Do you want to grow vegetables and herbs indoors? Unless you are growing a few plants such as herbs on a sunny windowsill, you will definitely need lighting. If you do not use grow lights your plants will become leggy and spindly. They will not develop a healthy root system and let’s face it, they will probably never produce into the food you are looking for.
Trying to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse in the short winter days? You will need supplemental lighting. There are a lot of different lighting options available. Let’s take a look at them now.
Different types of lighting
There are basically 3 types of lamps available. They would be HID (high intensity discharge), LED’s (light emitting diodes) and fluorescent fixtures. There are a couple of sub categories in each of these categories.
HID lamps are twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs. They are available in several different sizes from 250 W to 1000W. If these are used as a primary light source a 250 W fixture will cover an area of 3′ x 3′. A 400 W covers 4′ x 4′, a 600 W covers 6′ x 6′ and a 1000W covers a 7′ x 7′ area. You should place your fixtures as close to your plant as possible without getting it too close. The HID lights put out a lot of heat. The best way is to put your hand under the light at the desired height. If it is not too hot for the back of your hand it will be OK for your plant. HID lights come with metal halide (MH) or high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs. The metal halide is for the vegetative or growth stage. It supplies a blue range of light that is similar to what we have in Spring. The high pressure sodium is for the fruiting or flowering stage. It supplies light in the red range. These systems come with a ballast. It used to be that we had to have one ballast for each type of bulb. But now there are switchable ballasts available that will work with either type of lamp.
Historically fluorescent lights were thought of as to be used with seedlings or plants that did not require as much light. But, that has changed with the development of HO (high output) T5 lamps. These are only about 5/8″ in diameter. These high output lights will give twice as much light as the standard T5. They are able to produce enough light for larger or fruiting plants. Of course they will be more expensive than the standard fluorescent lamps. They are available in 2700K(yellow, red light) for flowering or 6500K (full spectrum light) for plant growth. Fluorescent bulbs are also available in T 12, T8, T5 and compact fluorescent models. They are not as efficient and may be best left for seedlings and low light plants.
Fluorescent lamps have several benefits. They are lightweight, affordable and easy to assemble. They do not put out much heat at all. These lights should be placed within 4″ to 6″ of the top of the plant.
LED lights have historically been very expensive and pretty much out of the range of the non commercial grower. But the prices have come down considerably in the last couple of years. The price on LED lights is still typically higher than the other types, but they will definitely cut down on the electric bill. They use half the electricity of HID and fluorescent lighting and will last up to 5 times as long. Most of these lights have a small built in fan which means they will run cooler.
There are full spectrum lights available where you can switch the growing mode. This is much the same concept as the switchable ballasts for the HID lighting. You should check the manufacturers specifications for coverage area and height to hang these fixtures. They are typically hung 18″ to 24″ over the plant.
How Long Should You Leave Your Lights On?
I know everyone hates this statement, but it is something you will need to experiment with. It depends on if you have any other light source and what type of plant you are growing. If you are using it as a primary light source growing inside I would recommend starting at 14 – 18 hours for the growth stage. Once you are fruiting or flowering you can cut this down to 12 hours.
If you are using the lights for supplemental lighting in a greenhouse you will not need them on during sunlight hours. The way we always did this was to have our lights come on 2 hours before sunrise and then turn them off. At night we would turn them on at dusk and leave them on for 2 hours. Of course this is all easiest to do with an automatic timer.
What can I grow using grow lights?
With the proper setup you can grow just about any crop under grow lights. One thing to take into consideration is what kind of space will you need. It is probably not practical for most of us to try and grow crops like corn or watermelon inside. A few examples that do well include tomatoes, lettuces, spinach, herbs, peas (will need to be trellised), bush green beans, bush cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, radishes, etc. Keep in mind that you must meet the same temperature requirements that these plants need outside. For example, you cannot grow cauliflower and broccoli in an 80 degree room. You cannot grow tomatoes in an unheated basement in the winter.
