Want to save money on heating and cooling your greenhouse? Want to become more self sufficient? It is quite possible to take your greenhouse off the grid. But first you should determine if this is what you need. Sometimes you do not need to heat the winter greenhouse, although you will probably need some ventilation.
How Does A Greenhouse Work?
Greenhouses are covered with glass or translucent materials to let the sun’s rays enter the structure. That is why you will notice that the R value (insulation factor) for a greenhouse is much lower than a wall for your house.
The rays enter the greenhouse and hit a solid surface such as the ground, a pot, leaves etc and they are turned into heat. The shorter wavelength infrared rays that entered will become longer wavelength energy that is absorbed. The greenhouse will stay warm during the day as the light is entering and being transformed into energy faster than the heat can get out.
At night you will lose heat to the outside by radiation cooling. This is because the objects in the greenhouse are much warmer than outside. They will lose heat by emitting infrared radiation through the glazing. But, there are several solar methods you can apply to assist heat retention.
I just read about a huge greenhouse operation that put in ponds and a recirculating system to water their plants. They are using 100% rainwater irrigation. This was at a cost though of 1 Million Dollars. This is not practical for the small grower or backyard hobby greenhouse. And I believe the system required electricity. Although there are several things we can do.
I have talked to people who use ponds and recirculate their water on a smaller scale than the operation mentioned above. But, probably one of the simplest things to do is use rain barrels or cisterns to catch the rain water. If you are going to do this be aware of your local codes. This is illegal in Colorado. I am not aware of any other States at this time, but just check and be sure.
Solar methods of taking your greenhouse off the grid
Of course you can try to “trap” as much heat during the day as possible to be emitted into the greenhouse at night. One way to do this is to place dark containers full of water in the greenhouse. I used to have black 55 gallon drums under my benches filled with water. This will hold the heat that is built up during the day. It will then release it at night to warm the greenhouse.
You can place a solar blanket on the outside of the greenhouse at night. A good heavy blanket will help hold in any escaping heat.
You can ” double up” your glazing by placing smaller cold frames inside your greenhouse. This will give you extra insulation.
Heating the Greenhouse
Once you have determined that your crops need additional heat, you will need to supply a heat source.
A compost pile is a good source of heat. The piles will heat up to 150 degrees F. You will have to set up a heat exchange system with tubes filled with water. Some will keep the compost pile inside their greenhouse. Others will leave the pile outside, to conserve valuable space, and run their tubing through the greenhouse.
Manure can be put in crates and placed inside the greenhouse. You can place plants on the tops of these crates for additional heat.
You can use a wood burning stove, such as a rocket heater. These have a large thermal mass that will hold the heat for a long time even after the fire is out. These are very efficient for heating.
Geothermal heating and cooling can be done in some climates. This utilizes the temperatures in the ground to control your greenhouse. In the winter it takes the heat from the earth. In the summer the ground acts as a heat sink.
Cooling the Greenhouse
The greenhouse will build heat much earlier in the season than some people think. I tell people who are only overwintering plants that they too will need some type of ventilation.
The simplest way to vent air is to use roof and side vents. The roof vents allow the hot air which rises to leave that way. When you use side vents in conjunction with them you get a chimney type affect.
These are simple to control with the solar powered roof vents that are readily available. These have a wax cylinder in them and work on contraction and expansion. When the wax gets warm it expands and pushes the vent open. When the wax cools it contracts and pulls the vent shut.
A shade cloth is a simple way to cool the greenhouse a few degrees. If you think about this it is pretty much the same as standing under a shade tree in the summer.
Roll up side curtains can be placed on any greenhouse with straight sides. These can be motorized, but they are also available with hand cranks. These open up the greenhouse considerably for a fresh air flow.
Solar powered ventilation systems are now available. These include an exhaust fan, intake shutter(s) and a thermostat. They operate the same as electrically powered ventilation systems, but they are powered by solar panels.
If you have water available you can add a misting system on a battery operated timer. These will help cool the inside through evaporation.
A greenhouse is a wonderful addition to your backyard, homestead or farm. But, you must have them set up correctly for your climate and your crops. Even if you are unable to take it completely off the grid, try a couple of these methods to save on your power bills.
