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63: Erecting a Palram ‘Harmony’ 6 x 4 Greenhouse.

 

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29th March 2014. Imagine our excitement, when, only 2 days after ordering it online from B&Q, our little 6 ft x 4 ft greenhouse arrived - they had said it might take up to 7 days! We had always wanted a modest greenhouse, having had some trivial success in growing a few tomatoes in our sun-room in 2011 & 2012. But 2013 saw the sun-room converted to a workshop, and there really wasn’t much compatibility between lathes, bench grinders, drilling machines &c., and the delicate shoots of plants. The package in which it arrived was compact, but rather heavy, so we dragged it into the living room & opened it there. The weather had been cold and wet for several days, but was forecast to improve dramatically the next day. So rather than rush into things, we spent some hours checking off the various parts against the thick 62-page A4 Instruction Book. As the instructions are intended to apply universally, the bulk of the book consists simply of diagrams, exactly the same as IKEA assembly leaflets. We have usually fared well with IKEA stuff; but it must be said, that some time spent in sorting out the various components and laying them out in groups – there are often several identical parts – is very well spent. ‘Ah yes – this must be another #996. Gosh, there are eight of those; I wonder what they all do?’ All the parts have little printed number labels on them. Actually #996 was stamped with dies. And in another case, only one of four identical parts bore a label, but it was perfectly obvious what the other three were. We could hardly wait to begin. Sure enough, the next day was increasingly warm, bright and sunny, and we started work just after 0900. The numbers on the images are keyed with the pages of the assembly manual. In the images here, often many steps (there are 51 altogether!) are represented by just one photo. But it’s all fairly obvious, really. Step 1 is assembling the base. The base comes in the kit – this is good, as often the base of a small greenhouse is an extra purchase. It only took 5 minutes, and there was our base. There are certain fundamental rules, e.g. the heads of bolts are always on the outside of the greenhouse. Only one major error was made, dealt with later. We are warned to wear protective gloves & all the usual sort of precautions. I didn’t wear gloves, as I have big clumsy hands & could not possibly fit nuts & bolts while wearing gloves. No mishaps occurred as a consequence; but I worked very slowly & deliberately, often stopping to think things through. The only slight injury was sustained when I accidentally knelt on a screwdriver. Fortunately, my neighbours’ young children were playing in the garden next door, so I was constrained to stoic silence during the ensuing wave of exquisite agony. On the one hand, I am convinced that the pain would have been much abated had I been able to utter a harsh scream of vile Blasphemy. As I write this, two days later, there is still an occasional faint twinge from my right patella. But on the other hand, is it not somehow ennobling to pass through these little ordeals with self-control? But I digress…

 

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The vertical corner uprights are bolted into place – step 2. A hexagonal 10mm box spanner is supplied which makes it easy to tighten the nuts. However, one is correctly advised not the make them too tight to start with, as the whole thing will need a bit of ‘squaring up’ as we go along. The bolts have a square head, the function of which will become apparent very soon. Step 3 consists of loosely fitting 6 nuts & bolts in holes in the base for use in subsequent steps.

 

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Even at this early stage, you need to decide which on side you want to have the door. We want our door on the right; so #995 and #996 are placed on the left. The tops of these have an end-slope which must be correctly aligned, sloping outwards. Tighten them up to a fair degree. They bend at this stage as you can see. These long components are all aluminium extrusions, some of very complex cross-section, but very accurate. The square bolt-heads can fit into grooves in some of these extrusions, which stops the bolt rotating while you do up the nut. Incidentally, the instructions warn you against assembling the greenhouse in wet or windy weather, which is very good advice. A strong wind at this stage could easily blow these verticals around & possibly bend the base.

 

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Step 5 simply consists of unfolding component #955 and fitting the strip brace #956 (arrowed) with 4 nuts & bolts.

 

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Before fitting the assembly #955, drop a bolt, thread facing inwards as always, down the slot of each vertical – they are arrowed above, and will be needed on the next step. Only then, fix #955 to the verticals with two more bolts, the heads of which are also in the slot of the verticals.

