How to Use a Greenhouse to Grow Your Own Food

Home grown produce is the freshest you can get, and a greenhouse offers several distinct advantages to raising produce in an outdoor vegetable garden. You have complete control over temperature, irrigation, humidity, and light exposure. It’s much easier to control or eliminate pests. And you can increase your yield by extending the growing season. Let’s look at the steps you should take when setting up your greenhouse.

 How Big?

A freestanding portable greenhouse is normally designed with a 3-foot-wide center aisle, and benches along the sides of the growing area. The greenhouse can be any length, but there are standard widths. The smallest size is 8 feet wide (outside dimensions), which allows for 2-foot-wide growing benches on either side. The next size up, which is 10 feet wide, gives a 30% increase in growing area, allowing for 3-foot benches. A width of 12 to 20 feet gives you the possibility of adding a seating area, a water feature, or growing in raised beds or other non-bench structures.

Water and Power

You can make your greenhouse completely passive if you like and have no irrigation system and no electricity. You’ll need to hand water your plants and rely on the sun completely for light and heat. This can be fine on a smaller scale, but you might want to be able to run a garden hose in, at the very least. Larger examples might call for a drip irrigation system, similar to those used for shrubs and other landscaping. Running power into the greenhouse allows for lighting, whether as a sunlight substitute or just for atmosphere.

Plan Your Temperature for Your Harvest

You will want separate inside and outside thermometers to monitor temperature. Lettuce, broccoli, and other “cool season” vegetables grow best with a daytime temperature of 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and a nighttime temperature of 45 to 55. If you’re setting up for this kind of produce, your greenhouse won’t need direct sunlight. This might expand your possible yard location choices. “Warm season” plants like peppers and cucumbers need bright sun, and you’ll want a daytime temperature of 60 to 85, and 55 to 65 at night. The two groups do not do well when grown together, because of their differing temperature requirements.

With the use of insulation and choice of clear panel material, you may be able to alter your growing environment enough to accommodate the different temperature ranges and alternate your choice in plants. Double glazed glass panels will absorb and diffuse some of the incoming light. They are also best at holding in heat. Plastic or polycarbonate panels allow a bit more light and are lighter weight. Plastic or vinyl sheets are the least expensive, but are also the least durable.

Portable Greenhouses

 A portable greenhouse can be a very economical and convenient way to experience the benefits of growing your own produce without committing to a permanent structure. They are usually a metal frame covered with clear plastic sheeting, and are available as freestanding structures, or a lean-to design, which is set against your house. The smallest examples are just two or three feet square and can be had for under $50. A 10’ X 20’ “quonset hut” style portable greenhouse is still well under $500. When the growing season is over, simply disassemble and store until the next springtime.

Photo by Castorly Stock from Pexels

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