Our First Greenhouse
Updated: Mar 5
Our New Greenhouse
by Scott Groth
November 14, 2022
We bought a greenhouse in the Spring of 2022. It was a goal of ours when we were looking for a new home.
My vision for the greenhouse was a place where my wife could expand her capacity to garden. It would be a place to relax doing what she loved. It always felt good to go into a nice greenhouse lush with plants and flowers. We would be able to increase our capacity to grow food by both extending the seasons and shelter plants.
Three years ago, we started a garden at my aunt and uncle’s house. They were no longer planning to garden, since there were close to 80 years old. I wanted to learn how to grow vegetables and they were willing to let me use a portion of their garden. The greenhouse could extend our seasons from the early spring into the late winter without supplemental heat and be used to supplement the garden.
The greenhouse would bring a functional but interesting feature to the property. I thought greenhouses were appealing to look at and was interested in how to use them. It would increase the options that the property provided to us or a prospective new owner someday. It could be used as a warmer place to sit in the winter – a feel good place - or for food production.
Greenhouse selection and location
We researched many sizes for greenhouses and many shapes. Some were small and cute. Others were large and very functional but perhaps not that attractive. The styles include; lean to; ridge and furrow, even span, gothic arch, uneven span, pipe metal frame, wood frame, plastic, PVC or polyester, glass material, chalet roofs, barn roofs, rectangular, square, circular, hoop, and cross.
We wanted large enough that we would have a lot of options but not so large that we would struggle to fill it. We also did not want it to overwhelm the yard. We settled on an eight-foot by twenty-foot greenhouse by Palram called Balance greenhouse with a straight forward gable roof to keep in uncomplicated and easy to maintain. It has a green frame and transparent rigid plastic walls and ceiling. The look was important to us. Although there may be some benefit to a semi-opaque greenhouse. We liked the look of clear. And, wanted to love it.
We paid attention to where the sun was and where the sun would be. We observed the trees and whether the trees would have leaves that would interfere or not interfere in the winter.
Our yard is spacious but we had to find the right space. We chose a location that had the right amount of space to also allow us to work around it. The greenhouse needed to be easily accessible for materials and water.
We located the greenhouse behind a patio that is a little wider than the greenhouse at the end of the driveway. This was a pleasing location. We could use the patio for easy access to the greenhouse and as an attractive place for potted plants leading to the greenhouse.
Cost was a factor. We wanted it to be nice. Realistically, the greenhouse was increasing the food budget. The sooner we put it into use. The sooner it could help reducing our food cost. We decided to spend less than $5000 and spent about $2800 plus materials for cedar framed base.
We bought the greenhouse in the winter of 2022 so that it would be ready for the spring. The ground in Massachusetts was frozen through March. As soon as we could work the soil, we started digging a trench for the framing of the base. Since we had a couple of night below freezing, I had to water down the new trench area to defrost the soil. At the bottom of the trench, we placed landscape fabric to help control weeds. We filled the trench with level 1 and level 2 paver bases. Level 1 paver base is the rough start base that is a rocky mix. It creates good fill for holes and trenches with depth. Level 2 paver base is a smoother mix that helps with leveling paver bricks or other materials such as our new cedar 2x4 frame.
Our intent is to be as organic as possible. We chose the most natural long-lasting wood that we could. We chose two by four cedar for the framing of the base rather than pressure treated. To hold the base together we purchased some good exterior screws. The start of the base began with creating a trench paver base level 1 and 2. We measured it out and checked for square by making sure the diagonals were equal. The intent was to have the frame of the greenhouse to land in the center of the cedar two by fours. We had to be careful with this part to avoid having to rebuild or revise the frame.
After the trench was completed, we laid out paver base level 1 all within the trench. Then, we laid out all of level 2 on top of that. We used a two by four and a level to check the height that was what it needed to be all around. Once we were close with the level 1 and level 2 paver base, we tamped to make sure that it would stay compact.
