Greenhouse Building Basics – Building your own greenhouse is a great step towards self-sustainability and getting out of the mass-supermarket model of food procurement.
It greatly reduces your personal carbon footprint and there’s a certain satisfaction in growing and consuming your own food.
But, how is it done?
Below we cover the basics and some of the best ways to stay as ‘green’ as possible.
Greenhouse Building Basics
What is a Greenhouse?
A greenhouse is a simple structure with transparent walls and roof (often glass) that houses plants for efficient cultivation.
Greenhouses protect plants from pests and the elements, while naturally letting in sunlight and efficiently conducting heat during warmer months.
They are also often heated or cooled to reach the desired temperature.
Greenhouses are great for vegetable plots, making the most of the sun while protecting the plants in the process.
Before you erect your greenhouse, you must.
Choose a Suitable Location
Your greenhouse should be constructed where your garden receives the most light from the sun; ideally North or South-facing.
Of course, not all gardens provide consistent levels of sun, but with that in mind, it is better to get morning sun than afternoon sun.
Check to see if any trees, bushes or other structures block the sun.
You might be able to cut down trees and prune bushes to let more light through.
It is also worth remembering that in the winter, the sun has a lower angle and could shine differently on your chosen location than in the summer.
If you do not live in an ideal climate and wish to control heat and ventilation, you will also need to be in a location that can receive a power supply.
Your structure will need to be built on a stable surface that is well drained and the greenhouse itself will also need to have a basic drainage system to divert excess rainwater.
You could do this with a shallow ditch or build on a natural high point.
You could also use rain collectors or build a cistern to collect the rainwater.
The latter is more eco-friendly as you can use this water for your plants.
Everything you need for a smaller greenhouse can be purchased in a kit from websites like Amazon and the instructions will be fairly straightforward.
It is also worth visiting a local garden-center or home-improvement store to see what they have to offer.
Tip 1: Locally source materials wherever you can. Posting on a local Facebook group is a good way to do this.
Depending on what you choose, the cost can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
If you don’t have the cash up-front, online services can provide $500 loans relatively quickly.
The first and most important step is to measure your chosen spot and decide how big you want your greenhouse to be.
Then it’s a case of purchasing a kit or buying the materials to meet your measurements.
The most common size for a personal greenhouse is 8 by 6 feet.
The frame can be wooden, aluminium, steel, or PVC plastic (though this may have environmental concerns including leeching carcinogens into your plants).
Unless you have experience, it is better to buy a plan you can follow or employ a professional.
Tip 2: Utilizing a ‘lean-in’ (using an existing wall as support for one side of the new structure), reduces construction costs and provides heat.
The process is similar to extension conservatory on a house.
Tip 3: If you use wood it will need to be treated so it lasts.
However, not all common wood treatment is safe for cultivating food.
The main concept for greenhouse walls and roofs is to let the sunlight in and hold the heat.
If you can afford it, glass is the best option to cover your greenhouse.
It is sturdy, doesn’t need to be replaced for many years (providing there are no flying baseballs), and holds the heat well.
If you want to use cheaper tarp, we recommend UV-stabilized LDPE plastic.
This provides consistent effects from the sun and is non-toxic.
If buying a kit, you should check that the covering is not basic polyethylene, which contains BPA’s.
While fiberglass is also an option, it will lose its transparency after a few years and go yellow, forcing you to replace it.
Cooling, Heating and Ventilation
Basic home greenhouses do not necessarily require sophisticated ventilation and temperature systems, and fans can be costly and energy-wasting. Using vents and/or propping a window or door open can be sufficient.
The idea is that all of your plants get air (carbon dioxide) to photosynthesize.
That means fresh air needs to get in and circulate.
If your greenhouse is on the larger side, one option is to use a solar-powered fan system to keep your energy consumption eco-friendly.
This also applies to heating systems.
All that said, a few electric powered fans will still be better for your carbon footprint than buying all of your food from a supermarket.
Basic thermometers will also be required so you can gauge the temperature of your greenhouse and the opportune growing environment. The next step up is a digital thermostat.
Benches and Troughs
Don’t forget the interior of your greenhouse.
You will need benches and/or troughs to stand and hold your plants.
You can also use pots and cultivate the land itself into planting beds.
Most people use a combination to get the most out of their greenhouse.
Remember that you will need to allow water drainage and space for you to work between rows of plants, no matter how you design your interior.
Watering for your plants should come from the rainwater you collected, but the next option is to use a hose from your home water supply.
Tip: To fertilize your plants use your own compost.
A compost heap is a freestanding heap or container of organic matter, such as food and garden waste, that you collect and allow to decay.
It reduces waste going to landfill and is, therefore, another way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Check out EarthEasy for a complete guide on the best compost sources.
Happy Greenhouse Building!
While you might face some unique challenge or have your own unique requirements, the above steps will get you on the right track to building your own greenhouse.
It is a fun and challenging process to grow your own food, but you will soon get the hang of it!
Do you already grow food from your own greenhouse or a collective?
Let us know your experiences in the comments below!