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Gardening With Water Puppies, An Unconventional Approach: Weather-izing the Lea


gardening with water puppies, an unconventional approach

Weather-izing the Vertical Lean-to

Water Puppy Wrangler

Copyright © 2016 by Water Puppy Wrangler

Shakespir Edition

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. The eBook, including its images and photographs, may not be copied, re-sold, or given away to other people. If you would like to share this eBook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


The information contained within this publication explicitly describes the author’s own research, decision-making, design, and construction used by the author in the author’s own experiences. No claim should be assumed or made that this information will be suitable for the reader. Each reader must determine the suitability of this information to his or her own situation and, thereby, assumes all risk and liability thereof.

The following images and vectors as displayed on the front cover are courtesy of www.pixabay.com: blowing cloud, groupings of brown leaves, and the brown hat.



This eBook also would not have been possible without the support and construction savvy of the Power Tool King, nor without the editorial prowess of long-time friends who are kindred spirits and as “nutty” as we are. My sincerest thanks are extended to all.



This eBook is also dedicated to the memory of my beloved parents who, unfortunately, are no longer able to offer their sage advice and support.



This eBook is dedicated to our many finned water puppies and our four-legged one.




Looking Back

Chapter 2 — A NEW “DO”

An Entry Re-Do

The Demolition

Measure Triangles Twice, Cut Once!

It’s Not Your Mama’s Door!

Sweat Equity Begins At the Door!



The Verdict


“Walling Off” the Lean-To

The End Result




Please allow me to travel back in time for just a little while to review my initial aquaponics lean-to setup before I delve into the improvements we recently made to it. After all, before one can move forward, one must know where they’ve been, right?

Looking Back

My aquaponics garden consisted of my water puppies’ castle, a smaller sump tank housing the water pump and any water puppy progeny, a horizontal grow bed, and four vertical grow towers. The garden had been born out of love for ornamental fish, in my case, goldfish, as well as my, unfortunately, inherited inability to grow plants. I had raised and cared for various tropical aquarium fish with success, but managed to send many cacti to their early demise throughout my lifetime, as well as other houseplants and vegetables. Heartbroken and thinking I would never attain that desired “green thumb” of gardening, I finally discovered aquaponics gardening and knew that my tortuous treatment of crops just might be “finis,” that is, at its end, kaput!

In looking back over the last two years, it has been difficult, even for me, to believe that my water puppies have carried me this far. Yes, it had been mostly their doing, along with the nitrobacteria throughout my garden, allowing me to achieve what I had not been able to achieve before: plants that survived and harvests of different crops that actually made it to my kitchen table! They deserved a big hand, or fin, of applause. So, what was my contribution? Well, I did come up with an imaginative idea for my aquaponics garden, designed all of its intricacies, constructed it with the help of the Power Tool King—okay, I helped him!—and continually fed my water puppies! But they did the rest.

My particular aquaponics garden required a fair amount of planning and constructing, but my imagination and the Power Tool King’s sweat equity were up for the challenge. The garden, except for a few hiccups, had hummed along and had improved each year. I didn’t consider my garden necessarily as a revolution against traditional gardening methods, but rather an evolution of my gardening education, skills, and even, expression. My horizontal grow bed had greatly contributed to my learning to grow crops like tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, and herbs. I learned how to recognize drainage and pest problems and rain intrusion, then set about acquiring the skills to deal with each issue. Of course, with the Power Tool King in close tow! It was maddening, but exhilarating, at the same time!

The lean-to where my vertical grow beds resided had provided educational stimuli on flow rates, heating and cooling, and anemology or the study of wind. I believe I got a “passing grade” on flow rates since all crops in the verticals had and continued to grow quite well, not drowning and not shriveling up like old raisins! And possibly another passing grade on keeping the interior of the lean-to warm during the dead of winter. But, alas, I didn’t think I made it out of the barn with cooling the lean-to during the heat of summer nor taming the unruly easterly to southerly winds. These, especially trying to tame those wild and unruly winds, are addressed in this update to the Wrangler’s Setup, as initially described in my first e-book titled “gardening with water puppies, an unconventional approach: The Beginning.”

