Tips Before You Build or Grow

Excited for a new phase of gardening and agriculture? Make sure to start things sweet

7 Tips for Starting Greenhouse Growing Right

in the market for a greenhouse – or considering starting out greenhouse growing as a business or a hobby? Try these beginning greenhouse grower tips to start.

Congratulations – you’ve joined the ranks of many farmers, gardeners, and hobby growers out there who have also taken this step, and experienced their businesses and passions flourishing as a result.

If you are a beginning greenhouse grower, however, the looming question lingers: “Where do I start? How do I start?” More importantly: “How do I jump into the world of greenhouses and start growing to ensure success?” When you compare traditional methods of growing to using covered structures, making the transition can seem complicated and overwhelming. There could be hundreds of ways it could go wrong with a system that is so complex – but fortunately, that really isn’t the case.

With just a handful of simple tips, there are plenty of ways to ensure that you’re starting out your growing venture the right way, and to guarantee that all your bases are covered for smooth sailing. It’s much simpler than you think, and it certainly doesn’t take rocket science to start your operation right. Hungry for some beginner advice? Explore these tips before getting started on design, construction, or even the growing methods of your setup.

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Think you can pull off your setup just about anywhere? Wrong! Before you even start to build your cultivation masterpiece, the strategy for where you build it is also pivotal to its function, efficiency, and overall success.

Make sure to choose the most open site possible to receive the most sunlight. Build too close to a tree line, and you may have shade blocking out important sunlight for your plants at certain times of the day. Also take a close look at the ground site, or where the foundation of your structure will go as well – is it level? Can it be leveled more? How else can you best prepare it for future construction?

Consider what you’ll have to do in order to make the foundation of the structure more level, as you will want to avoid slanted beds, foundation, benches, tables, or whatever else you choose for your growing space. Unlevel areas can also lead to moisture problems, runoff issues, and more with direct-planted crops. Be aware of slopes and inclines – they do have an impact!

2. DRAINAGE

Look closely: are you choosing a low or slanted site that water from elsewhere will drain into? Or is it a level, higher point that excess moisture will drain away from? While this may not seem essential at first, excessive moisture in a greenhouse from rainfall or drainage can be a source of disease and fungal issues for your plants. You’ll also want to make sure that water drains away from your setup at its base, so aim for a building site that rests a bit more above-ground rather than in lowland.

Drainage can also have an impact on the construction materials you choose, and especially if you use wood for floors, baseboards, doorways, framing, and more. Think about it: excessive moisture and drainage into your structure will wick water into your lumber, which then leads to rot problems (as well as extra work and costs to replace that wood year after year, though choosing the right wood for construction can help prevent this). Otherwise, even if you decide that you want a concrete foundation instead, drainage can lead to shifting and cracking in this material as well – yet another reason to place importance on good drainage and slope.

3. ORIENTATION

For the best sun exposure for your plants, make sure to consider orientation – namely, how your greenhouse runs with the cardinal directions. To get the most ideal orientation, it’s recommended to a beginning greenhouse grower that they have the length of their structure run east to west, rather than north to south. This way, plants within experience optimal sunlight any time of year, and with no potential for plants unintentionally shading each other out.

When considering a site for starting out greenhouse growing, give it a thorough walk-through first, and assess all these checkpoints. Will an east-west building place well here? Are there trees that could shade out the structure from nearby? If so, you won’t want that. Together with drainage and location, orientation made just right will ultimately lead to a greenhouse that works excellently in your favor.

Orientation

4. FOUNDATION MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION

Strategizing location and orientation is crucial to your setup – almost as crucial as selecting the best materials for your future greenhouse. That’s right: you’ll have to think about what materials will go into your foundation, floors, baseboards, ribs, trusses, doors, and finally, coverings. Starting with the foundation first, you do have the option of putting in a solid foundation or floor for your greenhouse directly over the soil (if you desire to build or add one).

But you don’t necessarily need a floor for your structure. This is especially true if you want to plant straight into the soil in raised beds or rows you till under your covering. You can also opt for a simple ground cover instead to keep weeds down. Otherwise, wood or concrete floors are popular to give things a finished look – though over time, wood will need replacing.

Keep in mind that excessive moisture may cause concrete foundations to crack, so have a drainage system in place. A note about wood construction and greenhouses: structures that house plants and have wood-to-soil contact – especially plants being grown organically and sustainably in a greenhouse – should not use treated wood whatsoever, especially for food production done in the actual soil beneath the structure.

These chemicals can leach into your soil and eventually your plants, harming them and, potentially – if it’s a food crop – people or customers who consume them. If you’re also aiming for the highest standards of natural or organic certification also, treated wood can interfere with your goals! Instead of treated wood, select more naturally rot-resistant lumber types: cedar, black walnut, and redwood are just to name a few. However, any pressure-treated wood is quite rot-resistant, and though it contains some chemicals, has been mostly shown to be harmless.

