Tag Archives: greenhouse

Does Anyone Want a Half-Bottle of Scotch?

I’m taking a little break from the garden today.

I’ve always found it humorous when people will say, “Well, Great Aunt Flo would have been 107 years old” – except she’s not because she’s been dead for a decade.

I guess I should have more patience with others that remember their loved ones in this kind of time-warped manner. After all, my father would have been 100 years old today.

Having spent the day in a historical frame of mind, it made me think of all the old things we found when we moved into our house 23 years ago. Even then it was an old house. Many of these things are the kinds of items my father – or his parents – might also have used.

Mrs. Miller, the previous owner, gave us a brief history of the place. It was built as a farm house in the late 19th century and remained a working farm through much of the Miller’s time here. Although they mostly grew vegetables and raised chickens, the owners previous to them built the place as a horse farm. The horses were used to aid in digging the basements of the houses in the area. That would explain why digging around our garden occasionally yields a horseshoe or two.

Our purchase agreement with Mrs. Miller included allowing her to leave anything she wanted on the premises. That resulted in our filling at least three 20-yard dumpsters but a number of interesting items we saved – including an unfinished bottle of Scotch.

Today I quickly gathered a few smaller things that I thought were interesting to photograph. (I don’t even know what some of them are and could use some help identifying them).

Seeing some of these old things did make me think a truly time-bending thought. During my father’s lifetime there was more-than-likely someone that had been alive when George Washington was alive. Figure it out if you care.

In the mean time, take a look and tell me if you know what some of these things are.

I can identify some but what’s the thing with the circle and handle leaning against the left side of the box? Is it for canning? I’m not sure I want to know why the original owner of our house had a single large-caliber bullet hidden in the box.

found in an old metal cigar box

Old photos are always a thing of beauty for me. We found these Civil War-era daguerreotypes in the house. The link to those photographed is now broken and it’s sad. We’ll never know who they were.

Civil War-era daguerreotypes

This is a reminder that we live on a former horse farm. The tag says, “VEHICLE TAX CITY OF CHICAGO 1915 ONE HORSE WAGON”. The owners may have used this wagon to take produce to the market in Chicago.

"One Horse Wagon" tax tag

We found containers of all types. These are the smaller ones and include Kraft cheese boxes, a metal cigar box, many, many old canning jars and my favorite, an old lunch box.

old containers

One of our cheese boxes stored a few light bulbs and a small glass jar.

a box of old light bulbs

This old lunchbox is almost noble in its design and depression-era adaptation. Mr. Miller probably took his lunch to the ball bearing factory where he worked until Mrs. Miller kindly asked him to stop taking it. When we found it, it had received its electrical-wire handle and “stove bolts” hand written on both ends. On the inside we found stove bolts.

Lunch Box

recycled label

I found this two days ago while digging a new section of garden but had found others in the greenhouse in past years. Mr. Miller used old metal machine labels to make labels that suited him for his garden and orchard. I can only assume this was more to label an apple tree than a commentary on some of his produce.
Recycling was a way of life for the Millers and many Americans during the Great Depression.

original side of old metal label

In future editions I may feature some of the larger items we discovered in our house. This would include our old Chambers stove (which we use) and Mrs. Miller’s ancient White Star canning stove in the basement. (She figured that a basement stove would not heat up the house in August and September). A finely-built redwood chick incubator that we found above our garage is used in our family room as a catch-all table. We did throw away the 1/4 mile spool of barbed wire. It would be useful in our garden but not very neighbor friendly in our suburban yard. A complete set of late nineteenth-century Encyclopedia Britannica went to a history professor friend.

And finally, tucked away in the basement’s Mason jar room, behind one of the larger canning jars was this half-empty Scotch bottle. I suppose in a depression environment, nourishment came in the canning jars and courage from a hidden bottle. Happy birthday, dad.

a toast to my father

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Welcome… or Welcome Back!

The focus of our blog – photo-synthesis …a photographer tries to garden – will again turn to the garden – mine and yours. We go from the Black Eyed Peas to snow peas. This will never be a “how to do it”  look at anything but rather a “let’s try this thing together and see what happens” experiment.

Those who followed last years version understand that I am relying on help from friends near and far, novices and experts. Yes, we actually depend on information from you for our food!

Again my camera will never be far from me to document the process, the discoveries and the experiments.

I am hoping to include some guest writers this time so don’t be shy about wanting to be included. Just send me an e-mail and let me know what you have in mind. I also intend to invite a couple of knowledgeable gardeners to help us out.

Thanks for taking a look.



the old greenhouse

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No Progress on the Greenhouse

Clematis on greenhouse

Clematis on greenhouse

So far our plans to turn the greenhouse into something other than an overgrown home for wild animals and rusty tools have been put on hold.

Instead, I have taken the easy way out and continue to do with it what I can. I photograph it.

I enjoy photographing the building season to season and year after year. Because we have lived with it for so long there is a Dorian Gray-quality to the experience. (Of course it is the greenhouse that ages and not us.)

As its architectural elements continue to fade away, the focal point each summer has become the clematis we planted against the south side when we moved here. A climbing rose planted years ago also helps to soften the deterioration.

If the flowers give the greenhouse meaning that may be enough for me to keep it the way it is for another year.

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Back to it…


The greenhouse is not the only neglected part of my gardening life. Jesse pointed out that I have not been attending to this blog. Well, he’s right. I’ve been distracted by work, creating a Facebook presence for my photo business, and …well …gardening.

