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Greenhouse Guilt


It's with mixed feelings that I reopened my greenhouse -- really my little bit of paradise -- for the winter. It's now in its fourth year of operation, and my neighbors have finally grown accustomed to the bright green outbuilding. At first, though, they were skeptical -- especially the lady who lives in the stone house on the corner. I recall one winter afternoon she trudged through my half-acre of sleet just to knock on the greenhouse door. She had one eyebrow raised and her neck craned as she asked, "Whatcha growin' in there?" It came out more like, "You're up to no good, right?" But I invited her in and proudly showed her around my crowded 144 square feet of perpetual springtime.

My greenhouse is neither enormous nor particularly fancy. Instead of running water, for instance, I have a large rain barrel in one corner. When the water level gets low, I refill the barrel with a garden hose stretched from the spigot attached to my house. The process is a little tedious, but it works just as long as the pipes haven't frozen.

No, the part that really gives me pause is the large propane tank parked just outside the greenhouse. I use it to keep the evening temperature inside right around 50 degrees. That's not tropical by any means, but it's still pretty intemperate, if you ask me. Filling the tank for this season cost me $350 -- up quite a bit from last year. And all that just so I can keep my scented geraniums, tender pond plants, and the ever-increasing cacti and succulent collections alive? At least I do start all of my spring and summer bedding plants in the greenhouse, too. And I grow a few salad greens to round out my humdrum winter diet -- but Barbara Kingsolver would say that's cheating, I guess. . .

Anyway, my case of Greenhouse Guilt isn't about the money nearly as much as it is about the carbon footprint. But I did some calculations and concluded that mine isn't quite as large as I feared. It helps that I sold my car and now travel mostly by bike or bus, but, even so, being able to coax seedlings out of the soil in the dead of winter seems just too splendid for one person, don't you think? And yet I wouldn't ever really want to stop.