5. FRAME, DOOR, BASEBOARD, AND COVERING MATERIALS

Wooden baseboards and doors are also recommended for better structural stability, and will lend a rustic look and feel to your greenhouse. However, you can also go for longer-lasting aluminum trusses and supports. Remember that eventually, anything made of wood might need replacing over time, especially in damp and humid regions or greenhouses that are irrigated within often.

If you opt for trussing and supports, wooden baseboards and framing are less necessary, and won’t need replacing or maintenance. As for the actual frame, wood and aluminum are the most common choices (wood especially for doorways at both ends of a greenhouse). However, if you’re going for a hoop house, polytunnel, or considerably large-sized greenhouse or high tunnel, aluminum will be best – especially if you want a material that will hold up longest against moisture and the elements.

Otherwise, wood pairs perfectly with small cottage-style greenhouse construction for framing material, and you can more successfully use solid plastic in these designs – and even glass, too. A good question though: should you use glass or plastic coverings for your greenhouse (or even adaptable panel coverings, at that)? That depends on a few factors.

If you want a more movable design on a larger outdoor field rotation (such as with farming), thin plastic coverings will allow you a quicker and easier setup, transportation, tear-down, and setup again in a new space. If you want a more permanent greenhouse structure – such as for a nursery, seedling house, or other venture – the use of solid plastic or glass may be more up your alley, as it doesn’t require moving.

Frame_Baseboards_

6. CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACCESSORIES

To use accessories, or to not to use accessories – that is the question for many a beginning greenhouse grower. Beyond a simple frame, door, and plastic covering, a few other extras can be tossed in to improve efficiency, as well as lend some bonus functions to your greenhouse growing setup. (Believe me: you’ll want at least a few of them!)

Why not include plastic roll-up sides? Most greenhouses include this so you can easily vent your greenhouse when it’s too hot, then shut it back down when temperatures drop back down. Fans and ventilation are also great options. They’re not only ideal for keeping your plants cool inside, but they also reduce moisture and introduce fresh airflow into your space under your cover – thus reducing disease, fungal issues, and more.

Taking it a step further, installing a heater can make your greenhouse go the extra mile in cold weather. Gas, wood, and electric heaters are some of the options available out there. Extra accessories can also extend to additional lighting options, environmental controls (for managing humidity and temperature), and even shade covering if you aim to grow cool weather crops within your structure, or cultivate in an arid or desert region.

Last but not least: blackout systems are a unique method for creating the perfect environment of light versus dark for some flowering plants. Every floral grower should give it a spin at least once to experience the benefits.

7. CHOOSE THE BEST PLANTS

Once you have your building site, materials, and accessories decided upon, your next step: deciding which plants to grow. In reality, this step should be all the way at the top, as #1 – and what you choose to grow in your greenhouse should also tie in a lot with what accessories you decide to use. Location, orientation, and materials can also be particularly selected to cooperate with your plants of choice.

For example: if you’re growing light- and heat-loving plants, you may want a greenhouse with thicker plastic and plenty of additional indoor lighting. If aiming more for cool-loving plants needing protection as seasons change, some shade coverings (for summer), roll-up sides, and heaters to optimize season extension (in winter) could come in handy.

Growing flowers? Choose an auto blackout setup, which reduces light conditions to help plants trigger their instincts to bloom. Regardless of what varieties you’re growing, there’s plenty of accessories and approaches you can choose for your greenhouse – just make sure you’re matching the right accessories with the right plants, especially when it comes to light dep.

Chosing_The_Right_Plants

GET ALL YOUR BASES COVERED

If you keep all these tips on hand, you can shed those excuses for being overwhelmed or daunted by these wonderful growing systems. Transitioning to greenhouse growing won’t even make you break a sweat – even through the purchasing, planning, construction, and actual growing phases. All a beginner needs is a little bit of confidence and some planning, and you’ll be all set – as well as surprised – by how simple running a greenhouse successfully can be.

Plus, investing in greenhouses is absolutely worth the transition, no matter how complex they get. They protect your crops, extend your seasons, prevent weeds, pests, and diseases, and even help you save (and make) more money. For hobby growers, they’ll allow you to grow anything at any time you like, no matter how exotic.

With that being said: don’t get stuck feeling like a greenhouse beginner! Just take the leap, and you’ll find yourself feeling like an expert, successful greenhouse grower in no time.

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Adrian White is an organic farmer of near a decade, and a food, health, and sustainable ag writer of 6 years. Her writing can be found in publications like The Guardian and Civil Eats, and she is also a regular contributor to Rodale's Organic Life and Healthline. She lives in Iowa as co-owner of organic farm Jupiter Ridge Mushrooms and Veg, fueled by her passion as a next-generation farmer.

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Adrian White is an organic farmer of near a decade, and a food, health, and sustainable ag writer of 6 years. Her writing can be found in publications like The Guardian and Civil Eats, and she is also a regular contributor to Rodale's Organic Life and Healthline. She lives in Iowa as co-owner of organic farm Jupiter Ridge Mushrooms and Veg, fueled by her passion as a next-generation farmer.

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