Just because you don’t have a yard and it is the cold of winter does not mean that you cannot have fresh herbs and vegetables for dinner tonight. Set aside a little space and try growing some food indoors under lights.
A lot of people wonder if composting is really worth their while. If done properly it really takes a minimal amount of effort. I am not saying you don’t have to work at it, but you don’t have to work at it hard. You just need to follow the “rules” and you will get an excellent product to use in your garden, your containers, or even your flower beds. Plus, let’s face it. None of us wants to contribute any more to the already overflowing landfills than we need to. Just think of it as doing your part to help Mother Nature.
Over 1/3 of the materials in a landfill are compostable. Why are we throwing out these items that we can turn into the best amendment for our gardens? Do we think it is going to be too hard? I don’t know, let’s not over think it. Composting is simply the breakdown of organic matter. Nothing more, nothing less. Compost fuels plant growth, while restoring previously depleted soil. It also helps to retain soil moisture and helps to hold off plant diseases.
What Will I Need to Compost?
There really is not much start up cost and you can get as fancy as you want. To start you can use a small roll of fence that you can purchase at any local lumber store or home store. You would also want to have a few posts to wrap the fence around to make your “bin”. Or, you can recycle pallets to make a compost pile. The most expensive, but probably the easiest way is to use a tumbling compost bin, but they will be the most expensive initially. There are also worm composters available. The worms do the breaking down of materials in these systems, no turning with them.
If you are doing any other method than the rotating bin or worms (vermicompost) you will need something to turn the pile with. We had a special compost turning tool at one point, but a shovel or hoe would work just as well. A neat thing to have on hand is a compost thermometer. You can take the temperature of your compost pile and brag to all of your neighbors how hot your pile is. (I know, a little too geeky for some). This is also a nice tool to help troubleshoot as you rill read below. A really nice item to have is a decorative bin to place on your kitchen counter to collect scraps. You then just take this to your pile every day.
Other than that you need your browns and greens. I remember reading an article in a gardening magazine years ago. The author was telling you if you did not have enough garbage to use OPG (other peoples garbage). I guess some of your neighbors and friends would be willing to do this if you share at the end. I have also read about people going to produce departments and getting the produce that goes bad. The stores are usually glad to give you these unsalable items. That way it doesn’t have to go to complete waste.
What to Compost?
If you have checked into composting before you have probably seen the terms “green” and “brown”. These are referring to the 2 sets of materials that should be added in proper ratios to your compost pile. The green items supply the nitrogen and the brown items supply the carbon. You should use a ration of 1/3 green to 2/3 brown.
Hay or Straw
I do not recommend using cheese or meat scraps for your compost pile, as these attract rodents. Leaves and larger items should be shredded prior to being placed in your compost bin. If you have too many leaves in the fall you can just save them to the side and add them to the compost pile as needed. Meanwhile they will be partially breaking down. Be sure not to add big clumps of any of the items you are putting in your pile. You want everything to be loose .
Maintaining your pile
Don’t leave food scraps at the top of your pile. Cover them with a layer of leaves or grass. This will help to deter pests (rodents, raccoons, etc) that may want to get into your compost. You need to rotate every few weeks and add in more materials. You should be keeping your pile moist, not damp. Or, if you have purchased a rotating bin you should follow the instructions that have come with the bin. These are usually up on a stand and are easily rotated with a handle or simply by spinning the bin.
Troubleshooting Your Compost
Your compost pile should not smell. If it smells like rotten eggs or musty you need to add browns and aerate it (turn the pile). If your pile is not getting hot enough add more greens. This is where your compost thermometer comes in handy. Your pile should be getting to at least 150 degrees F if it is working properly. If your pile is too wet, add brown – cardboard, leaves or wood chips.
Bugs, etc in compost pile
If you have mites it means that your pile is too moist. You need to add your brown materials. You may see a white layer form over your compost pile. It is fungus and will aid in the process. It should be ignored. You may also see millipedes and potato bugs in your pile at times. There is no concern as they are just aiding in the process. If you have rodents you should make sure to “bury” food scraps below the surface of the compost pile so they are not quite as tempting to the animals.
