Lee's Greenhouse

I believe we learn from one another so I asked a fellow greenhouse owner to share her story:

Hi, my name is Lee Hulcher and I own Riverview Organic Produce Farm (est 1987). We are a 13 acre teaching farm, specializing in custom growing for 5 star restaurants. As a teaching farm, we invite interns in from all over the world and teach every aspect of basic organic produce farming from soil conservation to composting and executive marketing to high class dining establishments.

Building our Greenhouse

Lee's log greenhouse  

The log green house here at Riverview is actually our second greenhouse. In 1987, we built a small one attached to the original trailer house that was destroyed by a tornado in 2004, along with the house.

The log greenhouse came about when a neighbor had us tear down a log cabin. He offered to give us the wood for our wood stove, but I didn't have the heart to burn perfectly good building logs. Being from Alaska, I have seen many logs homes built, but had never learned how to do it myself. So, I bought a pile of books, read them, gathered a crew, and we all learned together. From the foundation up, everything was salvaged except for the concrete. Our total cost: a whopping $228.00 !!

concrete foundation for greenhouse

When we constructed the greenhouse, we took into great consideration the wicked north winds that come off the Missouri River and the Lombard Canyon below the property. We knew that any openings and windows on the north side of the green house were going to take a brutal beating and be a terrible heat-loss potential. With that fact in mind, we placed the green house facing due south with a curved radius to collect all of the winter and summer sunlight.

greenhouse walls

The roof is 10 inches thick, insulated to conserve the collected heat. Upright log supports, in conjunction with heavy duty roof joists, support three 5x8 solar heat collectors, used to heat the ground during the winter months in the green house.

The front of the green house is constructed using conduit pipes as they are not biodegradable in the sunlight and intense heat of the green house atmosphere.

poly-carbonate walls

The light source of the green house is a poly-carbonate, purchased at a local home improvement store. It is expensive, and doesn't hold up well in areas of high wind. It also likes to shatter if the ambient temperature isn't to its liking during construction when you are drilling holes for the bolts. It lasted about 6 years. I must include one note about repairing the glassine poly-carbonate: Gorilla Tape (the clear type) will bond with the material and bake into it and you can't get it off with a chisel or 40 MPH winds. Love the stuff!

The floor is dirt because I never got around to pouring concrete or gravel as a heat sink for the solar collection units.


Riverview started out as a means to feed our family as we were 24 miles from the nearest paved road and as about dirt poor as you can get. The ground was straw colored and concrete hard, when it rained or you watered, the water vanished and the ground became a quagmire and you sunk up to you knees. If the seed didn't blow away, it got washed away, and if it survived that, then the trains below the farm vibrated it out of the ground. The only solution was to start as many of the varieties as we could in the green house and hope for the best.

Lessons Learned Along the Way

Our first attempt at growing in the green house cooked over 1000 seedlings when we forgot to open the windows and the temperature soared to a whopping 115+ degrees by 10 am in early April.

starting plants in greenhouse  

Later, we discovered we had leaks in the roof and when it rained, water flooded the starting flats and drowned our seedlings. We adapted and directed the flow of water to halved 55 gallon drums to collect the water. The heat warmed the water and the plants thrived. We added a little manure in pillow cases and made manure tea and our little seedlings happily provided us with enough food to can and share with our neighbors.

baby plants in greenhouse  

The green house was designed for one set of growing tables under the main window, but it quickly became quite evident that we needed more space as seedlings sprouted and grew much faster in the moist hot environment of the green house than we had anticipated. Were we had sprouted 50 tomato seedlings, we learned the space only held about 8 transplanted potted plants. Anything and everything that would hold a plant at the proper level was utilized. To this day, some 30 years later, we still play magical tables come spring. We have even graduated to hanging steel shelving units from the rafters for extra growing space.

storage in the greenhouse

Storage and the thousands of plant pots came about almost by accident. Many years ago, a lady who grew orchids in Bozeman heard about my farm and offered all her growing supplies because she was retiring and wanted them to be used. I readily agreed without knowing the vast extent of her operation. When a moving truck arrived, I was over whelmed--to say the least. I was grateful, but completely unprepared for the mass of biodegradable plastic containers and specialty pots and flats that came suddenly into my greenhouse, along with plant stands, watering systems, grow lights and fertilizers. Realizing that these items had to be protected from direct sunlight, the only option was to store them along the back wall on the plant stands and under the main growing tables where they were protected.

Read More on Page 2 of Lee's Greenhouse