Sunday, April 1, 2018

Greenhouse Travails: How do I make this thing functional?

93°F, and it wasn't even that sunny. Yikes!

I've been trying to figure out how to make the most of my new 4'x6' greenhouse, and it's been a saga of uncertainty and adjustments. I hope I'm on the right track though.

Here's a timeline of my progress:

August 2017: Brand-new and all in one piece. What could go wrong?

October 2017: Knowing the fierce winds on my hilltop location, I had the foresight to get my builder to make a solid base to attach the greenhouse frame to the south side of my garage. So the frame stayed in place. The same can't be said for the polycarbonate panels and the door (seen leaning inside), all of which blew off in what was actually not a very high wind.
They were strewn across the lawn. Sigh.

November 2017: I used two rolls of tape to bind the polycarbonate panels in place.

March 2018: Last month, since a few panels continued to come loose despite the tape, I wrapped the entire lower part of the greenhouse in a single 15-foot-long sheet of heavy plastic. Not pretty, but now the lower panels aren't going anywhere.

March 2018: I also adjusted the automatic vent window opener, so that it would close all the way at night, but open during sunny days. These are pretty cool: some kind of expanding material pushes open a piston that levers open the window --
no batteries necessary.

March 24, 2018: I installed a small heater, and began to experiment with how high to
set it to keep the temperature above 50°F at night, but not too warm.
(Embarrassingly, the first few nights I didn't realize the extension cord wasn't plugged into
the outlet in the garage, so the heater wouldn't come on no matter how high I set it.
Plugging it in really helped -- all part of the learning curve....)  :-)

March 31, 2018: One of the top panels blew partly out in a storm the night before, and needed
to be taped more securely. But by this point, the greenhouse was staying above 50° at night,
and was nice to sit in during sunny days (the overturned bucket with paving stone on top
at lower right is my makeshift seat -- I read in there for a while and it was quite pleasant).

April 1, 2018: 64° is much more acceptable -- although the 104° high from the previous day is somewhat worrying.
I wonder how accurate the thermometer is though.

April 1, 2018: Since the next ten days are forecast to be overcast and cold, and the greenhouse
shouldn't get too hot during the day, I decided to throw caution to the winds,
and moved some potted starts from my basement into my new operational greenhouse!

I've only moved things in that aren't too sensitive to low temps, in case the heater should fail or heat the greenhouse inconsistently. As spring progresses, I think I'll be able to move more warm-season starts in there.

And I will definitely have to open the door on sunny days to prevent the temperature inside from soaring to 100°F. I've ordered another thermometer to check the accuracy of the one I have.

I've also ordered and should receive in a few days:

1. An inexpensive remote thermometer with alarm, so if the heater or electricity fails, I will be alerted. I'll sleep better at night.
2. An electricity usage monitor, so I can calculate how much it costs to heat the greenhouse.

I'm determined to make a go of using a greenhouse, despite my total lack of experience and the many challenges. How can I call myself a real gardener if I've never grown anything in a greenhouse? (Even a very modest 4'x6' plastic greenhouse like mine?)

My learning curve will continue as spring progresses -- stay tuned for further adventures in greenhouse growing.

Hope you will enjoy warm spring days in your gardens soon. Thanks for reading! -Beth

On a more cheerful note: I found these pansies in a local greenhouse, and they are highly scented. Since it's still too cold for them outside, I put them on my kitchen windowsill, where I can enjoy their bright, cheery color and lovely fragrance up close for a week or so. Soon we'll enjoy this kind of color outside too!


  1. What an experience you have already had with your greenhouse. Tonight is the first night we are going to have freezing weather and we have a small heater in place. So far it's kept the house around 50 degrees with wind chills outside in the high twenties. My greenhouse also got to 100 degrees on a sunny day..we open the doors. Will be checking back as we are in a learning curve too..need all the help I can get! Happy Gardening!

    1. Hi Sonia, I hope your greenhouse is doing what you want it to in both the cold night temps and the hot sunny days. All we can do is observe and learn (and panic occasionally!). Thanks for stopping by! -Beth

  2. Gardening is a real learning experience in many ways. Thank you for sharing the challenges that you have faced and overcome with setting up and using your new greenhouse. It will be a satisfying resource in the days to come. Wishing you good, productive times as you garden in the coming months. Meanwhile plants indoors such as your pretty pansies give so much pleasure. Happy Spring Bank Holiday!

    1. Thanks so much for your well wishes, Linda and I hope your Bank Holiday was enjoyable. Thanks for reading! Best, -Beth

  3. How fun! I've found that one of the most important things to have for a greenhouse is a shade cloth for summer. Without it, the plants get cooked! You'll probably have much more luck than me with keeping it warm in the winter, with it being right next to the house. Good luck!

    1. Hi Indie, That's a really good idea, the shade cloth. I'm not sure where I'll find one, and I probably won't use the greenhouse after May, but it's still something I will try to add. Thanks! Best Regards, -Beth

    2. You can find white shade cloth online at places like Amazon, but yeah, if you aren't using it through summer you probably won't need it. A great place to put your spring seedlings, though!

    3. I'll look on Amazon -- Thanks again, Indie! :-)

  4. I am doing some experimentation of my own with a recently purchased small cold frame. It seems to retain heat much better than withstanding cold. There was frost in it the other day when it went from warm one day to cold the next.

    Today we're getting snow. I'm so over Winter and very ready for Spring. The weather needs to settled down so I can transplant my snapdragons and stock out this week!

    1. Hi Br. Placidus, Great to hear from you! So glad to see you're still posting about your flower and other gardens on your blog. We got a couple more inches here too, and a few flakes are still falling. :-( I too am so sick of winter and am greatly looking forward to spring, whenever it finally arrives. Good luck with your transplants! Best, -Beth

  5. I admire your determination, Beth. Look forward to following the rest of the saga. I'm working with coldframes and a greenhouse-like area of my potting shed. If only spring would arrive! P. x