Let us know in the comments which of these methods you have tried and how they worked for you. Also, if you have any additional methods you have used that worked, please feel free to share those with us.
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Imagine my disappointment the other day went I went out to my garden to check my transplants and found that a cutworm had attacked my Green Zebra and Principe Borghese tomato plants. Grrr.
I planted them from seeds, tended them, and watched them grow into my beautiful healthy seedlings that I put in my garden. Unfortunately sometimes there is just nothing we can do to win the battle against Mother Nature. But, on the plus side there are a whole lot of things we can do to tip the scales in our favor. One of the best ways is to take preventative measures.
Prevention is the best way to keep from having problems at all. The cleaner and happier you keep your area, the less problems you should have.
The first line of defense is don’t over crowd. Plant your tomato seedlings no closer than recommend. Make sure there is plenty of good air circulation. Don’t plant right up next to a solid fence or other obstacle.
Make sure to supply a support in the form of a cage or a stake when planting your seedlings. I like to use cages as I feel they give them better support. We wrap the bottom 12″ of the cages with clingy wrap to protect the tomato seedlings from strong Spring winds.
Keep the area free of dead leaves and over ripe vegetables. These are just an invitation to disease and pests. Also, be sure to keep the garden well weeded. Weeds tend to fight for the nutrients and water.
Do not over water. Do not get water on the leaves. The best way to water is with drip irrigation or a soaker hose. Test the soil by putting your finger down in about 2″. If it is dry – If the ground is still wet at 1″ down wait to water when it is drier.
Don’t over prune. As you will see later, this can lead to other problems. Honestly, I do not remove my suckers or prune my tomatoes at all. This is the way I have been gardening for 20 plus years.
Make sure your soil is warm enough and at the correct pH of 6.0 to 6.8 before planting.
Oh no, I have a problem!
If you monitor your plants regularly you should be able to see and treat your problem quickly. Here are a few of the problems you may find
Blossom end rot – This will show up as a dark , rotted spot on the bottom of your tomato. This could be a Calcium deficiency, or could be due to irregular watering. A lot of times this will go ahead and correct itself as the season progresses. It is safe to cut off the affected part and eat the rest of the tomato.
Blossom drop – Your blossoms will not fertilize and they will drop. No fruit is produced. This can happen when temperatures are too high or too low. Not much can be done about this except waiting it out. Be sure though that you buy varieties that are suited for your climate. For example, if you are in a hot climate, buy tomatoes that are heat resistant.
Fruit cracking – This can occur when there are heavy rains or hot dry weather. Again, you may just have to wait this one out. The fruit is safe to eat.
Sunscald – This is like your tomato getting a sunburn. You will see white areas on the skin. The taste will probably be off. This is caused by the plant canopy not providing enough protection. If you over prune this is an issue. You can or cannot remove the suckers on tomato plants. These are found between the main stem and branches. They produce no fruit, so some argue that they take away nutrients from the “good” producing parts of the plant. Just be careful not to get carried away.
Leaf roll – You may encounter this if you have excessively wet soil, or soil that does not have proper drainage. The leaves will curl up towards the center. Monitor your soil conditions and cut back off on watering until the ground is dry 2″ down.
Leaf spot – This does not affect the tomatoes, only the leaves. Be sure to water your plants at ground level and do not splash water on the leaves. Make sure you have good air circulation.
Early blight – This is caused by a fungus in the soil. To avoid be sure to practice good crop rotation. It starts as small dark spots on the leaves. They will eventually yellow and turn brown. You may have a problem with sunscald if too many of the leaves die.
Bugs That Love Your Tomatoes as Much as You Do
Of course there are always bugs that may come into play. Again, regular inspection should lead you to find these before they are an epidemic.
Tomato Hornworms – You will know when these bad boys are around. I use white on black plastic garden mulch in my garden. I never have any problem spotting the “calling card” (droppings) from the hornworms. Plus, it is easy to spot the large holes in the tomato leaves. These pests can be hard to spot as they are pretty much the same color as the tomato leaves. But, they are a big caterpillar size, so it is hard for them to hide too much. Best way to get rid of these it to pluck them and squash them. Unfortunately, they turn into the intriguing sphinx, hawk or hummingbird moth. I had one in my garden one year and I just had to run in and search for what it was. They are pretty.
