Gardeners, if you’ve ever been tempted to give Mother Nature a little nudge, consider installing a greenhouse.
The rationale behind such an investment is simple. Greenhouses give gardeners control over the environment, regardless of whether they’re growing food or exotic decorative plants.
The greenhouse extends the growing season by providing an ideal environment for producing seedlings and by protecting frost-phobic plants when it’s cold outdoors.
And functionality is improving all the time within these cozy frames, with raised beds and gravel benches for tropicals such as orchids among the newest equipment.While greenhouses have been valued by growers for generations, interest in healthier, organic eating and locally grown food is also a driving force in the industry today.
“A greenhouse can rejuvenate your gardening,” said Cayden Biddle of JustGreenHouses.com of Omaha, Neb. “Just about everything that can be grown in an outdoor garden can be started or grown in a greenhouse.”
Known in the trade as hobby greenhouses, in contrast to solariums or conservatories that expand heated residential living space, greenhouses for noncommercial use are available in a range of designs, from the simplest lean-to shed to a high-end, custom-built permanent structure.
In addition to stabilizing the temperature, a greenhouse also gives control over pests of both the insect and four-footed variety. Pesticides, therefore, are usually unnecessary.
Regulated temperatures and moisture levels, as well as protection from other climate conditions such as high winds, might even help plants grow faster and increase the yield of food.
Some plants, especially herbs, can be grown exclusively in a greenhouse without having to be transplanted outdoors.
New features are cropping up to add to the functionality and appeal of growing in a greenhouse.
“We’ve added some new, jazzy little add-ons to our line that make our greenhouses more fun and accessible,” said Lyndsey Roth of Solar Innovations, a Pennsylvania company whose high-end, custom greenhouse products include glass structures with the look of an English conservatory.
Raised beds, essentially waist-high aluminum troughs on four legs, allow gardeners to work without having to bend down. The beds can be built as deep or shallow as the customer wants, depending upon the crops to be planted.
Gravel benches are also making greenhouses more functional. Gravel is layered in the bottom of these units and then covered with water. Potted plants such as orchids are set on top. As the water evaporates, the plants receive steady moisture without having to be soaked.
A decorative rack of hangars, similar to the styles found in a custom-built kitchen, can also be installed above the work space to organize tools.
There are several things to consider, though, before ordering a greenhouse:
• How will it be used? Functionality will determine the size as well as the accessories needed.
• Should you start modestly with a kit for a little utility building of synthetic polycarbonate, or do you want a custom-designed, “stick-built” unit of tinted glass and aluminum?
• Are there any homeowner covenants or zoning restrictions to prevent situating a greenhouse on your property?
• Where are your water source and electrical supply? Is additional plumbing and wiring necessary?
• Greenhouses can require a big footprint. Do you have enough space, and is your site level?
• Will it get enough sun? Or will sun shields be necessary to keep it from getting too hot inside?
• Have you budgeted for the accessories you’ll need, such as shelving, work benches, grow lights, fans and heaters? Kits may or may not include these items.
• Since most greenhouses are sold and shipped in kits, how do you feel about a do-it-yourself assembly project?
For urban gardeners with minimal space and a flair for experimentation, a small greenhouse can be a perfect place to set up a hydroponic table for soil-less gardening.
“Hydroponic growing is a hot trend in our industry,” said Michael Cox of GreenhouseMegastore.com of Illinois. “Greenhouses offer the benefits of control over pH and nutrient balances, reduced number of pests and diseases, reduced water waste – all those things gardeners are concerned about.”
Virginia Frazier, owner of Adventures in Herbs of Indian Trail, started out with a 12-by-24-foot multipurpose greenhouse for growing herbs and bedding plants.
“I also put my houseplants there over the winter and start my seedlings before setting them in the garden,” she said. “I don’t make too much of a fuss over them. I might stick a heating pad or one of those energy-efficient electric heaters in there on the coldest nights, but my set-up isn’t all that elaborate.”
Even so, it has paid off. She now grows all her own food and goes to the store only about every three weeks.
With the additional climate control that a hobby greenhouse can provide, the rewards of gardening can rise exponentially, Biddle said.
“It’s a great way to interact with your family and get children involved with nature,” Biddle said. “And you get great meals in the process.”
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