 

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Square up the assembly, and bolt #955 at each end, adding the two bracing struts #256. The bottom ends of these struts are secured to the bolts previously dropped to the bottom of the verticals.

 

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Now to the front. At step 08, you – we – must decide which way we want the door to open, because of the door-posts #987 & #988, #987 has provision for the hinges of the door. We decided to have the door opening away from us, on the grounds that (a) we would normally approach from that direction, and (b) the prevailing wind blows up our garden, so it would blow the door open rather than shut, and in any case it has a strong magnetic clip to secure it once it’s open. Step 09 consists again of dropping 2 bolts, thread inwards, down the slot in the door posts. Step 10 involves fitting the two horizontal spacers #286 – the spirit-level sits on one of them – and also two more parts #256, diagonal bracing struts, the lower ends of which fit to the bolts already dropped to the bottom of the

door-posts.

 

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Step 11 has the mid-end verticals secured the bottom by the nuts & bolts already placed there in step 3. Step 12 involves placing 4 nuts & bolts loosely at the top of the 4 corner verticals, for use later on. The ones at this end are arrowed.

 

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Step 13 is a simple one, but a big stride forward – the insertion of 9 large polycarbonate glazing sheets, by which our framework suddenly starts to look like a greenhouse! It was at this point that we hit a small snag. The glazing sheets slide into grooves in the aluminium extrusions. The problem was, that most of the sheets were ‘feathered’ at their ends. I call it feathering; I don’t know what it really should be called, but the point it, they wouldn’t go into their slots, because they were too wide. Very well: we trimmed off the excess using scissors. Any reasonable pair of scissors will do; our ‘Garden Scissors’ cost 50p at a car boot sale. So did our Kitchen Scissors. They are in fact identical, but we can tell them apart because the Garden Scissors have a piece of green garden twine tied through the handle. We hang them up by this, but it also serves to tell them apart. On more than one occasion, the Garden Scissors have ended up in the kitchen – usually, I suppose, when opening bags of bird-seed for the garden bird feeders. Still, it would never do, would it, to use the Garden Scissors for delicate culinary purposes?

 

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Ah! ‘Now, that’s something like’ – as my grandfather used to say. Something like what, he never vouchsafed; and alas, I never thought to ask him. Still, we now have a rectangular prism which is largely glazed & much square & rigid than before, so we went around and tightened up some nuts, but not to excess, in case of future difficulties.

 

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At this point, as at several previous ones in this threadbare & tedious tale, we sat down with a cup of tea to relax our increasingly elderly knees & think about ‘what is to be done’ and ‘what is not to be done’. All at once, we saw a lepidopteron flying about. It was indeed a lovely sunny day, attaining 17°C, by far the warmest so far in 2014. And it is on just such days that a rhopaloceron – it’s a butterfly; I’m just being pedantic – will come out of hibernation & fly around, seeing if everything is OK. It certainly was today, as I saw a Peacock, a Small White, and I’m sure another was a Red Admiral, though I can’t be positive. However, this Comma, Polygonia c-album, is unquestionable & basks, in its slightly tatty state after a long hibernation, on the rope that holds up my Amateur Radio aerial. But Amateur Radio is another story.

 

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At this point, I inadvertently strayed from the instructions! Fixing the structure down to the deck is the very last thing you do. This is clearly laid down in step 51, but I must have forgotten. We chose to do it now because when glazed, it’s hard to get a drill through the holes in the top of the base – one is arrowed. Screwing the base into concrete slabs required, we decided, 8mm Plasplugs (or whatever they are called these days). Very many holes exist in the base, and as our marking-out has always been very poor, we had a long think & decided that 8 of these Plasplugs would suffice. But with the polycarbonate glazing in place, how were we to drill the holes in the concrete slabs? At first we had a Cunning Plan to spray some grey undercoat through the 8 selected holes. This would give 8 well-defined grey blobs for us to drill into. Hah!! We ended up with 8 diffuse grey patches about 1" in diameter! Rethink time. Very well then: we re-positioned the greenhouse over the grey patches, & poked a thick red marker pen through the holes. Much better. We now had eight 1" grey patches with a distinct red blob more or less in the middle. Moving the greenhouse to give direct access to the marks, the rest was easy, assuming that you can drill eight 8mm holes with a hammer-drill through 2" concrete slabs without the tendons of your hands & arms objecting to the vibration too much. But, the thought of screwing in eight 2.5" long screws by hand was very daunting, and we did not have a long thin extension for our electric screwdriver (actually a light hand drill). Our extensions were 10mm diameter, and would not go through the holes in the upper flange of the base – arrowed above. So we took out our 8 upper holes to about 10.5mm using Drill Z from our drill set. This just fitted the 10mm chuck of the screwdriver.