As a brief review, my vertical grow towers are housed within a homemade lean-to enclosure just outside our basement walkout. This lean-to is located on the outer side of a low brick wall, with my water puppies’ tanks, i.e., the fish and sump tanks, being located on the other side of the low brick wall underneath our covered deck porch. The area to the outside of this wall was a natural fit for the lean-to, which extends upward towards the bottom outside wall of our screened-in deck porch. Not too large, not too small, but just right! But the ultimate weak link, the lean-to’s doorway, had been designed with overlapping layers of garden row cover, greenhouse film with a full-length zipper, and 6-mil plastic sheeting panels, all facing the rising of the sun. Bricks and landscape stones were positioned on the trailing bottom edges of the outer plastic sheeting to try to hold it in place. Great for growing vegetables but awful for the havoc caused by storm-driven winds in our locale. Every time a storm system with significant winds, in the order of 20-35 mph (32.19-56.33 kph) or more, headed our way, the winds would whip around and through the doorway and “pop” the PVC snap on clamps holding down the greenhouse film roof. It was almost like watching popcorn pop! I soon realized that after one to two years of exposure to the sun’s heat and ultraviolet (UV) light, the snap on clamps, as wonderful as they were, would lose their gripping power and were more easily launched from their perch on the PVC pipes. Even two of my four-footer (1.22 m) snap on clamps were popped off! It was frustrating. Of course, I could succumb to buying metal clamps that would overlay the PVC snap on clamps, tightly securing them to the pipes. But that would be so conventional, not UNCONVENTIONAL. So I put on my thinking cap to see what I could “imagine,” but I had to do it in a hurry. It seemed as if every wind event was followed closely on its heels by another wind event, then another. I knew I had to do something when the Power Tool King said “You have to do something!” The original doorway, which I was hoping to re-do, can be seen in Fig. 1 below.

With my nose almost becoming permanently glued to the Internet grindstone, I researched as many different options as I could find. To make a long story short so I can get to the real meat of this story, I discovered how to redesign the doorway to meet our goal — to keep the lean-to intact! What was now realized as a doorway that strong winds only laughed at could be transformed into a sturdier doorway, still allowing sufficient sunlight to permeate the area while keeping the winds at bay, and allowing ease of opening except for Cary Raccoon and a hoofed Jane Doe! To keep costs down to make the Power Tool King happy, I kept all of the main structural PVC elements intact, just giving the plastic film the boot. Actually, I didn’t trash the film, but stored it for some later repurposed use. We added a few additional white PVC pipes and fittings, clear acrylic panels, and clear corrugated, polycarbonate panels to construct the new doorway in a SOMEWHAT UNCONVENTIONAL manner.

So, do you want to know how we made the alterations to the original doorway to improve its functioning? Sure thing. Just follow along, and I’ll narrate as we weave through this brief journey of re-do.


An Entry Re-Do

After putting so much effort into the design and construction of our aquaponics garden, including the lean-to enclosure which protected my vertical grow towers, it was somewhat disappointing to discover that the doorway was not meeting our expectations after two years of existence. So a change was in order.

The Demolition

The first objective was to remove the plastic sheeting, greenhouse film, and garden fabric comprising the doorway, for both the lower rectangular and upper triangular portions. The lower portion of the doorway was very simple, just a matter of removing weakened PVC snap on clamps which held the sheeting, film, and garden fabric to a horizontal PVC pipe. What a snap (pun intended)! Actually, the upper triangular portion was similar to a fixed transom window, but I’ll just refer to it as the upper part of the doorway to make the discussion easier to follow. Garden fabric on the inner surface of the upper portion was a similar “snap,” or unsnap as it were. The outside greenhouse film portion of the upper triangular section required only a little more sweat equity since it involved “loosening the bonds” of a number of snap on clamps along the conjoining ridgeline of the slanted roof and the upper portion of the doorway; removing the triangular film and garden fabric; and replacing the snap on clamps to secure the roof film back onto the slanted ridgeline. How simple! But, wait a minute, that’s leaving both the upper and lower portions totally open to the delight of area birds and pests and to the perils of the easterly and southerly winds! Don’t panic, more behind-the-scenes activity took place prior to our removing these two sections and is disclosed in the following paragraphs.

Measure Triangles Twice, Cut Once!

As I had mentioned in the initial construction of the Wrangler’s Setup elsewhere, I’ve heard it’s better to measure twice and cut once. So, before any portion of the original doorway was removed I had made very careful measurements of the lower rectangular and upper triangular portions of the doorway to make sure the Power Tool King’s acrylic cutting blade didn’t have to work overtime!

We began this re-do project with the upper triangular section since it required the most precision. Remember, neither the Power Tool King nor I are professional builders, glass cutters, or puzzle-put-togetherers. We’re amateurs. So with measurements in hand, I simply marked out the cuts to be made on large acrylic panels we had purchased, to piecemeal together a still larger triangular collage held together with small stainless steel nuts and bolts. The proposed and finished product is shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 below.

