Joe and Nancy Drake’s 22′ Growing Dome
Nestled in a canyon just south of Pagosa Springs along the Blanco River sits the quaint little cabin of Joe and Nancy Drake. Not far from their cabin, right in their backyard, a 22’ Growing Dome stands full of life. A welcome contrast amid the stark white blanket of snow. It is February here in Colorado, so to enter a warm and inviting backyard greenhouse is a bit like finding an oasis in the desert. This Growing Dome is fairly new to the Drake’s, however gardening is not. Nancy grew up with a family farm where everything came from the land. From canning and preserving crops to last throughout the winter to raising steers and chickens, she has a deep rooted connection to the land and to gardening. It is not just a hobby, but a way of life.
Making a Dream into Reality
The Drake’s Growing Dome was constructed in June of 2022 by our Growing Spaces crew. After picking their site by considering the distance from the house and also the surrounding views for both them and their neighbors, Joe began the site preparations. After a few hours of digging back the slope, Joe decided it might be best to bring in a contractor. The contractor leveled the site by bringing in 3” rock and then topping it with ¾- compacting the layers as they went. They even installed the rodent protection option to keep the gophers from terrorizing the Growing Dome as they had done to their previous garden space. This rodent protection works so well that Joe and Nancy ultimately decided to dig up their existing cold frames and install the mesh in there as well.
PRO TIP! It is almost always better to build up a slope, than to carve into one. This will help with drainage and also make sure that you are still able to maximize solar gain.
After the site preparation was complete, Joe decided to go ahead and hire the Growing Spaces crew to build their dream backyard greenhouse. A full crew for a 22’ Dome consists of 3 crew members and typically takes about 3 days to complete. The nice part about hiring a full crew is that we will do the construction for you while you are planning out the interior.
Designing the Raised Beds
While the construction was going on, Nancy was already planting seeds in anticipation of the new Dome. Meanwhile, Joe was researching inexpensive building materials for constructing the raised beds. He decided on a design that incorporates corrugated sheet metal and redwood. A key feature to Nancy was a top cap that makes sitting on the edge of the beds and tending to the garden much more comfortable. Once the beds were designed and built, Joe filled the bottom ⅓ of the beds with sticks that they gathered along the river. He then purchased a few yards of amended soil from a local business, Paul AKA The Mulch Guy. Joe loaded this soil into his tractor and brought it to the front door of the Dome, then filled the beds one shovel at a time. Joe then topped off the beds with Paonia Soil that he purchased from Growing Spaces. You can find more helpful tips on adding soil to your raised beds here.
Customizing the Dome to Work for Them
Joe could not fill the beds quick enough. Being late July at this point, Nancy was armed and ready with her seedings. She followed Joe around the greenhouse, planting the seedlings as soon as he topped off the soil in the beds. The watering system that the Drakes have created is one we have not seen before. Being so close to the river, they pump the water up to the Dome and store it in a stock tank positioned in front of the above ground pond. They have a smaller pump and a retractable garden hose that they use to water all the raised beds in the Dome. This system makes watering in the winter easy and they find that they only need to fill the tank every two months or so throughout the cooler part of the year. Make sure to watch their Dome Sweet Dome episode to see this system up close! Due to all of their love and hard work, the Dome quickly flourished into a lush green jungle.
Grow What You Love
Nancy has a grape vine by the entryway, a fig tree that will eventually help to shade the Dome in the summer months, and an olive tree. Her favorite thing that she has grown so far was her beloved okra. In our neck of the woods, okra is not readily available to purchase at the grocery store. She had tried growing this in her previous cold frame greenhouse and also outdoors with no luck. She decided to try again in the Growing Dome to see what happened. Nancy loves to experiment with gardening especially in her backyard greenhouse. To her and Joe’s surprise the okra grew 10 feet tall! She also loves having fresh greens like kale and cabbage all year long. Make sure to try out Nancy’s kale chip recipe. I ate half the batch! This coming spring Nancy is going to experiment with various plant varieties as her kids have all placed their special requests!
Not Just a Greenhouse
The Dome has become so much more than just a garden space. They hosted Christmas and the Dome became the bar and hors d’oeuvres station. The fire pit just outside the Dome, a perfect gathering place to carry out family traditions and make new ones. Nancy’s father started the tradition of lighting the Christmas fire with a piece of coal from the year prior. In their day to day lives, they find themselves starting the day with one of Joe’s stellar lattes or winding down with a glass of wine seated at the bistro table they have inside their backyard greenhouse. The Dome is even equipped with a sound system, not only for impromptu dance performances, but also for the plants. The acoustics in the Growing Dome are A+.
Nancy’s love for nature and the environment is visible inside and outside her Growing Dome. Joe was lovingly given the nickname of “co-pilot”. While he has definitely done his part to steer them in the right direction, it’s not Joe’s greenhouse – it’s Nancy’s. She looks forward to opportunities to share her knowledge that she is accumulating and the produce she is growing with the community. They are active in our Facebook groups and attend Growing Spaces events. Make sure to say “hi” if you see them around. Also, make sure to follow us on social media for updates on their Growing Dome garden throughout the year!
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You can find all of our Featured Growing Domes highlighted in our monthly newsletter, “The Happy Grower,” on our social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram) and in our blog. At the end of the year, we create an annual calendar that includes every Dome of the Month. We send them to all Featured Dome participants, along with a gift of Growing Spaces gardening goodies! Apply here.
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