Project Profile: Queens County Farm Museum Phase II

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Phase II began with the process of determining what materials would be best for the restoration. As with all historical restoration projects we attempt to use the same or similar materials used in the original structure. However, we also need to take into consideration environmental/climate conditions, durability and public safety.

We began this process by first looking at the wood that would be used to reconstruct the frame of the greenhouse. Cypress was one consideration as it has been used for many years in the construction of greenhouses and conservatories. Cypress wood is readily available and highly resistant to moist environments due to its natural built in oils that act like preservatives.

However, a new timber product Accoya was favored and ultimately chosen for the project. This project was featured on their website Click Here to read more. Accoya has been widely used in Europe for many years, and is now becoming popular with designers, builders and architects in the United States. It is a sustainably-sourced wood that has under gone a non-toxic acetylation process. This process produces a material that is environmentally friendly, extremely strong and durable. Accoya is also the perfect medium for the paint coating, Technos, we planned on using for the surface. Once painted the historically correct color the greenhouse will be restored to its original state and ready to withstand another hundred plus years.

Once the material for the frame was selected the pain-staking process of dismantling the original greenhouse was begun, carefully removing and categorizing each piece. Like an architectural dig, each piece was carefully measured and drawn to scale so the CNC machine could then copy the designs and create exact duplicates.

When it came to the replacement glass for the greenhouse, public safety had to over-ride historical significance. The original roof frames were made to hold 2 layers of 1/8″ annealed laminated glass. Laminated glass works like that of a car windshield – if it breaks it won’t cause extensive harm. We felt very strongly that the glass, especially the roof glass, should all be tempered. Tempering the glass meant that the entire project would have to be modified to accept thicker, more durable glass. In the end, current safety standards won over historical.

As with the frame, all the metal gearing and structural components had to be cataloged, removed and sand blasted before powder coating and re-installation. Many of the components were missing and created quite a hunt for historic greenhouse parts in various ‘boneyards’ around the country. In order for the original metal gearing to work the greenhouse needed to be reconstructed exactly as the original structure was. Site measurements were taken once, twice and then again to make sure every part and partial would be an exact fit to the original.

The work begins. These large piles of rough looking wood are the Accoya. We carefully create the image of the wood items to be made, enter them into the computer and the CNC takes these rough piles of wood and turns them into the finished product.

Three coats of Technos, shop painted and we are ready to install.

Next: Constructing the greenhouses.

Constructing Queens County Farm Museum Greenhouses

The re-construction of the greenhouses had new twists and challenges. We had to take off our 2017 conservatory builder hats and put on our 1917 greenhouse builder hats.

Since we had never looked at a greenhouse through the eyes of a tradesman in the early 1900’s, it took a while to adjust. We will also note that not all techniques and materials used in 1917 would be appropriate today. Better, safer materials and methods forced us to make sure the greenhouses looked 100 years old, but under the hood, they met 2017 safety standards.

Removal of the existing rooms told us a lot about the original construction. The glass was neither tempered nor laminated and was definitely not safe for workers or visitors to be below. Window sashes did not seal shut, roof and rafters would definitely not hold the weight of a man, so replacement of broken or missing panes was impossible.

Once the glass and framing was removed, the crew settled on the removal of the metal components that operated the window and roof vents. These were carefully noted and logged as they went off to sand blasting and painting.

We once more, carefully measured the foundations areas and set off to work to reproduce the rooms.

Two months went by as we carefully fabricated and painted each new member of the first greenhouse. We assembled wall sections with stainless steel screws and carefully placed them on the concrete sills (on which we has placed a membrane or damp proof course we call it).

 

Frames were fitted to existing steel and the roof was fitted one rafter at a time to the ridge which we suspended above.

Since the spacing of the rafters was affected by existing site conditions, glass could not be ordered until we were able to field measure. Fabrication of this glass took another 2 months.

Roof glass installation was very unique. We lapped or ‘fish scaled’ the glass one piece over the top of the next. Originally this was done because large single pieces of glass were not available. Today, we would have built this structure a lot differently, but hey, it would have lost all that historic charm.