Cutworms – These guys like to get after your seedlings. They will come out at night (convenient for not being spotted) and “cut” the seedling off just above ground level. As I said earlier, I had this happen to 2 of my plants this year. Fortunately there was enough still there that they grew back on their own. They are a little behind the other plants at this point, but not really all that significant of an amount. You can make a paper collar to prevent these worms from getting to your tomato plants. Or, you can take a paper cup and cut out the bottom and put it over your seedling for protection.
Whiteflies – These are found feeding on the bottom of the tomato leaves. They are small, moth like in appearance and white in color. Your tomato will experience stunted growth, leaf yellowing and reduced yields. You can use neem oil or natural predators such as the ladybug to control these.
Juicy Tasty Tomatoes
Experiment with different varieties to find the best tomato suited for your weather conditions. You may also ask local gardeners or your local extension office which varieties you should try. Don’t get discouraged. In gardening you will win some and lose some. Fortunately for gardeners the wins always outweigh the losses. And the end result, that juicy ripe tomato, is worth the effort. Leave a comment below letting us know any problems you have had and the best solution you have found. Thanks!
Imagine this. Dinner time! What to eat? Just step out onto your porch or balcony and see what is ripe. Think you have too small of a space? Think it can’t be done? There are a whole lot of people who have joined in the balcony growing community who would disagree.
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Plan, Plan, Plan
The first step you need to do with this limited space is plan. You need to make use of every square inch that you have. But, you also need to allow room for friends to visit and to harvest your crops as well. Don’t start too big and burn yourself out. Start small and experiment with different crops seeing how they perform in your actual climate. It is still a good idea to have a final plan drawn with your ultimate garden laid out.
Check your restrictions and consider your neighbors
If you are in a home and growing on your porch you should not have as much of an issue regarding this. But, if you are growing on a balcony with neighbors below be sure to consider them as well. The first thing you should do is check with your landlord and make sure there are no restrictions regarding balcony gardening. Also consider your neighbors below and any water runoff you may have.
Pick Your Crops
Not all crops are going to thrive under balcony conditions. Depending on what floor you are on you need to consider the wind level. Small seedlings must be protected in heavy winds. Also, some crops just don’t do well in container gardens. Pick plants that you know you like to start with. Here is a list of some plants that do well in containers. Please keep in mind your sun/ shade conditions as well. Plants like tomatoes will want full sun for at least 6 hours a day. Root crops such as carrots and radishes, as well as lettuce, will tolerate shade. Also, pick varieties that are sized for containers. Remember that if you get plants that will vine you will need to build a trellis or some other type of support.
Once you are ready to plant make sure that you choose a good quality container soil. You want a mix that is light and fluffy and drains well.
Also, make sure that you choose the proper pot. A lot of people will choose to use recycled materials, and I am all for that. Just make sure that the containers are not too heavy. Plastic and fiberglass pots will be lighter than terra cotta pots. The new fabric pots are super light weight. Also, plants in terra cotta will dry out faster. Make sure that you have a large enough container for the roots to grow and be happy.
Make sure that you plant taller crops to the back of your porch as they will throw shade and may prevent shorter plants from growing.
Make sure to plant sun loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants in a sunny area that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. Shade loving plants such as green leafy plants, lettuce, spinach, onions, radishes and carrots will tolerate the shade better.
Caring For Your Crops
As mentioned above, you want to consider your neighbors below when watering. Make sure that your containers have holes to drain. Most people will opt for saucers under the pots to catch the excess water. You should never leave your plants sitting in water. Also, if you are clever enough you may be able to set up some kind of recycling system.
Check water levels daily. Plants in containers will dry out faster than plants in the ground.
You will need to fertilize more often than you would in the ground. There just is not as much natural activity in a pot versus the soil in the ground. If you have room for a small composter or worm farm consider drawing one of them into your plans.
Don’t forget to utilize vertical space as well. For vining plants you will add trellises. Don’t forget your wall space. You can place plants against the wall if there is enough sunlight there. Have a gutter with a downspout? Consider placing brackets along the downspout and putting pots in them. There are also wall pouches that you can fill and hang from your wall. Just be sure that moisture is not a problem when you place these.
