Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holy Hothouse Plantman

As any of you that have been following my blog, or have at least read some of the past postings, know, I have a greenhouse. I would be lost and in a constant state of depression without it. Where else can I go when the wind is whipping, the temperature is right around freezing, and sit around a bunch of tropical plants at 65 degrees and not leave my zip code?
I am not telling you all this to brag, but to maybe give you some ideas on what to ask for, for Christmas.
There are ALL kinds of greenhouse kits online, for all kinds of budgets. You can ask for one of those, OR, you can ask for a giftcard to a home improvement store to buy the needed supplies. I built my own from the ground up. Trust me it is not the prettiest thing in the world, actually it borders on grotesque looking, but it is functional. I promise it is not that difficult. I am nothing like my brother who is a cross between Bob Villa and McGyver, he can build anything out of anything and it be strong enough to hold a tank. Nope, I am lucky I know which end of a hammer to use.
Basically, you are building a big box with a roof and a door. As long as it is enclosed, you have a greenhouse. I am not going to get into the specifics here on how to build one, like I said there are kits online and plenty of floor plans out there. Many books with designs have also been written.
I am going to instead tell you what you need to do with that greenhouse after you unwrap it Christmas morning.
You have all heard the motto of a good business, The three things you need to succeed is location, location, location. The same holds true here. The greenhouse should be located where it gets maximum sunlight. The first choice of location is the South or the Southeast side of a building or shade tree. Sunlight all day is the best, but morning sunlight on the East side is the next best thing. I use my greenhouse primarily in the Winter, but it can be used all year round if placed in the correct spot. Deciduous trees,(trees that lose their leaves) such as Maple, can effectively shade the greenhouse from the intense late afternoon Summer sun. Deciduous trees also allow maximum exposure to the Winter sun because they do shed their leaves in the Fall. You do not want to use an evergreen tree, such as a Pine, because they will shield the greenhouse from the less intense Winter sun. Trust me, you want to capture as much of the sun at this time of year as you can. Remember that the sun is lower in the sky this time of year.
Good drainage is another requirement for the site. Yes, most of your plants will probably be on shelves, but some will not. Plus, you will not be on a shelf. If going out to the greenhouse after a heavy rain is a miserable experience, standing in the mud and muck, you are just setting yourself and your plants up for disaster.
One of the most asked questions I get when somebody is asking about my greenhouse is, "Do you heat it in the Winter"? Yes. They then proceed to ask how, how much heat is enough, what is a good source, etc, etc. These questions will depend on many things.
First, what kind of plants are you wanting to grow? You need to know the minimum temperature your "crop" can handle. The majority of things in my greenhouse can handle down into the mid 30's pretty much with no trouble. I am testing the limit this year with Theobroma cacao (chocolate), they don't like it below 40, but we will wait and see.
The next question would be: What is the greenhouse made of? My first year I had mine made out of 8 mil plastic. For those of you that are not sure what this is, think very heavy painters drop cloth, almost tarp like. It kept the heat in okay, nothing to write home about, but had to be replaced within two years. Plexiglass works very well, as does corrugated plastic and of course, glass.
Here, size does matter! If your greenhouse is 6 feet by 6 feet, you will not need as big a heater as you would if you had a greenhouse the size of a tractor trailer. Mine is 8 feet by 16 feet and I use a mid sized electric heater. Now remember, mine is not hermetically sealed, but in 18 degree weather in the middle of the night, I can maintain 33 degrees, cold, but not life threatening to the majority of plants.
Installing fans in your greenhouse is a good investment. Any kind will work, ceiling, box, oscillating, whatever you can afford and will fit. During the Winter when the greenhouse is heated, you need to maintain air circulation so that the temperatures remain uniform throughout. Without air-mixing fans, the warm air rises to the top and cool air settles around the lower part, where the plants are.
Watering can be very time consuming, especially if you have lots of plants. I almost have it down to a science. I drag the garden hose in there about once a week and just hose everything down. You need to be careful of any electrical cords, appliances(fans, heaters) or outlets you may have. As for the plants that don't need as much water as others, I put them where the taller, bigger plants block them. Higher shelves, corners, under over hanging shelves all work as water blockers. I have even stacked smaller plants on the soil of larger plants, the smaller ones need more and only after they have had enough, give some to the bigger ones.
A couple of other minor things to think about would be, Do I need additional lighting? Again, this will depend on the crop. If you are trying to grow Tomatoes, I would add more light. If you are just trying to keep something alive that may have lost it leaves or needs to go dormant, probably not.
Should I have a potting area? Only if you plan on spending lots of time and have lots of room in there. Again, mine is basically Winter storage for my plants. I do use some of the shelving in the Summer to repot or seed when I want to be out of the sun.
In the past, greenhouses were a luxury, today there are nearly 3 million hobby greenhouses in the U.S. and the number is expected to grow.
I hope this has sparked an interest in starting a greenhouse. Christmas is almost here and if you want to get a few hints out....cut out some pictures of greenhouses and leave them lying around. Send e-mails with greenhouse design websites to your significant other. If all else fails, send a letter to Santa! Whatever you do, get yourself a will be glad you did!
Happy Growing!

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