Three pieces of clear acrylic were layered like roof shingles so rain would not be able to seep behind the pieces. If you look closely at Fig. 3 in particular, you should notice some very UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACHES taken to secure the acrylic triangular collage to the lean-to’s frame and to the slanted roof’s film. Do you see them? Yes, those thin black strips are those wonderful zip or cable ties, threaded through drilled holes in the acrylic panel and around the PVC pipe along the bottom and back support to secure the panel to the structure’s frame. And, yes, there are also some of those “simply marvelous” small, not mini, binder clips that seem to be “growing” everywhere within my garden! Do you see them along the slanted ridgeline of the roof? Well, the binder clips are not really being grown, but their UNCONVENTIONAL usefulness seems to“crop” up just about everywhere in my garden. Here, the binder clips were being used to secure the slanted roof film to the acrylic’s slanted edge. This was to help prevent wind and rain intrusion behind the acrylic collage. In fact, I formed a small drainage trough in the plastic film so that rain could run down and off of the lean-to’s roof, like a very small gutter. It’s not easily seen, but it’s there, trust me! And, those binder clips have yet to rust since they’re not in contact with metal! I still utilized PVC snap on clamps all along the ridgeline to secure the greenhouse film to the slanted PVC pipe to help keep the film from heaving during wind events and causing “popcorn” to be “popped”! While we kept our fingers crossed for good luck, we began our sweat equity investment in the lower rectangular section of the doorway.

It’s Not Your Mama’s Doorway!

My sincerest apology to all mothers out there. But this subtitle seemed to fit the bill, that is, the new design for the lower rectangular portion of the lean-to’s doorway. It was definitely an improvement over the previous flimsy, layered doorway that I had originally designed, but it didn’t quite meet Fort Knox specifications. It did, however, seem to tame the wild and unruly easterly and southerly winds that blew through afterward. I’m not holding my breath for its survival in any tornadic activity, though! I’m not even going to think about that! In the meantime, I’ll tell you how the Power Tool King and I proceeded to bring our new design into fruition.

Sweat Equity Begins At the Door!

I measured, and measured again, the rectangular opening of the doorway before procuring the following:

• two or three clear, corrugated polycarbonate panels, 2 × 8 U.S.-feet (0.61 × 2.44 m), cut to width and height

• three white PVC pipes, 3/4 U.S.-inch (1.905 cm) diameter and five U.S.-feet (1.52 m) in length

• eight 3/4 U.S.-inch (1.905 cm) snap tee connectors with threaded side outlet

• eight 3/4 U.S.-inch (1.905 cm) thread to socket PVC adaptors

• several packages of #6 stainless steel machine screws, 1-1/4 and 2 U.S.-inch (3.175 and 5.08 cm) lengths

• several packages of #6 stainless steel hex nuts

• a few packages of #6 stainless steel wing nuts.

Once back at the Power Tool King’s workshop, aka our garage, we took measurements, again, of the side portion of the lean-to so we could determine the exact specifications for the proposed doorway and fixed side panels. If you’re counting, that’s three measurements before any cutting! Please realize that our measurements pertained to our particular lean-to’s dimensions and will likely be different from your requirements. If you study the schematic in Fig. 4, you can, hopefully, envision the redesigned lower doorway’s improvement over the former flap and zippered doorway as previously depicted in Fig. 1. The following legend is to help you understand the components shown if Fig. 4.

Legend for Fig. 4

With that, allow me to now lead you through our doorway fabrication experience. Again, Fig. 4 above represents only the lower rectangular portion of the lean-to's doorway and side panels. The upper triangular portion, positioned above the rectangular portion is not shown in Fig. 4. The lower edge of the upper triangular section is extended just below and to the outside of the top edge of the lower section to help prevent rain and wind intrusion. The rectangular doorway consists of two narrow polycarbonate, fixed side panels and a central pass-through section, the latter being comprised of three vertically, overlapping polycarbonate panels layered like roof shingles to prevent rain intrusion inside the lean-to. The central-most panels overlap the two fixed side panels, along their respective conjoining edges, by about 2-3 U.S- inches (5.08-7.62cm),equivalent to the full width of one corrugation. This allows the central panels to be removed as needed to provide access to the interior of the lean-to or to provide ventilation. These overlapping edges were perfectly aligned with two newly added vertical PVC pipe supports. A third vertical PVC pipe support was added to the front corner at the left side of the left fixed panel to give better structural support for that part of the frame. I didn't want to drill holes into the previously existing vertical PVC pipe should we make any mistakes and weaken the existing corner support, which held up the roof at that end. It's not that I didn't have confidence in the Power Tool King's abilities, but we were amateurs! I didn't want to be forced to take remedial action on a major component of the lean-to's structure unless we had to, like after tornadic activity or a rampaging elephant attack! This additional vertical PVC pipe was my safety blanket, assuring me that we wouldn't have to take that risk, period.

