Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the Tierra Vegetables greenhouse-warming. All my favorite Tierra characters were there—Lee and the dogs, Zeni, Erica, Wayne and Evie (and their dogs), and a bunch of Tierra regulars I’d seen before. I also met Montana Hartley, greenhouse builder extraordinaire, and his two lovely daughters. I filmed Montana waxing poetic about the making-of and captured him quoting a line from a Kurosawa film he’d seen when he was a kid. While I was there I went down to look at the smoker, where all the delicious Chipotle peppers are cured (I ate some tonight in the form of Chipotle Hot Sauce No.2), and I saw a huge hummingbird-feeding operation and got some fabulous footage of the hummers at the troughs.
As for the greenhouse itself, it is a wonderful piece of low-budget craftsmanship. The Tierra greenhouse has the look of a conservatory, or a church, but it is quite modern and was built on a shoestring. There are several great innovations, some very typical for greenhouses, like rolling tables you can push out of your way while watering that make great use of every warm inch of space. Then there are the rainwater caches that collect water coming from the roof and drain into big fifty-gallon drums connected by pipes. Rainwater is free, it’s superior to mineral-rich well water, and in the big barrels below the tables it serves as a thermal mass to keep young seedlings warm at night. The greenhouse also looks as though it were made out of glass, but it’s actually polycarbonate sheets, which withstand impact, insulate and are somewhat flexible. There’s also a wood stove (yet to have a chimney) and a water heater that runs hot water under the seed tables for some extra warmth when it’s time to coax little cotyledons out of their shells. To top it all off (ha, ha), there’s a spire on the top of the building! It’s a little thing, but that small detail is what brings to mind grander buildings (and reminds me of the Agia Sophia, my favorite-ever house of worship).
After my Tierra tour, Erica led me down Chalk Hill Road to Pleasant Avenue to see Montana’s flower-stand operation and Tierra’s sister greenhouse. As a builder, Montana is really top notch in the imagination department. Where Tierra’s greenhouse is a conservatory, the Hartley greenhouse is more like a mosque. He writes, “I try and save all of the odd shaped pieces that pile up behind the band saw.. I often fret over what is firewood and what is precious fodder for our next project. The girls and I have endless fun with these pieces. The arched doors on the greenhouse are a example of what can be made from end cuts.”