My $20 Greenhouse/Shed Makeover & Garden Updates

Recently, my husband and I sat down and went through and organized our lists of projects that still need to be completed for our house. We prioritized things into URGENT, high priority, medium priority, and low priority. One of the things on my list was that I wanted a new greenhouse (made out of the recycled windows that I have been collecting), and I wanted a cuter garden shed. Once I realized that we literally have over 50 items on our project to-do list, and those two fell pretty low on the list, I decided it was time to be happy with what I have for now, and make the best of them. Eventually we will probably get around to building my dream greenhouse, but in the meantime, I am happy with my little popup greenhouse. I made the inside much better which helps!

The greenhouse and shed are in our downstairs yard, which is actually a secondary lot joined to our property. You can see the before pictures here. My little plastic raised beds have been moved around a few times since we moved here, but I think I am finally settled on their location. I am addicted to finding free stuff from Craigslist that I can upcycle into something cute for the garden, and the bench and bench cushion below were some great Craigslist finds. 🙂 The bench looked awful when we got it (the previous owners left their kids alone with some paint samples and the kids went wild on the poor bench), but a can of spray paint and it is now a cozy little area under the apricot tree. When we moved in, you actually couldn’t even see that poor little tree because it was being strangled by vines! I am so proud to have rescued it. 🙂

The metal shed was a rusty eyesore. I had some leftover paint from when I painted our patio furniture, so I decided to start painting the shed. The only thing I bought for this greenhouse/shed makeover was a couple of extra cans of spray paint and suddenly they are both much better! We also recently got a second compost tumbler (found here). We loved the first one so much, and realized now that there are three of us, we are generating a whole lot more food scraps! The one bin was getting a bit overwhelmed so it is nice to have two now. We are also in the process of putting in another large wooden raised bed in this downstairs area (getting dirt down there is a tedious process and my husband is building a ramp which I need anyway).
Inside the greenhouse is my favorite part of the transformation. I had lots of cute decor things that I have made for photoshoots over the years, and have been storing them away in my office. I typically hate reusing the same props over and over, but didn’t want to get rid of a lot of these things since I worked hard on them. I couldn’t find a spot in our house for everything, but they made the perfect (free!) decorations for my little greenhouse!
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I realized that my pitcher plant was not doing well because apparently you are only supposed to water it with distilled or rain water! Ooops! It is getting some love in the greenhouse for now while it recouperates. I also gave it a spray with some watered down fertilizer. The other plants on the shelf rack are things that need some extra love (after getting trampled by my son for example), or things I have recently propagated. 🙂
I made a pathway out of pieces of slate that were removed elsewhere in the backyard. In case you are curious (since people always ask me), you can find his cute moccasins here.
A little chandelier makes everything better.  🙂
My ferns and some other plants are not always in here, but they needed a bit of extra TLC after being at the fair all week. They came home fine, but just a little sad and droopy after being in a cold, air-conditioned building all week.
The little star lights are battery operated string lights I got at Ikea many years ago. When my husband saw them, he got upset thinking I was trying to hint that I needed electricity in there. I assured him they were just for decoration, and any time it is dark, I won’t be in the greenhouse because I close it up at night. 🙂
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My little baby staghorn fern won 2nd place at the fair, even up against big huge ones! 🙂 It is a very happy, healthy little guy.
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I am addicted to propagating new plants from cuttings. I love having lots of plants and making more for free is the best! I have found great results with starting cuttings dipped in rooting hormone, then placed in a jar of water, and then transitioning them to moist potting soil once they have roots established.
This thermometer is the best since it also gives humidity percentage. So important to keep an eye on the humidity levels in a greenhouse. You can find it here.
I couldn’t get E to look at the camera today. He fell again and got another nasty cut right above his eye and he is quite upset about it. He has been sad when he sees himself in the mirror.aliciainwonderlandblog

I cleared out all of my lawn care tools, which left me some room in the shed to get organized! Most of the shed is actually taken up by my husband’s stuff, but now I have my own little organized corner. 🙂 I have been having a hard time with the wildlife chewing through my bags of fertilizer, so I got this dresser to stash my bags (the dresser was another free Craigslist find!).