Now, you may be asking why two different lengths of machine screws were used and why even machine screws. The answer to the second query is “no point.” Machine screws have blunt flat ends. Get “the point”? No sharp points mean no injuries when working quickly around the doorway. I like that! The two different lengths of machine screws were used to accommodate two depths of use. The shorter 1-1/4 U.S.-inch (3.175 cm) #6 machine screws were used to connect the fixed polycarbonate panels to the vertical, white PVC supports. The longer 2 U.S.-inch (5.08 cm) #6 machine screws secured the overlaying fixed and pass-through panels to the door PVC frame at locations where the pass-through panels overlaid the fixed panels, as well as the points where the 3/4 U.S.-inch (1.91 cm) aluminum angles, used as cross braces, were placed. All making a much better doorway than before.

Where was our starting point in putting the lower doorway together and how did we finish it? First, we measured the distance between the existing bottom and top horizontal PVC pipes to determine the length of new PVC pipe needed. Of course, we had to account for the snap tees and adaptors at both ends to determine the final length of pipe. With the snap tees and adaptors temporarily attached to both ends of PVC pipes, we held the polycarbonate panels in their desired positions to determine the proper positioning of the vertical PVC supports within the corrugations at the panels edges. Then we attached the PVC snap tees and adaptors to the top and bottom horizontal PVC pipes, snapped one end of the PVC pipe into the bottom fitting. Because the upper horizontal PVC pipe support was somewhat flexible, as was the new vertical PVC pipe, we just rotated the top of the vertical pipe into the snap tee in place on the upper horizontal pipe until it snapped in place. It was a “snap,” literally and figuratively! We were fortunate that accurate measurements gave us relatively tight fits. Luck was on our side so far.

With the vertical PVC supports in place, we, again, temporarily held the corrugated panels in place to mark where we needed to drill holes for the screws in the panels. With those marked, the Power Tool King went about his merry way drilling all the holes needed in all of the panels, remembering to drill a hole just a little larger than the diameter of the machine screw shaft to accommodate expansion. The next step was to, again, hold the corrugated panels in place so we could make marks on the vertical PVC supports through the panel holes for drilling holes in the PVC pipes. This proved to be an easy challenge for the Power Tool King, after completing his first attempt. He expertly demonstrated a quick learning curve in “Drilling 101 on Curved Surfaces.” To help keep rain, wind, and pests from easily entering the lean-to, we attached cut lengths of white corrugated foam inserts to the insides of the panels where they met the upper and lower portions of the horizontal PVC pipe frame, using adhesive caulk appropriate for vinyl and polycarbonate applications. The corrugated manufacturer recommended adding screws, but we threw caution to the wind and haven’t regretted it yet. The final step before attaching the corrugated panels to the lean-to’s frame was to mark the positions on the panels where holes were needed for attachment of the panels to the outer-most vertical supports and the upper horizontal pipe, using zip or cable ties, which is VERY UNCONVENTIONAL. It seemed the Power Tool King was having a fun-filled day. I was also busy as a gopher, as in, “Go for this, go for that!” See, I told you he was having a fun-filled day!

Once all the holes had been drilled, we turned our attention to attaching the fixed side panels. Since these panels were not to be removed, we decided to have the blunt tip of the machine screw pointing inside the lean-to for safety and esthetics. So the order of components from the outside inward was as follows: 1-1/4 U.S.-inch (3.175 cm) #6 machine screw cap, polycarbonate panel’s outward corrugation, vertical PVC pipe, and hex nut. Fairly simple, don’t you think?

Though more parts were involved, the central pass-through doorway made up of removable corrugated panels was not complicated, either. However, there was one caveat—to facilitate the removal of the door panels, the machine screws needed to be in reverse order of the above fixed panels, that is, pointing outward. The order of components from the inside outward, started with the 2 U.S.-inch (5.08 cm) #6 machine screw cap, vertical PVC pipe, fixed polycarbonate panel’s outward corrugation, hex nut, overlapping removable panel’s corrugation, and wing nut. Also, at the points where the aluminum angles or braces were to be attached, the order was: 2 U.S.-inch (5.08 cm) #6 machine screw cap, vertical PVC pipe, fixed polycarbonate panel’s outward corrugation, hex nut, overlapping removable panel’s corrugation, aluminum angle, and wing nut.