All the spring rains have made everything grow like mad. We have eaten most of the lettuce, all of the spinach (more on that later) and radishes, and a good bunch of turnips last night.

tasty turnips

tasty turnips

Also doing very well are

• tomatoes

• broccoli

• zuccini

• Noah’s pumpkins



teeny, tiny peppers!

teeny, tiny peppers!

Now, if only I knew what was eating my pepper plants. And …what are those beetles on Noah’s pumpkin plants? Time to get out the insect book. More soon …I promise.

Noah's pumpkin plants are flowering.

Noah's pumpkin plants are flowering.

Is this thing going to eat Noah's pumpkins?

Is this thing going to eat Noah's pumpkins?

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Poetry of Decay


A couple of times each week I carry my coffee can full of coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels to the compost pile. That, combined with grass clippings and autumn’s leaves create quite a pile.

But once decomposition begins, the pile shrinks and becomes the dark brownish- black compost that the garden seems to love.

Aside from this wonderful function, I have found a poetic side of decay that is truly beautiful. Our old greenhouse is a monument to oxidation. Rust’s rich color combined with the familiar shape of the tools they once were create odd sculptures.dsc_2344

My neighbor’s rhubarb turns a beautiful color and shape after a series of autumn freezes.dsc_3586

And last year I found a squirrel’s nearly complete skeleton in a corner of the compost pile. Even it’s tiny molars can be seen in the photo below. _wkp0768 dsc_2377

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Propellers and DDT


Having a large greenhouse should be a tremendous advantage for a gardener. Sadly, ours is in hard shape. REALLY hard shape. _wkp7008

When it was built near the beginning of the last century it was probably surrounded by open fields. Today there is a 60-foot white pine tree on its east side and several large spruces to the west. It is almost always in the shade.

If we have the time this summer we will probably take it down. We hope to build a screened porch on it’s full knee-wall foundation. The attached shed – probably built before the greenhouse – will remain. We may even salvage some of the glass and framework to build a tiny greenhouse in front of the porch. This area gets some sun February through March.

The greenhouse has been a most interesting, albeit dangerous, place to explore. In its innards we have found everything from a large hand-carved wooden propeller to a collection of turtle shells, and a large container of DDT. It is bursting at the seams with the same rusty, dusty stuff it had when we bought the property from the Millers twenty two years ago.

There remains much of what had been a well-run greenhouse. The oil heater used a pump system that incorporated the radiator from a 1920’s-era car or truck to circulate hot water throughout. A series of thermometers wired to an alarm system alerted those in both the house and the garage (the portion that is now my studio) when the temperature dipped below a set temperature.

I always think of Mr. Miller and his farm as I walk past the greenhouse on my way to my studio. We’ve taken the DDT to a hazardous waste facility for disposal but the propellar, the radiator, tools, various thermometers and gauges, and hundreds of clay pots remain. And I’ll bet we could find those turtle shells if we looked._wkp05892

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I’m calling this post “Experimentation” although it actually represents another mistake.

Take another look at the photo in the previous post. I like using peat pots to start my plants. The problem is that I bought the little ones and had to re-pot as the plants grew. This can create nasty little air pockets between the little peat pots and the pots into which they were re-potted. Roots don’t like those air spaces. Also, I decided to re-pot some of the plants by inserting them into clay pots. There are a zillion of them I inherited from the previous owner of our falling-down-greenhouse so I thought, “why not!” Maybe I’ll find out “why not”.

Next year I’ll plant all my plants in the larger 3″ peat pots.

Anyone that would like some clay pots, please come by and help yourself.

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We Begin…


We’ll see how this gardening thing goes but it’s starting out a little shaky. This is being written on an early April day that began with several inches of snow on the ground. That’s rude, even for the Chicago area. My ancient, falling-down greenhouse has now been further assaulted by the weather.

The greenhouse was here along with several other out buildings when we bought our 19th –century farmhouse about twenty years ago. We bought it because, for a suburban lot, the yard was large enough for our five children to enjoy. It also had a building that we could convert to a photo studio.

our falling-down greenhouse

our falling-down greenhouse

I am actually not completely new to gardening. When my wife and I were first married we coaxed a tremendous amount of vegetables from a 4×30 – foot plot. As children were born and the photography business grew we found neither the time nor the energy to garden. I dropped my subscription to Organic Gardening and Farming and eventually Burpee gave up on us and stopped sending seed catalogs.

With our children mostly grown and my photo business less demanding of my time I have returned to gardening. I dusted off the four 1970’s – era Organic Gardening & Farming issues that survived moves from Illinois to Maine and back again and am determined to pick up where we left off decades ago.

It’s worth noting that the economy has determined one aspect of how we are going to approach this year’s garden. I will not buy something if I can make it or make do with something I already have. It seems foolish to become a gardener that essentially pays $ 12 per pound for the privilege of growing fresh tomatoes. Organic gardening methods not only restore the soil but also save money. So, to the best of my ability and knowledge we will maintain an organic – and cheap – garden.

Along the way I plan to visit my neighbors and their gardens. I’ll report on any good stuff that I learn. I hope I can report on the results of some gardening experiments. I already have had some missteps that, if I am not too embarrassed, I will write about. I’ll use my camera to help tell the story of progress, setbacks, revelations, disasters and ideas.

Mostly I’d like to hear from anyone that may come across this. New gardening ideas, thoughts, comments, and stories are all welcome.

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