 

Glazing putty was placed on the rafter in which to set the glass. Small brads were carefully set on top of the glass to hold it in place, and caulking was applied from the exterior to waterproof the seams.

And so it went for 9 months from when we started building the first greenhouse until completion.

Final touch-ups were completed in May of this year. The City of New York gave a special commendation to its staff for such a well produced project and now the greenhouses are about to be turned over to the rightful owners: the people of New York City. This project was featured on Accoya.com’s website as well. Click Here to read more.

Our final installment of this project profile will be the professional site photos. Stay tuned!!!!

 

Project Profile: Queens County Farm Museum- Phase 1

In early 2014, we were contracted by the City of New York for a very special greenhouse restoration project.

The historic,and much needed, greenhouses at the Queens County Farm Museum outside of New York were falling apart and dangerous for visitors and employees.

We were told the original structures were built about 100 years ago with a renovation project sometime in the 1930’s.

By 2016 the wood frames were rotting so bad the roof glass was completely falling loose and crashing to the ground. Farm workers had infilled window spaces with plywood or plexiglass, but even these were falling out place!

Many birds took advantage of the open and rotting space and built nests in the mechanical fixtures near the roof.

The greenhouses served a vital role of the working farm. This is where employees plants the seeds to start many of the vegetable and flowers used at the farm every year.

I visited the farm around harvest time and honestly couldn’t quite capture what I was feeling. I’m there for business, assess the damage, offering advise, taking pictures and measurements but when we wrapped up I had the opportunity to be a spectator of a truly magical place that most New Yonkers don’t even know exist!

The quiet peacefulness of a a farm with the grazing of cattle, the rustle of corn stalks and the buzzing of honey bees was unmistakable. The pumpkins-millions of pumpkins! City kids learning about agriculture and farm animals. Couples seeking the perfect venue for I-Do’s. Even Hollywood scouts searching for the next location shoot.

One thing was certain; these greenhouses needed to get up and running again and I had to come back.

To “replace” an old structure in NYC really means “restore”. Restore means it has to be original.

This presented a wee bit of a challenge since no one today builds a greenhouse exactly the way it was done 80-100 years ago. A couple of specific challenges presented themselves to us immediately.

The glass was thin and dangerous.

Today’s glass is tempered and laminated. Back then the glass was simply annealed float glass which means, when it broke, which it easily did, it created a dangerous falling shard which could really harm a person.

The mechanics of the room were operated by hand.

Gears and levers connected to roof vents and side wall windows. These were opened and closed by hand. Today’s greenhouse would automate such features, but in a restoration, alas, the farm workers were going to have to continue their vigil.

We were up for the task and eager to restore these stately structures that meant so much to the City of New York both in their historic significance and also the contribution to the livelihood and perpetuity of the farm itself.

I invite you to follow along as our plans and the restoration began.

Gardening – Step 1: Making Soil

Metal Scoop with soil in it

Making Soil

We call the medium in which plants grow, “soil”, Dirt is what you get on your clothes!

Dirt and soil may both be the same thing to you, but believe me, to your plants there is a world of difference.

The best soil mixture for starting your seeds indoors, or using in your square foot garden is:

1/3 peat
1/3 vermiculite
1/3 good quality compost.

Let’s talk about compost first.

I compost in my backyard. It’s a great way to recycle kitchen scraps, leaves, grass, anything plant organic. Notice the word “plant”. Put your dog poop in the garbage.

When we compost, the organic matter (kitchen scraps, leaves, grass) is broken down by bacteria. You need a moist (not wet) place for the bacteria to thrive. The bacteria releases heat as it digests the plants. If the internal temperature gets hot enough (140º – 160º) long enough (15-20 days), it can kill weed seeds in the compost. The problem is that in the home compost bin, there is often not enough heat generated to kill off the bacteria. So, the compost that you make in the backyard may not be sterile.

Gloved hands holding piles of soilCommercial and city compost yards are constantly monitoring the temperature of their compost piles to make sure the compost gets hot enough to become sterile. So, when you buy the compost, ask questions. Is this sterile compost? If they can’t assure you, move on. Our local compost company has a big sale in the spring and that’s when we buy the whole season’s worth.