The first of the central section’s three-paneled door was the short bottom panel. This panel’s function was to help keep creepy-crawlers and slithering things from easily entering the confines of the lean-to when the other doorway panels were removed. If they got inside, I would definitely be outside! With this lower panel in place, I could easily step over it to attend the vertical grow beds housed inside the lean-to. It posed no challenge for my short legs! Next was the longer, mid-level panel which overlaid the bottom panel entirely and extended upwards just shy of the horizontal pipe at the top of the doorway by about ten U.S.-inches (25.4 cm). Finally, the upper-most, mid-sized panel was positioned just under the bottom edge of the upper triangular acrylic section and extended downward just shy of or above the second cross brace, overlapping the second longer panel. To keep the last two panels from separating, the Power Tool King drilled a hole through both panels where they overlapped, and we connected them in the following order from the inside outward: #6 machine screw cap, second panel, hex nut, third panel, wing nut. To help steer the screw’s threaded barrel through the outer, third panel’s hole, a length of nylon fishing line was tied to the screw just under its cap (UNCONVENTIONAL). Now that same nylon line could be threaded through the upper third panel’s hole and drawn outward, as if reeling in that enormous marlin or catfish or docking a spacecraft to the space station using a string, to bring the end of the screw through the hole. Once “hooked,” the wing nut could be attached to “seal the deal.” Now, the full length of the doorway would be completely covered and secured (ALL QUITE UNCONVENTIONAL).

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking, “Why three panels instead of two for the doorway?” Right? With the very bottom panel’s purpose having already been explained, my convoluted thinking on the other two follows. The longer mid-level panel provided further strength to the bottom of the doorway while protecting against intrusion by rain, wind, or pests without totally closing up the lean-to, and preventing the inside temperature from swelling to sauna-like conditions during the heat of summer. That’s where the upper third panel stepped in. If I wished to have a little ventilation, but not full throttle, I just removed the upper panel. If the lean-to needed full protection from rain, wind, or pests, then the upper panel was put in place. Are you still wondering, “Well if you’re concerned about pests, especially flying ones, what keeps them at bay when the upper two corrugated panels are removed from the doorway?” That’s a fair question. To prevent inquisitive birds or other pests from invading my lean-to’s space, I hung two cut-to-size pieces of garden fabric just inside the doorway, secured to the upper horizontal PVC pipe with snap on clamps, making a walk-through bi-flap door. It kept the purple martins and starlings out, but don’t worry, pollinators still found a way to bypass this obstacle to do their good deeds! I could have used bird netting as an alternative to the opaque garden fabric, but I didn’t want the Power Tool King to discover me cocooned inside the netting and posting photos on social media, nor did I want any nosy neighbors drooling as they inspected my wonderful and nutritious produce from afar! See Fig. 5 below.


We had performed a miracle, at least for the Power Tool King and me. In effect, we had undertaken what seemed to be a difficult task for our skill levels and breezed through it with both of us surviving the feat! What a feat in and of itself! So I certainly didn’t wish to press my luck in suggesting we should convert the rest of the lean-to structure in a likewise fashion. So I decided to see how the new doorway would function and how it would stand up to whatever Mother Nature threw at it during the upcoming summer months before I ventured into “deeper water.” Time would tell.


I will admit the original door design was a breeze to open and access the interior of the lean-to. But, therein was the problem — any moderate breeze could and would easily open the doorway flaps and wreak havoc on the structure’s roof. This new design took slightly more effort for me to open, but it wasn’t a game-changer. I could rest assured that any “normal” winds would not huff and puff and blow down the lean-to as they breezed through the neighborhood.

Having to continue to watch the weather forecasts like a hawk to see if any storm systems were headed our way presented nothing new. The difference was when the new polycarbonate doors had been secured, I could be assured that all was well in the world, at least where my lean-to was concerned. Unfortunately, that was never the case with the original flap doors.

Of course, the new design met with some opposing viewpoints on what type of nut to use to secure the removable panels. I’m talking about nuts as in nuts and bolts, not pecans or cashews or what our neighbors possibly thought of us and our project! The Power Tool King cast his vote for regular hex nuts, stainless steel, of course. Myself, I was insisting that stainless steel wing nuts would do a better job since I found them easier to handle and less likely to be dropped. Since I was the one who used the lean-to doorway most often, my vote was the deciding factor. So wing nuts it was! And I should mention that all of the hardware, except the aluminum angles, was stainless steel to prevent rust development and to be more compatible with my water puppies.