When To Use Compost
Most people agree that the fall is the best time to add the compost into your garden soil. Cover it with some sort of mulch. That way it will have the entire winter to break down and become part of the garden bed. If this is not possible or you just don’t want to do it then you can add it about 2 weeks before you are ready to plant. Be sure to mix it into the soil good. Of course most of us are in a big hurry in the spring to get planted, so waiting until you can work the soil and then waiting 2 more weeks may be too much for some of us (pointing at myself).
Heating the greenhouse with compost
Did you know that you can use your compost pile to heat a greenhouse? You can put the compost pile directly in the greenhouse if you have space. Remember that they will get up to 150 degrees when working properly. Use your thermometer to check the temperature. If it is lower than 120 degrees you will need to aerate the pile. Some people are concerned about having their compost bin inside the greenhouse due to the potential fire hazard. Plus, I have heard the complaint that the pile may smell. If you recall from earlier in this post, if you have a smell you need to fix your compost bin – something is wrong.
If you prefer to have your compost pile outside the greenhouse you can run water pipes through the compost pile to heat the water and then run the pipes into your greenhouse.
Composting is a win / win situation. It is good for your garden, good for the planet and good for your soul. Get busy composting!
We started selling greenhouses online in 2002. We started selling Palram Greenhouses online in 2003. It was a model called the Enthusiast. And I must say, everyone was very enthusiastic about this little greenhouse. It had a gambrel roof and was a 8′ x 8′ size. It had 4′ extensions that you could add on. The next model to surface was the Mini Pro. It was a 8′ x 10′ size. I am not quite sure why, but both of these models were discontinued. Snap and Grow Greenhouses were next to appear. We sold those for quite a few years up until 2014. They are still available, but we decided to not carry them anymore. It had nothing to do with the greenhouse, it was a “corporate” decision. We (Tom and I) just felt that we had too many greenhouse options available.
Enthusiast Greenhouse-no longer available
MiniPro Greenhouse-no longer available
Features of Palram Greenhouses
They are sturdy! The first time I saw an Enthusiast was at a trade show in Ohio. I was walking down the aisle and all of a sudden there was a loud boom. I just about jumped out of my skin. There was an exhibitor in the Palram booth slamming a sledge hammer at this poor Enthusiast. It didn’t budge a bit. That was pretty impressive. Hey kids, don’t try this at home!!!
All of the Palram greenhouses are pretty much built with the same materials, there are just different configurations and options. Some of the models now have twinwall polycarbonate in the roof and/or sides. Even though the outside sheets of the twinwall are clear, the rib in the center of the sheets will distort your view. It will not be like looking through glass. The same single polycarbonate that was found in the Enthusiast will be in the rest of the models. You will get glass like clarity with this lightweight panel with over 90% light transmission. The panels are flexible and you can bend them and twist them. Don’t let that fool you. It is very durable.
The frames are rust resistant aluminum and the greenhouses come with a 5 year warranty. I am very active in several online greenhouse forums. There are many people discussing their Snap and Grow greenhouses that are 8 – 10 years old. Let me tell you that Palram Greenhouse owners are very satisfied and loyal. Actually, the whole time we were selling these greenhouses we only had 2 issues. One was from a greenhouse that was in a tornado. That is just plain old bad luck. The other was a gentleman who just was not satisfied. We sold a lot of these greenhouses, so I guess one person is not too bad a record.
These have simple to use Smart Lock connectors. These greenhouses can be assembled easily by 2 people in 1 – 2 days. Step by step instructions are included with all greenhouses. You can accessorize your greenhouse with items such as plant hangers, shade cloths, an anchor kit, shelf kits, automatic openers for roof vents, benches, or a trellising kit. Most of the Palram Greenhouses can be made longer with the addition of extension kits.
Although the clear view clarity of the single polycarbonate panels is a nice feature, they will not supply you with as much insulation as other greenhouses. Although you can heat them in the winter. Depending on where you live and what temperatures you are want to achieve, you may find that this is cost prohibitive. Of course there are solar methods you can use to retain some heat during the night hours. Also, some people will use bubble wrap to insulate the greenhouse more. If you are looking for a 4 season greenhouse I would consider the Glory with 10mm twinwall panels.
