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Alternatives to Greenhouses  RSS feed

 
                              
Posts: 23
Location: Monmouth County, New Jersey
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I want to first state my underlying reason for possibly buying a greenhouse --- I want to grow seedlings in flats and transplant them into raised beds by the time spring rolls around.  From what I've been reading, giving seeds a head start is more advantageous than sowing directly (germination rates, etc.)

I also want to state that I am not trying to grow watermelons through January. 

With that being said, are there any good alternative ways to grow seedlings without the use of a greenhouse, and if so do you folks have any suggestions? Or would the easiest thing for me to do is purchase a basic one?

I live in Central New Jersey and I do not know what my hardiness zone is - by the time May rolls around its 50-60 and very beautiful out everyday and that lasts until mid-to-late September.

Ok, so before I decided to post this topic, I searched through the site to try to see if any threads on this topic already existed.

The most relevant thread was the very recent "greenhouse suck factor" which kind of quickly spiraled into a political debate about people being stupid, Home Depot, recycling materials, refusing greenhouses altogether, greenhouses in Northern climates, Middle East gas (?), etc. etc.    Not exactly a discussion about alternatives, but I guess that wasn't the point of the thread to begin with.

Anyways, I wanted to fully research the idea first before I went right out and bought a $600-$1300 greenhouse online or elsewhere.  It's a fairly expensive investment, and there are many things to consider as well: size, type of frame (wood, aluminum), type of cover (glass, polycarbonate, plastic), hydraulic vents, electric heaters, solar generator, hydroponics system, air filtration, building my own possibly, and so on and so on.

What I learned from reading through a little more than half of "greenhouse suck factor" was that greenhouses can be detrimental to new seedlings if the temperature inside them is not closely monitored and maintained, and if the greenhouse temperature is allowed to fluctuate frequently, it can quickly kill flat seeds.

I also read Paul and maybe some others saying that using a greenhouse to grow seedlings is like hiring a limousine driver to take you down to the local park in your town for a few hours.

My thoughts on buying a greenhouse stemmed from just wanting to have a convenient "place" to grow and keep my seeds and protect them from would be seed-eaters (bunnies, squirrels).  Flats can be kind of messy too since they need to be watered everyday, so leaving them inside would not be the cleanest way (and my dog would also want to "help me garden" if you know what I mean).  I do have a small porch attached to the house, so I guess leaving the seedlings outside during the day would be the most obvious option, but again temperatures can still be freezing in NJ during the months of February and March.  This would be where a slightly heated greenhouse would benefit.

The last frost date in my area is basically April 1st, and I wanted to be transplanting cool season veggies (that had grown to good seedling size) by that date, thus growing the seeds in flats 4-6 weeks prior. 

I was checking out the Mike Oerher (sp?) greenhouse manual.  That seemed pretty innovative, but I don't know if I want to dig up my backyard to build an underground greenhouse.

Again, anyone have any suggestions or alternatives?

Or should I just go buy a greenhouse and figure it out myself?
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
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Hum.... I'm with you, I respect the positive/useful suggestion over the intellectual argument any day.

For myself, I do not like stand-alone greenhouses at any price, but that's just me.  I think for that much money (or that much digging) one should get much much than just a greenhouse.  So I prefer half a greenhouse attached to the main house acting as a sun room, or a house addition with lots of glass on the south side, or enclose a true porch with glass.... you get the idea.

This way the house gets solar gain, the seeds get a safe home and the people get a space addition to the house.

I  do not know if this is a possible option for your living situation, but I thought I'd throw it out there anyway. 

 
                                  
Posts: 6
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.....  Or a "grow light" set up in the heated garage or basement or workshop.  I love Mike Oehlers earth sheltered green house, but to me it would seem that the best location for that might be uphill from the underground....  Oooops.... earth integrated house. 
 
Jeffrey Lando
Posts: 31
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It's technically underground!  B/c ground is "above the house" and the house is "under the ground".  Integrated sounds more like a bermed house with conventional roof.  Ah words...and their interpretation

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22183
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Have you seen the video I took of mike oehler's greenhouse:

http://www.youtube.com/paulwheaton12#p/u/7/-hV8Teiskfo

Or, how about the video of a rocket mass heater designed to heat a greenhouse:

http://www.youtube.com/paulwheaton12#p/u/2/qtFvdMk3eLM

As for alternatives to greenhouses ... well, one thing I think about a fair amount is the idea of a greywater system that goes to a greenhouse.  Not for the sake of having the greenhouse as much as for the sake of eating pee and the other stuff that comes out of a house (except poop). 