The Verdict

As the summer months raged forward, we saw many rain storms come and go, leaving our improved lean-to safe and sound. That is, safe and sound when all doorway panels were in place and secured. If I had left the upper most panel off to provide ventilation to the lean-to’s interior, or, horrors, if the larger panel was not in place either, then problems arose. The wind would whip inside and heave the greenhouse film roof until the aged snap on clamps would pop like popcorn. Late into the summer, when I found a four U.S.-foot (1.22 m) PVC snap on clamp lying on the ground after being tossed from the lean-to’s roof, I decided I needed to start preparing my strategy to convince the Power Tool King that more work was needed on the lean-to. In evaluating this latter event, I conjectured that over the course of two years’ exposure to the hot summer temperatures and UV rays, as well as raging winds, the greenhouse film had become stretched and the PVC snap on clamps had lost some of their grip due to oxidation. That was a recipe for what was happening — the heaving effect resulting in PVC popcorn popping!

With my theory in one hand, and the four U.S.-foot (1.22 m) snap on clamp in the other, I pitched my proposal of undertaking a re-do of the remainder of the lean-to to the Power Tool King. My argument for the undertaking must have been convincing, or else it was the long snap on clamp in my grasp. Not that the Power Tool King was threatened by it, but he probably remembered how much effort it took for him to snap that clamp, when new, onto the PVC pipe which was covered with felt tape. I could still hear his grunts and groans, followed by a sigh of relief once it snapped into place. Perhaps, he was remembering that also. Or, maybe he was swayed by some folklore predictions by spiders and persimmon seeds for an upcoming cold and wet winter, which could devastate the lean-to, especially if high winds were involved. Regardless, he agreed with me, and we decided to wait until the approach of cooler fall weather before converting the remainder of the structure to polycarbonate panels. I could now peck on my computer keyboard and run the mouse around its pad to design a new and improved lean-to. It was such an exciting time!


It seemed like that summer would never end. Oh, the garden was churning along, happy as it could be, producing an almost endless supply of some wonderful green bush beans, red bell peppers, and various herbs. But I could hardly wait until we could start the project at hand, that is, replacing the lean-to’s greenhouse film walls and roof with more rigid, clear, corrugated, polycarbonate panels. Of course, cooler daytime temperatures were welcomed by everyone. As fall weather drew closer, I began to finalize the design, producing some detailed computer sketches and determining a materials list for our project.

“Walling Off” the Lean-To

My design for the lean-to re-do was simply to replace the greenhouse film composing the roof and long front wall with clear, corrugated polycarbonate panels. To provide strength for the panels and the overall structure, we fastened these cut-to-length panels to the PVC frame with two U.S.-inch (5.08 cm) stainless steel #6 machine screws with some neoprene washers positioned on the outside and nuts on the inside of the panels. My preferred wing nuts were utilized on all roof connections, while hex nuts with lock washers were placed on the vertical front wall. See, compromise can be attained! Additionally, three-quarter U.S.-inch (1.905 cm) aluminum angles were spaced horizontally at regular intervals along the length of the lean-to and fastened to the vertical PVC pipe supports in the roof and the front wall. These metal angles would help strengthen the PVC supports and allow for a means to support overlapped panel edges that did not fall upon a vertical PVC pipe. All of the above is QUITE UNCONVENTIONAL.

What’s that, you say? My lean-to has a roof and four sides, so what about the other two sides? Glad you asked! The back of the lean-to was to stay the same as before, just a large piece of plastic sheeting from a big box home improvement store and held in place by PVC lattice. The doorway had already been converted to the polycarbonate panels. We were undertaking a re-do on the roof and large front wall, so that would leave the opposing side to the doorway. I decided to leave that side wall as it was for the time being, just clear greenhouse film and garden fabric. This same side was fairly well protected by some large evergreen bushes and our house, so it was not dangerously exposed to wind and precipitation. Also, I felt the more pliable greenhouse film afforded me a better opportunity for manipulation to provide a means of ventilation on that side of the lean-to, if you will, a means of cross-breeze if the doorway was open. So with my plans in place, we were ready to roll up our sleeves for some cool weather sweat equity. Little did we know our sweat equity investment would actually produce some sweat in more ways than expected!

Perhaps the following photograph mid-way through the project, Fig. 6, will give you a glimpse into what we were trying to accomplish.

