The leisurely pace of construction is just fine with Zollna. It’s an “enjoy the journey” kind of experience. For him, the joy comes from the labor of his hands and the creativity that’s unfolding during the process.
Many Facebook members who subscribe to Port Orchard-related groups will be familiar with the goings-on of the multifaceted Zollna. By day, he’s a newspaper circulation manager. But during his off-hours, the longtime South Kitsap resident dabbles in a variety of hobbies.
He raises exotic birds, collects railroad locomotive artifacts and is writing a book.
But back to the greenhouse story: Zollna also is an amateur gardener who grows a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables he shares with workmates, friends, family and community food banks.
When city crews needed to replace a sewer line in his back yard, Zollna was required to disassemble his vinyl-sheeted portable metal carport and move it elsewhere.
But as he disassembled the rejigged carport, Zollna was struck by an epiphany. “If I have to move my greenhouse, I’ll rebuild it the way I want to,” he said at the time.
“His way” included repurposing old building materials into what would become his dream greenhouse, which measures a bit under 10 by 20 feet. Zollna used an old bed frame for the door. He salvaged cut glass from vinyl-clad windows bought from craigslistcut. And he used leftover lumber for cribbing that would temporarily hold brick surrounds for the arched-window openings. The brick, ironically, was the only building material that wasn’t reclaimed.
A serene setting
You’d mistake Zollna’s backyard for a serene rural setting well outside the city — which it was just a few decades ago. A scattering of hens cluck while they strut outside the greenhouse. Zollna’s favorite hen, Mabel, placidly keeps pace next to her owner as he circles around the structure. But for the moment, she’s ignored as Zollna recounts how he designed the project.
“I did a lot of research and found brick is the best option in retaining heat,” he said. “Brick also helps with reducing humidity.”
But before construction could begin, Zollna took on the backbreaking work of excavating part of a sloping hill for his building’s footprint foundation.
Because he has a septic system in his back yard and a new sewer line, Zollna couldn’t use a backhoe to make quick work out of the task.
The 3-foot-deep excavation was done “all by hand with a shovel,” he said. Excavation for the foundation began in October 2013. A year later, the foundation was poured.
With the portable carport placed on the foundation, Zollna began building a brick wall that would eventually surround it. He admitted his bricklaying skills were, well, nonexistent. “I looked online and on YouTube to see how to lay brick. At that point, I began working on the first facing wall of the greenhouse,” he said.
As he gained more confidence, Zollna took on a challenge that he felt “really pushed my limits (of expertise)” — building his first arched window. He wanted to create an interesting window opening that was large and impressive to the eye.
“Arches are incredibly strong, but building them is incredibly difficult,” he said. “You have lots of weight you have to support. That’s why wood cribbing (supporting the top ridge of the arch) is so important.”
The critical ‘arch’
The amateur designer, construction worker and bricklayer said the secret to a strong arch is the center keystone. “You can’t get that wrong,” he added. After unsuccessfully attempting to fashion one out of limestone — he couldn’t get the surface smooth enough — Zollna poured a keystone out of concrete.
“I’d work on weekends from sun-up into the night,” Zollna said. “In the wintertime, especially when it got cold and rainy, I worked on the interior.”
The amateur gardener sees he’s closing in on the project’s finish line, however. When he finishes it next spring, Zollna said the greenhouse will include a ground heat sink under the brick-paver floor that will provide winter heating. That will be vital for tropical plants that soon are to take up residence inside. The heat sink, which is a passive heat exchanger system, will be built with piping underneath the floor that will act in concert with the heat-retaining properties of the brick and the greenhouse’s underground foundation.
Zollna also has elegant plans for the area surrounding the greenhouse. He’ll be building a brick patio and exterior wall circling its rear wall. While lighting is now supplied via an extension cord, he eventually plans for the completed project to be off the power grid.
When Zollna completes the greenhouse, there are plenty of other back-yard projects to occupy his limited time. Next to the construction site is his vegetable garden, where he grows pumpkins, watermelons, string beans, cherries and strawberries. He even has grapevines hanging from a fence he made of laurel-hedge branches. They are woven like waddell and daub houses built for centuries in England and other countries.
When finished, Zollna expects more bountiful harvests from his garden, thanks to the plant starts he’ll grow inside the greenhouse. And like in past years, his summer vegetable and fruit output will not only benefit friends and family, but those in need. Most will be dropped off at the Kitsap Community Food Co-op and the Kitsap County Helpline food bank.