A greenhouse can be one of basic utility, or one that combines utility with beauty. It’s all up to you, your budget and your imagination. This article is for anyone considering the construction of their first greenhouse.
There are many reasons greenhouses are so popular. They are great for providing optimal growing conditions while helping growers reduce the electrical costs of growing purely indoors. Need some additional, sheltered space to grow the crops you want? Start planning a greenhouse!
The joy that comes with having a wonderful room filled with thriving plants will be worth the effort of designing and building a greenhouse on your property. Of course, if you are already growing outdoors, the benefits of protecting your plants from temperature swings, pests and wind-blown diseases by adding a greenhouse to the mix can’t be overlooked.
When you plan your new greenhouse, most pre-fab kits from the hardware store do not come with extras like benches, tables, automatic vents, foundations or heating equipment. This is where proper planning comes in. You will also need a source of water, and perhaps electricity, so plan around these requirements, and be aware of any building restrictions in your area if you’re setting up something huge. You do not want to be required to change plans mid-stream.
Figuring out the Size & Location of Your Greenhouse
To begin planning your greenhouse, look at the area you have to work with. Greenhouses can be bought or built in many shapes, with many different features to better fit into your available space.
When choosing a location for your greenhouse, consider how much space you’ll need for aisles, preparation areas and equipment storage. Sketch out some possible dimensions, keeping in mind you are not confined to square or rectangular dimensions. You can have an L-shaped greenhouse, or even separate mini greenhouses, which may help you maximize your floor plan.
Picture where the entry makes the most sense, and how big it will be. Will you need to add a pathway leading up to the greenhouse? Decide if you want to move the greenhouse over time.
Whether it’s a permanent or a portable structure, each option will heavily influence the size of your greenhouse and the materials you will end up needing. Lastly, if a part of your greenhouse is against a wall, keep in mind that one side of the greenhouse will not receive as much sunshine, so you’ll need to plan around this.
Figuring out the Budget for Your Greenhouse
The next thing to look at is your budget. Decide what you are comfortable spending before you start planning all of your greenhouse’s features. From simple hoop types, to elaborate wood, metal and glass structures with many features, the cost per square foot of a greenhouse can vary enormously.
Do you intend to grow during colder weather? If so, you will likely need to provide better insulation and even a heat source for your plants. Will you be combining natural solar energy with artificial light to provide the light energy needed by some of the crops you’ll grow? If so, planning where and how much artificial light is vital at the early stages of your design.
Next, it’s time to make a checklist of all of your desired features and compare this to your budget. Refer to this checklist throughout the design process. Leaving an important feature out only to discover it’s missing near the end of the design process will only be disappointing.
You will need aisles in your greenhouse to access your plants. Aisles are most efficient when they are down the middle, so you can reach your plants from every angle. If your aisles do not allow you to easily reach everywhere you are growing, it is likely to become an issue down the road.
If you will be using a wheelbarrow, wagon or nursery trailer, make sure the aisles can accommodate it. Another important factor in deciding the size of your aisles is the basic designs of the walls.
Are your aisles far enough away from the walls so occupants can walk upright? For example, a barn-style greenhouse allows you to reach hanging baskets, as they are slightly closer to you, while allowing for easier construction and a stronger structure, but will influence where your aisles run.
To complete the plan for your aisles, decide if you can make your greenhouse work with a single entry point. Each door to the outside of your greenhouse reduces bench space and, ultimately, the number of plants you can grow. The added cost for additional doors is another thing to consider.
Tables & Benches
Plan your tables and benches to coincide with your aisles. Start by looking at the many different types of benches or tables available and understanding the benefits of each. Keep in mind you need to provide space and access to water your plants.
You also need space to wash your hands, tools and other materials. As these work areas are not actually providing space for plants, consider multi-functional tables. You don’t necessarily need a sink that drains to wash your hands or tools, just something to catch the water.
Are you going to put plants beneath the work table? If so, the type of materials used for the table needs to keep debris from falling onto the plants below. Being able to keep your new greenhouse clean and organized will maximize production. If your tables or benches will be shading some of the plants beneath them, you will need to grow plants that require less direct sunlight there, or provide artificial light for them.
The size and materials used for your benches is critical. Some economical benches or tables come at a good price point but can take up a lot of space or reduce the amount of direct sunshine entering the greenhouse due to their design or construction. Barrels, for instance, might be used to support tables or benches, but they take up a lot of space. When considering the type of table or bench to construct, look at every aspect you can imagine, not just the immediate cost. Encourage yourself to revisit these plans before committing to your final design.
Flexibility in Your Greenhouse Design
As time goes by, you may wish to change the size or height of your containers as your plants mature or you add more variety to the mix. Is your watering system able to accommodate these changes? If you’re using artificial lights, can they be moved or adjusted? Flexibility is an important part of a well-designed greenhouse.
Some shelf and bench varieties can be height-adjusted, adding to the design’s flexibility—just make sure that above all else, they are sturdy. You can also use grow racks on wheels that are not only height-adjustable, but have the right kind of flooring to be moved to different areas of the greenhouse, making access to plants that much better.
Your top-tier plants can be grown in hanging pots suspended from a horizontal pole to help reduce construction costs while maximizing the amount of space and sunshine available for your crops. Making the best use of sunshine should be kept in mind throughout the design process. Shaded plants do not produce maximum yields.
Framing & Siding
Consider the types of siding and framing materials you will use after you’ve made your decisions regarding benches, tables, hanging poles, aisles and entryways, as all of these elements can impact the siding you’ll need. Siding choices include glass, fiberglass, plastics and more.
Framing choices include wood, aluminum, galvanized steel, PVC plastic and more. Research the benefits and pitfalls of each material before making a decision. Your local climate will matter here a great deal. Is it sweltering hot in the summer? Freezing cold in the winter? Do your plants need protection from wind and snow? The strength of the siding and framing materials plays a huge role in the durability of your greenhouse.
Along with durability, you’ll also need to make sure the siding allows enough light to shine through. What really counts is the amount of daily light integral (DLI) entering the greenhouse.
The accumulation of an adequate amount of this photosynthetically active light is vital for proper plant growth. There are a number of meters available that can help you determine if your plants are getting what they need. Being able to easily clean your siding will help you make sure your plants get as much sunshine as possible.
You will likely need some heating and ventilation or cooling equipment within your greenhouse. Don’t forget to factor these into your budget! In Las Vegas, for example, the summers are extremely hot, but the air is dry. In this type of climate, evaporative coolers in dry climates can do wonders for both you and your plants, keeping the stress levels of all parties to a minimum. Shade cloth might also be useful if you grow plants that don’t require much direct sunshine.
Planning a new greenhouse should be fun. The more you think through and enjoy the planning, the greater the satisfaction you’ll get from your greenhouse when it is completed. In the search for maximum yields, the benefits of a well-designed greenhouse should not to be overlooked.