Building A Greenhouse

For beginners, the information seems nearly overwhelming. Where do I start? How much should I spend? What if I spend all this money and then don't really like it?

As I look back, knowing what I know now, I would do a few things differently if I were to build a new greenhouse. It doesn't really matter if the budget is large or small --the principles still apply. I would prioritize!

building a greenhouse

Use sturdy outer materials. Many people use greenhouse-grade, heavy plastic sheeting over a frame structure. I hate plastic --even the greenhouse-grade plastic falls apart. It becomes brittle in the weather. A small kit, or a structure that has durability will be more satisfying and easier to manage in the off-season. It's more money initially but less time and frustration in the end. Of course, if you have plenty of time to spend adding plastic and then are SURE to take it down as soon as it starts to get brittle... perhaps plain ol' plastic is okay. I still have little shards of plastic because I kind of let mine fall apart. Brittle, shattered plastic is nearly impossible to collect and clean up out of the yard. So, my advice . . . AVOID PLASTIC. Even if I could afford only half at a time, I would make part of the structure from permanent materials. The first year, we put on a polycarbonate roof, thinking we could manage the sides with plastic. My husband did NOT like helping me with plastic on the sides and so over the next two summers we added old windows, then polycarbonate as we could afford it. I am soooooo pleased with the polycarbonate panels I purchased. I bought polycarbonate sheets and my husband screwed them to upright poles on a pole barn structure. Perhaps not everyone can go this route, but pre-assembled panels or something beyond plastic is WELL worth the money.

Plan for ventilation and temperature controls. Perhaps if I were home ALL the time, this wouldn't be as crucial, but things get hot so fast in a greenhouse that any type of auto-controls are essential to avoid having an "oops" that scorches everything! My automatic window openeners (that I installed on old, used windows (oops, "recycled" windows) are awesome. I don't have to remember to get out there before 11:00 on hot days and I can leave early (when it's way too early to open the door and windows) and know that my plants won't be wilting when I get home. Instead of actually purchasing a fan, I tried to position my wondows and automatic openers to use the natural air flow to circulate air. So far this has worked great for me. Every structure will be different, but plants do not want to be too hot every afternoon.

Plan for "Wet" and "Dry" Areas. When watering, it's essential that the routine becomes easy. I have one corner of my greenhouse I call the "dry" area. I never need to water near there and I never need to swing the sprayer in that direction. I often have little boxes, perhaps a few seed packets, my notebook, tools that could rust, --anything that one wouldn't want to "water"! I like to water freely when I do water in the greenhouse, so designating one area that NEVER gets watered has kept me from ruining tools or perishble things that fall apart when wet. (Okay, I've become overzealous and made a few things soggy, but generally I do a good job of following the "wet" and "dry" rules.)

Location, Location, Location I realize it may seem obvious, but location IS crucial. I wish my greenhouse were closer to my front yard, or that I could see it out my front door! I wish we had moved it two feet further from that little tree we have to trim every summer! I wonder if it would be better to have my beds running the other way, along both sides? If my door had been further towards this corner, I could have . . . Everyone who owns a greenhouse can tell you at least one thing they would do differently. It might be good to go around collecting "what not to do" when it comes to location and planning for the inside.

Plan for Water I have grass growing inside my greenhouse. I didn't plant it there. In fact, we built on the site of an old barn,--there hadn't been grass there for years! Yet, I weed around the rocks inside my greenhouse. I partially blame this on the water. Runoff happens, unless you've figured out a supurb system of watering! If I had it to do over again, I might put down a weed barrier of some kind before I added some gravel. I put the gravel in to keep the ground from becoming a muddy mess when I watered. (Wagons do not roll nicely over large river rocks, no matter how nice the river rocks look compared to gravel.) Over time, water will deteriorate wood inside the greenhouse. This is a natural process; don't fight it, plan for it! I don't yet have my watering method down to a strict routine, but I have learned that a more consistent water routine could only improve my plant's happiness. Inconsistenly-watered plants can have symptoms that imitate some diseases! An automated system of watering is on my list, but for now I'm still managing runoff and natural erosion of my wood. My plan for water is a work in progress.