Gardening in Your Greenhouse (Greenhouse Basics)

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Add mulch as well to help retain moisture from each watering session. Pruning will also help keep your plants healthy. There are certain plants which do well in a greenhouse. Choosing plant varieties which will thrive in this setting is important to finding success with this style of gardening. To enjoy an earlier extended growing season, you can plant up to two months earlier than you could outdoors.

The Basics of Greenhouse Gardening

For heartier crops such as spinach you can direct sow them in your greenhouse. When planting other plant varieties, you may have to start them from seed, which can still be done inside your greenhouse with proper heat. If the greenhouse is heated , you have the potential of growing crops year-round. Hearty plants may not need additional heat depending upon your planting zone.

The greenhouse is also the best location for starting seeds. When planning a greenhouse garden, you must ask yourself many of the same questions as you would for any garden. One of the biggest questions is how much do I plant? This will all depend upon your family size, family needs, and grow space. This number will vary for each situation, but a basic tip is to not plant more than you can use.

Does your greenhouse have workable space?

Freestanding or Attached

Do you want it to have additional space for a potting bench? These are questions you must consider when growing in a greenhouse. Regardless of the layout you choose for your greenhouse, you must keep it clean. At the end of each season, you must clean up the beds or pots before planting again. If you choose to have a potting bench or other storage areas in your greenhouse, keep it clean too. The fewer weeds and random soil you have hanging around, the less space you have available for unwanted guests to live in your greenhouse.

Does your greenhouse need a heat source? If you live in a colder climate , your greenhouse will most likely need to be heated. Take your planting zone , crops being grown, and time of year into consideration when deciding on whether or not to add a heat source to your greenhouse for gardening purposes. You now know the gardening basics when it comes to greenhouse gardening. Hopefully, this will give you a starting point and answer some common questions when choosing to create a greenhouse garden. Good luck with your greenhouse gardening ventures, and we hope you find great success in growing more of your own food for a longer period.

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How to Greenhouse Garden

Potatoes should not be grown in the greenhouse because they are a harbinger of disease, and will infect the soil. With proper planning the production of a greenhouse can be multiplied many times over that of one planted without any planning. For example, when tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers or any such climbing plants are placed, they should be along the back or north wall of the greenhouse. By placing stakes in the ground and running cord to the ceiling of the greenhouse, these plants can be attached to the cord and trained to climb to the roof. Thus, they will be able to pick up ample sun which has passed over the tops of shorter plants placed in front of them.


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Near the outside wall would be an ideal place to plant such low-growing plants as radishes, onions and carrots; next could come beets, turnips, broccoli and Brussels sprouts; then lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach and celery; after that you could have peas, cauliflower, cabbages and beans; finally, we have the tomatoes, pole beans and climbing plants.

Thus, from the south or outside wall, we have the smaller or lower growing plants; to the rear or north wall, we have a gradually ascending scale of height until we come to the last row, next to the rear wall, where the tallest plants are placed. Shelves can be arranged around the walls of the greenhouse to hold special plants in pots.

Sitting in the corners, and at any odd space, can be small tubs with dwarf lemon and fig trees. These can be easily moved around as required. In one corner could be a circular pyramid of ever-bearing strawberries. Flowers can be kept in pots on the shelves. While cantaloupe and watermelon plants take up a lot of room, they are low to the ground and can be grown around such tall plants as tomatoes and pole beans. The melon plants also produce repeatedly, thus making the space allotment more profitable than with some single-bearing crops.

In planning your greenhouse garden, keep in mind that in order to have a constant supply of fresh food, you will need to be in a constant state of growing, planting and harvesting. For example, radishes will be ready to eat in twenty days and will remain sweet and tender for about ten more days. Thus you should only plant as many radishes as your family will eat in a ten-day period. Then two weeks later, you should plant the same amount of radishes again.

For the average family a single row of radishes four feet long, planted every two weeks, will keep the family in a constant supply of fresh, tender and succulent radishes. You will have some radishes which you are just finishing, others which are just about ready and others which have just been planted. Another example would be carrots which could be planted in a six- to eight-foot row, and replanted every month. This will keep the average family in fresh young carrots constantly.

Some plants reproduce over and over and last a long, long time. Two or three pepper plants will keep a family in peppers for longer than a year. Four tomato plants will supply a family with all of the tomatoes they can use for a year. Ten new tomato plants should be started as the original plants begin to bear. When the new plants begin to bear, the old ones can be removed.

As plants get older their foliage gets larger, and it takes more of their energy to feed themselves rather than to produce fruit. Even though plants continue to produce for a long time, if the plant itself keeps getting larger and larger as with the tomato vine it is wise to replace them every four months. Many amateur greenhouse growers — and some commercial growers — are not aware of the effects that humidity has on plants.

