I hate to admit it, but I’m actually getting a late start on my vegetable garden. We just tilled up our new garden area, but I haven’t even started any seeds! I planned on doing some greenhouse gardening to get more of a jump start on the garden, but it just hasn’t happened yet. But it’s not too late!
If you garden every year (like I do), investing in a greenhouse is a really smart move. Especially if you don’t have a lot of room in your house to start your seeds indoors (also like me).
Let’s go over a few basics.
Why should you use a greenhouse?
If you live in a climate that has harsh winters, you won’t be able to start warm-season plants until after the last spring frost, unless you have a greenhouse. In my area, that means I can’t plant tomatoes until mid-May, unless I give them a head-start indoors or in a greenhouse. I love to grow tomatoes from seed, though, so I like to start mine in my greenhouse. This gives them a month or even 2 of growth before I put them in the ground outside.
A greenhouse helps protect your plants from freezes that may damage your plants. It also helps hold in and even amplify the heat from the day, so you can have warmer soil faster.
Greenhouse gardening allows you to grow food for a longer period, in both the beginning and the end of the growing season. Of course, you can start seeds indoors, but it will be difficult to extend your growing season on the back-end. Bringing those big tomato plants indoors will probably be impossible!
If you have a portable greenhouse, you can simply put the greenhouse over your big plants before they die from fall frosts. That way, you can keep growing and getting harvests, even after your normal growing season has ended.
You might be able to even grow things that don’t normally grow in your climate.
And, even better, if you have a way to heat your greenhouse, you may be able to grow fresh vegetables year-round with a greenhouse.
Choosing the best greenhouse
With so many choices available, choosing the greenhouse that will best suit your needs can be difficult. The best advice I can give you on choosing a greenhouse is to think long-term. Get a bigger one than you think you actually need. A greenhouse is an investment, so you want to make sure it will serve you well for years to come.
I would strongly suggest not wasting your time with the “mini greenhouses”, as they hold a bare minimum of plants and tend to be more poorly made.
As another option, you can make your own greenhouse if you’re handy and resourceful. I’ve seen beautiful greenhouses made from old windows. Just keep in mind that windows and wood are quite expensive right now!
Here are some of my top picks for greenhouses:
Using greenhouse gardening to extend your harvest
After you buy your greenhouse, you will want to find a level spot that gets lots of sun. If the area you choose gets some shade, that’s okay, as long as the shade is from deciduous trees. Deciduous trees can provide some needed shade for hot climates. And since they lose their leaves in the fall, they will allow more sunshine to the greenhouse in the winter, when full sun is necessary.
If you are placing the greenhouse directly on the ground, you may want to cover the bare ground so you don’t get tons of weeds growing in your greenhouse. Cardboard, plastic, or mulch would be good choices. Trust me, you don’t want to have to mow inside of your greenhouse!
In the spring:
As soon as possible in the spring, start your warm-weather seeds in the greenhouse. Use sterile seed-starting medium, and put your seed pots on seed trays to make it easier to move them around as needed.
Monitor the heat and moisture levels in the greenhouse regularly. Temperatures too hot or too cold may damage your tender seedlings. Check your plants often and water them when necessary. I have found that I have to water every day, but of course it depends on the plants you’re growing.
In the summer:
If you live in a hot climate, like I do here in the high desert, you may have a hard time keeping the greenhouse cool enough to keep plants in there in the summer. I usually move all my plants out of the greenhouse when we’re past the risk of frosts in the spring. But if you can ensure that you can keep the greenhouse from getting too hot in the summer, you can leave your plants in it.
If the daytime temperatures reach over 80 degrees, you may need to open the windows to allow some cooler air in. You may also need to run a fan to keep it cool enough for your plants. Just make sure you turn off the fan and close the windows each night when it cools down again. You may even decide you need shade cloth for your greenhouse if you don’t have a little bit of natural shade.
In the fall:
If you have a somewhat portable greenhouse, you can move it to cover at least part of your in-ground garden or raised beds. This will protect them for part of the cooler months, even without added heat.
Placing rocks, a compost pile, or even barrels of water inside your greenhouse will add more warmth during even the coldest winters. These simple additions can really extend the life of your warm-weather crops.
As your warm-weather vegetables start to die out, replace them with cool-season crops. Things like peas and leafy greens will usually do quite well in a greenhouse for most of the cooler months of the year. Planting things in the ground inside a greenhouse, rather than in pots, will give them even more insulation from the cold.
In the winter:
If you want to grow even in the dead of winter, you will need to check into ways of heating your greenhouse. Keeping the greenhouse sufficiently warm during bitter cold winters can be a little tricky. While it can absolutely be done, you may need to stick to growing cool-weather crops for the winter.
I highly recommend a thermometer, especially if you’re planning on greenhouse gardening in the winter. What might feel warm enough to you might not be warm enough for your plants.
Are you going to try greenhouse gardening this year?
So tell me, are you going to try to grow in a greenhouse this year? Or have you already been growing in a greenhouse? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.