Don’t forget hanging baskets. There are upside down tomato planters . You plant the tomatoes facing down to the ground and then hang this from your porch. I have used these and found that they produced comparably to my tomatoes in the dirt. They really do work! Strawberries will do well in a hanging basket. Nasturtiums are edible flowers and they would do well in a basket also.
It was once thought impossible to grow your own garden unless you had a big plot of land. That is just not true anymore. Containers are the rage. People want to be able to grow their own food…anywhere. And, you can. So, start small, but just start. No more excuses.
Please let us know (in the comments below) what you are currently growing on your balcony or porch and what kind of success you are having.
Like many others, tomatoes are my very favorite thing to come out of the garden. There are so many different things you can do with them. Not to mention the yummy taste. My husband used to kid me that I could probably live on just tomatoes and crusty bread with butter. Yep, that sounds like a perfect meal to me! During harvest season I eat fresh tomatoes with just about every meal. Many people think they are difficult to grow, but that is not the case.
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Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family along with potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and even tobacco. They were once considered to be poisonous. But, thankfully, that was soon dispelled.
Most varieties of tomatoes require nighttime temperatures of between 55 F and 75 F to set fruit. There are a few exceptions that set fruit at cooler temperatures for colder climates. At temperatures above 95 the fruits will stop setting. Most varieties will take between 50 – 90 days to harvest. That is why tomatoes are typically started indoors or purchased as plants at a local nursery. I much prefer to start my own seeds as I can choose the varieties I like. The nurseries will have a limited selection with just a few popular varieties.
There are determinate and indeterminate varieties. Most of us have indeterminate tomatoes in our garden. They can grow from 6′ to 12′ high. They will have blossoms, immature fruit and mature fruit all on the plant at the same time. They will continue to produce until the first frost. Determinate varieties are usually 3′ to 4′ high and are great for container gardening. They will produce their entire crop usually within a 2 week period.
Heirloom tomatoes are seeds that are kept from year to year. Most of them are saved because of their desired characteristics. These may be passed down from family members, or saved commercially. Commercial heirloom seeds are seeds that have bred true for over 50 years. They are considered open pollinated, which basically means that they will breed true. I find that my heirloom varieties do not seem to be as acidic as non-heirloom varieties.
Tomatoes should be planted in the Spring when all danger of frost has passed. Some of us in the South are fortunate enough to have a second tomato planting in the fall. In my zone 8 we plant the second crop from the beginning of July through August 15th.
Plant in the full sun. Tomatoes need a full 6 hours of sunlight to produce. This is especially crucial in Northern climates. If you are in a Southern area with harsh summer sun your plants will grow and produce even if they have a light afternoon shade. Don’t ever plant your tomatoes where the morning sun will be blocked. Space your plants according to the directions on the seed packet or the stake in your purchased plant. I typically space my tomatoes at 3′ apart. This gives me room to pick even the ones on the back of the plants.
I know this next part will sound weird, but I have been planting my tomatoes this way for 20 plus years. Remove all of the bottom leaves off the plant. Bury the plant with the stem running sideways. I just dig a hole with my hands that has a gentle curve to it. I have seen people just lay the tomato in a shallow trench laying sideways with just the very top of the plant above the ground. This will give you a great root system as the roots will grow out all along the buried stem. Don’t worry about the top, it will straighten up in the sun in a day or two. With that huge root system you have a much healthier plant that is stronger and able to get more nutrients. This all equals a better harvest.
Tomatoes will grow tall, so be sure to plant them on the North side of a bed where they will not cast shade on the rest of the garden. Also, you will possibly have cages that will cast a shadow. Do not plant tomatoes near corn, dill or potatoes. They do not grow well together. You can plant them near peppers, basil or leaf lettuce.
Tomatoes can be grown in a greenhouse, in a hydroponic system, in pots, indoors, even upside down. And yes, I have used the upside down containers. And yes, they do work well. We used them for a couple of years and they produced just as many tomatoes as our plants in the garden.
Tomatoes need to be staked, be put in cages, or even grown up a trellis. They need support. Plus, you want to keep your fruits off the ground where they are more susceptible to pests, disease and damage.
