by H.E. Taylor
|Chapter 53||Table of Contents||Chapter 55|
Greenhouse, May 31, 2057
Things were not looking good. At UNGETF, we were all too aware of of the unfolding disasters. The storms and wildfires, the floods and droughts were bad enough, but food production was down again. The methane levels kept rising. Nothing we were doing seemed to have any effect.
I left the meeting with a heavy heart. As I headed for home, it was already hot. This was May. When spring starts in February, the season seems to go on forever. Calling April the cruellest month seemed like a bad joke now.
Edie met me at the door. “They’ve imposed food rationing. We’re going to be getting ration cards.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
“What do you think I should say?”
“Well, can’t you do anything?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it.”
Anna came wandering into the kitchen, puzzled and alarmed at the tone of our voices. I held my arms open to her. She came running and launched herself at me. We did our ritual nose rubbing and I made googily noises into her neck.
She giggled and kicked, so I put her down. Then I leaned over putting my head down to her height.
“And how are you, young lady?”
She looked at Edie. “Why is mommy afraid?”
“I’m not afraid, sweetheart. I’m just worried.”
I straightened up and laughed. “Yes. Why?” I said to Edie. “We have enough food for now and we can build a greenhouse to extend the season.”
Anna looked back and forth between us. Edie crouched down and opened her arms. Anna went to her hesitantly. With the total seriousness only a child can muster, Anna said, “Don’t worry, daddy will take care of us.”
“Oh darling,” Edie swept her up with tears in her eyes. Anna rubbed noses with Edie, which was not something Edie was in the habit of doing.
“I’m going to have a quick shower,” I said and headed downstairs.
That night after supper, I began drawing up plans for a greenhouse. It would go on the bit of lawn at the foot of the garden beside the shed. Lumber was expensive and when I checked the price of glass, I couldn’t believe the cost. Plastic sheeting was cheaper, but there was an estimated six-month delay before delivery.
Edie walked into the frontroom while I was searching.
“What’re you doing?”
“Looking for building materials.”
“I can make you glass.”
“On the fab. What size are the panes?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You should call that sharecrop gardner guy, Mark Andrews, to see if he can help.”
Mark was an old fashioned guy, so it was a voice only line. We said our hellos and Mark got right to the point. “What can I do for you?”
“Well I’ve been thinking it might be wise to put up a greenhouse, what with…the way things are going, but I’m having trouble getting building materials. I can’t believe the price of lumber.”
“Yeah, I know. Did you try Stewart’s on the south side?”
“He deals in undersized and fireburnt material only, for licensing reasons you understand, but it would be fine for a greenhouse.”
“Thanks, I’ll check it out.”
“I don’t imagine you like the price of glass either.”
“No, but Edie says she can fab the glass.”
“Now that’s something I never considered. There is another possibility.”
“This is going to sound kind of wingy, but you can get a government grant for transparent photovoltaic roof modules, with the proviso that you give them all the power generated for five years. After that, the power is yours at standard feed-in-tariff rates.”
“What’s the catch?”
“If there is one, I don’t know it. They seem to be genuinely worried about keeping the grid up…but you would probably know more about that than me.”
“Not really.” I had noticed the tendency among some people to assume that anyone connected to one branch of government knew everything about all the other branches as well, but I didn’t comment on that to him.
“Do you know who has the modules and where to get the grant forms and so on?”
“McIvor’s has the whole works.”
“Okay. I’ll stop in tomorrow.”
“Ah Luc. Do you want some help putting it up?”
“I don’t even have a plan yet.”
“I have one. If you are interested.”
“You’ve been down this road before, haven’t you?”
“You’re the sixth person to ask me about a greenhouse this year.”
“What time are you going to McIvor’s tomorrow?”
“I have a class at three. I can be there at four thirty.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
As it turned out, Mark brought another gardener, Linus, along and he had a connection to Stewart’s. We made our arrangements. In two weeks we would have a greenhouse bee. I headed for home feeling happy.
As soon as I stepped inside the back door, a dank earthy-sour smell caught me. I could hear voices in the basement. The smell got stronger as I descended. Edie and Anna were watching a fab operate.
“What is that stink?!”
“Oh hi,” said Edie, “I didn’t hear you come in. I’m making bioplastic for glass. Did you get the plans?”
“What are the dimensions of the panes?”
“50 by 100 cm.”
Edie looked at Anna and said, “See, I told you I’d need a bigger one.”
“A bigger what?” I asked.
“A fab with a bed bigger than 80 cm.”
I stepped back shaking my head. “How long is the house going to stink like this?”
“A couple days. The smell will seem to fade in a couple of hours.”
“Don’t go in there,” Anna pointed to the closed storeroom door with an ultra-serious air.
I looked at Edie and she reacted defensively. “It’s enclosed, it’s temperature controlled and it’s handy. It’s ideal. There wasn’t that much stuff in there, so I moved it into the rec room and put the barrels in there. It’s just temporary.”
I smiled to reassure her. “Okay, let me see if I’ve got this right. You’re fermenting vegetable oil to make plastic goop that you can turn into plasteel which we will use as glass, right?”
“Okay.” I paused. “What’s for supper?”
She spun around ready to give me hell and caught the twinkle in my eye. “Oh you!”
I couldn’t help laughing. “I’ll get it after I wash up.”
A couple days later, when I got home, the smell had faded significantly. Edie had been spending all her time in the basement, so I headed downstairs immediately.
“Hello snookums.” I did my nose rubbing ritual with Anna who was supervising her mother. Edie had one big fab making plasteel panes and the two smaller ones making another big fab.
“It takes about two and a half hours to make one pane. That will be 5 or 6 a day, and double that when the second fab is ready.” said Edie.
“We should be ready in lots of time then.”
“I was looking through the plans,” said Edie. “Do you have something in mind for those louvered sections on the end?”
“I can build those too.”
When bee day rolled around, Mark, Linus and I threw up a ten by four meter greenhouse in no time at all. In a way, it was all framing. The glass at one end and the photovoltaic modules at the other just slipped into place, usually. Clasps held them solid. Fiddling with the wiring took as long as fitting the modules. Some of the shaped glass for the end wasn’t ready yet, but I could add it as Edie fabbed it. Anna supervised from the shade of the shed.
We had drinks to celebrate the construction. After Mark and Linus had left, Anna gave Edie a big hug and said, “See, I told you daddy would take care of us.” I felt a little odd about letting Anna call me ‘daddy’, but Edie was adamant on the subject and I had acquiesced.
At first, we just had planters lying on the ground. I threw them together in the evenings while Anna and Edie filled them from a load of topsoil we had delivered. Good soil is hard to find in this district and I suspect it came from abandoned farmland down south. I didn’t ask. We told Anna she had to do her part and she ran back and forth with a little pail while her mother wrestled the wheelbarrow.
When I finished the last one, we sat down on the ground in the middle aisle between the planters and, as the sun set gold and mauve, we planned what we would grow. Anna fell asleep on her mother’s lap and we retreated to the house to put her to bed.
Mark and the sharecrop gardners added the greenhouse to their weekly rounds and life went on as before except for the electrical hookup. We had to wait a week to get an electrician to certify the wiring. We couldn’t just add it to the house’s photovoltaic system. Because it was a separate building, it had to have its own hookup. It was an old bylaw passed years ago after a tornado cut a swathe through town. I don’t know if they were having trouble with fraud or what it was, but we had three different inspectors come out to the house before we got the next bill.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
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Last modified August 20, 2013