If you are longing to get away from winter but don't have access to a tropical paradise, there is another way. One Tooele County family thinks their greenhouse gives them the perfect getaway.
Jerry Worsencroft and his wife Sharon are enjoying greenhouse No. 3. As I visited with Jerry and his daughter Jennie, it is easy to see why they enjoy it so much. While seated on some comfortable furniture inside we were surrounded by many tropical plants in flower and fruit.
I asked Jerry how he got into designing and building greenhouses. He credits his grandfather.
"I am like my grandpa. He had a little hotbed, the kind people used to have before there were stores that sold lots of plants. He liked to grow stuff there and I take after him. I like to grow things that you don't see everywhere. I go for the unusual."
It was easy to see that he does favor the unusual. As I looked around his greenhouse I saw banana trees with fruit on them, dwarf Hass avocados, lemons, limes, Meyer lemons, and Fremont tangerines. In addition to these fruits he had many others.
He rattled off the names of other favorites. "Over here is a loquat. Don't know if it will fruit inside this greenhouse or not. This pineapple plant is one we started from the pineapple top of the fruit we bought at the grocery store.
"All of the coleus plants are ones that my daughter Jennie started from seeds. They've grown very large and have many different colors. The banana tree with the fruit on it is special to us because we brought it here from Arkansas when we moved here.
"I got that banana tree when I was in high school. It has been in all three of our greenhouses and is still growing well. This other banana is not nearly as happy. It was getting too cold so I have wrapped it with Christmas lights and put insulation over the roots to keep it warmer."
Few of us could claim to have kept any plant alive through numerous moves over several decades but Jerry has a special love of plants. Other specimens including bougainvillea, dracaena, sansevieria and many others populate his indoor paradise.
His first greenhouse was attached to his home when he lived in Draper. It collected the heat and they used it to help heat their home. When they moved to Tooele County they built a dugout, earth sheltered greenhouse and used that for a few years.
"It started to deteriorate so I decided I needed to fix it up," Jerry said. "I wanted something a little larger and more attractive with more growing space."
The current greenhouse is also sheltered with some of it below ground level. This part is built of concrete to provide sufficient strength to hold the walls in place. Above that is the glazing which consists of large double pane windows that help conserve the heat.
The pillars between the windows are foam bricks filled with concrete. This provides good insulation to reduce heat loss. The roof is solid with the exception of the skylights which open to provide ventilation. The roof is also well-insulated to conserve heat.
The large windows collect solar heat, which is stored in the masonry walls and floor. Supplemental heat is provided by a propane furnace ducts in from the adjoining garage.
Jerry explains that he tries to keep the temperature above 56 degrees. He knows that is a little cool for the tropical plants but raising the temperature means buying more fuel. The greenhouse will heat up to about 72 degrees on a sunny day. For ventilation, the skylights open and he has a couple of ceiling fans to distribute the air inside the greenhouse.
Since he has such a diversity of plants, I asked him what he did for soil. He explained that he mixes sand and peat moss with a few other amendments. He fertilizes with Osmocote-controlled release fertilizer and occasionally uses some Miracle-Gro 20-20-20.
I asked him what problems he ran into. He explained that if you pay attention to the temperature, the water and the soil, the plants will grow well. His only pest problem is with scale. He has no aphids or white flies, which he admits is surprising because those are common greenhouse pests.
"This is my hobby," he said. "I don't have a fancy car, a motorcycle or a season-ski pass. I come out every day and look for new buds. I talk to the plants because I am slightly loony and I just ask them what they want to make them grow better.
"I sometimes think that I should have built this onto my house, but if it were connected to my house it would not be a good getaway from everything else. It is a good place to come out and read and I consider it my tropical man cave.
"If you have a south facing building look at how to build something onto it. Don't waste the sun. Fix the soil and learn to grow something."
A solar greenhouse construction class will be held Jan. 17, 24 and 31 at 2-4:30 p.m. or 6-8:30 p.m. Take advantage of the sun to heat your greenhouse. Extend your outdoor garden or become more self-reliant! Course topics include choosing a site, energy conservation, low-cost construction techniques, heating, cooling, glazing, hot beds and cold frames. This is the only time of the year that this class is held.
A basic landscape design class will be held Jan. 17, 24 and 31 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each class is $40 per person.
Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.