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Greenhouse Thoughts

April 20, 2012

So you think you want a greenhouse?

I barely scratched the surface the other day in my post about personal food security.  Especially in regards to having a greenhouse.  If you are even halfway inclined to build one, I want to push you over the edge.  Do it!  No, a greenhouse isn’t necessary to grow food, and yes, I know grandpa didn’t have one and he did just fine.  But he didn’t have internet or cars or electric fencing either.  It’s not about doing just fine, it’s about taking the best of what the modern world offers and using the technology if it fits into your scheme.

January King cabbage in April.

Eliot Coleman’s hidden farm theory is alive and well here, only I’m calling it my hidden garden.  We are down to the last of the cabbage and carrots in the garden and it’s late April.  But in the greenhouse we have the makings of a garden.  In our area, we are woe to work the soil early, I know people do, but they run the risk of ruining the soil structure in their hurry, and also the risk of two more months of rainy weather and no way to really take proper care of what got planted in the one week of dry.  Our greenhouse truly offers us season extension.  I’m not talking hothouse or expensive, just a habitat for a food garden.

I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating.  A greenhouse of some sort is necessary to bring a tomato or pepper crop to fruition on my farm.  Our cool, mountainside summer nights pretty much guarantee lots of green tomatoes or when the fall rains begin, late blight.  And even in the fertile, warm Willamette Valley lots of commercial growers use them too for everything.  If you go to a farmers market in Oregon right now, it’s a pretty sure bet that a lot of the fresh produce available has been grown in an unheated greenhouse.  If you live in a colder climate all the more reason to have a way to extend your gardening season.

While the tomatoes and other warm weather starts are growing, we are beginning to get some greens, first enough mustard for sandwiches, and now salads.

Mustard greens and cool weather crops really excel in this cool weather we’ve been having.  I think they would make it outside too, but our garden soil is really too wet for much garden maintenance and the environment in the greenhouse gives me some control over the weather.

Basically our greenhouse is just giving us a jump on the gardening season.  We want to grow the food that we eat.  To that end of course, we want to eat seasonally, with a stretch.  No exotics really, just your garden variety vegetables.  What’s growing on in there?  You may remember last year, the tomatoes were on the west side, and other miscellaneous veggies were on the east side.  For a rotation of sorts, I am swapping sides – tomatoes and peppers on the east side, and everything else on the west side.  Not much different from this old photo below with the exception of way less greens and way more tomatoes!

1996 greenhouse 1.

Here’s the list of what’s planted so far:

Carrots – Nelson
Beets – Detroit Dark Red
Kohlrabi – Kolibri
Turnips – Hakurei
Cabbage – Charmant, Ruby Ball, Melissa
Chard – 5 color Silverbeet, Fordhook, MacGregor’s Favorite
Mustard – Pink Lettucy, Joi Choi, Ruby Streaks, Bau Sin, Mispoona, Yokatta Na, Yukina
Lettuce – Parris Island, Little Gem, Merlot, Flashy Green Butter Oak, Thai 88, Red Sails, Red Salad Bowl
Kale – Lacinato Rainbow, Lacinato, Red Russian, White Russian, Wild Garden
Spinach – Space
Onions – Walla Walla Sweet, Red Long of Tropea
Strawberry – Tristar
Beans – Maxibel
Summer Squash – Cocozelle, Raven
Cucumber – Marketmore

As you can see really nothing out of the ordinary, just a good variety of vegetables that is basically what we will be growing outside pretty soon.  Next post, some thoughts on choosing a site for your greenhouse 😉  You know you want one!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. jenj permalink
    April 20, 2012 9:57 am

    I am not, not, NOT sharing this post with my husband! He’s been on me to get a greenhouse for a year now. Problem is, our winters here are mild, but our summers are just scorchers. I think we can grow cold-hardy veggies through the winter with row covers instead of a greenhouse… got to try it this fall! Your greenhouse sure does look beautiful, though!

