For those of us living in areas not blessed with a long growing season, we have to get creative. While many people do not have the space or resources to build a full-fledged greenhouse to extend their growing seasons, there are some handy alternatives in the form of mini-greenhouses that come in all shapes and sizes, built with a variety of different materials and supplies. Lets take a look at some of the ways you can transfer the concept of a greenhouse into a workable garden solution.
Raised Garden Beds
Raised gardens can immediately extend your growing season. The fantastic thing about this method of growing is that you can use literally anything you have to raise your garden beds and create insulation for your soil. Railroad ties to used tires all have equal potential for creating your own raised garden bed. An added bonus is the opportunity to reuse and upcycle items you already have and are not using for other purposes.
Cold frames are usually raised above ground as well, but in addition, these makeshift greenhouses have lids with windows. These can be used for starters in the early spring, skipping the indoor stage altogether. They can be built as boxes with bottoms or frames that can be placed over actual garden space and later removed when the weather warms in the late spring. Alternatively, they can be used in the fall to extend the growing seasons of many plants or even into the winter to shelter hardier plants like onions. The main function of these devices is to protect plants from the elements (ice, snow, and wind) while trapping in the sun’s heat coming through the window.
There are a number of ways that you can increase the solar power established through the use of windows. You can paint plastic milk jugs or kitty litter containers black, fill them with water, and place them in the corners of your frame. This will allow for added moisture and heat retention. In a similar fashion, you can use painted black rocks placed sporadically among your plants as what are referred to as “solar pillows” to help your makeshift greenhouse do its job.
Alternatively, some gardeners use plastic instead of windowed lids for their cold frames, which works just as effectively with hardier plants or slightly warmer climates.
Moving your garden indoors is not quite as daunting as it may sound. Indoor gardening offers the possibility of fresh produce all throughout the winter, and the concept works similar to the greenhouse method. You’ll want to begin by establishing where you want to set up your garden. Ideally you will want an area that is always between sixty and eighty degrees; basements, heated garages, and sheds all work well for this method.
Next you will want to ensure that you have proper lighting for growing indoors. Plant lights are available at all home and garden centers, and these florescent or LED lights mimic the sun’s light.
Using benching or shelves is ideal for this process. Plants or seeds can be established in potting beds and should be arranged near an empty electrical outlet that can be used for the sole purpose of lighting. Lights should be placed just a few inches above the top row of plants.
Finally, when building your mini-greenhouse indoors, you may want to invest in a heating pad for your plants. Some models come equipped with adjustable controls to ensure that you have just the right temperature for your various plants.
Small Outdoor Plant Starters
If a mini-greenhouse or cold frame takes up too much valuable yard space and indoor gardening is not an option, you can always use the greenhouse concept on an even smaller scale. Cloches are a wonderful alternative to indoor seed-starters. By placing your plants directly into the ground early in the growing season, these domed minis are perfect for extending your growing season by several weeks. An alternative version can be made from plastic soda bottles for indoor or outdoor use.
Thinking Outside Of The Box
With a little bit of creativity and knack for coming up with fun, frugal alternatives to greenhouses, your possibilities for creating an incredible mini-greenhouse are literally limitless. There are a few things to keep in mind when tackling a greenhouse of your own design. First you will want to ensure that your area is closed in completely. This can be accomplished with glass, plastic, wood or a combination of materials. You also want to ensure that your enclosure has plenty of light, meaning it should only use solid materials such as wood for a frame and not the walls or roof. Leave as much flat surface open to the sunlight as possible to ensure maximum heating and moisture retention.
Using scrap materials, such as windows leftover from renovations or demolitions can be obtained for free or very low cost, especially during the construction seasons. Speaking with a contractor or construction company regarding windows or doors that they plan on throwing away could be a fantastic opportunity to recycle and find building material for a great greenhouse. You can make a greenhouse almost entirely from window frames.
Similarly, using old picture frames can be a great way to make a smaller indoor (or even outdoor) greenhouse for plants that are partial to humid, hot air. Imagine the creativity that could be poured into this project, complete with paint, style, and arrangement. The possibilities are limitless.
What about thinking even further out of the box? Applying the greenhouse concept to non-traditional items being thrown away or sold at auction is a perfect way to create something new and different that will perfectly for your gardening needs.
Do-It-Yourself Greenhouses: Tradition Meets Unconventional
The world is your oyster when it comes to building alternative greenhouses. While they serve a functional purpose and allow you to significantly extend your growing season, they are also a fantastic opportunity to reuse or recycle items that may otherwise find new refuge in a landfill. The fantastic thing about doing the project yourself is that your greenhouse then becomes fully customizable. You can make it as big or as little as you desire, completed as simply or intricately as you want it to be. Best of all? You get tasty produce as a result, all winter long.
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