Since it was the end of the winter and nearly spring, the ground was still frozen and the ground was not flat. So, we built the cedar frame in the garage. We used two layers of cedar overlapping for rigidity. Also, since the base frame would be twenty-feet long. I built two ends separately, then put them together.
Once the frame was completed, it took three people to carry it out to where the greenhouse would be, since it was so long. We did not want it to split apart in the middle. To hold it together, I mounted temporary corner brackets.
The greenhouse is light-weight. To secure it, we placed four shed anchors at each corner and attached them to the frame with eye-bolts and cables.
When the greenhouse was up, we used 4x4x2 red brick and soap stone countertop remnants that we had to decorate the outside of the greenhouse.
A greenhouse kit comes with a lot of parts. We set up a table outside to take inventory of the parts and lay them out. We also rigged a temporary table with saw horses, a ladder and some wood as a top to maximize space for the parts. The inventory of the parts must be done so that you make sure that you have everything. A missing part could result in the greenhouse not being constructed. The greenhouse kit goes together in a precise order.
We had two of us working together. We prepared the parts. We assembled them and held things up with temporary support materials when needed.
This can be a frustrating process. It is a good idea to verbalize everything to communicate effectively. Celebrate each step of the way. There are a lot of steps.
The instructions for the eight by twenty-foot greenhouse are the same as the eight by eight-foot greenhouse. The twenty by twenty uses three additional four-foot extension kits. This creates long spans for the walls and the ceiling. We used barrels to help us keep the wall frame up until the panels were in place. The panels gave the wall some rigid, since the frame is so light weight. However, it caught more wind. So, we used barrels to help hold it upright until enough of the walls and roof were connected. We also created a center column with two left over cedar two by fours.
The window vents are the top require some planning. We could not come up with a good pattern that did not conflict with support brackets from the walls to the ceiling. We are stuck with a pattern that is not symmetrical.
Once the greenhouse was completely assembled, we furnished it with a work bench at the opposite end from the doors. We placed shelving for potting seeds on either side near the work bench. On the ground, also near the work bench, we have soil, pots, and a watering can.
We decided we would start with raised beds in half of the greenhouse and on both sides. We left the center clear as an aisle way. The raised beds are bordered with two layers of brick.
To decorate the walk way, we used left-over soapstone and white rock. This also helped to keep down the weeds.
Outside of the greenhouse, we setup two rain barrels and created stands for the rain barrels to catch water off of the roof gutters. They were a little low and require rebuilding to a new height this fall.
As soon as the greenhouse was assembled, we planted our cool weather crops; lettuces, spinach and kale. We started planting seeds that needed to be started in pots early in the spring. Surprisingly, we had a lush greenhouse within about a month. Later in the summer, we had tall tomato plants, cucumbers, and swiss chard. Eventually, the taller plants
were reaching the roof line.
The temperature would climb in the greenhouse to about 100 degrees in June. We had to control the heat by opening the manual roof vents and the front doors.
Towards the end of the season, we added plastic water barrels for heat retention. First attempt at the stands for the water barrels was too low for good drainage. I built taller bases for the stands for the 2023 season.
For supplemental heat, we are looking into solar heaters and cold frame for additional protection. We want to be able to eventually grow food over the winter. During the fall my wife experimented with an electric heater and a propane heater. So, far it seems like the propane heater is the better option. We have not evaluated the cost. If we were to commit to heating it, it would be best to maximize the food production to offset the cost of the heat.
Joy and Food for years to come
Our hope is that the greenhouse will contribute to years of joy and food production. By growing our own food, we can reduce our costs over time and reduce the environmental cost of transporting food.
We also will know where the food is coming from. We are learning what it takes to produce food so that we don’t take food production for granted.
We are new to growing food. This is our third year of trying to have a large garden together and our first experience with a greenhouse. We plan to get better at the process as the years go by. It is great way to spend time. It takes the right attitude, perseverance, and willingness to continue to learn.