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Step 14 was simply inserting four short PVC mouldings #318 into the tops of the end glazing. Step 15 was dropping a nut & bolt down the centre-end verticals. Step 16 introduced a #976 extrusion along the top of both these glazing panels. It is secured by nuts & bolts previously placed or inserted.

 

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Here, five short components #996, each pre-loaded with two bolts, are secured along the top of the glazing on the long sides of the greenhouse. Only two are at the front, one either side of the door-space; but three are necessary to cover the rear of the structure.

 

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Erecting the two ‘gable ends’ occupies no less than seven pages of the manual (diagrams 20-26); but it is quite easy if one takes it steadily & refers to the manual. The main thing that might go wrong here is fitting the glazing ‘inside out’ – but the pressed-in strengthening ‘wells’ all point outwards, which is well indicated in the manual.

 

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Now the main cross-piece #977 is bolted into place, joining the gables.

 

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With Step 28, the decision must be made about the position of the opening window, which can be in one of four places. We decided to have it at the back, as the prevailing wind tends to come up the garden. This was actually the position shown in the manual. Now came the small catastrophe. The base had been

firmly fixed to the slabbing! The new water butt was in the way, and was three-quarters full. We didn’t want to run off our carefully ‘harvested’ rain-water! So we did have to do a tiny bit of dismantling in order to slide the fixed lower glazing in, but it was OK in the end. This would not have happened had we left the fixing down until the end, as the manual tells you - providing you read it!  8^)

 

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These were easy steps, putting in the last of the large #7011 roof glazing panels. At the bottom of each is a #981 end strip. These seem a little loose when you first fit them, but step 39 secures the inner ends of them by a small plastic moulding #329, arrowed. The other end of the greenhouse has one as well, of course. (The outer ends of the #981s are also secured, but later on.)

 

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The opening window is assembled. Best to do it on a carpet indoors. The #4008 self-tapping screws are quite hard to screw in by hand, so we carefully used the electric screwdriver.

 

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The top of the window is hooked into the roof-crest extrusion #977. When correctly positioned, a small length of star-section hard rubber (#7009, arrowed) is forced in the ‘hinge channel’ to stop the window migrating to the left. A plastic end-cap, fitted later on #977 prevents it moving to the right. Then the plastic window stay #99 is fitted with two plastic clips #22. There are a lot of self-opening & closing stays on the market; we wonder whether we will want to go in for one in due course?

 

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The greenhouse is now complete except for the door; but first the 4 part-hinges #464 are screwed to the doorpost. (The direction in which the door opens was chosen very early on. This happened to be as illustrated in the manual, which was helpful!)

 

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The door is quite straightforward to assemble, but, rather obviously, is best done on a carpet indoors. Again, the four #4008 screws were carefully tightened with the electric screwdriver.

 

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The door handle goes in easily, provided the upper and lower door glazing panels are pushed apart to give a gap for part #7085 to fit through.

 

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And voilà! The door is hung. There is some adjustment available to square it up if needed. At first we thought it was snagging at the bottom, but it was only the very strong magnetic catch, which works when the door is shut as well as when it’s open.

 

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The work is now over except for fitting the four corner pieces #344L & #344R – these push in & are then secured by a self-tapping screw from inside. As you see, these incorporate outlets for the built-in guttering which runs on all four sides of the greenhouse – another useful source of rain-water. Also, end-caps for the main roof-crest (part #343) are fitted. It was slightly tricky to fit the one on the shed side, but that was my fault for fixing the frame down too early!