Next, Sphagnum moss (also called peat or peat moss).

This is organic in nature, is harvested from peat bogs in which it has been layered for centuries in the ground. It is acidic in nature and absorbs tons of water. Bales or bags of peat from the local garden store can be heavy. Buy sizes you can manage. Remember the peat expands when you open the bale.

Finally, vermiculite.

Interesting stuff. Actually a mined mineral. It has many uses for the gardener, besides being 1/3 of the best soil less mixture ever. With this mineral in the soil, water is absorbed and when starting seeds, very little watering is needed. This mix provides great root growth and is loose and friable, meaning the plants grow easily in it. This loose nature allows air to be available to the plant which is more important than you might think. Vermiculite is also an accepted medium for hydroponics.

Superhero Note*** In the fall, do you dig up your dahlias? Well storing bulbs, onions whatever in vermiculite keeps mold and mildew from growing on the bulbs. It does not take up moisture from the bulb, but it does pull moisture from the air and prevents rot from occurring during storage.

metal wheelbarrow filled with soil

Using our recommended soil mix in the garden can mean no weeding!

Really, no weeding. There are no weed seeds brought in with it (remember what we said about the compost?). Weed seeds can be dormant in the soil for years and years, so in normal garden soil you are always pulling weeds.

OK, so now you have to mix this all up! keep your batches small, because it can get to be a lot of work. The materials are quite dry, so you may want to mist some to keep the dust down, just don’t get it soggy, or you won’t be able to lift it.

A cement mixer is ideal, but not everyone has a cement mixer. A wheelbarrow and a shovel can do the trick too.

Happy planting!

P.S. – Are you looking for tips on growing in a Commercial Greenhouse environment? Contact us for help!

The PERFECT Indoor Fern

Amazing Looking Indoor Ferns

Everyone loves the look of ferns. They’re lacy and intricately formed. They have a calming beauty that reminds one of a shadowed woods with cool and fresh air with just a hint of the tang of a conifer’s needles. Anyone who’s ever read a travel brochure for the Ozarks or the woods of New England, can easily picture moss-covered logs and pathways punctuated by ferns whose fronds seem bowed in silent prayer. Craving that serenity in our homes, we travel to the garden section of the closest department store where we spy just what we are desiring. A huge hanging Boston Fern seems made to order to transform our home into a woodland, a private English garden or that secret nook where we hide from the world. Then, within a short time you realize that your Boston Fern has turned into an unwanted houseguest. If you had known the true nature of the thing, kind of like that rescue dog from the pound that ended up eating your furniture… all of it. Or that boy you couldn’t wait to introduce to your parents. What’s that? Don’t even go there. Sorry, I didn’t know.

Anyway, your gorgeous (in the store) fern has begun to turn brown and shed leaves and branches like it’s suddenly dying. And, sadly enough, it is. Boston Ferns have suffered greatly before they ever made it to your home. They’re under-watered and light-starved. Then, you bring them into your home where, because they’re so huge, they must be hung from the ceiling. Of course, that’s where the driest and hottest air is, and the least amount of window light. It doesn’t take them long to go into panic mode and drop all of their leaves.

Unveiling… the Mother Fern (Asplenium bulbiferum)

A native of New Zealand, the Mother Fern will give you the best of everything that you desire in a fern in the house.

• Brilliant green foliage that will not turn brown and drop to the floor

• Finely cut foliage that gives the fern an appearance of organized neatness

• An eventual mature size of 2′-3′ wide and 2′ high

• The ability to live in, and thrive in, a wide range of light conditions

• An easy watering plan that, if met, will not result in wilted or dead plants

• Few if any pests when the fern is kept indoors

• ASPCA approved as non-toxic to dogs and cats

• The opening fronds (fiddleheads) are edible and tasty to boot

Now.. the crowning “cool” factor

The fern is called the Mother Fern” because it is one of the only ferns on Earth that grows babies on its leaves. As the fronds mature they start to sprout little fern bulblets. As more and more babies appear, the older fronds bow more deeply from the weight. If you’re like me, it’s not enough to know that a plant does something really unique and noticeable. I have to know “Why?”