It's very important to maintain the proper relative humidity to get the right kind of growth of fruits, flowers, leaves and roots. The relative humidity in the greenhouse should be about 60 percent. This is much higher, by the way, than the humidity of the average home, which runs between 12 and 20 percent. If there is a humidity problem, it's usually because there is too much humidity, not too little.

The temperatures in greenhouses are higher than the temperatures outside, and the warmer the air the more water vapor it can hold. If ventilation is poor, greenhouses will be like "steaming jungles," with the high moisture content encouraging vegetative or leaf growth at the sacrifice of fruit and flower production. It also invites plant diseases like damping-off and botrytis, which thrive in excessively damp and humid areas. Of course, some growers do have problems with too low a relative humidity level.

This generally occurs in dry parts of the country where greenhouses are over-ventilated. Too little humidity hastens the development of roots, flowers and fruit. If your problem is overall too low a humidity, hose down your gravel, sand or cement aisles frequently, reduce ventilation and mist those plants that need a lot of moisture.

Since fuel oil, electricity, natural gas, bottle gas or coal are all satisfactory fuels for use in greenhouse heating, choose the one most likely to be available during the heating season. Low operating cost is another factor to consider in selecting a fuel. If the BTU capacity of your home heating system is large enough to heat only your home, do not burden it by also trying to heat the greenhouse with it.

On the other hand, if the system is oversized, there is no reason why you cannot extend it to the greenhouse. This is particularly true if the greenhouse is small or is attached to the home. Unless you're a heating expert, secure advice from a heating contractor, mail-order house or greenhouse supplier about installing an additional zone for heating the greenhouse.

Generally, this is not an expensive job to do with hot water or steam systems. It's a simple matter of extending the heating pipes to the greenhouse. For hot air systems, cold and warm air ducts can be extended into the greenhouse, providing it's not located too far from the home. With either of the three systems, a thermostat located in the greenhouse can control temperatures without interfering with the home heating requirements.

Locate the thermometer at plant growing height and not for your own convenience. It is best to use alcohol-filled thermometers. Since most heating systems state their output rating in British thermal units BTUs , you should know the BTU requirements for your particular greenhouse.

These ten guidelines indicate why greenhouses of the same size may require vastly different heating systems:. The minimum inside temperature desired. The lowest anticipated outside temperature. Amount of exposure to winds. Nature of the greenhouse surface area. Double or single layering of side walls.

Double or single glazed greenhouse. Amount of straw or other material used to cover the roof not to the point of blocking out too much sunlight during extremely cold weather. Desirability of maintaining maximum temperatures during extreme periods of cold weather. Attachment of greenhouse to heated building as with a lean-to greenhouse. Excellent, good or poor operating and maintenance schedule. A rule of thumb for estimating the safety margin for most greenhouses is a heat loss of 1. When you arrive at the greenhouse BTU requirements, select a heating system which is equal to at least 10 percent more than required.

There is far less wear and tear if the capacity is a little larger than actually required. Then, too, if you encounter a record-breaking year with low temperatures, the heating system will carry you through. Even though greenhouse plants are not directly exposed to outside temperatures, they can be lost if the weather is unusually cold and your heating system is adequate only for seasonal temperatures. A greenhouse is a pretty big consumer of fuel, so you should be aware of the many things that you can do to keep your heating needs as low as possible.

The biggest mistake most hobbyists make and many commercial growers, too is to run their greenhouses too high, day or night. You can save a lot of money and fuel by growing "cool" rather than "warm" plants. Whatever plants you do grow, it's smarter to run the temperature a little on the low side. Although growth may be slowed, many plants can get along fine with a few degrees less than optimum. In addition to just plain lowering the greenhouse thermostat, there are lots of other things that you can do to conserve heating fuel:. See that your greenhouse is as airtight as possible.

Replace broken and slipped glass and torn plastic. Make sure that all doors and vent sashes close tightly, especially in winter. A film of plastic sheet or sheets of clear fiberglass, installed inside the greenhouse, will create an air space between the outside and inside layers. Air, as you might know, is the best insulation there is. A good hermetically sealed inside layer of plastic or fiberglass could reduce conducted heat loss by as much as 40 percent, although 20 percent is more realistic because of the difficulty of getting the inside layer fastened tightly all around the greenhouse.

Don't worry about the reduction in light due to the extra layer of plastic or fiberglass. Today's greenhouse plastics cause a minimum of light reduction. To cut out drafts, have two outside doors, so that one can act as a storm door. Better yet, build onto the outside door a small foyer. This foyer will create an air pocket, and have an insulating effect as well as helping to cut out drafts.