I suppose there could be another form of greenhouse about that does a few more things. 

The bottom line is that if I were to build a greenhouse - any greenhouse, it would definitely be using oehler's designs.

 
Michael Hansen
Posts: 27
Location: NW Michigan
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I'm no expert, but if sprouting seedlings is your only goal, something like this might work out.

http://www.bikudo.com/product_search/details/108557/disposable_plastic_food_container_fruit_box.html

Or possibly building a long box with windowed doors set in at an angle that you could just set seed trays inside and close the door. Like a mini greenhouse.
 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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That $600 to $1300 you mentioned could also buy several years worth of seedlings at an organic nursery. 

Could you add wire hoops and plastic right over your raised beds?
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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heres my two cents....

here we built a greenhouse and use it for the purpose you want. propagation and also a little food grown. we start seeds in late winter to put out in spring.

some things i would suggest are first off. dont go buy a pre made greenhouse, you wont get the efficiency you want from it without buying heaters, coolers, blah blah blah. the things they want you to buy.

i suggest building your own, its really not that hard. we built ours in a weekend with 3 people, and its really complex. building your greenhouse to your specific site is much more preferred to get what you want out of it. i would look into solar greenhouses and like mentioned ones connected to a south facing wall of a house. a solar greenhouse with a good thermal mass will not have to be heated in the winter.

and once again, design your greenhouse to your specific location. you will be much happier in the end.
 
                              
Posts: 23
Location: Monmouth County, New Jersey
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To Soil and everyone,

A few questions:

What types of materials (frame / covering) did you use when building your greenhouse?
How much did you ultimately spend to build yours?
Is your greenhouse solar?

And what does a solar greenhouse necessarily suggest?  Aren't all greenhouses solar?  Is there a difference between a 'greenhouse' and a 'solar greenhouse'?

Could you clarify a bit?  And would you perhaps have pictures of your greenhouse you could post? If not, no biggy.

Here are a few youtube clips and images from google - some way more elaborate and complex than others.  I put "solar" in quotations since, as I understand it, all greenhouses are basically solar.  Is there a difference between a greenhouse and a "solar" greenhouse?  According to the articles I posted at the bottom, the answer is no; they are essentially the same thing (that is, at least I think so).  The difference among greenhouses is whether they are passive or active, regarding the way in which they are heated.

PICTURES
"Solar" Greenhouse #1
"Solar" Greenhouse #2
"Solar" Greenhouse #3
"Solar" Greenhouse #4
"Solar" Greenhouse #5
"Solar" Greenhouse #6
"Solar" Greenhouse #7

VIDEOS
"Solar" Greenhouse #1
"Solar" Greenhouse #2

Wow, while I was posting all of these links, I tripped upon these free plans for building one yourself ... (this is a little much, but i really like the idea) ... Also, I don't own my own house yet; I'm 27, and I'm working in my family's back yard.
Free Solar Greenhouse Plans
Free Solar Greenhouse Plans (Image)
Solar Greenhouse Basics

Any thoughts?
 
tel jetson
steward
Posts: 3381
Location: woodland, washington
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a solar greenhouse is heated by sunlight, generally in combination with some sort of thermal battery to cover the sun-free times, such as night.  other greenhouses are heated by propane, electricity, wood fire, compost, geothermal heat, composting shit, chickens, et cetera.

I'm building a greenhouse because I am not willing to give up citrus and bananas and mangosteens and miracle fruit and passionfruit and...
 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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pstajk,

I added one similar to the plans you found to a house I remodeled in southwest washington state.     
http://www.hobby-greenhouse.com/SOLAR.JPG
The north wall was attached to the house and heavily insulated.  Gravel over large rocks for a floor created a solar mass.    A solid roof extended partially to the south to shade out the high summer sun.  It had an exterior door on one end and the other end opened into the kitchen.   A true zone 1.   With the kitchen door open heat and the rich smells of things growing came into the house and on rare frosty nights [near the ocean] the home heated the greenhouse.   
I think a sun tempered greenhouse attached to a home is wonderful.   Wish I had one now.
 
                                
Posts: 148
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It really boils down to how many flats will you be starting. What kind of plants are they? Broccoli has different needs than tomatoes for instance.
 
                              
Posts: 23
Location: Monmouth County, New Jersey
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You name it - I wanna grow it.  Everything from cool weather crops, to compost crops, to calorie crops, to fruits, veggies

corn, beans, wheat, sorghum, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, fruit trees

My folks have about a half to a full acre to situate in terms of garden design.  I said bring on the chickens and the well.