This fern evolved in the plethora of streams, waterfalls, ponds, swamps and bogs of New Zealand. Most ferns grow by releasing spores into the air where they drift on the breeze until they land. But Mother Fern took advantage of the watery areas where other ferns’ spores just sink to the bottom. You see, as the bulblets grow, they gain in weight and the frond bends lower and lower. Eventually “Mom” lays her frond prostrate upon the moist ground and the babies put forth roots. In this manner, the babies get a head start on getting established.

In your home, however, you can simply pin the frond to the surface of a “nursery” pot and the babies will start to grow. Within a month or so you will have new Daughter Ferns to give to friends and family.

Cool Fact: Since the Mother Fern reproduces by “cloning” itself, your resident Mother Fern will be identical to New Zealand’s original Mother Ferns growing there millions of years ago.

Super Secret Care Tip: Do not grow your Mother Fern in a pot that drains out. Instead, place the pot in a bottom dish that allows the water to collect and stay at about 1″-2″ deep in the bottom. That’s right. You WANT your Mother Fern to be constantly sitting in water. If you have to be gone for a week, put a bigger bowl under the pot and fill it until the water is ready to spill over the edge. Your Mother Fern will never drop leaves, turn brown or get messy.

5 Benefits of Growing Your Own Food in the Conservatory

Organic vegetables and fruits being grown in conservatory or greenhouse.


Starting Seedlings in Your Conservatory

The price of things seems to be higher these days, particularly at the supermarket, which is at least a weekly journey for most families. But what if I told you that you could skip those checkout lines entirely or at least reduce your bill by growing your own food?

Don’t have the time, the space, or the desire? Take a look at these 5 benefits of growing your own food at home; they may persuade you to reconsider.

1. Save money at the store

Did you know a packet of seeds is less than a dollar? You can also preserve, dry and can some of your summer crop to enjoy the whole year round. Watch as your grocery bill gets lower and lower as you begin to fill your kitchen with fresh produce right from your own greenhouse.

2. Improve your health

It’s a pretty well-known fact that eating fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you and your family can do to stay healthy. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals that not only improve your health but can even prevent disease. Have a supply of fresh food right on hand increases the likelyhood that you’ll grab for them when you’re considering what to eat.

3. No more worry about food safety.

Imagine the world where you can trust that your food you are feeding your family is safe and healthy to eat. When you grow your own food, you are in complete control, you don’t have to worry about any recalls, exposure or contamination that could have happened on that tomato’s journey from the farm, to the factory, to the grocery store; to your table… You simply grow it, pick it and enjoy!

The perfect environment in a greenhouse or conservatory produces perfect tomatoes.

Perfect Greenhouse Conditions Grow Perfect Tomatoes

4. Reduce your carbon footprint.

Growing a garden is not only good for you; it is also good for the planet.

Think about how many miles your food has come to get from the farm to your kitchen table. By growing at home, you are drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from the journey of fresh produce that could come from across the world by planes and refrigerated trucks.Home gardening helps the planet in many ways. If you choose to grow organically, you will also save the earth of any air and water pollution that comes from pesticides.

5. WOW your taste buds

Nothing tastes better than fresh fruits or vegetables straight off of the plant. Although they will probably not be the perfect shape or the perfect color, get ready for a taste explosion that will have you vowing never to eat those rosy red commercially raised tomatoes from the grocery store again!

Having a conservatory, greenhouse, or garden room provides a place for you to grow your food year-round while having complete control over the growing environment. You’re no longer dependant on the weather, or having to worry about wildlife and pests destroying your hardwork. So whatever your reason for creating your indoor garden, rest assured that your body, your wallet and the planet will thank you!

Interested in how we can build you a conservatory or greenhouse that uniquely fits your home and your style? Contact us today, and we’ll help turn your dream into reality!

Spring Planning for Your Outdoor Space

It’s early Spring. We have the itch we can feel it in the air, it’s time to get to work. Let’s start tagging, pinning and planning our outdoor spaces. This popular conservatory space will assist in providing inspiration!

