short rows produced one plant. The row of regular peas outside the greenhouse came up and suffered no damage from critters of any size, though I did spritz it a few times with Liquid Fence, the stenchy pest repellent.

The real success of the greenhouse was the edible pod peas that I picked through July and August. Finally in September, the vines were mostly dried up, and the greenhouse had no real purpose. It was preventing the rains from giving the zucchini much needed moisture, and sheltering the hollyhocks, pigweed and wild lettuce that continually tried to dominate the space.

My break-down workout took the better part of one morning. Because I had assisted in assembling the greenhouse, I knew how to take it apart. I moved the salt bags away from the structure and found they had been a haven for large tan slugs (large by comparison to the small gray ones). You’d almost think they’d be tasty in a quick sauté in garlic butter. Something I will never know.

Before I could remove the canopy, I had to untie the strings that had been the pea trellis and pull out the old pea vines. I munched on the last few pods as I made three piles of the wire staples, the strings, and the spent vines. A bumblebee buzzed and bumbled against the plastic top, trying to find an escape route.

I slipped the pipe anchors out of the pockets and then went to the shop to get a wrench to loosen the nuts on the bolts. I looked for an adjustable wrench but not finding that I considered which size of a combination wrench, the ones with jaws on one end and faceted rings on the other, would be the right size. I chose one and headed back to the garden. Nope, wrong size. Back to the shop. My fitness tracker was counting steps so this wasn’t all bad. I chose two wrenches of the next smaller sizes and went back to the garden.

I removed only the brackets that held the pipes in the pockets of the canopy. My intention was to leave the framework up for a while longer, especially since I had tied a leaning sunflower to it.

As I pushed the canopy up from one end, the bumblebee batted against its confinement. I went to the other end and pulled up the canopy until I could pull the whole thing to one end. The bumblebee escaped as I spread the canopy in a patch of sun to dry before I folded it for storage.

I made several trips to the barn and former chicken coop, which now serves as a garden shed, carrying the shovels and hoes, pipes and brackets, and trellis strings.

I got the 4x4 from the barn and drove it to the garden, swung the 40-pound bags of salt into the back, and then unloaded them in the shop. I loosely folded the canopy (to allow for additional drying) and loaded it into the 4x4 along with the pipes and brackets, and backed it into the barn.

It was a pretty good workout with the stretching, lifting, and logging of nearly 8,500 steps.

The framework wintered over in the garden. And now, with spring around the corner, it will soon be time to reverse the procedure and re-apply the canopy. Another half-day workout awaits.

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