You can or cannot remove the suckers. I personally don’t bother with this. But, reportedly the suckers do not bear fruit, so they are just a drain on the resources of the plants. You will find these where the branch comes off the stem. They will be a small shoot growing out just above the branch. These are removed simply by pinching them between your fingers.
Tomatoes need consistent watering. That is why I prefer to set them up on a drip irrigation system. They need 1 – 2 inches of rain per week. Water deeply to about 6″ to 8″ below the soil level. Do not water if the plants are still wet. Only water when needed. You can test this by sticking your finger in the soil next to the plant. Always water in the early morning.
Tomatoes may present with blossom end rot. This is a blackish, rotten looking spot on the bottom of the tomato. This may be caused by inconsistent watering. It will sometimes just go ahead and correct itself. You can still eat the tomatoes, just cut this undesirable part out.
Cat facing is another tomato abnormality. It will show up as an abnormally shaped fruit sometimes with scar like tissue showing. It is usually caused by temperature stress while pollination is occurring. Again, just cut out the ugly part and eat the rest.
Tomato hornworms are a problem sometimes encountered by us all. These are gross, but they are easy to get rid of. That is if you can find them. They are the same color as the leaves and have a tendency to blend in really well. If you have them you will know it. You will see piles of bug pooh below your plants. You will also see big holes in your leaves. If you see these 2 signs go on a hornworm hunting expedition. Alert for the squeamish. You may want to skip this next sentence. The best way eradicate these pests is to simply squash them. Sorry, that is the best way.
This is the fun part. Tomatoes can be picked when they are green for fried green tomatoes, chow chow and other recipes calling for green tomatoes. I still like to wait until they have just a little pink blush on their shoulders. They will just be starting to show the slightest hint of color. Otherwise you should wait until your tomatoes are ripe to pick them. Just grab hold and don’t squeeze too tight. Always store your tomatoes on a counter top out of direct sunlight. Don’t put them on a windowsill. Never, ever, ever put a tomato in the refrigerator. This will just ruin the flavor. If you have to pick tomatoes before they are ripe for some reason, you can put them right side up (like they come off the plant) in a brown paper bag on a counter top. They will ripen in the bag.
Tomatoes can be sliced fresh and sprinkled with a little salt or sugar. Or hey, you can eat them plain if you want to! They are great to make sauces. They dehydrate well. They even freeze well. And, let’s not forget canning. You can make plain tomatoes or tomato and pepper mixtures. I do all of these preserving methods for my tomatoes.
Tomatoes are no more difficult than any other garden plant to grow. Give them the proper conditions they require and they will do great! I find that I always have plenty of tomatoes to eat, preserve and share. What are you waiting for? Plant a tomato or two today.
The first time we installed polycarbonate was in 1993. Our “cell” phones were called transportable phones. It was about like hauling a suitcase around. There was no internet. No way to search for instructions on how to install polycarbonate sheets. No YouTube videos! Can you imagine. So, we had to learn the hard way by trial and error. Thank goodness we have more sophisticated tools available now. Most people will have a lot of questions when installing polycarbonate for the first time. It is not all that difficult. I think it is just the fact that it is a new material.
Written by our own Tammy
What is Polycarbonate?
Polycarbonate is a rigid plastic. The polycarbonate used for greenhouses is typically a multiwall. This means that there are 2 exterior walls, possibly some interior walls, and ribs that run between these walls. You cannot see clear through this like looking through glass.
Looking at a piece of polycarbonate is kind of like looking down the end of a cardboard box. A sheet on the outside, a sheet on the inside and a rib running between them. If you peel the layers apart you will see that they are all clear, but the rib that runs in the center is what distorts your view.
What parts are needed?
• Polycarbonate sheets – they are available in 4′ or 6′ widths and in lengths anywhere from 6′ to 48′ if needed.
• U channel – sometimes called J channel. This is available in either aluminum or polycarbonate. It is used to seal the channels at the top and the bottom of the sheets. You will drill 1/8″ holes every 1 – 2 feet on the bottom U. This is so that any condensation in the channels will be able to drain.
• Screws with neobonded washers – You will need screws to fasten the sheets to the framing. You will also need to use a flat washer that has a neobonded side for this material.
