By Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever considered growing items in a greenhouse?
I hadn’t until approximately seven years ago. The idea came to me one day after watching a television show.
When I spoke to my husband about it, he was on board. That’s all it took. We went through a series of mental processes, made many mistakes, but ultimately built, and love growing things inside, a greenhouse.
If you’re considering diving into a greenhouse, I want to share my journey of how I knew this was the right growing method for us. Plus, I want to share some of my mistakes in reaching our ideal greenhouse.
Why Did We Choose to Grow in a Greenhouse?
People have a variety of reasons for growing items in a greenhouse. For us, it ultimately came down to money.
We were a young family with a desire to feed our family healthy foods year-round. Unfortunately, when you purchase healthy foods, it normally makes your grocery bill go up.
Therefore, I decided to begin growing the healthy foods we needed and supplementing the rest from the grocery store.
This is easy to do during the warmer months, but during cooler months, it can be more difficult to grow everything you like or need.
A greenhouse was a reasonable investment when I was planning on using it to save money over time. I also became tired of buying seedlings from local nurseries when growing our garden.
This can be an added expense. We were growing our seedlings, microgreens, and fodder (for our chickens) indoors.
Even though I kept it hidden in a separate room of the house, so guests couldn’t see our monstrosity of a growing system, it ultimately took up too much space indoors.
Therefore, a greenhouse would also allow me to move these activities outdoors and have the extra room in my house again.
For these reasons, we decided to take the plunge into greenhouse gardening. Your reasons don’t have to match mine. Everyone has different reasons for all methods of gardening, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Our Greenhouse Journey
I’ll be upfront with you all. I’ve had four different greenhouses. It took that many tries to get it right. I hope this helps you learn from my mistakes, so you don’t have to waste as much time and money as we did.
Our first greenhouse was a 10×20 foot hoop house cold frame. We went with this style of greenhouse because it was inexpensive and did what we needed it to do.
We built two long, raised garden beds (they were 4×20 feet) and had an aisle between them. The wooden frame was built around the beds, we used PVC as the frame for the hoop, and covered it in plastic.
It did have windows and a door built into the frame. The entire project cost less than $100, and it allowed me to grow gorgeous tomatoes in the summer and cold-hardy crops during the fall and winter.
The downside to this greenhouse was the plastic, and we made a mistake in the design. The aisle wasn’t large enough to fit a wheelbarrow between the raised beds.
This created back breaking work when we needed to amend the soil inside the greenhouse. We also live in an area with high winds, and we had to replace the plastic multiple times because big storms would rip it.
Our next green house was a smaller one built on pallets. We used four large pallets as the floor, built a small A-frame out of 2×4’s for the rest of the structure, and covered the greenhouse in polycarbonate plastic sheets. It had a storm door as the entry point.
This little greenhouse was amazing and certainly did its job. We spent approximately $150 on it and used it in conjunction with our hoop cold frame.
The smaller greenhouse was easier for heating, and that’s why we chose to build it alongside the other greenhouse.
Eventually, we moved to a larger farm and had to say goodbye to our greenhouses. When we started over on our new property, I decided to take a shortcut and buy a kit greenhouse.
It was more expensive, but I thought it would be worth the investment. That was my biggest mistake in greenhouses.
The kit wasn’t the same quality as our DIY greenhouses, and the first storm that blew through our area destroyed it beyond repair.
The good news is we learned a lot through all of these projects. After all of our mistakes, we finally decided to build the greenhouse we had always wanted.
My Current Greenhouse
My current greenhouse is a 10×12. It has a wooden frame, metal sheeting on the bottom, a storm door for entry, windows for better airflow, a gravel floor, and is covered in polycarbonate plastic sheeting.
We built this greenhouse in phases. I initially covered it in plastic, but again, the wind destroyed it. When I had to replace the sheeting twice, one roll covered the greenhouse two times, I decided to purchase the polycarbonate sheets.
The greenhouse is easy to heat, durable, functional, and looks nice. The entire project cost around $600.
I love my current greenhouse because it allows me to container garden year-round, grow seedlings, extend my grow season, and I have room to install a raised bed if I want a larger gardening area in the future.
However, I prefer the tidier look of container gardening for the time being. For me, this is the best style of greenhouse for what our family is trying to achieve through our gardening efforts.
Should Your Greenhouse be Attached or Detached from the House?
I think it would be amazing to have a greenhouse which is attached to your home. Unfortunately, I’ve never lived where this was feasible.
