Greenhouse Accessories – What do I really need?

Greenhouse Accessories – What do I really need?

Which greenhouse accessories do you need?

Which greenhouse accessories do you really need?

Greenhouse Accessories

Some people try to buy everything they can when they purchase their greenhouse. Others think that all they need is the greenhouse itself and they are ready to go. I find flaws in both ways of thinking. A greenhouse is a building – nothing more, nothing less. The greenhouse itself with contribute virtually nothing to the controlling of the environment. It will not heat itself or cool itself without the necessary components.

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Cooling the Greenhouse

 

Ventilation Systems

Some people believe that they will not need a ventilation system. This may be a correct assumption under some circumstances. They feel that they will not be using the greenhouse in the summer so they will not need this. Although I have heard my ventilation system run on a bright, sunny 60 degree day in the winter. I keep my thermostat set on 90 degrees.

I recommend getting the ventilation system at the same time as the greenhouse due to the fact it is installed directly in the walls. If you have a polycarbonate greenhouse it is easy enough to retrofit this at a later date by cutting the polycarbonate. But, if you have a glass greenhouse retrofitting is more difficult.

A ventilation system will consist of an exhaust fan which should be placed up high on one end, 1 or more intake shutters which should be placed down low on the opposite end and a thermostat. These systems should be appropriately sized for your greenhouse.

Of course if you don’t have electricity or want to use passive methods they are available also. There are also solar powered ventilation systems available at this time.

Passive cooling

Passive cooling can be done several different ways. Probably one of the simplest and least expensive ways is using a shade cloth. This can be placed on the inside or the outside of your greenhouse. This is simply like standing underneath a shade tree in the summer. It will help keep the intensity of the sun and the heat down in your greenhouse.

  • Shade cloth – While you don’t necessarily need to purchase the shade cloth at the same time as the greenhouse keep in mind that they are usually made for you as ordered and can take 2 – 3 weeks to receive. Don’t wait until the last moment to purchase this if you feel you will need it.
  • Roof vents and side vents – These are part of the structure, so they should be purchased and installed when building the greenhouse. Warm air rises so the roof vents will allow it to escape. The side vents add a chimney type effect drawing the air through the greenhouse and out the roof vents.
  • Roll up side curtains – If you are going to use these you should purchase them at the same time as the greenhouse. They can be retrofitted, but installing them when building the greenhouse is the simplest. They simply roll up and allow added ventilation for the greenhouse.

Heating the greenhouse

If you are purchasing the greenhouse in the fall and intend to use it for the winter you should definitely purchase this at the same time you get your greenhouse. The only exception to this is for someone who is not going to heat their greenhouse at all. This all depends on the crops you are growing and their needs.

Be sure to use a heater that is meant for a greenhouse as there is lots of humidity and water spraying inside. You can get these in natural gas, propane or electric.

Greenhouse Benches

Benches can be added at anytime since they are not attached to the greenhouse itself. Be sure to use a bench that is no more than 3’ wide so you can reach all of the plants to tend to them. If you are doing a center aisle and can work the bench from both sides you can use a 4’ wide bench.

Greenhouse Circulating Fan

This is the most often overlooked and most critical accessory for a healthy greenhouse. These should run 24/7. They mix the air and keep a more consistent temperature throughout the greenhouse and can reduce overall heating costs. A circulating fan helps to reduce the humidity in the plant canopy discouraging mildew and plant diseases. Carbon dioxide utilization, a necessity for plants, is improved. Carbon dioxide is used during photosynthesis along with water to be converted to sugar (food for the plant) and oxygen.

Greenhouse Lighting

Most greenhouse will have enough lighting for hobby greenhouses. If you are growing commercially and looking for expanded production, you may add these when building the greenhouse.

You may need these if you could not place your greenhouse in an area with enough natural lighting. I used HID lighting (but recommend LED lighting now)  in my greenhouse for supplemental lighting for my tomatoes in the winter. The daylight hours are just too short.

