Hobby greenhouse choices abound

By Tom Seymour | Apr 17, 2014
Photo by: Tom Seymour Tom's homemade greenhouse

For the home gardener, greenhouses fulfill several functions. From being a place to grow-on plants started in the house to a site to grow plants in-situ, the home greenhouse makes life easier in so many ways.

Fortunately, setting up a greenhouse isn’t expensive. Or not. From a small do-it-yourself steel frame and poly cover model costing less than $100 bucks, to a completely homemade structure made from scrap lumber and discarded windows to custom-made, state-of-the-art models that not only do everything a greenhouse should do, but also add to the value of any property, we have endless choices.

My greenhouse falls in the middle category. It is completely homemade and would be hard to duplicate, given the variety of components that were available to me at the time. The larger glass panes come from two discarded, sliding glass doors. These, if disassembled carefully, yield two panes of glass each 75 by 33 inches. With the addition of several old storm windows, complete with screens and an old aluminum storm door, also with screen, my greenhouse went together quickly.

The growing racks where I place my plant-filled containers after nighttime temperatures in the greenhouse no longer hover around the freezing mark are made of 1-by 2-inch lengths of pine that a friend turned out on his bandsaw. These are set on a rack of the same material. The floor space inside measures roughly 8 feet square. This gives me more than enough room for growing on plants until time to set them out in the garden and also, space for garden tools.

But that’s not all. Several years ago I determined to make even better use of my greenhouse space and so made raised beds beneath the plant racks. These were milled of 2 by 7-inch hemlock from a local mill. Hemlock lasts for many years when filled with soil.

As a finishing touch, I lined the floor in my greenhouse with peastone to a depth of about 5 inches. This assists drainage and also, just plain looks good. Also, I’m convinced that the stone helps hold solar heat and releases it at night.

All in all, I’m pleased with my greenhouse and couldn’t ask for anything better or more elaborate, given my applications. My structure may or may not be typical of a homemade greenhouse, since each and every one varies slightly. But it has all the features that a home greenhouse owner might want.

Ultimate greenhouse

Then we have the most high-tech, state-of-the-art greenhouses available. These are designed for the home hobbyist who wants a greenhouse, but can’t tend to it on a daily basis. The one described here actually takes care of itself.

I refer to a unit I saw at the Bangor Home and Garden show earlier this month. The owner/designer/manufacturer had a unit set up on the showroom floor. The first thought that came to my mind upon entering this amazing unit was, “I could live here.” That’s not too far-fetched a statement, either.

The Freedom Greenhouse line offers solar-powered models that do chores on a pre-programmed basis. For instance, a solar-powered roof opening gear motor is thermostat-controlled and lifts the roof in order to allow for natural convection, or circulation of air inside the greenhouse.

And unlike the bench and plant rack in my homemade greenhouse, Freedom Greenhouses have automatic watering systems. These work in one of two ways. First, a flood bench becomes flooded with water from a small reservoir. Potted plants set here get bathed in water to a predetermined depth. Then, the water drains back into the reservoir to be used once again.

Capillary mat benches transfer water from a moisture-filled mat up to the bottom of plant pots. This is an ideal method of watering potted plants in any situation, since the plant itself can dictate how much water it needs and how quickly it gets it.

Slightly more mundane options are available, including a wire mesh bench and a cedar slat bench.

The heart of the whole operation is the 12-volt battery and charging system. The battery is charged by a solar panel, meaning that this greenhouse can operate anywhere, no additional electricity required. For instance, one of these units would be ideal for a vacation home used only on weekends. Just go to “camp” and your plants will be healthy and happy, courtesy of one of these amazing greenhouses. Best of all, these greenhouses are made in Maine.

Freedom Greenhouses come in various sizes and of course, prices vary. The smallest solar-powered model measures 8 by 8, exactly the same as my homemade unit. The price for this is $4,295. That’s a lot, but for someone who really loves their gardening and needs a user-friendly, modern greenhouse, it seems like money well spent.

For more information on the different models of Freedom Greenhouse, contact Maine Garden Products, 576 Cushing Road, Friendship, ME 04547, 236-2600, MAINEGARDEN.COM or INFO@MAINEGARDEN.COM.

Cheapo units

And finally, we have those “cheapo units,” those mini-greenhouses that nearly every seed and plant catalogue carries. These seem at first glance to be something of a joke, but in truth they are extremely workable units that serve their intended purpose very well. I see these set up in various locations and when filled with plants, these mini-greenhouses are very attractive.

One particular model that strikes my fancy comes from Growers Supply. This catalogue offers two models and of them, the higher-priced ($149) seems the best value.

This unit comes with a tubular steel frame that easily snaps together, ground stakes to keep the greenhouse from getting blown away by the wind, tiered shelving, a double-zipper front door and a UV-reinforced PVC cover. Dimensions are a generous 4-foot, 6-inches wide, by 6-feet, 3-inches high and 4-feet, 6-inches long. This allows plenty of room for walking about, watering, shifting pots and so on.

A replacement cover sells for $79.95. Buying an extra cover makes all kinds of sense, since it in effect doubles the life of the greenhouse without doubling the initial price.

A big, and for some, important, difference between these mini-style greenhouses and the other kinds is that the mini greenhouse can be taken down in summer when it is no longer needed and set back up again in spring when the time comes to harden up plants in the greenhouse prior to setting outside for the season.

Contact Growers Supply at 1-800-476-9715 or go online at GrowersSupply.com.

It being only late April of an unusually cold and reluctant spring, it’s surely not too late to set up some sort of greenhouse. One thing I can say for sure, no matter what type of greenhouse you decide upon, you’ll probably spend far more time in it than you could ever imagine. Greenhouses are friendly, happy places. And certainly, we all need lots of those.

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