If your benches are open on the bottom, use drop cloth "skirts" around the base of the benches to help confine heat above them, where it's really needed. Mulching the soil in raised benches can help insulate the soil and prevent heat from the soil from being lost to the air. You can hang a sheet of heavy-gauge aluminum foil or other reflective insulating material between the source of heat and the outside wall of your greenhouse.

1. Neglecting to control the temperature

The foil will reflect the heat into the greenhouse where it can be used, instead of letting it be absorbed by the outside wall. At night, hang black cloth horizontally from the greenhouse ceiling as close to your plants and benches as possible to confine the hot air in the growing areas and prevent it from escaping up through the roof. Don't let a cobweb rob your greenhouse of heat!

The Essentials for Beginners - Greenhouse Gardening 101

One single strand of cobweb on the contact points of your thermostat can throw the thermostat's accuracy off. Be sure to clean out the mechanism; just blow on it or rub a piece of paper between the points to wipe off the contacts. Install an alarm system. One called a Thermalarm, when connected to a battery and doorbell, will sound an alarm when the temperature goes above or below the safe range or when there is a power failure. Be sure to hook it to a dry cell, not to house current.

If you have a large greenhouse, consider installing a fan jet. It will keep the air moving and make more carbon dioxide available for the plants. The fan jet creates turbulence which causes the heat that has built up in the top to be mixed with the cooler air in the lower portion or crop level in the greenhouse. The result is less heat loss through the ridge top of the greenhouse where the roof peaks , resulting in a fuel saving. You can take advantage of the heat coming from your electric clothes dryer by running the vent into your greenhouse, if it is nearby. This not only gives you extra heat but also extra humidification.

Trees can save energy in your home and greenhouse. Nurseryman William Flemer III says that a shelter belt of evergreens to the windward side of a greenhouse can reduce fuel consumption by about 25 percent. This can be an impressive saving over the years for a modest investment in plants. Select a heater large enough to heat the greenhouse.

Check with your local weather bureau to find out the coldest day during the past twenty-five years. Use the lowest temperature as a criterion when establishing BTU requirements for a heating system to do the job. A windy location results in a greater heat loss, so provide a windbreak as previously described to help cut heating costs; otherwise order a heater one size larger than necessary. When installing a central heating system, give thought to additional capacity if you plan to add a workshop later, enlarge the greenhouse, or have one plant heat greenhouse and home.

Never use a heating system that requires manufactured gas as a fuel, it is injurious to plants. Be certain the heating system is equipped with adequate controls, such as safety pilots and an automatic shut-off switch. Locate several accurate thermostats, positioned at plant height, throughout the greenhouse to provide a check on heat distribution. Install a temperature alarm to warn of dangerously low temperatures. Be sure to set the temperature warning high enough to give time to remedy heating or power failure before the plants are killed. Provide for emergency heat.

Perhaps a better way is to install a standby electric generator of sufficient wattage to meet power failure or brownouts. Whether building a greenhouse yourself or selecting one already constructed, give special attention to the design and the way in which it is ventilated, since ventilation and temperature are key issues in greenhouse management. In fact, a close relationship exists between ventilation and temperature.

No matter how small the greenhouse, there should be some provision made for ventilation at the highest point, usually near the ridge of the roof, where hot air rises to collect. The best arrangement for good ventilation is to alternate the vents on each side of the roof adjoining the ridge. This is not necessary for small greenhouses where there is only need for one roof vent. Vents should be built into the vertical sides of the greenhouse either at or below bench level.

The purpose is to supply incoming fresh air. The combination of ridge vents and side vents provide desirable air currents inside the greenhouse. To exchange inside air for fresh outside air. Such an exchange is just as important for plants as it is for people when several are closed up hour after hour in an unventilated room. To control temperatures by allowing hot air to escape from a high point, to be replaced by cooler, fresh air entering at a lower level.

To be able to exchange air of high humidity, caused by plant transpiration, with fresh, drier air which is capable of absorbing more moisture. To ensure against attacks from plant diseases and pests, which are more prevalent in unventilated quarters. For the reader who has little time, or who does not care for hand-operated vent lifting equipment — or who just desires better temperature control — an automatic, motorized vent system should be considered. Adequate ventilation provides some cooling for the greenhouse, though generally not enough for profitable, comfortable gardening.