While lighting can be added at anytime if you know you will need them go ahead and purchase them at the same time you get your greenhouse. If not wait and watch your plants. They will let you know if they need extra light.

Misting or Watering Systems

I think this is something best left until you have the greenhouse together and see how the framing is. That will help you determine the layout of your watering system. We have always used a frost proof hydrant in our greenhouse so we don’t have any worries about freezing. The automatic system I prefer is an overhead misting system. This consists of tubing hanging from the greenhouse frame with emitters at specified placements. I then put this on a timer. But, another watering system may better fit your needs. Just be sure to keep all watering away from your heaters when setting up the system.

Max/Min thermometer

I think these are an important tool to have in your greenhouse. They let you know just what is going on. These thermometers register the highest temperature during the day and the lowest temperature during the night. That way you can really regulate the temperature where you want it. They are a small investment and I would recommend getting one when purchasing a greenhouse.

Conclusion

A greenhouse needs accessories to function properly and to maintain the proper climate for your growing needs. It has always been my belief that greenhouse growing is a learning curve for all of us. We all have a little bit different climate. We are all growing different crops or ornamentals with different needs. Don’t buy a greenhouse and load up on all the accessories available at once. Get the necessities and use your greenhouse for a while. Your plants will soon let you know if there is anything that they need. Don’t be overwhelmed by all of this. The worst that will happen is you may have to replace a plant or two. And don’t be fooled, this happens to all of us, even 40 plus year growers! Enjoy!

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Greenhouse Foundation vs Greenhouse Base vs Greenhouse Floor

Greenhouse Foundation vs Greenhouse Base vs Greenhouse Floor

greenhouse foundation vs base vs flooring

Greenhouse base vs foundation vs floor

Greenhouse Foundation vs Base vs Floor

It seems that there has always been a lot of confusion about what goes at the “bottom” of your greenhouse. A lot of people use these three terms interchangeably. This is not true at all. Each of these 3 items is a different component of a greenhouse.

The greenhouse foundation and base pretty much serve the same purpose. They are used to give a good strong substructure to place the greenhouse on. They also help tie the greenhouse to the ground.

A greenhouse floor is another item all together. It is basically like the floor in your house.

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Greenhouse Foundation

A greenhouse foundation will be built much like any foundation you are building for your home, a garage, a shed, etc. This will all depend on your location.

Many of us have freeze/ thaw cycles that cause the ground to heave and could potentially cause damage to our greenhouse frame and / or covering. In order to build this properly you must go below your frost line and pour a footer or build a pier type foundation with Sonotubes.  They have complete instructions on their website (sonotube.com) if you are not familiar with this type of construction.

If you are not sure of the proper level you need to dig down to you can contact your building codes department, or possibly a local contractor.

This is a good practice for any glass greenhouse, but you can build up to a 8 x 12 single glass greenhouse without a foundation. You really want to be sure to build  a proper foundation if you are building a double glass greenhouse and a larger single glass greenhouse.

Also, any polycarbonate greenhouse over 12′ x 16′ should have a foundation. A foundation is also a good idea anytime you are attaching a greenhouse to your home or building although a lot of people will use a base with smaller polycarbonate kits.

Greenhouse Base

These are available with some of the kits on the market today. There are also some polycarbonate greenhouse manufacturers who recommend this method. A greenhouse base will be the same size as the perimeter of your greenhouse.

A kit may have a steel base, or you may choose to build your own treated lumber base. It does not come with a floor and it does not go below ground typically. The greenhouse is tied to the base and the base is then anchored into the ground. This helps to stabilize the greenhouse and keep it from getting blown over in heavy winds.

You can build a base like this for a small single glass greenhouse (up to 8′ x 12′) or for a polycarbonate greenhouse up to 12′ x 16′. With some of the kits it also serves a double function. Some of the kits require this for the doors to open properly.

Greenhouse Floor

The greenhouse floor is quite simply what you walk on. There are a whole lot of options for this. Some will choose to do a concrete floor. If you are going to do this you must address drainage when pouring the floor. Also, I suggest using a heavy broom finish, as wet concrete can get slippery.

