Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: This husband found the way to go from the doghouse to the greenhouse

Though its best to get starts for leeks and onions going in March, it’s not too late, even though the calendar now says June.
Though its best to get starts for leeks and onions going in March, it’s not too late, even though the calendar now says June.

A possible idea for those of you who are handy: A cheap greenhouse.

I learned of an interesting idea from a reader. He had an old large dog chain link fenced kennel but no longer had a dog. His wife had been hinting often and loudly that she wanted a greenhouse to do her seed and flower starts and grow things out of season.

He found a way, with a bit of dismantling and rebuilding, to turn the dog kennel into a prized greenhouse. He had lots of help from Charley’s Greenhouse Supply in Mount Vernon, and with the advice of greenhouse owning friends, ensured his greenhouse would be secure in the high winds common to his area. He did this by pouring a slab and connecting the greenhouse to it.

So, for those of you who might have or have access to an unused dog kennel, here’s a way to spend all that spare time, save some serious money and make a spouse happy.

Question: I have had checkered success growing leeks and onions from seed. Any hints on what might be a good technique?

Answer: Leeks and onions take a long time to grow from seed. In early March (keep reading; I know that’s long past…) cut holes in the bottom of a large yogurt or cottage cheese container, add about three inches of good starter soil mix, sprinkle seeds liberally over the soil and water well. Place the tub in a windowsill that gets plenty of light. Remember to water frequently, never letting the soil dry out. If you don’t the seeds will never germinate.

Each tub will hold many dozens of skinny seedlings. The edge of the container supports these as they grow. It’s easy to tease them apart when you plant them out, as they’re quite flexible in spite of looking fragile. But a few weeks before you plant them out, give them a haircut. Using scissors, lop off about half of the tops of the skinny plants. It will help produce stronger plants.

I realize that it is no longer March. But it really isn’t too late to plant onions or leeks. Buy starts anywhere they’re sold. Or, do exactly what I recommended above, and if the weather cooperates, you can have onions and particularly the hardier leeks throughout our colder weather. Just be prepared to cover them with Remay, a light fabric covering that protects plants from insects and frost.

Q: On a walk in a city neighborhood last summer I saw a bed filled with gorgeous white flowers. Luckily, the owner was outside, and when I asked what they were, responded that they were carrots gone to flower. Wow! I want them in my yard. But how best to do that?

A: This is a fun project, and the resulting flowers (umbels) really are gorgeous. Even better, they bloom all summer long and last up to two weeks in bouquets.

Carrots are true biennials and put most of their energy into the roots in the first year and then produce seeds in the second year. The plants flower all summer long and when done, the crisp orange (or red or purple) carrots are reduced to a hollow spent-looking things that have completed their job of producing 100,000 or so seeds.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to