    • April 20, 2012 10:28 am

      JenJ, ha ha, just the opposite here, weather and husbands! My hubby would prefer I didn’t like greenhouses so much 😉

  2. Rick Cosaro permalink
    April 20, 2012 10:41 am


    In your greenhouse, how do you water? Hand held hose, attached to a frost free hose cock. Or drip hose?

    Love your posts.

    • April 20, 2012 10:53 am

      Rick, hand held hose for now, and I use soaker hoses for the tomatoes and peppers and water them once a week. So a blend of both. I’m on daily watering detail now for flats – they dry out fast! The beds of veggies are doing fine on once a week right now since it’s really been fairly cool.

  3. April 20, 2012 10:52 am

    Thank you for posting this!!! We were given a small greenhouse this winter and I am just now getting things to grow in it, but no seeds are really sprouting yet…just store bought tomato plants that are doing great so far. We live in your area, sort of (SW Washington) and our weather is not good for growing tomatoes and peppers outside. Our garden has struggled for the past couple of years, I’m really hoping to learn to grow more with our greenhouse and possibly hoop houses in the garden. Can’t wait to read any other advice you may have! 🙂

    • April 20, 2012 10:57 am

      Valerie, it sure doesn’t replace the outside gardens but can really make a difference in the overall total and variety of food we can grow. I’m thinking you will love it!! 🙂

      • April 20, 2012 11:04 am

        I hope so. I had hoped to start my seeds in the greenhouse and not in the house this year, but so far that has not worked. I have no heater in the greenhouse (it’s just a basic one), so that may be a factor. It’s been rather cool here (as I’m sure you know). Spring and sunshine can not get here fast enough for me…we REALLY need our garden this year.

        • April 20, 2012 11:43 am

          Valerie, you might want to invest in a heat mat, that’s what I use with a plastic tent over the flats at night or on cold days. It’s pretty economical and it only takes a few days to get the seeds germinated and then you can move the plants off the heat. Some plants still may need covering but at least the heat will get you started.

  4. April 20, 2012 11:17 am

    “Thoughts on choosing a site for your greenhouse…”


    It’s not a permanent structure. You don’t have to use concrete and rebar so if you make a mistake…no big whoop. But I’m looking forward to your next article as we are doing some long-term planning for additional greenhouses here on the farm and mistakes do have a cost.

    I think more important than “Where?” is “How big?”. Go big. As big as you can. You’ll wake up one day and it will be full of food. Just as every farmer stands at his neighbor’s fence looking longingly at the land next door, you’ll be longing for more greenhouse before you know it.

    Looking forward to the continuation of the series.

    • April 20, 2012 11:45 am

      HFS, Yes BIG as you can afford. I don’t have any trouble filling the 30 x 72 especially if I expect to grow enough food to last us until this time next year 🙂

  5. April 20, 2012 11:19 am

    How are your turnip transplants growing? I jumped the gun and transplanted some beets. So far so good even though they got about 2″ of rain dumped on them the next day.

    • April 20, 2012 11:49 am

      HFS, they’re doing good, and much bigger than their direct seeded brothers. I’m guessing as long as they’re growing the tap root is OK and I’ll get a good root! Won’t be long, the greens are looking great on them too!

  6. April 20, 2012 11:43 am

    Sooo want a greenhouse. Want to experiment w/passive heating, too, though. Do you get a lot of winter sun, or just cloud-shine? Does your greenhouse get warm, or just less cold and less wet?

    • April 20, 2012 11:55 am

      HarrietNW, cloud shine mostly. I plan on addressing some of those questions in my next post. 🙂

  7. Sunnie permalink
    April 20, 2012 11:56 am

    Thanks for posting, we just bought a farm, (and we already want the empty lot next door!) and I really want a greenhouse. Im not even growing anything this year, until we get a greenhouse because of the wildlife. I live in Colorado, I also want to grow year round. My husband said we could make one, at least the frame. Do you think tarps would work or would I need panels? Thanks again.