My end goal or plans would be to create 40 100 sq. ft. raised garden beds (maybe more).  I'm trying to just start with 3-5 100 sq. ft. raised garden beds.

So maybe like 15-20 flats to start and with the intent to expand ...
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
12
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What types of materials (frame / covering) did you use when building your greenhouse?


we actually used old doors that are 90% window. someone was going to throw them away after an old house was being taken down.

Is your greenhouse solar?


it is not because the owners here went with looks over function, but i can tell you without a doubt in my mind a solar greenhouse would have been 10x better. and cheaper.

How much did you ultimately spend to build yours?


because i had to go looks over function it ended up being more expensive than i planned but still came out to about 400$ for a 16w x 20l x 14h glass greenhouse. that would have cost a few thousand dollars from a greenhouse store. if we went for a solar greenhouse the cost would have been around 250$

And what does a solar greenhouse necessarily suggest?  Aren't all greenhouses solar?  Is there a difference between a 'greenhouse' and a 'solar greenhouse'?


maybe passive solar greenhouse is a better word for them. i suggest you do some research on the subject there is a lot of info out there on them.

here are some links for you, the first is a bit easy to take in, the second gets technical about it

http://aes.missouri.edu/bradford/education/solar-greenhouse/solar-greenhouse.php
http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/solar-gh.html
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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Rob over at "One Straw" has been doing a lot of work on that lately.

He sprouted some flats of seedlings on a big compost pile inside a hoop house, built a large frame out of straw bales, bamboo, and salvaged glass, and tried out mini tunnel row covers. If it's just for starting flats and to speed composting/worm breeding (they go together), small might be beautiful for you. From his writing, it sounds like he's excited by all of those techniques.

There are also lots of methods to allow planting in place. Hugelkultur, land shaping, cloches...a whole thread full of options here.

A middle way might be to start some plants inside very early and plant them out into modified circumstances, while others are sown directly with some measures taken to speed germination in place and a second round are started inside to be planted when the weather doesn't require protection. That would mean less space needed, and would spread the work over a longer period of time.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22183
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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One alternative to a greenhouse is:  no greenhouse at all.  I think it is in the permaculture forum where we are talking about how sepp holzer has moved away from using greenhouses.  He starts all of his plants from seed where they are gonna grow.  So, a tomato seed is planted outside - not pots or transplanting.

Plus, one mission for having a greenhouse is to extend the season.  And another way to extend the season is to use raised beds.  Sepp will make his raised beds six feet tall!

 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
Posts: 489
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Here's a book that you should be able to find used - it's been around for decades -

http://www.amazon.com/Solar-Gardening-Vegetables-Year-Round-Independent/dp/0930031695

This guy developed a growing system using what he calls solar appliances - basically individual garden beds with various kinds of protection. Very interesting. Also, about the same era, Rodale invented what they called a solar pod, which is also a structure that protects a garden bed. That book regularly turns up used as well.

Eliot Coleman's books also talk about non-greenhouse ideas, he is a commercial grower and is very cost/benefit conscious. Your local library might have copies.

You don't say where you are, but if you are in the PNW, chances are a simple hoop structure covered with plastic will do you just fine. I attended a small farm conference a while back, and some folks from Michigan (I think) were growing greens and berry crops in a single-layer unheated plastic hoophouse, and producing nearly year-round. Some of the hoophouse beds had additional plastic layers over them.

If you can't find a local person doing what you want to do, so you can copy their ideas, why not just experiment with a covered raised bed, and see how it works for you and for what you want to do? Start simple and evolve, that's how Ma does it.

Also, for seed starting, google "winter seed sowing". Works extremely well for folks, and is very little work. GardenWeb has an entire, very active forum devoted to just this.

But I am gonna have a real greenhouse someday. No other way to get a real crop of lemons. Yes, I saw Sepp's picture of the lemon he grows outside in the Alps. Poor thing.



 
Max Kennedy
Posts: 483
Location: Englehart, Ontario, Canada
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Many alternatives for this type of thing have been explored on the "build it Solar" website (http://www.builditsolar.com/). Have a look.  Many other goodies as well.
 
Robert Ray
gardener
Posts: 1351
Location: Cascades of Oregon
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An aquaintance always puts his potted roses over his septic tank and covers them with a tarp when winter comes. I'm going to try a cold frame this year over my tank once it warms up a bit. I walk by it everyday when feeding the animals and can see that there is a free heat source just begging to be used.
 
Matt Smith
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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We just completed the first phase of construction on a large-ish passive solar greenhouse this past year. I learned a lot in the process and would be happy to compare notes with you. PM me if you'd like.
 
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