Additional cooling is helpful during hot weather. The temperature inside the greenhouse can be reduced by a good shading system. The greenhouse gardener will find this most advantageous in his operational program. Shading has little effect, if any, on plant growth, because summer sunlight is generally in excess of its requirements. Slat, roll-up shades installed on the outside of the greenhouse provide cooling of the inside temperature. An evaporative cooling system installed outside the greenhouse adds to temperature reduction by pulling in fresh air through wet pads.

Shading can be provided by painting or spraying specially formulated compounds on the glass: either a concentrated material that only needs water added for immediate application, or a powder, ready to mix with water and use immediately. Generally, the shading materials can be removed with a brush or hose, yet they remain on through a rain. One way to tell if a plant needs watering is to touch or press the soil with your fingertip.

If the soil feels moist, it's okay. Or if soil particles stick to your finger, chances are the plant doesn't need watering. Experienced gardeners can tell at a glance if the soil is moist or dry, but the touch or press method is more reliable. Some use the done-cake test: insert a toothpick into the soil; if it comes out clean, better give the plant some water.

Commercial growers use the listen test: thump the side of the pot with your knuckles or the end of a hose or a stick; a dull sound means soil is moist, but a hollow ring or a "non-dull" sound means there's need for watering. Experience will tell you when or when not to water. Watering is just that important. So, in summation, here are a few tips on watering which we've picked up over the years in our own greenhouses:. Try to avoid watering on dull, snowy, rainy or cloudy days. If you must apply water during such days, apply it in early morning so leaves can dry by night.


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Never water in the evening. Don't syringe the foliage of hairy or leafy crops. Hard-surfaced plants can be syringed in the morning without harm. If your source of water is like ice water, watch out. Many fussy plants prefer room temperature water; you may have to use a tempering tank if your water is too cold. Don't overwater plants at any one time. Also do not leave them too dry so that they wilt like a dish rag. Severe wilting is as bad for plants as overwatering. When you water, apply enough so it will run freely out of the bottom of the bench or tub, but do not let water stand in the bottom so that roots become waterlogged and rot.

Make sure soil is loose and friable and that you have good drainage. A common danger sign: if water stands on top of the soil after you water, it means poor drainage—and trouble. Add organic matter and sand. Unless you keep your greenhouse at a constant temperature year round, your plants will need less water in winter than in the warmer months.

Greenhouse maintenance

This is especially true for those plants that go into dormancy during the cooler weather. Don't use water softened with a home water softener. It contains chemicals harmful to some plants. Salty or hard water which is very alkaline can be a problem, but thorough flushing usually prevents salt build-up. Few native soils meet these conditions. But, by adding various combinations of sand coarse particles that aid drainage , clay a fine material with good mineral holding capacity and manure, compost, or peat moss to add humus , you can add enough aeration and drainage to keep your plants' roots healthy.

Once the soil's physical makeup is properly balanced, the greenhouse gardener must remember to keep it that way by fertilizing the earth in his or her hothouse. And there's nothing mystical about this periodic enrichment of greenhouse growing mediums. Just "do what comes naturally.

In other words, organic gardeners may add fish emulsion, blood meal, manure, granite dust, potash rock or any other "organic" sources commonly used to enrich the soil, while less organically minded folks may prefer to stick to the commercially produced water-soluble fertilizers in, say, a formula. With either method, just ensure that plants are supplied with sufficient quantities of nitrogen, phosphates, potash and other needed micronutrients, and that the soil's humus content is maintained. Bear in mind, too, that the warm and humid environment of a greenhouse tends to raise the acidity of soil and that this pH change may affect plant growth.

Most flowers and vegetables grow better in earth that is slightly acid, so alkalizers lime, wood ashes, gypsum or acidifiers such as sulfur may be needed to maintain the optimum pH. Be sure to test your soil, however — either with your own pH tester or by sending a sample of the dirt to your state agricultural extension service — before applying any additives. Salts buildup — brought on by too much fertilization especially with chemicals — is another serious problem to avoid in the greenhouse.

White, crusty deposits on the surface of the earth or on the outside of clay pots indicate that too many nitrogen, phosphate, potash and calcium salts have accumulated in the growing medium. These substances can damage roots, yellow or wilt foliage, cause leaf burn and actually kill plants. Avoid the imbalance by watering greenhouse soil thoroughly to flush out excess salts. And remember: Many authorities suggest fumigating all soil used in a greenhouse with either heat and steam or with chemicals to kill pathogenic fungi, viruses, bacteria, nematodes and insects in the growing medium.

For the small-scale grower who sets many plants out in pots, however, the Abrahams' pasteurization methods outlined below may be the most practical ways to rid earth of potentially harmful organisms:. Fill a baking pan with three or four inches of the dirt, cover it with aluminum foil, and insert a meat thermometer into its center. Or process the soil in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes at 5 pounds pressure.

