Mar 15, 2023

KAB: Look at what you have first - Hemingford Garden

Posted Mar 15, 2023 7:11 PM

By JOHN E. WEARE, Keep Alliance Beautiful

An arch crafted from branches frames the entrance to Mike Vigh and Cheryl Kaman's new greenhouse behind their home in Hemingford.
An arch crafted from branches frames the entrance to Mike Vigh and Cheryl Kaman's new greenhouse behind their home in Hemingford.

A greenhouse built with discarded apartment windows. A Hemingford couple’s winter project proved to be an innovative example of the “reuse” approach, yet was only the latest reflection of their sustainable lifestyle.

Light pours through the greenhouse roof.
Light pours through the greenhouse roof.

Cheryl Kaman and Mike Vigh’s house did not look much different than other houses in the neighborhood – until they bid me enter the garage and, steps later, the backyard. Despite the sun, persistent wind still carried a bite blowing through what had obviously been a lush yard of gardens months ago. Mike and Cheryl described what grew where and plans for the fast-approaching spring as well as their greenhouses: the structure nearing completion and another, cozier space – both adjoining the garage.

Cheryl confirmed my impression that the yard has been a work in progress for years, since she moved in during 1996 in fact. She and Mike share a philosophy that values environmentally responsible practices. “If people think about not going out and buying it, but look at what they have around first,” he encouraged. “Grew out of hobbies and what we liked to do,” Cheryl added.

Recycling has been the norm for Cheryl her whole life. While living in The (North Platte) Valley she deposited everything in the bins. They do not recycle as much now because using less to begin with is a priority as they “don’t do much disposable stuff. We buy bigger containers and reuse,” Mike noted. He said that ever since he started a career in construction he has been repurposing things, such as lumber. Following an injury some time ago, Mike has been unable to work fulltime in that profession. However, he is always crafting a new creation while pursuing a degree from Chadron State College. He recently finished a compact writing desk made from a single pallet and showed me how a television console from Cheryl’s aunt will become a cat condo.

Mike Vigh stands next to a sunflower last summer.
Mike Vigh stands next to a sunflower last summer.

Passion for the outdoors and gardening also comes naturally. Cheryl alluded to the roots of these interests while pointing out dormant spaces, including: a complete herb garden at the kitchen window that had been harvested and dried in the fall, containers and traditional beds bordered by native sunflowers as well as an apple tree, strawberry patch, raspberry bushes and grape vines. Mike said, “I was the youngest of four. I hung out with my mom and got that green thumb.”

By our February interview, the couple had two months invested in the second greenhouse. The space had been a covered patio – Cheryl’s “Mexican garden.” The process has featured leftover paint. “She does the research,” Mike said. “We’ve come to the conclusion: I build it, she decorates it.”

Capturing sunlight and holding heat is a main function for any greenhouse design. Cheryl secured materials from one of her jobs. In addition to being a certified librarian downtown, Village billing clerk and home and yard service owner/operator, she has been director of Apollo Courts since 2014. Currently working maintenance as well for this Hemingford public housing area, she asked to reuse windows removed during a renovation while giving away others not needed for their design.

Transformation of the former patio incorporated a better way to capture water too. Mike added pitch to what had been a flat roof, showing how rain and melting snow will flow as we walked around inside. A gutted water heater, painted red, will hold up to 50 gallons on the east side where a slimmer green collector tank stood next to buckets filled with aggregate of varying size. Mike is using the contents for a filter to serve a water feature he expects will be deep enough for midsize koi to spend the winter.

The space still retains a relaxed patio feel from square pavers on the ground to a trimmed-down tree sprouting from a wire-spool table forming a column reaching to the beams. Below the clear roof, Mike explained the structure is not airtight by design. Strategic slight openings here and there allow ventilation. A small fan will help maintain the desired temperature with the possibility of a wood burning stove for colder months. He said they don’t have a whole lot of money tied up in anything, figuring $200 at most in the greenhouse.

While completing their project and planting for the upcoming season is the current priority, the couple would like to have plants growing there continuously. One goal is to plant with greens again before winter arrives – “basic salad stuff” growing the rest of the year, Mike said.

In addition to sharing their love of gardening, Cheryl and Mike agreed that Hemingford is a community where people like to upcycle, and “pass stuff onto people who can use it.” Mike told of an old porch repurposed at another house as a smaller one. He said they take leaves to a friend’s place who lives outside of town and often bring back lumber from the junkpile.

I cannot claim the ability to successfully raise much more than the moderately invasive mint that ends up in my teacup, and only upcycle the most rudimentary greenhouse from window/tire pairs. However, as green prepares to brighten our part of the world, I commend those who can grow anything anywhere and regenerate junk. Who? Hard to tell . . . until you meet new people who talk about what they like to do behind old fences.