I will be the first to admit, I am not the quickest learner in the group, but some things come easier than others. This will be our third year with a greenhouse, and let me tell you, there was a learning curve, for sure, and I was behind it much of the time.
We bought our greenhouse from a neighbor down the road. It was six years old and still standing in the neighbor’s backyard. It was an aluminum frame teardrop-shaped house, 14 feet by 20 feet, not too big to handle. I have, however, learned a few things that might help others in their quest to be self-sufficient. Here are a few things I learned.
1. The first year is a test. Try a little bit of everything.
Don’t plan on making much money yet, because you just don’t know what will grow and make money for you.
When we set up the first year, I grew a few late-season veggies, mostly heirloom tomatoes, hoping to have them through October without much extra work. Those tomatoes took over the greenhouse, and what’s worse, they seeded themselves the next year, and cropped up everywhere on our mulch-filled floor. This year they still were coming up, so I filled four flats of the heirloom tomatoes, and sold them for a buck a piece. If you can’t beat them, join them, I guess.
2. Use rainwater if you can.
The difference, as many of you know, between feeding your plants with well water or hose water and using caught rain is huge. I found out quickly, because my plants grow almost twice as fast on rainwater.
We found two 175 gallon molasses containers at the sweetener plant, and are now attaching them to our dairy barn, way up high so we can run a hose out to the greenhouse. Until I get that job done, we are catching in 50 gallon drums and bucketing our water. What we found out: We can catch 350 gallons of rainwater off our 50 feet by 36 feet barn roof in just under an hour in a normal rain, about a quarter inch of constant rain fills our barrels to the brim, and that will last for a month.
3. Don’t try to heat your whole greenhouse.
Our second year with the greenhouse, I started 2,000 seeds inside our house on Feb. 1, and by March 1 they were taking over our home and getting leggy. One day in early March, I took them all out to the greenhouse, and set up a propane heater to keep them warm. We had a week of below freezing weather, and I spent $25 a day in propane, finally giving up. We lost 1,000 plants that year, so this year we started just a bit later, starting with only 500 seeds, staggering planting each week. As the plants got leggy, I put all our tables together in the middle of the greenhouse. I built a hoop over the table with half inch PVC, and threw plastic over all my babies on the table. Then I put a small electric bathroom heater under the hoop with them, turned it on low and I had a tropical paradise for my baby plants. The temp stayed above 70 degrees, while the temp inside the greenhouse was in the teens and twenties. I was nervous as the first electric bill came, but this process only raised our bill by $10 per month. I think I will try solar power to run the lights and heater next year.
These are just a few of the things I have learned so far, but mostly I have been having great fun learning.