Our raised beds are coming along, even though they got a really late start this year. I have recycled doors placed at the ends of the raised beds for now (to keep the dogs out), but they will be going up soon and make the area look more our style. 🙂
My cucumbers and peppers have not been doing as well as I would have expected. They have consistently perfect moisture, no signs of disease, perfect soil fertility, full sun, and yet they were struggling. I finally figured out the problem (besides the fact that they were planted so late in the season). The darn Japanese beetles have been burrowing under the soil and munching on the roots of my veggies. I just sprayed everything with neem oil which should help deter them, and also gave the plants a folliar treatment of an organic fish/kelp emulsion to help perk them up.
My husband keeps getting frustrated that I planted the raised beds “so sparse”. I assured him that lots more will be poking through soon. 😉 I filled up all of the extra spaces with carrot and beet seeds.aliciainwonderlandblog aliciainwonderlandblog
Our son is a tomato fiend. He knows exactly when to grab the tomatoes too. I can guarantee that he will find this one tomorrow.
I can’t wait for this guy to ripen. 🙂
I planted tons of corn seeds very late in the game. It will be an experiment to see how they do. 🙂
This is another one of my mystery squash plants that came from the compost in the flower beds. This was the only transplant survivor. I am so curious to see what kind of squash comes from this one. 🙂

My monster squash plant is starting to try to take over the whole flower garden! That is just ONE squash plant!
After my recent miscarriage, I cut all the roses in the garden and put them where we buried that tiny little baby. The garden seemed sad for quite some time after that. It finally started getting blooms again, and just in time for the last week of the fair. My flowers won a few ribbons (more on that in another post soon).
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Remember my post about the wasp problem and disease on this rose bush? The rose bush is doing much better thanks to diligent application of neem oil, and the wasp problem is gone thanks to the Waspinators! I was very skeptical but it seems to be keeping the wasps away!
Last but not least, it is time to start seeds already for the fall/winter! I am starting snapdragons, stock, violas, pansies, and calendula for flowers. For veggies, I am starting lots of cool season foods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, onions and leeks. I will also be planting lots of carrots, beets, radishes, kale, mustard, and other root vegetables and leafy greens straight into the raised beds in the downstairs garden. I use the raised beds downstairs for cool season plants since it has a cooler microclimate down there thanks to the pine trees and the way the ocean breeze comes through there (our upstairs back yard stays much hotter year-round because of the way the concrete retaining walls block the breeze).

I used to start seeds indoors, but we don’t have any sunny windows in this house where I can set up flats of seeds. Also, the last time I started seeds indoors at our old house, our pets got to the sprouts in the middle of the night and had a party. I woke up one morning and found baby veggies and dirt all over our living room. Not a fun day. I am trying out seed starting with these portable little greenhouses (found here). I have them in our patio, under the pergola for now, but like the fact that I can easily move them around if I need to. I have been closing them in the late afternoon to try to keep the temperature fairly even. I am hoping this works out! I have a variety of seed starting trays, but I like these best. Also, make sure you always use organic seed starting soil for starting seeds, not potting soil (here’s a great option).

Composting 101

There are so many different opinions out there about the proper way to compost.  I am not going to tell you that my method is the absolute truth, but I am going to write about what has worked best for me (and what has not) over many years of gardening.

Pile Composting:
When I was a kid, we had a vegetable garden in our backyard and a compost pile.  We would compost using the traditional method, alternating layers of greens and browns, and my dad would turn the pile periodically.  This tried and true method worked, but with somewhat slow results comparatively.  It is a lot of work to manually turn a large pile with a pitchfork, and it can be difficult at times to keep critters away from the pile.  Since we lived in a fairly urban setting, I don’t ever remember wildlife critters being much of an issue at that house.  Where my husband and I live however, we are close to a lot of wildlife preserves and undeveloped areas.  Racoons, skunks, possums, squirrels, and many other wild creatures are regularly roaming the neighborhood, and I decided that an open pile would not be a good option for us at this house.

Trash can composting:
If you can’t afford to purchase a fancy compost bin, a simple plastic trash bin can be used as a composter.  You just need to drill small holes throughout, and be sure that it has a lid.  I used this method for many years with good results.  In order to mix the composter contents, I turned the trash can on its side and rolled it around.  This got to be a little bit of a hassle as the trash can got increasingly heavy.


Compost tumbler:
This is by far my favorite method of composting.  My husband bought me the awesome compost tumbler pictured above in the first picture when we were at our old house.  I noticed an immediate difference when I made the switch from using the trash can method to the tumbler method.  It is so much easier to mix the contents in the tumbler, which leads to a more rapid decomposition process.  I usually add equal amounts of greens and browns, lightly sprinkle with a bit of water from the hose, and turn the bin frequently.  During the hot summer months, I have gotten an entire bin full of nicely broken down compost in just a few weeks.  I now am storing my excess compost in my old trash can bin as a reserve for when the composting slows down a little in the colder months.


Worm composting:
When I was using the compost tumbler at our old house, I did not get a lot of full sun in many parts of the yard year-round.  During the cooler winter months, full sun areas were scarce in our old garden, and I decided to use the compost tumbler as a large worm composter during the cold months.  I added a bunch of earth worms in with my kitchen scraps, and got tons of great earthworm castings (that I ended up bringing with me to our new garden!).


