How to Find the Right Greenhouse

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A greenhouse is the easiest way to extend your garden growing season, no matter what time of year it is. This is especially true in colder, northern latitudes, where the growing season may last only a few months. In those short seasons, plants do not have nearly enough time necessary to mature and harvest adequately and naturally.

A greenhouse works basically the same way as the inside of your house or automobile does throughout the daylight hours. Sunlight enters through the windows, and the resulting energy, or heat, is trapped inside. Your plants inside the greenhouse then absorb the light and the warmth. You can expect a 30- to 40-degree increase in temperature inside your greenhouse compared to the outside ambient temperature.

Think of a greenhouse as an enclosed structure. Heat remains inside overnight, keeping the plants warm and helping them grow without having to fight frost or the cold night air. Greenhouses shield plants from winds, dust storms, snow and blizzards, and they help to keep out insects and other larger pests.

Whether you are a backyard hobbyist gardener practicing self-sufficiency on a family farm, or have plans to run a nursery for profit, a greenhouse can offer you convenience and increased productivity throughout the year.

We've Come a Long Way

The first modern greenhouses were built in Italy during the 13th century to house the exotic plants that Roman explorers brought back from the tropics. The concept of greenhouses soon spread to the Netherlands and England, along with the tropical plants. Some of these early attempts required enormous amounts of labor to close up at night or to winterize. There were also serious problems with providing adequate and balanced heat in these primitive early greenhouses.

The current greenhouse technology is a quantum leap forward, with automatic heating and cooling systems, watering and lighting systems, a wide variety of materials for the roof and walls such as glass, PE Film, multi-wall plastic, and a host of alternative structural materials.

Today, the Netherlands operates more than 9,000 greenhouse enterprises. Some of these are the largest greenhouses in the world, and are so vast that they can produce millions of pounds of vegetables and fruits each year.

While a greenhouse will require an upfront investment, your rewards of greenhouse gardening are substantial. A greenhouse will pay you back with the ability to grow new and unique varieties of plants that would not normally grow in your climate zone, bigger and better harvests and invaluable gardening experiences throughout the year.

How to Choose the Right Greenhouse

Consider what size greenhouse you need. One way to start is to make a list of the plants you want to grow and how much planting space they will need. Total the square footage your plants would require and double that number to give you room to spread out and increase your list over time.

Examine your greenhouse site. The greenhouse should have its longest wall facing south, with the ridge line running east to west to maximize the sun's warmth. If you have an east- or west-facing wall on your house or garage, then you may be able to use that existing wall as the back of your greenhouse to reduce the related costs.

Whether you're building a new greenhouse, buying a kit or restoring an existing greenhouse, there will be initial costs, as well as the time it takes to construct or repair the greenhouse. These upfront costs often turn gardeners away. However, most would agree that once the greenhouse is up and running, the maintenance required is no more than your in-ground garden. And, with proper care, your greenhouse will last a lifetime. Some are even passed down through generations of gardeners and farmers.

When searching for a manufacturer, look for companies that have decades of experience in both home models and commercial models of greenhouses. Several that come to mind are Aaron Creek Farms, American Classic Greenhouses, Farm Tek, The Greenhouse Mega Store and Gothic Arch Greenhouses. Most manufacturers will offer a variety of models ranging from hobby to commercial or institutional kits.

Your costs will relate directly to the size and type of greenhouses you're considering. Once you have a budget in place, you can begin to review the different types of greenhouse designs that fit your budget. Be prepared with a list of options you want to consider when shopping for your greenhouse, such as circulation fans, flooring, heating, lighting, thermostats, ventilation and watering systems.

Maintain Your Greenhouse for a Lifetime of Enjoyment

Ease of maintenance is a very big issue with greenhouses. Even with higher-end glass structures, you will still have some maintenance necessary to ensure the longevity of your purchase. To ensure years of service, perform a yearly examination of the foundation, framework, glazing (windows), ventilation, doors and gutters. You will also want to wash the greenhouse, both inside and outside, focusing on the following:

  • Foundation and floor: Make sure the greenhouse base is solid and rigid.
  • Framework: Check the joints wherever two or more members are attached, and tighten all joints.
  • Water damage: Check all wood members for rot, and check all aluminum members for corrosion.
  • Glazing: Check for broken or loose panes.
  • Doors: Oil the hinges and clean out the door channels and thresholds.
  • Gutters: Clean out the gutters as needed.

With a greenhouse, you're in control of your climate zone. Once you get started with greenhouse gardening, you'll discover how a little effort yields big results when you garden 12 months a year.

Last Updated: January 19, 2012
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