Sow There! Just a bit giddy about the idea of a school greenhouse, Jan. 18, 2019

Beans growing in a protected area of our schoolyard have survived the winter, so far. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
January 18, 2019

Last week I was doing what I do these days — taking care of plants and thinking about how to enlighten children. Many lessons have come and gone from the day my students pressed soggy sugar snap pea seeds into four inch pots. I wasn’t very hopeful at the time. Maybe the seeds would sprout. More realistically, the plants would die and I would hide the evidence.

From my experience, the plants would grow, strive for light, grow spindly and wither.

That’s what has happened in the past when I have tried to grow plant indoors.

However, my school has a greenhouse.

The nice volunteers — who rake leaves, yank weeds and show children the world of worms — popped the plastic over the previously-barren frame in the back lot of our school.

We had an extended break after the Camp Fire, but I visited campus to add water to the pots within which my children had planted hope.

When I unzipped the 7-foot tall walk-in door, my glasses became foggy.

No one was there to hear my squeal of excitement.

My mind was racing. I had to leave the greenhouse to catch some cooling air.

My mother offered to buy me a mini greenhouse back in the day. Maybe she saw my tomatoes growing tall and spindly on my windowsill. Maybe she wanted me to grow.

Yet, I thought a greenhouse would be a bother. It would grow mold and sit on the side of the house with the assortment of broken pots and the wheelbarrow with a flat tire.

However, if you put a greenhouse on top of some asphalt — you’re talking steam baby, steam.

All those years I have been writing about planting tomatoes in January. I can actually do that with the power of my school’s greenhouse.

It’s not cheap to buy a greenhouse for your home.

If you’re only planting two or four or six tomato plants a year, the math doesn’t equate. You might as well let someone else do all the dirty work and buy perfectly good plants from the farmers market. Plus, you need to consider that mold question, and the shade by the side of your house. Yet, if you’re gung-ho, a website called will set you up with a mini greenhouse for about as much as you would pay for lunch and a pedicure (find the mini greenhouses in the Outdoor — Lawn and Garden section on

Tomatoes in January

Now we may be in business. It turns out that my third graders need to think about raising money for our overnight class field trip in the spring. If we start growing tomatoes now, the plants could be ready for gallon-sized containers by early spring.

Cha-ching. Even if the plants are spindly, people will feel sorry for my children and buy them anyway.

While we’re at it, we can plant flowers and herbs. I can see it now, I’ll be driving by my school three days a week to water plants during the summer break.

Do it at home

A greenhouse doesn’t need to be as fancy, even though some of the majestic houses sell for $5,000 on the Hayneedle website. My neighbor Bob used a relic of a bay window and placed it window-side up on top of gravel. Sally, another clever gal, built a square with hay bales, then placed an old glass shower door on top. Of course, both of these gardeners had yards with full sun.

The key is to have a way to vent the greenhouse once the weather warms. Otherwise you will cook your plants and add unnecessary disappointment to your busy life.

As most simple ideas go, you can end up getting fairly elaborate. One website, which I may or may not be reading more carefully, offers many gizmos for sale at You can add ventilation fans and cooling kits. I’ll try to watch the weather and move the plants to the mulched area of the schoolyard once spring is here to stay. I have children available to lug those plants in and out of the greenhouse doors when nights are cool.

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