A second option is to put ground cover down on a leveled dirt surface. This is a UV protected polypropylene material. You may have seen this at some commercial greenhouses. It is the black fabric with green stripes where they have their liners set up. It is a heavy durable material.

You can go one step further and put sand or gravel over top of the ground cover. You can also put pavers down the middle for a nice walkway. The possibilities are endless.

Some people will choose to actually build their raised beds in the greenhouse. If you are doing this you would just use the ground cover or concrete between the beds.

I have had one customer who built an intricate paver pattern inside the entire greenhouse. This is great because it is beautiful, and it is excellent as far as drainage is concerned.

Paver Floor Greenhouse

Paver Floor Greenhouse

In Conclusion

Hopefully this will clear up some of the confusion on the differences between a greenhouse base, foundation and floor. You have spent a lot of time, money and studying to find the perfect greenhouse, so be sure to build it properly so it will last a good long time.

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Greenhouses vs High Tunnels vs Cold Frames

Greenhouses vs High Tunnels vs Cold Frames

Greenhouses vs Cold Frames vs High Tunnels

Differences between greenhouses, cold frames and high tunnels

Greenhouse vs a High Tunnel vs a Cold Frame

Greenhouses, High Tunnels, Cold Frames? What? Aren’t they all the same thing? Nope. Read through to see the differences and the similarities between these structures.

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Similarities

All of these structures consist of a frame and glazing material. They are all used to grow plants, be they vegetables, ornamentals, fruits, trees, etc.

Differences

The structural and architectural features of each of these structures will vary somewhat. The way in which they are used, for example, the temperature maintained in the structures, will vary a lot. The configurations of the buildings will also be somewhat different. Some are considered temporary, some are permanent.

Cold Frames

Well, this doesn’t help either. There are 2 different types of structures that are referred to as cold frames. First is this small, low to the ground frame with a cover that is used to protect plants in cooler weather.

The cold frame we are concerned with is as pictured below. It is low to the ground, usually between 14’ to 24’ wide. The lengths will vary. They are typically unheated with natural ventilation from opening the large doors at the ends. They will be in a half hoop configuration and typically covered with a single layer of polyfilm.

Cold Frame

Cold Frame

The reasoning behind the low height is that it will help to hold the heat in closer to the ground. They offer protection from frost for container trees, shrubs and perennials. They allow you to plant crops 3 – 5 weeks earlier in the spring and fall seasons. Cold frames can also be used to grow cool weather crops.

Many people will remove the polyfilm at the end of the season and use these as a shade structure by placing a shade cloth over the top of the frame. They are typically considered a temporary structure, but you should always check with your building codes department before building any structure.

High Tunnels

High Tunnel

High Tunnel

The high tunnels are much taller at the peak than a cold frame. They can also be much wider structures. They are also typically considered a temporary structure as they have no foundation. They are portable and can usually be added onto easily. Typically, these structures have no foundation or sidewalls. They are simply constructed using hoops or bows driven into the ground.

They are usually glazed with a single film and use natural passive cooling with methods such as roll up side curtains and opening the doors in the end wall. In fact, that is probably the one statement that sums up the difference between a greenhouse and a high tunnel the best.

A greenhouse uses active methods of climate control while a high tunnel uses passive methods. The operating costs of a high tunnel will be much lower than a greenhouse. Some people do install a ventilation system or heating system in their high tunnel. Sometimes it is necessary for the desired growing conditions of the crops planted.

Of course, there are differences in the framing and glazing as well. A high tunnel will typically have a pipe or pvc frame. It is usually covered in a single polyfilm. They usually have large openings at the ends for the entry of equipment such as small tractors.

The NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service, part of the USDA) has an initiative program that helps growers get partial funding for high tunnels. According to their website …

 While they may look like greenhouses, high tunnels are actually quite different. Greenhouses are usually constructed of glass and metal, with plants grown in pots above the ground. High tunnels are polyethylene, plastic or fabric covered hoop structures that can be assembled for a fraction of the cost, with plants grown in raised beds or grown directly in the ground.

