By Contributing Editor Nancy Hulse

Setting up a home greenhouse is a very simple process and one that will bring you many rewards. If you want to grow a lot of vegetables or even prize winning flowers, a greenhouse will help the process considerably.

The first decision you have to make is whether you plan to purchase a ready-made greenhouse or build your own. Building a greenhouse with actual glass windows to let light in can be cost prohibitive for the home gardener. After some research on building material costs over the winter months, I decided to go with a Flowerhouse greenhouse, specifically the SpringHouse.

If you get this type of greenhouse it’s very simple to put up – it uses a system similar to a camping tent. One important addition in any type of temporary greenhouse is a few bricks or other heavy items to help hold it in place

It may seem like an expensive option for just growing some plants but if you can grow more for your garden from seeds instead of buying plants from the nursery, you can soon see the savings. Consider that a packet of tomato seeds costs under $2 and will grow more than 20 plants on average and a tomato plant at the nursery may cost $4 or more and the savings adds up very quickly. It also gives you much more variety in the types of plants you can grow since you are not dependent on what the local nursery has decided to offer.

Once your greenhouse is up, you’re going to need some type of shelving, unless you are going for one of the smaller row cover, cold frame or seed starter varieties. Those generally just fit over garden rows or hold a collection of seed trays on the ground.

When choosing shelving for your greenhouse think about sustainability as much as you can. The shelves need to be sturdy since they will be holding lots of pots of dirt. They also need to be able to hold up well to humidity. It will be tempting to go out and buy cheap plastic shelves so you can get started but you need something a bit more sturdy, that will last for many years. You might also be interested in shelves that fold or come apart easily if your greenhouse will not be up year round. Some ideas to get started might be to build shelving out of pallets or other found wood, or use discarded building supplies like old windows and doors if they will fit the space and you are handy. You could also place smaller pots on the rungs of a ladder if you have one available.

Once things are set up you are ready to start planting. Assemble whatever pots you want to use – I have a mix of peat pots, newspaper seedling pots, plastic pots from landscaping transplant purchases and even toilet paper rolls (for carrots) along with traditional pots. Almost any vegetables that you want to plant from seeds will benefit from a head start in the greenhouse. The only things that won’t do well are things that thrive in the cool spring soil – things like potatoes, peas and lettuces are all cool weather plants and will enjoy being outdoors in the spring. Just read up about what you’re planting and if it is a cool weather plant or something that you can plant in the ground before the last frost, it probably doesn’t need to be in the greenhouse.

You will be surprised at how warm your greenhouse will become. Once all of the various pots and trays are in and watered and the greenhouse is closed up, it will start warming in the sun and the humidity level will rise. Once this happens – and you’ll know because of the condensation on the sides of the greenhouse – limit the time the greenhouse is open. Leaving the door open for 30 minutes might seem like a good idea but it will completely unbalance the humidity and send you back early to water your plants an extra time or two.

While the plants are in the greenhouse, if you just peek in to check on them, it might seem like the soil is always damp because it will look dark. You need to take the time to feel the soil until you get an idea of how often your particular set up needs to be watered. The soil may always look dark from the humidity in the air but underneath the surface it could be dry.
Once you have sprouted your spring vegetables you can continue to use your greenhouse to grow plants that thrive in more tropical climates throughout the summer months. You can also use it to extend the life of your garden well into the fall.