Snap and Grow Greenhouses
These are available with a silver aluminum frame. All of the polycarbonate is the crystal clear single layer polycarbonate. They have double wide doors, adjustable manual roof vents and rain gutters. The door handle is lockable. Widths are 6′ or 8′. Lengths vary from 8′ to 16′ in the 6′ wide model. There is also a 20′ length available in the 8′ wide greenhouse.
Mythos Hobby Greenhouse
The Mythos Greenhouse is covered with 4mm twinwall polycarbonate sheets. It has an adjustable roof vent and rain gutters. The door handle is lockable with a magnetic door catch. It is available in 6′ and 8′ widths. The 6′ ranges in length from 4′ to 14′. The 8′ wide model is available in a 12′ length.
This is a beauty. This hexagonal shaped greenhouse has a gray frame. The roof has twin wall panels and the sides have the crystal clear single layer polycarbonate. The frame is a powder coated aluminum frame. There is a wide double hinged door and the door handle is lockable. An integrated gutter system is present. One side louver for added ventilation and air flow also comes with this greenhouse.
Bella Hobby Greenhouse
This uniquely bell shaped greenhouse is covered with 6mm clear twinwall panels. The shape of the frame is designed for increased wind resistance and reduced snow build up. Taller plants will be comfortable with the 7′ peak height. The roof vents are manually adjustable. This greenhouse has a galvanized steel base. Door handles are lockable. Sizes range for 8′ x 8′ to 8′ x 20′.
Chalet Hobby Greenhouse
This European Style Greenhouse has a gray powder coated aluminum frame. The roof is glazed with twinwall polycarbonate panels. The sides have the crystal clear single polycarbonate. There are 2 adjustable manual roof vents. The wide double door has a threshold ramp for easy access. This is a great structure for growing or to be used as a garden room.
Glory Premium Class Hobby Greenhouse
This greenhouse is built for year round growing. It has an almost 9′ peak with 6′ sidewalls. The frame is a gray powder coated aluminum. All of the glazing is 10mm clear twinwall polycarbonate for added insulation. There is one side louver window and manually adjustable roof vents. This greenhouse comes in a 6′ x 8′ size and 8′ wide from 8′ to 20′ long. This greenhouse has a 10 year warranty. It comes with an anchoring system and a galvanized steel base. The door is over 31″ wide and is lockable. The door threshold allows easy access for wheel barrows. There is an integral gutter system.
Hybrid Lean To
The Hybid Lean To has 4mm clear twinwall roof panels and single layer crystal clear polycarbonate for the sidewalls. The frame is a rust resistant silver aluminum frame and it comes with a wall mounting kit. One manually adjustable roof vent and integral gutters are also included. The size is 4′ x 8′.
The Hybrid freestanding greenhouse also has the 4mm clear twinwall roof panels and single layer crystal clear polycarbonate for the sidewalls. It is available in a 6′ x 8′ size. One manually adjustable roof vent and a door with a magnetic door catch are included.
This greenhouse has the gambrel style roof same as the Enthusiast of old. The roof has clear twinwall panels and the side walls are the crystal clear single layer polycarbonate. Size is 12′ x 12′.There is a double swinging door and 2 manually adjustable roof vents. The frame is the silver rust resistant aluminum.
With so many styles and sizes to choose from there is no reason not to have your name on the list of happy, satisfied Palram Greenhouse owners.
The winter greenhouse – to heat or not to heat? That is the question!!!
We all want to use our greenhouses in the winter. But, it can be costly to heat them all winter long. For certain crops you will need the heat. Do you want to grow seasonal winter crops without the cost of additional heating? Or, do you want to pay the heat bill to have tomatoes and peppers all winter long? That is the real question.
Did you know that a greenhouse will build up a lot of heat during the day? That is why you need a ventilation system in place. But, once the sun goes down the heat will begin to dissipate and disappear. In order to keep your greenhouse above the outside temperature at night you will need to have heating systems or other solar systems in place.