Advantages of high tunnels are

  • The quality of plants and soil and increased
  • There is more control of the growing conditions than with outdoor growing
  • Extending the growing season
  • Cut back on pesticides and unwanted nutrients
  • Greater yield
  • Minimize energy usage

Greenhouses

Greenhouses are considered a permanent structure often requiring a building permit. They will have a proper foundation and be anchored securely to the ground. The foundation should be built according to the local codes in your area. If you are in an area that freezes you will need to build the foundation to the required depth to accommodate the freeze / thaw cycle.

The framing is usually a more permanent material such as aluminum or steel. Glazing can be single or double polyfilm, polycarbonate or glass.

The biggest difference between a greenhouse, cold frame and high tunnel is the systems that are put into place in a greenhouse. There will be ventilation systems, most requiring electricity. These may consist of roof vents or exhaust fans and shutters.

Greenhouses will also have heating systems such as a natural gas, propane or electric heaters.

Additional equipment you may find in a greenhouse would be lighting, evaporative cooling, timers and controllers, and advanced equipment to monitor parameters for the professional grower.

Greenhouses may be used year-round due to these systems that control the climate inside.

Typically, plants in a greenhouse are not grown in the ground, but in containers on benches, using hydroponic systems, or in raised beds.

Conclusion

We find that even though they look alike at first glance, there are considerable differences in the purposes of these three structures. While they are all used for growing, they are all used for growing different end products in different ways. But, they are all useful in their given purpose.

Just make sure that you do not buy a cold frame or high tunnel and expect it to function like a greenhouse. And remember in order for a greenhouse to function properly you must have the systems in place to get your climate where you need it to be.

Regardless of what crops and how you want to grow them go get a cold frame, greenhouse or high tunnel today and extend your growing season. Enjoy!

 

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15 Things You Need To Know To Grow Lemons

15 Things You Need To Know To Grow Lemons

15 things you need to know to grow lemons

Growing Lemons

When life gives you lemons………. you know how to care for your lemon tree properly! Lemons have so many uses, from cleaning solutions to lemon meringue pies. They are generally heat loving plants, but you can grow them in containers and greenhouses as well. Read on to get your 15 tips for growing a healthy lemon tree with a high yield.

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1) Lifetime of a Lemon Tree

Since a lemon tree will not typically breed true from seeds, most lemon trees you find have been propagated by grafting. Lemon trees will take between 3 – 5 years to produce fruit, but they are long lived trees. A well cared for plant can live between 50 and 100 years. You will probably find that the production decreases in older trees though.

2) Varieties of Lemon Trees

These varieties can be grown outdoors in zones 9 – 11. Dwarf trees are the best choice for container gardening.

Meyer Lemons are excellent for container growing. They are a cross between a table lemon and an orange that originated in China. They will produce some fruit throughout the year, but most of the fruit is harvested in the winter. The fruit is sweeter with less acid than other lemons.

Ponderosa Lemons will fruit and bloom at the same time. Fruits can be left on the tree ripe for several months. They will fruit year-round and have large fruits that almost resemble a grapefruit in size.

Eureka Lemons have nearly no thorns. They bear fruit and flowers throughout the year. They are seedless and have a tangy citrus flavor. These are one of the most commonly found varieties.

Lisbon lemon trees are almost as big around as they are tall. If you grow them in containers you can prune them to a narrower shape. It is an heirloom variety with a thick, smooth skin.

3) How many lemon trees do I need?

You only need one, as they are self-pollinating. You do not need insects to pollinate the trees. Also, you will not need to hand pollinate the flowers.


4) Temperatures for Lemon Trees

Lemon trees, like all citrus trees, like it hot. The ideal temperature for setting fruit is between 70 F and 85 F. The lowest nighttime temperature should be between 50 – 55 F. Trees will become damaged when temperatures drop below 29 F.

