Growing through the looking glass

Finally, at long last, it seems spring is upon us. After that long, cold, dark winter it is time to get out into the garden and start planning for the growing season.

This year, why not consider a small vegetable or herb garden? Nothing compares with the taste of a homegrown vegetable. Having a constant source of greens and herbs for cooking is also a fantastic idea.

There are a few problems that are associated with gardening in a city, especially a northern one where our growing season is so short. The advantage of building a greenhouse is that the temperature inside will be several degrees warmer than the outside air, so you can extend the growing season at the beginning and end.

An example of a small greenhouse built from reclaimed windows. PHOTO:
An example of a small greenhouse built from reclaimed windows.

Space is a big concern of course – making the most of every square inch with a very small backyard can be challenging. But even in the smallest of yards, or strange layouts, you should still be able to fit in a tiny garden that will give you months of pleasure.

Pests are also a concern in this neighbourhood. How many times have I gone outside to see all my tomatoes eaten off the vine by greedy squirrels!

Here’s how to make a simple but effective “greenhouse” that will solve many of our city gardening challenges (space, pests and short season) and look great too!

All you need to get started are some old windows with glass intact, hinges, basic hardware and tools, and a bit of sunny space to part with.

This project can be built into an existing garden bed or you can create one as the base for it.

If you don’t currently have a garden bed to build the greenhouse in, you can make one. After you have decided on the size of your greenhouse – determined by measuring the windows and laying them out as walls – build a frame out of 2×10 cedar boards. This will hold your garden soil and give a base for the plants to grow.

It also allows you to fill the greenhouse with really great quality soil specifically for growing vegetables. Make sure to use soil that has a mix of peat in it, which will help with retaining moisture in the garden.

Assemble your window “walls” and screw together. Be careful to pre-drill the holes to avoid cracking the frames, and be careful not to break the glass when assembling.

Greenhouses built from old windows can be built large enough to walk into.
Greenhouses built from old windows can be built large enough to walk into.

You will have to play around with your various windows and lay them out to get the best configuration to suit your yard and available space. Get creative with your designs and plans. Your greenhouse can be a simple small structure made of just a few windows or a larger, more complex one that you can walk into.

If you are building a larger greenhouse, you will have to frame it up for stability the same way you would a garden shed, but instead of a roof and walls you can use the windows. You will also have to make a stronger base structure for your foundation if you go larger.

Creating an angled roof is a good idea and can be done by using taller windows at one side. The top of the greenhouse can be made up of one or more windows hinged to the tallest side. The hinging is important so that you can access plants inside for watering and maintenance, but also to prop windows open to avoid excessive heat.

A general rule of thumb is to not plant anything until the May long weekend arrives, but you can get started now on your greenhouse so it’s all ready to go! Happy building!


Christine Roberts, BAAID, is a co-founder of the Leslieville Flea, a designer and stylist for more than 15 years, and a builder of furniture. The next East End edition of the Flea will be on Sunday, June 15 at the Ashbridge Estate, 1444 Queen St. E.

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