Hartley Magazine

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Safety-Glass Disaster

In the last nor’easter gale here in Rhode Island, wind gusts reached 60 to 70 mph. Usually, the greenhouse, which is in the lee of my studio, is not affected by northerly winds. But one sunny day this spring I opened the greenhouse windows to lower the interior temperature, which had reached 90°F (32° C). I then forgot to close the windows that night when the gale hit. Consequently, one of the large panes of safety glass on the south side of the greenhouse blew out.

The glass pieces were so small that collecting them had to be done by hand. After several hours of work, there were still many pieces of glass in the garden bed.

As bad luck would have it, I had just cleaned up the asparagus bed in front of the greenhouse, so there were no soft ferns for the glass to land on, as another blown-out pane did two years ago in the fall. I should have made certain then that the window fastenings were more secure. But in my haste to get everything into the greenhouse before frost that night, I neglected to attend to the window fastening as I should have. And in any case, my disaster this time was not due to faulty fastenings but rather to my forgetfulness in leaving the windows open.

This year’s event was far more spectacular than the previous one. The result was ¼” (8mm) shards of safety glass spread across three raised beds. Even worse, most of it landed in the straw on top of the asparagus bed. Using the shop vac to clean up the mess was almost impossible since I vacuumed more straw than glass. I had to spend more time cleaning the straw out of the clogged vacuum than actually picking up the shards.

So it became a hands and knees job, crawling around the garden wearing heavy gloves and digging shards of glass out of the straw mulch covering the asparagus bed, out of the soil in the other beds, and out of the wood chips between the beds. This explosion of glass in the middle of the night probably took only a few seconds. But the cleanup took hours, and even then, I didn’t pick up every piece of glass. I also dumped several pounds of perfectly good soil and straw into the garbage simply because there was no way to separate the glass from it. I could have screened it, but some of the glass was so small it would have passed through the screen.

Pieces of glass in the straw mulch on the asparagus bed. Vacuuming the glass out of the bed sucked up enough straw to completely clog the shop vac.

To make matters worse, I had a lot of produce growing in the greenhouse, and frost was predicted for that night. Fortunately, I had several extra panes of glass on standby because I usually use them for cloches in spring. So I traipsed the small step ladder into the greenhouse and manhandled a new pane into place. It’s an inch or two smaller than the original, but I figure that will let the hot air out without having to open a window and forget to close it!

When the greenhouse is empty in summer, I’ll install another, better-fitting pane of glass to make the greenhouse watertight, and hopefully windproof too, before next winter. And this time every pane of glass will be much more firmly fastened in place.