• Tapes – There are aluminum or foil and vent tapes. You place the foil tape under the U at the tops of the sheets and the vent tape under the U at the bottom of the sheets.
• Side by side fasteners. This is the part that joins the polycarbonate sheets side by side. There are several different options for this.
1. Polycarbonate H – this is the part that slides between the sheets and fastens them side to side. It is made of polycarbonate and is a one part system. You install this by installing your sheets loosely and sliding this from the bottom of this joint all the way to the top.
2. Polycarbonate base and cap – This system consists of 2 parts – a base and a cap. The base is screwed down to the framing. The sheets are placed over the base. The cap is “snapped” into place using a rubber mallet. The base and cap have an interlocking mechanism that keeps it tight. This is considerably easier to install on longer sheets.
3. Aluminum Base and Cap – This is the same as the polycarbonate base and cap. The exceptions are that they are made from aluminum and the cap screws into the base rather than being “snapped”.
1. Make sure that you have purchased greenhouse polycarbonate that is UV protected on at least one side. This is the side that will be out toward the sun. The UV protection is what gives the polycarbonate its extended life. Polycarbonate sheets with UV protection will carry a 10 – 20 year warranty. Expect at least a 15 year lifetime out of this material.
2. Make sure that you have ordered all of the materials you need. Polycarbonate ships on Common Carrier and it can get expensive if you have multiple shipments.
3. Do be prepared to unload when the delivery is made. You may have a forklift, or you may have ordered a power lift gate. Just remember, you are responsible for unloading. It is the drivers responsibility to get the package to the back of the truck.
If you are going to open the crates and hand carry the sheets, make sure you have the tools to do this. The bulk of the weight is in the crate. The sheets are lightweight and easy to handle. I recommend having a pair of tin snips (in case the crate is banded), a hammer, a crowbar, a drill with screwdriver bits, and a helper. This goes better with 2 people.
4. Do not store your sheets in direct sunlight. The protective film will melt into the polycarbonate panels. You will never be able to remove it once this happens.
5. Make sure that you have built an adequate frame for your weather conditions. You should have rafters and purlins in your roof structure. The manufacturers have charts that will show you proper spacing.
6. Do not remove the protective shipping cover until you are ready to install. This will have the label telling you which side is UV protected. Once you remove this film you will not be able to tell which side should go to the sun. If the sheet is flipped over you will not get the longevity out of the sheet.
7. Do not stress over cutting these sheets. They cut much the same as a sheet of plywood. Leave the protective film on so you don’t scratch the sheets. Mark your chalk line. Cut with a skill saw, table saw, etc. If you get filings down in the channels you can use compressed air to blow them out.
8. Do not ever run the ribs horizontally, EVER! There will be no way for any condensation which may form to escape. This will result in the moisture accumulating between the ribs and eventually getting moldy.
9. Do make sure that you have purchased sheets that will reach the entire length that you need. Don’t ever try to splice sheets with a horizontal H. NEVER! The structure will leak at this point. Also, you will end up with the same moldy mess in the H profile because your water has no way to get out.
10. Do be sure to allow for contraction and expansion. You should allow 1/8″ per 3′ for contraction and expansion.
11. Do be sure to predrill your screw holes slightly larger than your screws. This will also allow for the contraction and expansion of polycarbonate sheets. Using the neobonded washer will keep your structure from leaking at this point.
12. Do not install polycarbonate sheets on a flat roof. A minimum of a 1 on 12 roof pitch is required. If you do not do this you will have leaks at the H profiles.
13. You can bend polycarbonate sheets, but there is a minimum bending radius. Manufacturers will have charts letting you know what this minimum bending radius is.
14. Do not silicone all of your joints. Polycarbonate needs the freedom to move due to the contraction and expansion of the material.
15. Do not try to cut angles for both gables out of the same sheet unless you have room to cut from the same side. Many builders will make their cuts on plywood and then flip the one side to install to save on materials. If you do this with polycarbonate sheets (UV on one side) you will have one side that is protected and one side that is not.
Polycarbonate may be confusing at first, but if you follow these few simple steps you will end up with a professional installation that will last you for years. Relax and enjoy your new greenhouse, patio cover, fencing (use 2UV for this) or swimming pool cover!
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