 

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The very last stage is inserting plastic clips which will prevent the bottom of the glazing moving about in strong wind. They need to be carefully pressed in; don’t try a drift & a hammer: I broke one while doing that. Also, I had opened up 8 of these holes to screw the frame down, so I’ll have to glue some of the clips in place. Then a quick 5 minutes with the supplied box spanner to tighten up all the nuts brings us to the end of an enjoyable session with ‘giant Meccano’!

 

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And here we are, enjoying a cup of coffee and looking quite satisfied with ourselves! We took our time of course & assembly was spread over 2 days. I should think we spent a good 10 to 12 hours over it – but we frequently stopped for cups of tea & a bit of a rest, not to mention photographing butterflies, leisurely lunches &c. It was perfectly feasible for one person to put it up; I used a stout wooden chair to stand on when necessary and did not have to use the step-ladder. Putting it up even a moderate wind would have been far more difficult, and two people would almost certainly have been required for e.g. fitting the gable ends. The manual is very good indeed – provided you read it thoroughly & correctly. We really only made one mistake: that of screwing down the base too early in the procedure. At that, eight two-and-a-half inch screws into 8mm Plasplugs in 2" thick concrete slabbing is quite possibly ‘over-kill’ in holding it down. If on an earth base, the four 6"pegs supplied are presumably adequate. It comes with a few spare nuts & bolts &c, though I am pleased to say we didn’t need to get into the spares. Some of the extrusions are of considerable complexity, but all are perfectly straight & true. I hope they were made in the U.K! In short, I am very pleased with this whole thing, and am confident in recommending this Palram product to anyone who wants a cheap 6 x 4 greenhouse. To be sure, I had a few extra tools &c in my workshop to fall back on. As I said, it was ordered on-line from B&Q, and cost £179.98 including delivery. It will probably rattle a bit in the wind – so does my wooden fencing – but as it’s at the top of the garden that shouldn’t be a problem to me or the neighbours (See supplement below). But on top of everything, we also bought two bags of multi-purpose compost from Waitrose, which is endorsed by ALAN TITCHMARCH no less; so if in a week or two, the greenhouse is not a mass of luxuriant foliage &c., we shall want to know why. Perhaps an update may appear here later?

 

Page written 29th-31st March 2014.

 

 

 

Captain’s Log, Supplementary. Star-date whatsit &c.

 

 

Look! It’s August 6th 2014, and the greenhouse is seething with tomatoes. Fortunately, I like them, and the six plants I bought from B&Q (three Alicante, two Gardener’s Delight and one Outdoor Girl (a six-pack for £4.99)) have worked pretty well. I’m already having to give the surplus to my kids, the neighbours &c.

 

 

Besides the tomatoes, we also started begonias & dahlias early on, also some Viper’s Bugloss from seed from an existing plant in the garden. I don’t know why I like Viper’s Bugloss so much, but I do. But now it’s pretty well just tomatoes! The above is Gardener’s Delight.

 

 

I think this is the Outdoor Girl plant. Presumably its name indicates where it’s intended to grow? But it – she – seems happy enough in a greenhouse. I really just wanted six Moneymaker plants, but B&Q only had six-packs of assortments. These included vine tomatoes, long tomatoes & beef tomatoes (which I’m not bothered with) as well as regular varieties, and the inevitable had happened: people had sorted through the six-packs, done a ‘mix & match’, and gone off with six Moneymakers or six Alicantes &c. Nothing daunted, I rummaged through what was left & am quite content with what I got. Incidentally, re. the rattling of the polycarbonate glazing in the wind: yes, it does rattle somewhat in the wind; but, if the wind is strong enough to make it rattle, then the sound of the wind itself is louder than the rattling; so it’s very unlikely anybody will be bothered by it.

 

There we are, then. Wishing you all the best; I’m now off to a fascinating website called ‘Twenty-four ways to cook tomatoes’…

 

Page modified 6th August 2014.