We had realized before we started the project that the lean-to’s frame was not a perfect square, far from it! It not only was located on sloped ground, but the doorway end was narrower than the opposing end, making it’s inside footprint a trapezoid. Then we discovered the other trapezoid besides the long front wall, that being the slanted roof. Oh well, being an eternal student, I love a good challenge. However, I think the Power Tool King had rather been watching anything on TV or watching paint dry or, even, cutting the grass during the height of summer!

To tackle this harrowing dilemma, we realized we would need to customize each corrugated panel to its corresponding position. For the slanted roof, we simply overlapped the eight U.S.-foot (2.44 m) panels by two corrugations and fastened the panels to the vertical PVC pipes and horizontal aluminum angles. The overall length of the roof panels would be determined once all were in place, much like is done when constructing a wooden patio deck. When we had determined the proper extension over the long vertical wall and the length of overhang that would offer the best protection against wind and give the best line for esthetic appeal, we simply made our marks and started cutting. “How did the Power Tool King cut the polycarbonate corrugated panels?” you ask. Very gingerly while balancing himself on a ladder! He used tin snips, which resembles very large toenail scissors, but on steroids! I’m just glad his “scissors” easily did the job at hand or else I may have been the beneficiary of a bad pedicure! Once the panels were cut, we rested, knowing we would be tackling a more difficult job the following day.

The next day we set out to construct the long front vertical wall. The challenge was to cut each panel as precisely as possible for overall length and for the angled ends at its bottom edge near the ground and its top edge underneath the roof’s overhang. Our goal was to make the roof and front wall fit like a hand in a glove, as much as possible, to prevent intrusion by wind and precipitation and to keep the inside cozy during winter temperatures.

The longer we worked with the corrugated panels, the more we realized how difficult it was becoming to have a good seal. It wasn’t just the misalignment and odd fit of the conjoining corrugated panel edges and not, necessarily, the trapezoidal spaces we were trying to cover. It would appear we had forgotten our mantra from when we had originally constructed the lean-to, which was measure twice, even thrice, cut once. As complicated as this exercise in geometric math was, we just measured once then cut. Oh, my! If you recall from earlier discussion, I did stress that the Power Took King and I were mere amateurs.

The End Result

Fortunately, the weather was kind to us, since this project took the better part of six days to complete. Remember, neither the Power Tool King nor I are professionals, but we were determined to build a structure that not only would meet our needs but would have a better chance against whatever Mother Nature would throw at it, like higher-than-normal winds, heavy rains and snowfall, scorching heat, and the sun’s rays, not to mention Cary Raccoon and hoofed Jane Doe. And to top it off, we both survived to tell the tale, again! Fig. 7 below shows the final structure.

As can be seen in Fig. 7 above, I decided to position the previously used, white garden row cover inside the paneled lean-to. I simply used the four U.S.-inch (10.16 cm), “popped” snap on clamps to attach the garden cover to the horizontal and vertical PVC pipe supports on the inside of the lean-to [UNCONVENTIONAL]. The panels and garden cover would help protect my crops, especially seedlings, from the sun’s harsh rays and precipitation, while allowing beneficial sunlight to filter through to my crops in the vertical towers. Additionally, the cover would conceal the inside of the structure from the prying eyes of curious neighbors and prowling nibblers!

Because of a gap along the width of the structure at the midline where the roof overlapped the vertical wall, due to our oh-oh mismeasurements, I decided to add corrugated foam inserts along the gap on the inside of the structure, using adhesive approved for vinyl or foam. Realizing there some gaps still existed that would allow cold air to invade the lean-to’s interior, I took some one U.S.-inch (2.54 cm) bubble-sized bubble wrap, 2 U.S.-feet (0.61 m) wide, rolled a 10 U.S.-inch (25.4 cm) piece lengthwise and taped it snugly underneath the roof overhang using my trusted greenhouse film repair tape. Worked like a charm! But to further guard against the cold, I added longer vertical strips of this same bubble wrap on the inside of the lean-to, between the corrugated panels and the white garden cover. My thinking was that the air inside the bubbles would be heated up during the day by the sun and the trapped heat would be released during the night. For how long, I wasn’t sure, but any heat would be of some help in my thinking. During the warmer months I could simply remove the bubble wrap to allow more ventilation and less heat buildup.

