BY: JENN FRENCH
The green revolution was slow to start, but now more than 60 per cent of American households have resolved to be more sustainable. With that comes an increased interest in home gardening fruits, vegetables, herbs and other useful plants. However, not all climates are ideal for growing subsistence crops; in the northern Midwest, more than half of the year is too cold or too wet to give plants enough growing time; in the Southwest, prospective gardeners have the opposite problem. Fortunately, there is an all-encompassing solution: Greenhouses.
Greenhouses make gardening easy. By regulating the environment, greenhouses provide plants an ideal place to grow big and strong regardless of the season. Even better, greenhouses allow gardeners complete control over the soil, water, fertilizer and air around their plants, so they may be certain their fruits, veggies and herbs are totally organic.
Greenhouse gardening can seem daunting, but with the help of this guide, any gardener anywhere can build a fully functional, fully organic, greenhouse garden.
Location, Location, Location
For a greenhouse to be optimally effective, gardeners must think critically about where to place the structure in their yard. A north-south alignment tends to provide the most sunlight, which is important for plants to grow big and strong. However, individual yards might have trees and other structures that create shade in north-south locations; as long as an area has sunlight for at least six hours per day, it is an excellent location for a garden greenhouse.
Building or Buying?
Some handy gardeners take it upon themselves to construct their own greenhouses from scratch. Because the most rudimentary greenhouses are little more than glass and steel, this is possible — but it is not highly recommended. Modern greenhouses provide more than shelter from the elements; they offer sunlight and temperature control, air and soil moisture systems, and more. In fact, gardeners can even purchase smart greenhouses monitored through digital devices. These high-tech options are much easier to set up when purchased from greenhouse professionals.
Any good gardener knows dirt is never just dirt. A greenhouse should have carefully crafted soil to provide greenhouse plants the nutrition they need. The perfect soil is often labeled “loamy,” and it is a mixture of sand and clay that holds moisture well while providing enough space for root growth. Additionally, gardeners should ensure their soil’s pH level is somewhere between six and seven, which will kill harmful bacteria without disintegrating plants. Finally, healthy soil needs earthworms to break down organic matter and add water and air.
Hot or Not
Most people imagine greenhouses as warm, moist, somewhat tropical spaces, but most organic veggie gardeners won’t need that much heat or humidity. In fact, setting temperatures slightly lower is often better for the plants.
However, regardless of an individual gardener’s temperature needs, he or she needs some form of temperature monitoring and control to keep the space healthy. Those who opt for professionally built greenhouses can acquire sensors and systems that automatically maintain temperature; meanwhile, home-built greenhouses typically rely on thermometers — though not the mercury kind — and opening windows to regulate heat and cold.
For most gardeners, watering is the hardest task. Everyone knows underwatering kills plants, but overwatering kills them just as quickly. Many pre-built greenhouses come with sprinkler or drip systems that run on a schedule, so gardeners can be certain their plants are properly watered. Those gardeners without a timed system will need to be diligent about checking soil moisture. Regardless of what system they use, gardeners might choose to use rain collection barrels to water their plants to help with water conservation.
Food for Food
Perhaps the most organic plant food option is building a compost heap. When done well, compost costs next to nothing and prevents valuable waste from falling purposeless into a landfill. Plus, compost reduces a plant’s need for water, which will reduce your water consumption, as well. Once begun, compost heaps cost nothing to maintain. While gardeners are transitioning to greenhouses, they might as well start composting, too.
Finally, organic gardeners tend to be exceedingly concerned over pest control. Because chemical pesticides are notably dangerous — for plants, wildlife, and humans alike — organic crops are more easily blighted by bugs and rodents. Fortunately, greenhouse walls keep out the vast majority of destructive pests. The rest can be deterred with natural methods, such as adding fragrant plants like onions, garlic, and tobacco or planting pest-deterring flowers like marigolds, petunias, and chrysanthemums.