5) Soil for Lemon Trees

The optimal pH range is 5.5 to 6.5. When planting in containers use a good soilless potting mixture. This will be mostly perlite, peat moss and vermiculite.

6) Lighting Needs

When planting outside place the tree in an area with 6 – 8 hours of full sunlight. Indoors you can try to place the tree by a sunny window or use supplemental lighting. LED lighting would be a good choice. You should run your lights for at least 8 -12 hours.

7) Fertilizer

There are fertilizers specifically for citrus.  Citrus requires a fertilizer high in nitrogen. You can use a liquid, granular or slow release fertilizer.

8) Pruning

Lemon trees typically do not require pruning. You do want to remove any diseased or dead branches. For bigger trees you can prune for better light penetration.

9) Watering Your Lemon Tree

You should water lemon trees in containers often. Keep them moist, but not wet. Lemon trees don’t like wet feet. Be sure to use soil that drains well. Stick your finger into the soil 2”. If it is dry, it is time to water.

For lemon trees growing outside you will not need to water as often. The lemon trees have a large feeder root system. If you scratch the surface of the soil under the plant, you will find a network of feeder roots. If you keep the lemon trees outside well mulched it will help to retain any moisture.


10) Troubleshooting

Although lemon trees are relatively trouble free, you may encounter these problems. If you encounter these problems and are not sure how to diagnose them properly you can take a leaf to your county extension agent and they will help.

  • Dropping Leaves – This may be caused by overwatering.
  • Leaves turning yellow – Lack of water, insects, pests, nutritional deficiencies.
  • Fruit drop – This may be caused by the fact that there is just more fruit than the tree can support. It could also be due to improper watering, improper fertilization, disease, insects or too vigorous pruning.

11) Growing in A Greenhouse

Keep the temperature above 50 degrees in the greenhouse. Once the temperature outside has reached 55 at night you can move the plant outside for the summer. Keep in mind that your tree will probably be in a 10-gallon container at least. Make sure to have a container that is on wheels to facilitate the move. Also, keep in mind that some greenhouses have narrower doors. Be sure that you will be able to move the plant in and out of the door that you have.

12) Growing in the Ground

Picking an area that has well drained soil is critical. Also, be sure to get a spot that gets at least 8 hours of full sun every day. Pick your variety based on your climate. Also, make sure that you will have room for the mature tree when planting. Do not overcrowd.

13) Growing in Containers

You should always use containers with drainage holes. But you need to be aware that containers will dry out faster than plants in the ground generally. Lemons like a lot of humidity. You can supply this by misting your trees daily or by placing pebbles in the saucer the pots drain into. You can also run a humidifier in the dry winter months when the heat is running in your house. The pot size will determine the plant size. Use a 10 – 15-gallon pot size. You should buy dwarf varieties to grow in a container.

14) Storage of Lemons

We have all seen the beautiful baskets of fresh lemons hanging in the kitchens on TV. This is a great way to store lemons if you are going to use them in less than a week. I don’t seem to go through them that fast. I just place my cleaned lemons in a sealed bag in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.

Lemons can be juiced, and the juice can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. The juice can also be stored in a freezer in ice cube trays. I then place the ice cube trays in a sealed bag. This gives you some portion control when it is time to thaw the juice.

The zest can be removed and place in a sealed jar or frozen.

15) Usage of Lemons

Well, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or you can use the zest and juice in many ways in the kitchen. Who doesn’t love a lemon meringue pie? They are great squeezed over many dishes to brighten the flavor. The list goes on and on.

Lemon juice can be used for cleaning many different items. It can be used from cleaning your glass shower door to being used to polish copper and brass.

Lemons can also be used to help eliminate odors.

Conclusion

Lemons are fun and easy to grow. These plants will last a lifetime once you get them growing properly indoors and out.


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Learn About Greenhouses

hobby greenhouse association

hobby greenhouse association

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Have you always dreamed of owning a greenhouse? But you are overwhelmed with all the decisions to be made and learning how to properly grow in one? Maybe you already own a greenhouse and just have a few questions you would love to ask someone with experience.

