Auburn-area greenhouse provides protected growing space

By: Gloria Young Home &?Garden
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North Auburn’s Juliette Bickford has gardening in her blood. “My father was a farmer by profession,” she said. “I grew up with gardening. I enjoy having a family vegetable garden. I start some things by seed like oleander and geraniums. I start my vegetables from seed and then plant the seedlings outside.” Bickford, who grew up in Southern California, had dreams of cultivating a similar garden in the foothills — a difficult task given the colder, wetter weather locally. “The things I wanted to grow — like citrus and avocado — you can’t grow up here. We’re just high enough,” she said. The solution? A greenhouse. And luckily Bickford’s husband, Shawn, is “a really handy guy.” Bickford explained what she wanted and he took it from there. “He didn’t do it out of a kit. It‘s something he made up,” she said. “When I told him I wanted to put trees in there, he knew how to (build) the ceiling.” The greenhouse measures 14 feet by 36 feet. Shawn Bickford welded together the metal framing and added polycarbonate panels. It has sliding doors on both ends. The top has trusses welded to create a house-shaped roof. The finished structure has more than met Juliette Bickford’s expectations and the plants and trees are thriving. “I started putting things in three or four years ago,” she said. “The trees have really grown fast. They must love it in there — especially the avocado trees. They’ve grown to the ceiling — probably 15 feet. I’m trying to train them to hang in the trusses.” She has two avocado trees — a Hass and a Mexicana — both purchased at Eisley Nursery in Auburn. “Right now they are heavy with avocados,” Bickford said. “Each year I’ve gotten more and mostly give them to friends. This is the first year I’ll have more than I can use. I like to put away canned fruits and vegetables. so I might try freezing guacamole for the first time.” At Eisley Nursery, which carries six or seven varieties of avocado trees during the warm season, sales associate and master gardener Rob Bietz said Auburn is pretty much the limit for keeping them outdoors year-round. Higher up, they need to be in a greenhouse during the winter. “We try to carry the most cold-hardy varieties,” he said. Avocado trees must be kept well watered and well fertilized. “If they are in containers, they need more fertilizer and more water,” Bietz said. “They’ll need a little more care in containers than in the ground.” Besides the flourishing avocados, the greenhouse has a Meyer lemon tree that “always has lemons on it,” Bickford said. “Each year you keep getting more. This year it looks like I have a bunch.” There are also two mandarin limes. “I have a kaffir lime, which you mainly use the leaves,” she said. “I also raise lemon grass. That freezes in the winter but it loves the greenhouse. In the spring, I really cut that back.” The greenhouse has enough space for a table, where Bickford does her potting and starting seeds. Several raised beds allow her to get a head start on the growing season. “I’ve had tomatoes as early as May before because I can start them earlier,” she said. Last year she over-wintered peppers including jalapenos. “I took them out of the ground and planted them in the greenhouse so they survived the winter,” she said. “(In the spring) I took them out and replanted them.” She’s found the greenhouse is a great way to extend the growing season. “I can grow winter vegetables through the winter — greens and lettuces,” she said. “I keep them in the greenhouse. It is still cold, but not too cold.” Summer heat presents a different challenge. Shawn Bickford devised a solution for that, too. “You have to have ways to vent it,” Juliette said. “So you pull off panels on the sides to get ventilation in the summer. It can get really hot and then it cools down and you get snow. Sometimes it is hard to know when to pull off the panels so you don’t roast everything on the inside.” The greenhouse has two removable panels on each side. “That provides enough ventilation to keep it cooler,” she said. Part of the planning was choosing a location that made the most of the weather. The greenhouse is situated so the raised beds get the most sun in winter. “The trees are on the less sunny side,” she said. “Mostly in winter is when that is important because you want to get the most sun possible when you are growing off-season.” Bickford is appreciative of the effort her husband put into the design and construction of the greenhouse. “And he’s not much into gardening,” she said. The project has been big a big success. But there are times when Mother Nature gets the upper hand. “It didn’t stay warm enough for plumeria flowers (from Hawaii),” she said. “I wasn’t able to keep those alive. Some things I have to bring into the house in the winter because it isn’t warm enough (in the greenhouse).” Bickford is looking forward to adding even more to the backyard structure. “I’m hoping to do more propagating, like making some rose bushes grow or flowers from seeds,” she said. “ Bickford has four children. The youngest particularly shares her interest in gardening. “She enjoys getting in there,” Bickford said. “I have some photos with the two of us in there when the trees were tiny things. It’s so full of stuff now.”