You can keep some heat in your greenhouse at night by using a few solar practices. You can pull a solar blanket over the roof of the greenhouse to help keep any heat inside. These are on the inside of your greenhouse and are typically a heavy blanket that can be pulled at night.
Probably the most popular and easiest method is to use black containers filled with water. These will build up heat during the day and let off the built up heat slowly through the night. You can use gallon water jugs painted black or 55 gallon drums.
You can put a compost pile in your greenhouse. Although, I have heard quite a few people complain about the smell. If you have a properly balanced and properly functioning compost pile you should not have these odors. But, if you want to spend some time and money you can put your compost pile outside and pipe water through the pile (which will heat the water in the pipes) and through the greenhouse for heat.
Some people will use a layer of bubble wrap (yep, like what is used for packing in all the boxes you receive) to help add insulation to their greenhouse. They basically just line the interior with the bubble wrap to help keep the greenhouse a little bit warmer.
These methods will all give you supplemental heat, but none of them will give you a way to control what end temperature you require. To set the heat at let’s say 60 degrees, you will need a heater with a thermostat.
Greenhouse heating systems are available in electric, natural gas and propane. I much prefer the natural gas or propane. My top pick, and the heater that I use in all of my personal greenhouses, is the Southern Burner heater. I have used both the natural gas and the propane models. I find that they both function the same. These are great heaters because they require no electricity. They are the perfect size to fit under a greenhouse bench, thus staying out of the way and not using up valuable space. There is a vented and a non vented model. I personally have always used the non vented heater, but there are some locations in the US where this is a problem and against code. Even though it is called a non vented heater you still need to have a fresh air supply.
Max/ Min Thermometers
A relatively inexpensive, but very valuable tool is a max/min thermometer. These can go from low tech models to models where you can monitor the temperatures from inside your home. Some even have an alarm system set up with them if the temperature drops too low. These are valuable in both a heated and unheated greenhouse to help you troubleshoot any potential problems that you may have.
Crops You Can Grow in a Heated Greenhouse
You can grow just about anything that you can grow in your garden in the summer if you heat the greenhouse. Your night time temperature for tomatoes must be a minimum of 55 degrees. You can also grow peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons, beans, eggplant, corn, basil, tomatillos, etc.
Rules To Growing in an Unheated Greenhouse
If you are growing in an unheated winter greenhouse there are a few rules you should follow for the best harvest. You must be growing crops that are in season during the winter in your area. These cool weather crops include crops such as lettuce, spinach, chard, carrots, etc. Do NOT try to grow warm weather crops in an unheated winter greenhouse. If you are not sure of your growing seasons I would check with my local extension office to see if they have a free vegetable planting guide available. If you don’t know where they are just do a search for extension office “my town”.
Do not try to grow in containers. They will lose any heat they have retained rapidly. You should grow in the ground or in raised beds.
Cut back on how much water you think the plants will need. Plants require a whole lot less water in the winter than they do in the summer. Only water when the ground is dry 1″ to 2″ below the surface.
Grow in “layers”. Add a cold frame or a mini hoop house inside the greenhouse. If you have electricity you can even add heat cables to the cold frames or under the mini hoop house. I always like to use heat cables in my personal cold frames. I find that it gives a higher yield earlier. Just be sure that you check these in the morning. Depending on your location and your weather your cold frame or mini hoop house made need to be opened during the day and closed at night.
Crops You Can Grow in an Unheated Greenhouse
You can typically grow lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, chard, greens, mustard greens, kale, chives, chinese cabbage, english peas, and cilantro (may require a double layer growing system such as the cold frame).
To heat or not to heat? Well, that is really your decision and should be based on how much money you want to spend for winter heat and what crops you want to grow. Whichever way you go, fresh veggies year round can’t be beat! Enjoy!
Are you concerned about the quality of mushrooms you are buying in the grocery store? Do you wish you had healthier alternatives? Why not grow your own? It is not all that complicated if you have the knowledge of the requirements of the plants and a few simple tools.