Now that we have a much larger yard, and areas with full sun year-round, I wanted to have the ability to continue to use the compost tumbler as its intended purpose year-round, and still be able to get some of those great earthworm castings.  I have read that certified master gardeners often do not use commercial fertilizers, and that most of them just feed their gardens with compost, earthworm castings (worm poop), and worm tea (worm pee).  While I had been trying to sell my husband on the concept, we came across a booth at the Orange County Fair, and I let the salesman do the pitch for me. 🙂  I came home that night as the proud new owner of a worm composter.  Now most of my fruit and vegetable scraps are going into the worm composter (except for citrus scraps which they do not like).  I still have plenty of composting material for the compost tumbler too!  Worm composting (or vermiculture) is also a great option for people with limited space.

Some composting lessons I have learned over the years:
1.  Browns = dried leaves, dried grass clippings, dried chipped up twigs, shredded newspaper or other paper (not the glossy pages), hair, lint from the dryer lint trap, torn up strips of cardboard, and stale bread and crackers.
2.  Greens = vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps, used tea bags, used coffee grinds and filters, fresh grass clippings, fruit juice, wine, deadheaded flowers and other fresh yard waste.
3.  To keep a good ratio of greens to browns, I make a pile of fresh yard waste that I allow dry out when I do not have enough “browns”.  During the fall, I save all of the fallen leaves from our trees in piles to add in periodically, as needed.
4.  I initially made the mistake of using dried pine needles from our new house in the compost bin, only to find out that they decompose very slowly.  These are now being repurposed as mulch in the garden instead (original post here).
5.  Contrary to popular opinion, earthworms do not belong in the compost bin when it is in full sun.  They cannot survive in hot temperatures, and the natural decomposition process of a compost bin will naturally get hotter than what they can handle.
6.  Compost bins or piles must be placed in a warm area with full sun in order to get up to a temperature hot enough to facilitate the decomposition process.
7.  Despite what you may have read on the internet, placing weeds in your compost bin is not a good idea.  In theory you can place them in the bin, but expect those same weeds to show up wherever you place the finished compost.  Weed seeds need to be heated at a temperature higher than what most compost bins and piles will ever reach in order to prevent them from germinating.  Most are quite stubborn.  I do not just throw my garden weeds away though…I use them to create my own homemade compost tea fertilizer.
8.  Even the worst quality soil can be improved with the regular addition of compost.  At our old house, the soil was quite sandy and poor quality since we about two miles from the ocean.  After much diligence with double digging the soil and adding compost regularly, I was able to make a huge difference in the soil quality.  I can only hope the new tenants enjoy gardening as well. 🙂
9.  Dairy and meat products should not be added to either a traditional compost pile/bin or a worm composter.  I do not recommend feeding dairy scraps to cats or dogs, but our pets are great about cleaning up any meat scraps. 🙂
10.  The compost pile should be kept moist, but not damp.  If you start to notice maggots in the pile (which happened to me once), this is a sign that you need more dry ingredients in the pile, and quickly.  The maggots are harmless other than their ick factor. 🙂  If the pile is too dry, you can add a little moisture in by sprinkling some water with a hose.
11.  Do not compost any pesticide/herbicide treated materials.  Since I had no idea what had been initially used on the lawn and plants when we moved here, I did not use any of the early waste for the compost bin.
12.  Feces from animals that eat meat products cannot be composted.  Which means, unfortunately for me, dog and cat poop cannot be used.  Waste from animals that are strict vegetarians can be used.  I hope that someday we will have a few chickens around here to help add nutrients to the compost bin. 🙂  My husband finds that pretty strange since I am allergic to eggs.
13.  To make the decomposition process go even faster, it works best to cut the material into small pieces.  I use the chipper to break up some of the dry goods, and hand cut some of the greens to make sure I don’t put things in that are too large.  The larger the pieces are that you put in, the longer it will take for everything to break down.
A special note regarding storing compost:
Composting has gotten a bad reputation lately as reports of people getting sick from homemade compost have surfaced in the media.  One thing that I noticed from my own research on these stories is that these people were not storing their compost properly.  Compost is a living, breathing material, and should not be stored in enclosed plastic bags.  If it is stored in that manner, it will become moldy, which can be dangerous.  If it is properly stored with adequate ventilation (as pictured above), it poses no health risks.  I have been making compost since I was a young child, and have never had any health issues as a result (and I was born with a somewhat weak immune system).

My New Compost Tumbler

I love my new compost tumbler!  We have been good about gathering up all of our vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen, gardening waste, etc.  The composting tumbler is supposed to help everything decompose faster.  Doesn’t that black gold look beautiful?  I was excited to spread the first batch of this around the garden this morning, instead of having to use the store bought compost I had been using previously.