You’d need to add it to the south side of your home. In my homes, I’ve always had trees blocking the sun or, currently, we have an orchard and vineyard growing near this side of the house which would cause issues for greenhouse placement.
However, if you have room on the side of your house to attach a greenhouse, that would be convenient and functional.
If not, don’t fret because detached greenhouses can be equally effective. The only thing to consider when placing a detached greenhouse is convenience.
You don’t want your greenhouse placed somewhere that you’ll need to go out of your way to get to it. This is a great way to have neglected plants.
At my previous home, I had the greenhouses in our fenced backyard. That way, every time I went out on our back deck I saw the greenhouses which was a great visual reminder.
Plus, it was only a few steps from the deck to care for the plants inside the greenhouses.
This was especially wonderful during the winter when I wanted to harvest fresh vegetables. I didn’t have to hike long distances through cold temperatures or snow to get to my food.
My current home has a walkout basement. We built a walkway, with a small patio area, to our greenhouse.
Therefore, there’s very little distance between my back door and my greenhouse. This is perfect for convenience, and it looks nice.
Take the convenience and appearance of your greenhouse into consideration when deciding whether to attach it or detach it from your home.
Should Your Greenhouse be Heated?
This is a complicated question with no direct answer. Your greenhouse should be heated for some things, and it doesn’t need to be for others.
In my opinion, the best thing to do is have a portable (and safe) heating option for your greenhouse. This way, when you’d like to start seeds or grow a crop over winter that isn’t a fan of the cold, you can turn on the heater and create the correct atmosphere.
If you’re using your greenhouse over the summer as additional grow space, starting seeds during the summer, or growing cold weather crops, you could avoid using the heat.
Again, this will come down to what you plan on doing with your greenhouse. If you’d like to use it as a cold frame, you can skip the heating option all together.
To start, you might want to use your greenhouse as a cold frame, to see how much use you get out of it. If you feel you’d utilize the heating option, you can always add it later.
Buy a Kit or DIY Your Greenhouse
I answered this in a previous section, but it’s worth adding on to. In my experience, I’d choose a DIY option for a greenhouse if you have the skillset to build one or know someone who does.
It’s usually less expensive to buy the materials, and they’re more durable. However, there might be better quality kit greenhouses out there.
Be sure to do your research and realize you’ll probably pay more for a kit than if you simply built the greenhouse yourself. You’re paying for the convenience.
Also, it’s worth mentioning, don’t assume because you’re buying a kit that it’ll be easy to put together. In our case, we had a harder time constructing the kit than we did building a greenhouse from scratch.
I can’t speak for every prefabricated greenhouse on the market but be diligent in researching a product before you purchase it.
My Greenhouse Set-Up
I’ve walked you through the basics of my current greenhouse, but I want to discuss why my greenhouse is set-up the way that it is.
To begin, you must take your weather into consideration when building a greenhouse. In my case, the wind is a huge factor.
I live in the foothills of the mountains, and we get high wind gusts regularly. This makes me a poor candidate for regular greenhouse plastic and makes plastic sheeting a must for my area.
The next thing to consider is the purpose of your greenhouse. In my case, it’s to grow crops over the winter, start seeds, and use as additional grow space during the summer.
For this reason, I practice container gardening in my greenhouse and don’t have beds set-up in this space.
Finally, I chose a gravel floor. The flooring is a huge issue to consider. If you place a greenhouse over grass, you’ll have weeds growing like crazy in this area.
Plus, it’s typical to get wildlife in your greenhouse if you have the right conditions such as warmth and a great hiding place. You don’t want a floor where you can’t see what’s hiding where you’re walking.
If you remove the grass, you’ll be walking in mud every time you water your plants. Some people use mulch for their floor. This is great for creating natural warmth in your greenhouse, but I don’t like the squishy feeling I get when walking on wet mulch.
Plus, I usually wear flip flops in my greenhouse, and I don’t enjoy wet feet. That’s a personal preference, though.
I chose gravel flooring because it’s great for keeping the floor dry for walking on, I can see everything that’s going on in my greenhouse, and it radiates some heat as well.
These are a few things you might want to consider when building a greenhouse. It’s not a one-size-fits-all process.
You’ll need to think about your goals, the conditions in your area, and your budget before constructing any type of greenhouse. Hopefully my thought process, and mistakes, will encourage you and help you to avoid some of the missteps I made.