What are mushrooms?
Mushrooms are a fungus. They are low in calories and carbohydrates. They are a great source of B vitamins, trace minerals, fiber and even protein. They are high in antioxidants and they have anti inflammatory properties. They have also been linked to fighting cancer and supporting heart health. OK, and if all that is not enough, they are pretty darn tasty too.
Why should I grow my own?
I confess that I used to buy jarred mushrooms for when I was really lazy. One day, several years back, I took the time to read the label and found that they were not from the USA. That was the end of my jarred mushrooms. But, even if you are purchasing fresh mushrooms you do not know what pesticides may have been used. Due to the nature of the mushroom they absorb a lot of what they come in contact with. I don’t really want all of that. Plus, as an avid, long time gardener, I know the joy of harvesting your own crops. Not to mention the peace of mind that comes with it.
What do you need to grow mushrooms?
You will need either mushroom spores or spawn. The spawn are much easier to handle for a first time project. As you progress you may even learn how to harvest your own spores, but that is not something that you would want to take on as a new mushroom farmer. You need a growing area. You will want an area where you can cut the light off and keep the temperature at a pretty constant temperature. A basement, a spare room, anything of that sort. I remember talking to a man at a garden show years ago. He told me he had grown mushrooms in his hallway for years. You will need nutrient rich soil and a substrate. Materials such as straw, compost, wood chips, sawdust, newspaper, cardboard or coffee grounds are excellent materials for the substrate. You will also need boiling hot water and temperature and humidity controllers.
What kind of mushroom should I grow?
Oyster , shitake and button mushrooms are probably the easiest to grow. There are so many other beautiful, colorful and I am sure tasty varieties to try that are available as spawn. These may take longer to grow.
How do I grow them?
Some of the spawn that are available are meant to be inoculated onto stumps or logs. These take up to a year or more to produce. These are the exception. Most mushrooms will produce between 1 – 3 months depending on the size of mushroom you want. You basically sterilize your substrate which has been placed over your soil. You then inoculate the spawn or spores. Make sure to keep your temperature at the desired level for your species. At this point you will be misting the spawn 1 or 2 times per day. Once you see mycelia – which is a fungal version of roots, you will cut the watering down to once a day. The main thing is to keep out of light and drafts. For detailed instructions see Mushroom Growing 4 You.
If you purchase a kit you should follow the instructions with the kit. You harvest by cutting with a sharp knife. Once you cut the mushroom another may appear again in the same space. But, to ensure a constant supply of mushrooms you should plant a couple of weeks apart. If you are using a large enough growing bed you may just be able to place your spawn in different areas of the bed a couple of weeks apart.
Growing with Mushroom Kits
These have had pretty much all of the guess work taken out of them. Most of the kits are as simple as open and water. Some will even give you mushrooms in as little as 10 days. This is a great gardening project for a child. With the short turnaround time they will not tend to lose as much interest as with crops that take longer.
Absolutely. But, as with any farming operation, you will need to research your local market first. Visit your local farmers market and see if anyone is selling mushrooms. Ask the vendors if they ever get requests for them. Go visit your local chefs and see if they would be interested in purchasing them. If you have small local grocery stores you may be able to work with them. I am finding more and more that even the big grocery stores are trying to source fresh food locally. If you have the demand do not start out too large, especially if you have never grown mushrooms before. The best feature of growing these is that you do not need to invest in expensive equipment to get started. You will need your items as listed above, but they are not high dollar or hard to find items.
We are all concerned about the quality of our food. That is a given. But, there is nothing more satisfying than growing your own food. Mushrooms are an ideal crop because they don’t require a lot of room or hard to obtain special growing conditions. Try your hand at growing mushrooms today. I think you will be pleasantly rewarded for your efforts.
Advance Greenhouses participates in affiliate programs, which means we may receive commissions if you purchased an item via links on this page to retailer sites. This is at no additional cost to you. Our editorial content is not influenced by commissions. Read more about what we do.