    • April 20, 2012 12:09 pm

      Sunnie, congrats! I think the key is light, so greenhouse plastic or panels would probably work the best. We bought ours from a greenhouse company but certainly you could make one. Basically it will be a covered garden, the possibilities are endless. The reason our strawberries are inside is strictly because of wildlife! Namely venison, err, I mean deer 😉

    • ienvan permalink
      April 21, 2012 8:00 am

      Great post! I love my 11x 20 from by way of Canadian Tire. @Sunny: when the cover on mine dies, I intend to replace it with woven poly from this outfit: I have seen samples, wonderful stuff. Easier to work with and stronger than plastic. As for wildlife, some of the most destructive, alas, is inside. Even Elliott The Great struggles with voles. What’s next? Growing all food in a fortress with hard-wire cloth underneath? Some neighbors finally got a sturdy deer fence around their garden, only to find it demolished by a bear who fancied their strawberries.

      • April 21, 2012 8:15 am

        Jenvan, we love the stuff from Northern…that’s what we used on our laying hen skid greenhouse, silver side out, black in, it was indestructible! In our area we’ve found the Tufflite lasts about 8 years, and then it is only slightly yellow which slows down light emittance but is still providing good cover.

  8. April 20, 2012 12:55 pm

    Sunnie! I live in Colorado and I am officially jealous. Congratulations on your farm! I think I”m going to have to content myself with my quarter-acre in the suburbs until the kids grow up. My husband built me a 6×6 greenhouse on the south side of our house last month — he basically built a wooden box out of framing lumber, used the old sliding glass doors that we replaced in december on the south side, and I stapled plastic on the e and w sides. On top he put wavy, clear plastic deck roofing sheets (I’m pretty sure that’s not the technical term for them.) Steve’s office looks out into the box, so his window provides some temperature moderation for the greenhouse. I’ve already run out of space in it with my seedlings, but mostly because I’m growing starts for others.
    I reeeally want a hoop house in the backyard, but I don’t want to wear my husband out, so I’m waiting to see if I can get it done myself this summer (ha! It’s all I can do to get the harvest in and processed. Maybe next spring.)
    Can’t wait to read your next intstallment!

  9. April 20, 2012 1:25 pm

    I’m going with the closest I’ll probably ever get to a greenhouse. We installed hoops over our raised beds this Spring. I’m really looking forward to using them next fall and winter. I’m in New England and ripening tomatoes and peppers isn’t an issue, but winter protection is. I wish I had something as big as yours!

  10. fullfreezer permalink
    April 20, 2012 2:59 pm

    Oh, I do so want a greenhouse. Not that my hubby is opposed, it’s just finding time, money and space- well, mostly time and money.
    He did get me a little one last year for my birthday (a 4×8 structure) but we didn’t have time last year to set it up. THIS is the year, if only to have a few greens late into the season.

  11. April 20, 2012 3:15 pm

    You should be working on commission. I had to have one after your chickens in the greenhouse post way back when.. .. hopefully this is the summer for mine : )

  12. April 20, 2012 9:09 pm

    A hoop house is # 2 on the list of building projects. Workung on # 1 right now, Chicken Coop!
    Got my first 6 Chicks just 4 weeks ago and they are way past ready to go out side. They have out grown the brooder and are always trying to get out into the real world.
    But I have done alot of research and seen alot of plans to build a “Green House/Hoop House. I have come to the concution that a Hoop House is more in line with my budget and I can do all the work myself to get it up.
    I have high hopes that not only will I be able to extend the growing season this year, But grow cold hardy greens all next winter too!
    I realy love your Blog and learn alot about pasture manament from you.

  13. April 21, 2012 2:30 am

    Oh, I do so want one, but DH is not at all enthusiastic. To him, it’s another project to build. LOL But there’s so much I could do with one…. For now, i dream.

    • April 21, 2012 5:30 am

      Pam, ahh, it’s the same here, just another project! But he does like to eat so that’s the way it goes 😉

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