There is a solution. Become a member of the Hobby Greenhouse Association.

A lot of people think that you buy a greenhouse, set it up in the backyard, and voila you have beautiful plants growing with no problems. Not so. I am not suggesting that this is a torturous process but growing in a greenhouse is a learning curve. And it is a different process for all of us. Just consider all the different types of plants we are growing, not to mention our differing climates and plant needs.

A lot of people make the mistake of loading up their new greenhouses with every piece of equipment that they can find. Others go the opposite way and think that the greenhouse is the only piece of equipment they will need.

I suggest that when purchasing a greenhouse, you consider the ventilation needs, whether you will be having electricity or will be cooling your greenhouse without electricity. If it is the middle of winter, I suggest thinking about how you will heat your greenhouse. Will you use a gas heater, or heat it by taking it off the grid? Other accessories can be added as the need arises.

This is where the HGA comes in. The members who already have greenhouses are more than willing to share their experiences and knowledge on these types of concerns. They have been there and done that. But, don’t take that to mean you have to already own a greenhouse to join. All interested parties are welcome.

What will the HGA do for me?

Lots. You can go to the website and review the current newsletter. Or, you can even opt for receiving this by regular mail if you prefer. You can join discussions in the members blog area by asking a question or sharing a bit of knowledge that you think other greenhouse growers would find helpful. You can also submit a question by email to other members. Flowers as well as vegetables are discussed.

Current topics on the blog include pictures of a mystery plant that someone is trying to identify. Also, someone in Massachusetts is looking to connect with other greenhouse enthusiasts. There is a lively discussion about starting new plants. Also, a question with lots of comments is “How are your plants surviving the winter?” Of course, this question was asked last winter.

One of the neatest benefits of the organization is the round robins. The robins are focused on a greenhouse gardening topic including management (of the interior environment), vegetables and others. They consist of a packet of letters from each robin member. When one arrives, always by snail mail, the recipient writes a few paragraphs about how their greenhouse has done with the robin subject since receiving the last packet, typically a few months previously. Then he/she adds paragraphs addressed to each in the group, answering questions and/or commenting of what that person wrote in the last round. Then adds this letter to the packet, removing their last letter, and mails it to the next person on the list of about eight members. Then the person e-mails the coordinator with when the packet was received and when sent on. The description of the robins is from Tom Karasek, the President of the Hobby Greenhouse Association.

Discounts for Members

There is also a group of hobby greenhouse businesses that offer a discount to HGA members. All you need to do is find them on the list and ask for your discount. Advance Greenhouses has offered this discount for years.

How did this organization get started

In 1975 a gentleman named Wander Mall got a brand new hobby greenhouse. If you remember this was way before the internet and the information overload era. He found that there was just not that much information available on how to use the greenhouse. He decided that a club with a few like minded growers would be the answer. It would be a free exchange of information with people learning from others mistakes. He sent some letters to the editors and had a more than acceptable response. There was also a radio and TV show hosted by (Doc) George and Katy Abraham that promoted the newly founded organization. Membership quickly increased to over 1000 members. It seems like a lot of people had similar questions. And, I have got to tell you from my personal experience that there is not a group that is more willing to share their knowledge than gardeners. Of course, there are a lot of us with strong personal opinions of how things need to be done. We just can’t help ourselves.

The HGA today

The HGA continues to prosper today due to the many volunteers who have contributed their time and effort through the years. Of course, there is not enough room to personally list and thank each of them. But they know who they are.
If you are interested in hobby greenhouse growing, you will enjoy the camaraderie among this group. I suggest that you check it out today and join. Get your questions out there and get help from people who truly enjoy growing in a greenhouse. And, get your own greenhouse up and growing. There is nothing more satisfying.

Conclusion

In full disclosure I will tell you that I am currently the Vice President of this organization. And, we have participated in their member discount program for over 15 years. Tammy

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