Yes, it’s true while working on this project Illinois the homeowners provided us with enough Chicago style pizza that we brought home a few extra inches on our waists. This outdoor space made a lasing impression on us. The exterior walk up bar is the perfect spot to set drinks our your gooey slice of brick oven pizza.img_5012
How can you duplicate this space with your own backyard kitchen?

1) Plan your space. Get your ideas on paper. Talk to Landscape professional. Planning on the front end will save many headaches when under construction

2) How do you want your pizza oven to function?

Wood burning like this?

Wood burning ovens achieve a couple of dramatic effects:

  • Very high temperatures
  • Reduced cooking time
  • Thermal drafts in the oven from live wood create a natural current of warm air much like a convection oven so the pizza is cooked very evenly (this assumes that you use an actual, well designed wood oven).
  • Smoke from the wood infuses the crust with just a hint of live fire.

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Or gas?

Gas ovens are an inexpensive option.
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3) How do you want the space to feel?

Are you looking for and extensive hardscape project?
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Our conservatory project had 3-4 intimate spaces where people could sit, chat and munch on pizza. The hardscapes were designed with plants and people in mind.
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4) Now let’s accessories!

Lighting is an important factor to consider for any space but especially an outdoor one, where proper lighting can be easily overlooked. Accent lighting adds a decorative touch but one should first consider proper landscape lighting.

 

Furniture: The market is saturated with outdoor furniture. Be sure to select something that fits your space and can be easily stored in the off seasons. Comfort and fade-resistant fabrics are important too!

Seating: Smaller, more intimate seating area are great for conversation
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Prep Area: A great tip is to incorporate an outdoor pantry so you can save multiple trips to your kitchen. Granite is a great surface that can withstand exterior elements. A small prep area will save you from juggling at the table.
The Spring fever is really here and we are ready to go! And make a pizza…

Seed Starting in the Conservatory

The Holiday season is over, the decorations are down, the winter has a firm grip on life, and the mind begins to dream about the next season. Spring!

Last year was not a kind spring. Everything was late. I had to feed my poor bees until the third week of June before pollen finally was available in the typical spring blooms.

This year will be different. We are all hoping for that. So, let’s make a list and go seed shopping! Here are some helpful gardening tips that will guide you through seed starting in your conservatory.

Seedlings Emerge in the Greenhouse

1) Avoid the impulse to buy seeds at the ‘box store’. Nothing against box stores, but a lot against impulse seed buying. I did this for years and then after it was too late, regretted the plants and the harvest. You put a lot of time (all summer) into growing the plants, why not take a couple of minutes and study the varieties available and make good choices. The University of Minnesota is a great place to start. Check with your local Land Grant University for suggestions.

2) Be sure to stay ahead of the season. Or pay the price of expensive potting plants, with little variety to select from. Many garden centers spray growth inhibitor on the seedlings to they stay full, and don’t get long and leggy in the garden center. Problem is, they stay stunted and are poor producers. So there are several reasons to start you own seeds: cost, quality control and fun! Not all plants transplant well into the garden (beets, carrots). Make a calendar and plant your seeds by the clock!

3) Do not use seed ‘Catalogs’. The internet is a better source for a seed shopper. Avoid companies, just because they offer a sale. Not saying it won’t be a good deal, but seed quality is the most important. Note, I am not saying don’t buy seeds from companies who send catalogs, what I am saying is study the plants on the internet for full information. I recently looked at a seed catalog. It offered 9 seeds in the pack, for $3.49! After careful shopping, I was able to buy the same variety with 150 seeds in the pack for $1.49.

4) Design your garden. Impulsive gardens that result from buying plants at the nursery never work out. When in doubt, try ‘Square Foot Gardening’, but be sure if its vegetables or flowers, you have a plan on paper first. Go on Youtube and look at time saving techniques like ‘how to make your own seed tape’. It saves seeds and gets a fun project for the kids to do with you while you wait last frost of the year.

5) Organize. I make up a 3 ring binder and keep my notes in it from year to year. Plan the garden and follow the plan! I have a mixed light exposure around the conservatory. Lots of sun, some morning sun and some shady. I love it. I have a full pallet to paint with.
Water plants in the morning. Keep the young tender plants out of direct sun.