You can also pasteurize your greenhouse growing medium with hot water. Allow the earth to dry for at least one day before you sow seeds in it. Often greenhouse owners will wonder what causes blossoms to drop from their crops; they may ask why no fruit has set. Commercial growers often ask the same question. Fruitless plants and blossom drops are common among tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons, winter and summer squash, beans, and peas. Even sweet corn may drop the blossoms from its tassels.

Gardening in Your Greenhouse by Mark Freeman

It's a common thing not only inside a greenhouse but also in the garden. According to Dr. Leonard D. Topoleski, professor of vegetable crops at Cornell University, lack of fruit set with tomato, pepper, eggplant and other vegetables appears to be caused primarily by the lack of fertilization of the ovary, and not lack of pollination.

In other words, you can have pollination, but for some reason, no fertilization. These five factors influence sexual union or fertilization and fruit set:. Outdoors, the home gardener can't do much to control these factors, and all that can be done after the blossoms drop is to wait for the next cluster of flowers to develop.

However, in the greenhouse you can control temperature, humidity and soil moisture content.


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Normally, with most vine crops, the first few flowers to develop are male flowers, called staminate flowers. These flowers develop only as a source of pollen and never become fruit. They are larger and more conspicuous than the female flower. These male flowers naturally drop early, so don't be alarmed when they do. The second flush or subsequent flower development is a mixture of male and female pistillate flowers. Outdoors, insects transfer pollen from male or staminate flowers to the female or pistillate flowers. In the greenhouse you can help nature along by transferring pollen with the tip of your finger or a brush.

Usually fertilization occurs, and within a few days young cucumbers, muskmelons, squash, etc. Many studies have shown that plants grown in a Cenriched atmosphere are larger and more luxuriant than those grown in a non-enriched environment. And plants raised in an "ordinary" atmosphere do better than those raised in a Cpoor environment.

If you have a sunken or an airtight greenhouse, then, you might want to improve its growing conditions by somehow increasing the CO2 in the unit's atmosphere, especially on bright, sunny days during the lengthy cold spells when the greenhouse is tightly sealed. The most common sources of C02 for the small greenhouse owner are dry ice just let it melt on the walks , compressed gas in cylinders control its flow with a valve, meter and pressure regulator , and alcohol the cheapest source, burn it in a kerosene lantern.

If you find the above sources of C02 a bit complicated, bothersome or expensive, you might try a variation of Jim DeKorne's system. The beginning greenhouse gardener should realize that just as deciduous trees enter dormant states as the days grow shorter, certain other plants will not flower and produce fruit year round.

Not even if he or she keeps the enclosed environment warm in the winter unless he or she finds some way to supplement the natural light those plants receive.

Types of greenhouse equipment you need

In The Survival Greenhouse, Jim DeKorne suggests that fluorescent tubes — which produce both the red and blue wavelengths beneficial to plants — can be used as artificial sources of light in a hothouse. These energy efficient lights only need to be burned a few hours, he says, to make up the difference between the length of summer and winter days.

A timing device can easily be rigged to turn the fluorescent lights on for a few minutes before sunrise and again for a brief period following the natural sunset. The greenhouse owner trying such a scheme, however, should be aware that some plants — such as soybeans and poinsettias — actually need short days to flower, and that beans, tomatoes and other "day neutral" plants — with little regard for how long they receive light each day — bloom whenever the other environmental factors temperature, carbon dioxide, water and minerals are to their liking.

The practice of extending the day's photoperiod may be necessary only for the serious grower located in extreme northern or southern areas of the globe, or for the greenhouse manager raising certain commercially valuable crops. No greenhouse is trouble-free, but if you want to grow crops the easiest way possible, without constantly fighting diseases and insects, remember one word — sanitation.

The inside of a greenhouse is actually a "hothouse" in which disease organisms and insects can find the right temperature and humidity for rapid multiplication. The best way to control insects, bacteria, fungi and viruses is to keep them out in the first place. Once they've gotten to a plant, control is difficult. Pull up and destroy diseased plants. Don't bother trying to save them; you risk spreading the disease to other plants. It's just not worth it. Don't pile them outside of the greenhouse where they can serve as a reservoir for infection.

Diseased plants piled next to the greenhouse can reinfect crops inside through spores that are blown into the house through vents and windows or tracked in on your shoes. Don't let weeds grow wild next to your greenhouse. Aphids, thrips, mites and flea beetles thrive on weeds and can come through ventilators or the screen door into the greenhouse. Be a good greenhouse keeper.

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