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Putting food on the table for yourself and your family was once a challenge, especially through those winter months. But with a gardening greenhouse you can create the perfect growing conditions all year round and your veggie patch is going to thrive.
I have always laughed at the concept of a greenhouse, but as I am growing more experienced in dealing with fresh food production in different temperatures I am becoming ever-so-more impressed with the yield of produce a greenhouse can bring.
A big part of prepping is planning for the uncertainty of the future. It is why a lot of people, and families or communities, make a concerted to move towards the ‘off-the-grid’ lifestyle. That is to say, to remove themselves from the reliance upon the mass production of life’s necessaries such as food, water and power. Going off-the-grid is a great way to save money and become more self-sufficient in your resource gathering. Essentially the idea is to eat what you make and use the power that you generate.
Going off-the-grid can be difficult in some stages such as power generation, but when it comes to food, nothing is as easy as putting a seed in the ground and watching it grow. It can be very therapeutic and satisfying as well. And hey, at the end of it, that once small seed could now bear produce to eat, like a ripe, red tomato, or a great big eggplant to fry. To live off it, we just need to multiply our effort into more than one seed. Oh, and it’s still free.
When we’re going into production of food, we can look at the savings we make on a regular shopping bill. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables so this is a big component of my spendings. But to live off that produce, we’re going to have to do a little more than just plant a seed, and you’re going to need to support that growth all year round.
Growing vegetables as a test is easy, growing them as a source of food requires some skill. But none that you should be fearful of. All it comes down to is timing, weather, and manipulating those conditions with a greenhouse.
A greenhouse is your best tool to use to smash produce rates as it can recreate the perfect temperate environment for plants to grow. This can be for fruits, vegetables and obviously flowers too. Most people start planting seeds during the start of summer to take advantage of the sunny season. A greenhouse allows you to get a head start on that growth and start growing in early spring right up through until late autumn and even the first day of winter.
With a good rotation of produce you can cultivate your own crops of tomatoes, peas, peppers and eggplants (just to name a few) and then introduce some winter greens to last through your very short winter. As soon as the last day of winter hits you can start planting tomato seeds and get a head start on the summer crop again.
There are some hardcore planters using various methods to sustain their crops throughout winter. One owner I know who also enjoys the produce of small greenhouses like this uses an electric heater to regulate the temperature in the greenhouse with a power timer. They step in during the beginning of the day to water the plants and the rest of the time the greenhouse is kept sealed to ensure the warmth is kept it. The timer comes on for 20-minute durations towards the colder part of the day and night to keep the warmth regulated.
There are so many types of greenhouses to choose from, and for good reason too. Some people are at the beginning stages or just experimenting in the garden with fruits, flowers and vegetables, while others are putting the food on the table. But no matter which end of the gardener spectrum you fall under, a greenhouse can work for you. So let’s go through a couple.
The one that I prefer the most is the small walk-in greenhouse shed. These ones generally measure about 7-ft high, 6-ft deep and 5-ft wide, once it’s packed it’s enough space for me to get in, turn around and search for tomatoes. It comes with three shelves as well (one is a floor rack) so there’s not too much overcrowding or limitation for tomato growth (sometimes they like to get very tall). These things are very easy to set up and the cover is very durable.
If you’re a beginner and getting used to the dynamics and monitoring of a box, these previous greenhouses are a great idea but I would also consider, or as an alternative, a greenhouse garden box. They are a bit smaller and just have a fliptop supported glass or hard plastic lid so they can still soak in the sunlight and heat. You can also use hot water bottles in these or warming lamps as a way to keep them warm in colder climates.
For the more experienced gardeners, large garden hot-houses are definitely the best way to organise and maximise food production. While they are the same 7-ft height as the first one mentioned, they are 20ft long and 10ft wide, so there’s enough space to have deep shelves on each side, or smaller ones on the outside and a middle aisle for saplings. Surprisingly, these things keep their heat in very well and during the summer months their doors zip up all the way on both sides to allow a thorough flow of air through the middle.
If you have the space, I would recommend getting this one as it is a great project place (if you have the space) and should be able to yield produce for a family. These are also grossly underpriced at $100–$199 which is much less than the money you save in grocery bills each month. These are a little more difficult to set-up however, so it might help to get the other family members or friends to help.
Greenhouses need optimum sunlight to work at their full potential, so an open spot is the best one. If you can manage it, a narrow greenhouse like the last one mentioned would ideally sit on an east-west orientation. It should go without mentioning that you need to keep this away from trees or buildings that may cause a shadow effect over the house. This is why it would be good to mark your spot out early and check how the sun progresses over the day on the potential position.
If you’re growing straight into the soil that you greenhouse is located on that’s great. But keep in mind you can also build raised beds for saplings and smaller crops that don’t need as deep soil to grow.
The magical question is what should you grow. If you are a beginner, start with tomatoes and see how easy they are to grow. These are really just a stick in soil and watch type of plant, although like most youngsters, when they get a bit older they need a hand to stand up straight, using bamboo sticks or wire fixes this. Aside from those you can look at growing:
For winter crops, hard greens are the best and most suitable to grow. For a good winter crop you can easily rotate the space of some of your summer crops and plant things such as: carrots, parsnip, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, leek and spinach.
Every greenhouse needs some sort of temperature regulation. Generally the sun helps with this. The prime time for regulating temperatures is just after winter to get the most growth out of your summer crops.
As mentioned before, things such as warm water bottles or warming lamps can provide the necessary heat to the smaller greenhouses, but when it comes to the large ones more advanced heating methods are needed. External portable heaters like the Mr Heater, the Honeywell or a Lasko heater does a great job at keeping the space in the greenhouse warm at a very minimal cost. You can also find cheap, quality electronic thermometers like a Thermopro to regulate your temperatures. Sometimes there can be a need to increase airflow around plants, cool rooms and remove stagnant air from around the plants. You can fix this by picking up easy-to-use Hurricane wall-mount, or an AC Infinity.
For the most part, it is very simple to use a greenhouse to regulate and create the perfect growth environment. It’s a structure that is widely used and while its benefits are huge, they still remain ridiculously cheap. Depending on your space you have to work with, these can be turned into great production stations to feed you and your family all year round, removing the need to buy produce from the supermarket.
If you do decide to get a greenhouse, or if you already have one, send in a comment and share what you grow and some hacks you use to boost your growths. The prepping gardener is a hobby as much as it is a shift to becoming self-sufficient, so enjoy.