"F*cking f*ck f*ck," my husband said as the wiggle wire popped out of place. I laughed quietly. "You know, this would be easier if you pulled down on the shade cloth," he added. His head was partially buried under sagging greenhouse plastic. I put down my section of wiggle wire and helped him finish his section of wire.
Minutes later, I said, "F*cking f*ck f*ck," as my wire popped its track. Jared laughed. I laughed. "It's better than wet, mucky lath," I said.
"Oh, lath. I hate that stuff," he replied.
Years ago, we used lath to hold greenhouse film in place. It's a tedious, difficult method - the film is rolled around the lath which is then nailed to the greenhouse baseboard.
Ideally, each spring we yanked up the lath with pry bars and hammers. Usually spring is as busy as (apologies for the dated references here, both of which have partially gone the way of the dinosaur) Black Friday with a new Cabbage Patch Kid on the shelf or midnight at Tower Records upon the release latest Metallica album.
Prying up lath in spring was necessary. We saved the film for reuse. Every penny counted, and our labor time was cheaper than cash money. In the lath days, I wasn't sure what my time was worth. Nothing and everything.
Time. It was precious, irreplaceable and also filled with the rightful needs of our then toddler-aged son. Intact greenhouse film. Precious, too. Lath. Wet, grimy, slimy, cracking. Nails. Rusty, bent, cracked and bent heads.
My labor generated material results - seedlings to pot up and plants to sell. My labor created a hospitable growing environment - a greenhouse covered with film in the winter, or a greenhouse without film in the summer. Spring, that tricky hustle time, a hospitable environment is just enough film to protect our tender plants from frosty temperatures and from too hot conditions that cause trouble like leggy growth, insect pests, bolting and blooming before the retail sales season.
Our first greenhouse was small. It took days and days and friends and friends to assemble and erect. When we packed up our the contents of our moldy cottage to move to our own farm we packed up our rusty and muddy nursery, too. The greenhouse was disassembled by friends and friends. I marveled at how our friend, David yanked the lath up so quickly. "Years of carpentry work," he said simply.
We closed on the house in April - spring! Once we moved, we put up simple PVC shade houses for the growing season. We laid out groundcloth. Jared pounded 4' rebar into the rocky ground while I prepared and cemented PVC pipes together. With a PVC ridge pole zip tied in place, we stretched shade cloth over the structure. We moved our plants out of the Uhaul and into their temporary home.
Come fall, we needed greenhouses that could take a snow load. "I am never doing lath again," Jared declared. "We're getting wiggle wire." No arguments. The lath went to other projects and bonfires.
Our dear friend, Chris, and a mother and her homeschooling brood, heard our call to put up the greenhouse. Jared had already pounded the bars into the ground. This all ages crew put up the baseboard and erected the arches. Some of the kids came inside and played with Beren (who was getting sick) while I made lunch and rose hip syrup with one of the older girls.
Later, my mother and father helped. Together, we installed the wiggle wire track with metal-tapping screws. My father lay on the ground in his Carhartts with his cordless drill in hand. Jared did the same with his newly purchased cordless impact driver ("They have a warranty on the batteries," he told me). We pulled the film over the house and began to thread the wiggle wire into the track.
This process reminds me of stretching an immense silk screen except there is wind and dirt. There are no artists, nor art but there is skill. When the film is stretched out, goldenrod stalks threaten to stab holes into it. When the film is lofted over the arches, the wind starts. However, putting up greenhouse film a bit sloppy is more forgiving than a less than taut silk screen.
In the cold, the new wiggle wire punished our fingers, especially our thumbs. We wrestled the highly tensioned last inches of each four foot long piece of wire with pliers and small vice grips. Greenhouse up. Enter the cold weather. The only maintenance until spring is knocking off especially heavy snow loads, and lately, a mid-winter watering when the days are too warm and sunny.
In subsequent years, putting on the film has become easier. One year, I stretched a the shade cloth alone. The wiggle wire still tortures my fingers. Every year I have to choose to protect my fingers or not - gloves on and go slow, or gloves off and go fast.
"F*cking f*ck f*ck." Gloves off this year. My hands are red and dry, catching on synthetic fabrics. Soil is under my fingernails and cuticles. Tomorrow evening, I will joke with my kung fu teacher and classmates about my reverse French manicure. The last pieces of yesteryear's lath and on a cart parked next to the bonfire. All is well. We are ready for the solstice.