There is Order and Relaxation in the Planting of Seeds

6) Coordinate. Look at plant options. I Google things like “purple flowers that grow in sun“. You get to see lots of photos of plants that inspire. Pick a plant. Let’s say you are attracted to Salvia, a great plant that has great cut flowers, grows in sun, and of course I selected a purple variety.
Now, Google ‘Salvia’ and many suppliers will pop up. Look at their options. Now you can compare various promotions the companies offer, and order your seeds.

7) Track. Start a chart either on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. List the plant, where you are ordering from (I bought mine from Swallowtail), the length of time to germination, and instructions on germination. This is important and often overlooked. Some plants do best planted in the soil where they go through the process and send up shoots. However, due to hormones in the seeds, some plants germinate in light and require to be at the surface of the planting to be successful. Make this note on your spreadsheet.

I can’t wait to get my seeds in the mail next week. Gardening is an enjoyable hobby , but like the professionals say it is 50% planning and 50% luck and I wish you all the luck my friends!

 

Readying Your Greenhouse For Winter

This week is Daylight Savings Time, which means winter is right around the corner. Here are some tips from Mandy Watson of The Shields Gazette on getting your greenhouse ready for winter.

If you have a greenhouse, or any structure that you’re overwintering plants in, your number one priority is making sure it’s clean. Not only must it be frost-free, but pest-free.

Cleaning the greenhouse and conservatory is my least favourite job, but a necessary evil.

Here’s what you need to down to reduce the risk of pests:

1) On a mild day, take everything possible outside.
2) Scrub off any old shade paint from the summer.
3) Brush or vacuum surfaces to remove all debris.
4) Hose down the exterior and interior on a soaker setting, to loosen any pests/eggs and lichen.
5) Wash down glass with warm soapy water and a sponge. A breezy day will mean it dries out more quickly.
6) Spray all surfaces with Citrox, a powerful organic citrus extract disinfectant for cleaning greenhouses, pots, staging, tools, seed trays, bird feeders and bird baths. It doesn’t harm plants and it’s effective against bacterial and fungal diseases.
7) Glass is best done with an anti-bacterial washing-up liquid – it doesn’t streak.
8) Check that all ventilation panels/windows are working.
9) Finally, check over plants that you’re overwintering carefully BEFORE bringing them in – you don’t want them to be harbouring pests. Cut things like geraniums back outside first – and check pot rims and bases for hidden slugs, snails and vine weevils.

Water and Lighting in a Greenhouse

Water and light are crucial to enjoying a thriving greenhouse. Here are a few helpful tips for installing drip irrigation and some advice on the best lighting for a greenhouse.

Water and light are essential to plants, and in a greenhouse you’ll have to provide both. There are several different watering methods to choose from: hand watering, capillary mats that bring water up from below, overhead watering, and drip irrigation that delivers water directly into each pot.

ts-200391680-001_vines-growing-in-greenhouse_s3x4A drip irrigation system is easy to lay out and is very cost-effective. It delivers small amounts of water over long periods of time, so plants stay uniformly moist. Installation is fairly simple:

Be sure the mainline that carries water into the greenhouse is sunk underground at least four feet, which is below the frost line, to make sure the water in the line doesn’t freeze.

Use a 3/4-inch poly pipe as the water supply line. Position it to run down the length of the bench.
From the main line, connect lateral lines to run between pots.

Set the system on a timer to ensure regular watering.

Once the water system is in place, you’ll need to address any lighting needs. Although fluorescent lights are popular, they help the gardener more than the plants. This type of lighting is good to work by, but plants need more light, especially in northern regions.

A high-pressure sodium bulb does a better job of simulating sunlight to stimulate plant growth. A 125-watt bulb gives off plenty of light when hung at least three feet above plants or seeds. This is a good distance to avoid heat burn.

Grow lights help to lighten shady spots and propagation areas in the greenhouse. What you are germinating or propagating determines how long you need to leave the lights on, usually an average of 12 to 16 hours each day. If you are growing tropical plants, you may need to set up grow lights if the plants don’t get at least eight hours of sun each day.