Extending the Growing Season
Greenhouses allow for a variety of fresh produce and flowers year-roundBy Kristen Hannum
Like many luxuries once reserved for the wealthy, greenhouses have come to the middle class. As the cost of greenhouses has come down, more gardeners want one for themselves.
Greenhouses extend the season and grow a variety of vegetables, flowers, grasses, fruits and vines that never make it to the local big-box store. A beautiful greenhouse, especially an attached greenhouse, can also increase your home’s value. At a time when China is a major foreign supplier of U.S. fruit and vegetables, greenhouses provide local and safe produce year-round.
A greenhouse can also be cost effective: that $3 pack of seeds can become dozens of plants. Greenhouses eventually pay for themselves, both in plant costs and as weather insurance.
In Europe, nearly half of all gardeners have some kind of greenhouse, according to Andrew Cook, the founder of Exaco, an Austin-based distributor of greenhouses. Cook thinks that’s partly because Europeans can walk through models of greenhouses at their local garden centers. Americans are rarely able to do that.
Choices and research
Typically, customers diligently investigate what kind of greenhouse they want, spending an entire year on average researching which greenhouse matches their vision.
What kind of glazing—glass, polycarbonate or polyethylene sheeting? Should they choose solar, electric or gas heating? And which company should they buy from?
Shane Smith covers these topics in his book, “Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion, Revised: Growing Food & Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace”, co-authored with Marjorie Leggitt.
Shane advises first ensuring that your property has a place for good winter sun and that your local zoning allows greenhouses.
Prices, building time
Then think about how much you are willing to spend. Hobby greenhouse kits, a popular choice, can cost from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
Smith recommends that people buy kits from a supplier who is available weekends to answer questions when printed directions don’t make sense. Some kit manufacturers and suppliers have posted helpful You Tube video guides.
Smith says that a typical aluminum-frame, 8-by-10-foot or 10-by-12-foot hobby greenhouse kit will probably take a couple weekends to build: one weekend for the foundation and one for the building itself. Then comes the electrical and plumbing.
How about greenhouses’ downside?
Cook says that a lot of cheap greenhouses have been sold in the past couple decades, and people have had bad experiences with them. And greenhouses aren’t for everyone. Smith thinks people should be certain they want a greenhouse as opposed to a sunroom with container plants.
The number one regret Smith hears? “They tell me they wish they’d gone bigger,” he says.