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Between summer and our imaginations

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

It is that wonderful, in-between time of year, and it occurs to me that my garden is starting to look tired, as though ready for a cool-weather nap.

The squash vines have withered and turned brown, but between the rows of pumpkin and still flowering luffa, the peppers hang like plump, bright red, yellow, and green lanterns, of various shapes and sizes.

The long row of marigolds has absolutely overflowed its boundaries and seems poised to take over the whole garden. The marigold's sweet orange scent lingers with the lemon smell of the fat, green walnut hulls that we kick along the road on our morning walks.

The broccoli has long since bolted. The unwatered lettuce has withered. The armpit-high basil has gone totally to flower, and the tomatoes are suddenly so abundant that I can't keep up. Many have fallen and lie rotting on the ground. That is fine, though. They will just become compost for next year's garden, and perhaps even seed for a few volunteers.

There is no doubt about it. Summer is coming to an end.

But we have our imaginations, and I imagine that all throughout next fall and winter, I will be able to open a door and step inside my garden.

For you see, we are building a passive solar, four-season greenhouse. The sheets of polycarbonate glazing lie stacked and ready. The metal frame lies scattered across the shop floor-like the pieces of a giant erector set, but putting together the actual greenhouse building does not seem to be the real challenge.

The real challenge lies in heating the structure, passively, with just the warmth of the winter sun.

So, Greg has dug a pit – with the backhoe – that runs the entire length of the 28-foot greenhouse. He filled the insulated pit with fist-sized rocks, and ran tubing through the rocks. Our plan is to then build a large solar heat collector, just outside the greenhouse, and pump the hot air from the collector, with solar-powered electric fans, down into the rocks.

A solar-powered temperature gauge will then open louvers when the greenhouse temperature drops, and a solar-powered fan will then force the warm air from the rock pit, up into the house above. (We shall see.)

We may also place black, 55-gallon drums filed with water in the greenhouse itself in order to capture and store the sun's heat; but again, we shall see.

The pit may be sufficient to keep containers of tomatoes fruiting all through the winter. Perhaps I will have a lemon tree, and maybe even a banana tree, that I can tend all winter long, and then move outside in the summer sun.

I also imagine containers of mint and basil and sage. And my strawberries! Oh, how lovely it would be to pick a juicy ripe strawberry as I watch the outside snow fall. I already have containers of flowering berries just waiting to try a winter inside their new home.

Not only passive solar heat, but pollination will be an issue inside the greenhouse. That is why I envision container gardening. My plants can stay outside and flower until just before the first frost, and then I can bring them inside to fruit throughout the winter.

Again, we shall see.

So as the green leaves of summer start to yellow and fall to the ground, we are imagining a relatively warm world, measuring eighteen by twenty-four feet, of green growing bounty. Perhaps summer can live beyond this between time of year.

I imagine that I will be able to stand outside in the snow and look inside my greenhouse, and see lush green growing. I imagine that it will feel like looking inside a reverse snow globe. I'll be sure to let you know!

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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