So what were our expectations for this “new and improved” lean-to? Much the same as before:

• to protect my crops from the elements

• to protect my crops from wildlife

• to protect my crops from prying eyes

• but, mainly, to oppose the huffing and puffing by Mother Nature


Reflecting back over almost three years of investigation, design, construction, and implementation of my aquaponics garden, I have realized that the Power Tool King and I have condensed a lot into a short period of time. And hopefully, we’re not through. More excitement and sweat equity is out there, waiting for us to learn about, to grasp, and to experience more of the wonderful, natural, symbiotic relationships around us. What began as a desire to enjoy pond fish and grow some organic food for my family has sprouted into something much more, something much bigger than me. It’s not just my garden that has evolved, but my enhanced awareness of how nature and basic scientific principles work behind the scene in everyday life, and how the Power Tool King and I can make a difference, even if only a small difference.

The improved doorway has made a big difference, so far. After the upcoming winter, we’ll know for sure if our time spent in renovating the rest of the structure was worth the sweat equity. But, we both believe it will. In the meantime, I was so glad I had designed my lean-to using a white product, like PVC, as its frame. Not only do the hexagonal corrugations in the polycarbonate panels fit like a glove on the PVC pipe, but polycarbonate panels require the underlying surface to be a white or light color before attachment to avoid heat buildup. If the frame is not, then it must be painted or covered. As things go, we actually fell into good luck here. So, while we wait for this upcoming winter to change into spring and summer, to see if the lean-to is still standing, please join us in this ever-evolving and rewarding journey on our website blog, “gardening with water puppies, an unconventional approach,” (https://gardeningwithwaterpuppies.com), where we’ll divulge the final concluding thoughts of this UNCONVENTIONAL re-do. My water puppies and I look forward to seeing you!


Water Puppy Wrangler is not my real name, but aquaponics is my game. Well, sort of. Actually, I’m a novice gardener and beginner aquapon, writing under the above pseudonym, who is interested in learning about and growing vegetables, herbs, and fruits for family and friends, while enjoying my water puppies. My family and I live within the United States in a hilly locale that normally experiences four distinct seasons.

“Why write under an assumed name?” you may ask. Doing so not only protects my privacy, though no doubt you wouldn’t know me otherwise unless you’re a family member or close friend, but the pseudonym also helps me to write creatively, unencumbered if you will. I can offer my personal experiences in aquaponics gardening, as well as my adventures with my water puppies, in a narrative that will, hopefully, both inform and entertain. The intent of this eBook is not to present myself as any resemblance of an expert, nor my research or experiences as authoritative. My goal is to simply relay what I have learned, my decision process and subsequent actions, and how it all fared. What better way is there to learn than to enjoy the experience and, even more so, to be able to learn and laugh through others’ mistakes and blunders! That’s okay. My husband, the Power Tool King, and I don’t mind being the focus of humor for the reader. As we look back on our own experiences, we’re sometimes amused, too!

My first eBook, “gardening with water puppies, an unconventional approach: The Beginning,” focuses on gardening and growing plants I love with water puppies that are not what you may think and with an unconventional approach which is, well, just that…unconventional. In fact, there are many approaches within my garden that are unconventional. This second eBook is a follow-up to the first and describes the re-vamping of my lean-to using, of course, some unconventional approaches, as well.

So please, sit back and put on your seat belt for another roller coaster ride through my journey in aquaponics. I hope you won’t be disappointed. Perhaps you’ll decide to join my water puppies and me in this great adventure. We’re looking forward to it!

Thank You!

Water Puppy Wrangler


Gardening With Water Puppies, An Unconventional Approach: Weather-izing the Lea

After putting so much effort into the design and construction of our aquaponoics garden, including the lean-to enclosure which protected my vertical grow towers, it was somewhat disappointing to discover that the doorway was not meeting our expectations after two years of existence. So a change was in order. After assessing what was needed to protect not only the crops within the vertical grow towers but the lean-to itself, we set about to re-construct the doorway of the lean-to. It was definitely an improvement over the previous flimsy doorway that I had originally designed, but it didn't quite meet Fort Knox specifications. It did, however, seem to tame the wild and unruly easterly and southerly winds that blew through afterward. We were so pleased with the functioning of the new doorway and the protection it afforded the area behind it, we decided to undertake a major re-do of the remainder of the lean-to, leaving its structural framework and one wall intact. After several days and a moderate amount of sweat-equity, we were very pleased with the outcome. This new doorway and the improved lean-to will offer improved protection to our crops and the structure itself, while still providing a suitable grow area within my aquaponics garden.

  • Author: Water Puppy Wrangler
  • Published: 2017-01-06 00:50:11
  • Words: 7346
Gardening With Water Puppies, An Unconventional Approach:  Weather-izing the Lea Gardening With Water Puppies, An Unconventional Approach:  Weather-izing the Lea