When we moved to The Outpost, it came with a 6m shadehouse. It’s a Trade Tested shadehouse, purchased and (properly) installed by the former residents circa 2018. Since then, it’s survived beating sun and heavy winds in the middle of a paddock.

But here we are in 2021 – three years later. And a few weeks ago, the cover gave up the ghost in a decent-sized storm.

I saw this coming over a year ago. Before Covid-19 and lockdowns were a thing, I enquired how much a new cover would be. My thoughts were I’d rather make the choice to replace it than have nature decide for me.

Turns out, I won’t get much change from $300. To buy a brand-new shadehouse would be $500. I wasn’t impressed with that idea and it moved to the backburner as other things took a higher priority.

What’s the point?

This thing cooks in summer. The location (basically in the middle of a windy paddock) may contribute to its functionality and longevity, but it did a rubbish job as shadehouse.

Inside the munted shadehouse - just stuff everywhere

Maybe it provides shade, but it also retains heat and excludes rain. Temperatures of up to 40ÂșC are common from November to March. I spend those months lugging buckets of water back and forth, desperately keeping my babies alive. I can’t really raise or keep seedlings in it – they cook in a couple of hours on a sunny day.

Same goes for the native seedlings I raise – they die if I keep them in the shade house. After a year of struggles, we built an area next door with windcloth surrounds. We evacuated everything that couldn’t stand the heat into this ‘holding area’. There are more plants in the holding area than in the shadehouse.

If a cover is going to cost around $100/year of use, and it’s not very useful… is it even worth replacing?

I saw it coming

I knew this was going to happen. The cover has been losing integrity for as long as we’ve owned it. So I’ve had some time to think about things.

I know I don’t want to just replace the cover – it’s rubbish and it cooks my plants. I’m not spending $300 on that outcome.

My father has a Redpath greenhouse and that thing has lasted decades. Even when the cover gave up, it took more than 15 years and he tells me it was easy and cost-effective to replace.

I sat down and did the math. Having weighed the two options, I realised it cost about the same to get 15 years out of either one, not including the lifespan of the frame. But there would be less replacing (and disposing of) the cover if I save up for a Redpath one. The frame is also a real consideration – the Trade Tested one is rusting out where it meets the soil and around fasteners. I don’t actually think it would last 15 years, but the Redpath option would probably last more like 30+.

But that’s quite an investment – and something I want to do when I’m more sure of a permanent location. Getting a Redpath shadehouse is not going to happen particularly soon.

Waste not, want not

We still have a large steel frame – and we’ll likely get another 3 or 4 years out of it at least. So I put my mind to considering the options.

I didn’t really want to throw good money after bad, so rather than trotting off to go look at new cover ideas, I thought about what we had.

What we had was a lot of bird net. More than enough to cover the frame. Additionally, there were a few rolls of shade cloth that could perhaps be incorporated too. And piles of cable ties to attach it all.

A combination of the two would provide shade to the plants, and keep birds out. The temperature would be more regulated – though we’d be losing a ‘dry’ space. It could be rather good as a fruit and berry house.

Do the mahi

As I removed the old cover, I realised I was pretty much going to need to do the entire thing in a single day. Thankfully, I’d chosen a really nice day.

With some help from Richard, I cleared everything out of there. Lots of empty pots, some bags of soil, and so many plants. The only thing I didn’t take out was the passionfruit, which is both rooted into the ground and growing along the frame itself.

Then we placed down a heavy mulch of cardboard. I still had a pallet of virgin cardboard boxes from earlier in the year, so we placed them out in piles of 4 or 5, overlapping in order to smother out the grass and weeds. It’ll rot down in time.

Next, I got to work installing the bird net. I worked methodically from the inside-out. I knew the net was 4m wide when stretched (because I sold it every weekend at work), so it took two pieces, with some overhang at each end.

First length of bird net attached to the frame
Two lengths of bird net attached to the frame

Finally, I permanently blocked one end with bird net, and left it there for now.

Richard came back and helped me move everything back in. We found a new home for the empty pots. And when I stepped back to look at it again – it actually looked pretty good!

Completes fruithouse as it stands now

Bringing back the shade

Since we did this, I realised a few plants (mainly the coffee, but the taro too) needed something a bit more substantial than the bird net. It looked good, but it’s still quite exposed. The passionfruit will provide some protection, but I can do better than that.

As luck would have it, we have some shade and wind cloth. I’m planning to attach them to the outside of the frame. I just haven’t quite decided which end to do it on yet.

I’m also going to hang another length of birdnet along the open end and secure it with pegs to create a bird-proof door.

And then, we plant

From there, I want to plant our berries into the ground inside what will now be known as the ‘fruit house’. They’re just starting to break dormancy, so we should be able to train new canes up using ropes hanging from the frame.

I’d also like to get some blueberries going and generally extend my range of berries. At the moment we have blackberry and boysenberry, but some raspberries would be fantastic as well. I fell in love with ivory raspberries last year so I’m keen to get some of those.

The coffee will live in here along with the pineapples and prickly pears until we have a more suitable spot for them. They’ll be joined by taro and some succulents which are also still waiting for a more permanent home.

And we shall see how long the frame actually lasts. Hopefully we’ll get a few years before it entirely gives up the ghost, but I guess we will just have to wait and see about that.