Beginners Guide to Greenhouses

A Beginner’s Guide to Greenhouses

There comes a time in every plant parent’s life when we start to get curious and excited about having a dedicated space for all of our plants. If you’re an outdoor gardener, the promise of a greenhouse for seed starts and overwintering plants is even more exciting!

If you feel like you’re ready to take the leap of installing a greenhouse – whether it’s a small kit, or a large structure in your backyard – consider this blog a beginner’s guide to building the greenhouse of your dreams!

This blog is inspired by Episode 151 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Patrick Grubbs, founder of Greenhouse Info

Do Greenhouses Need Permits? 

Before you even begin shopping for greenhouses, you need to consider licensing and permitting. In the US, we have two authorities you should keep in mind when you’re building a greenhouse: zoning regulations and building codes. Almost always, you can simply contact your local government office and they’ll be able to tell you all of the required permits for an accessory building with a permanent foundation. 

The one exception? If you’re getting a small greenhouse (or a cold frame) where you don’t need to set up a foundation, those generally aren’t regulated since they aren’t really considered permanent structures. Usually, these are cheaper greenhouse kits that cost about $500 or less. 

What’s the Best Greenhouse Construction Material?

Here are the pros and cons to each type of greenhouse material to help you choose the best option for your space. 

Glass is a classic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: it lasts forever and is easy to maintain. It’s a great long-term option for permanent greenhouses.
  • Cons: it’s expensive, fragile, and not a great insulator in general. Insulation is really important for greenhouses, especially if you’re in a Northern climate. 

Polycarbonate is one of the most common greenhouse materials. 

  • Pros: it’s strong, durable, and much lighter than glass. 
  • Cons: it starts to yellow and degrade after about 10 years, reducing the amount of light to your plant. Opt for the UV resistant choice to help it last longer. 

Acrylic is another common greenhouse material (brand names like plexiglass). 

  • Pros: strong and durable
  • Cons: fairly expensive and heavy, contracts with temperature fluctuations so you may need a special mounting solution to attach it. 

Polyethylene is another plastic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: can buy rolls of plastic to replace material
  • Cons: flimsy plastic, likely only used as a temporary material as it’s really only good for one season

Should I use a Greenhouse Kit or DIY My Own Greenhouse?

For a beginner greenhouse hobbyist, a kit is a great option. It’s more affordable, has instructions, and great to start with. A smaller 6’ x 8’ kit that doesn’t need a foundation is a good option and will take a few hours to put together with a group of helpers. Once you get into more of the reclaimed windows and doors for a do-it-yourself greenhouse, carpentry skills are much more of a necessity. 

If you want a permanent structure with a foundation and electricity, it might be time to look into other options outside of kits. This kind of project could require a backhoe, 6’ holes, and electrical wiring to get it up and running. 

How Much Should I Pay for a Beginner Greenhouse? 

A standard 6’ by 8’ greenhouse kit is one of the cheapest starter greenhouses you can get. These kits will probably run you about $500 to $600 for a new kit. Pro tip: check Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for used greenhouses–you’ll often find some great options for a fraction of the cost. 

When you consider the extra components you need to buy, like fans and heaters, it’ll probably end up costing you around a thousand dollars for a very entry-level greenhouse that will satisfy.

What Direction Should My Greenhouse Face? 

The point of a greenhouse is to capture the heat from the sunlight and maximize the exposure your plants get. The best way to do that in the Northern hemisphere is to align the roof of your greenhouse going East to West. That will ensure you get the maximum amount of sun in both Winter and Summer. Keep in mind that this is the reverse if you’re in the Southern hemisphere.

 

What Kind of Floor Should My Greenhouse Have? 

The primary consideration for your greenhouse flooring is drainage. If you have a big greenhouse, you might have a foundation underneath like a concrete slab. And in this case, you need to be sure that any water you pour in your greenhouse can get out.

If you don’t have a foundation, you still have the same consideration regarding drainage, it’s just much easier to handle. It can be as simple as concrete pavers with gravel in between. That provides a flat surface, it’s easy to clean and walk on, and it’s stable. Since there’s space in between the pavers, there’s room for water to drain into the ground.

Greenhouse Ventilation Requirements

Greenhouses are super effective at their jobs. They can raise the temperature anywhere from five to 30 degrees Fahrenheit greater than the ambient temperature. You could very easily cook your plants if you don’t have proper ventilation. 

The first thing you need to do for all of your greenhouse air conditioning needs is to calculate the total volume of your greenhouse. Multiply the length times the width times 1.5 of the height, which accounts for the volume that isn’t really there at the top. This number will tell you the cubic feet of air in your greenhouse. 

You’re going to reference this number whenever you’re looking at ventilation or heating options. You want to try to cycle all of the air in your greenhouse in one minute. If you have a 10’ by 10’ by 10’ greenhouse, that equals 1,000 cubic feet of air. You then need to find an exhaust fan that is rated to push 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute. 

Greenhouse Fans

There are a couple types of fans for greenhouses. First is a shop fan or a desk fan, which works for pushing air around, but it’s not the most effective way to cool a greenhouse. 

And second is an exhaust fan that’s set into the walls of your greenhouse and moves air from inside to outside and vice versa. Usually these fans come in pairs so you can put one on each side of the greenhouse to circulate air efficiently. 

Greenhouse Vents

There are many different kinds of greenhouse vents, but the best options are solar vents. They have wax inside of them that expands and contracts when it gets warm, which automatically opens and closes the vents with no electricity. Most greenhouse kits you buy probably won’t have any ventilation built in, so make sure to factor that into the cost of building a greenhouse. 

Ventilation is a necessity for a greenhouse in order to control the humidity, temperature, and air flow. Plan to incorporate fans and vents for proper greenhouse ventilation. 

Managing Humidity and Mold in Your Greenhouse

Ventilation is your number one defense against humidity. A trick to dealing with root rot or mold is to have airflow underneath your pots.

Many greenhouses have plant benches and the bottom of the bench is actually a grate so air and water can freely flow through. This is important because it means the air accesses the plant roots, which is where plants take in most of their oxygen. Having that additional airflow dries out the potting media faster, which will help prevent mold and rot. 

What’s the Ideal Greenhouse Temperature and Humidity?

A good greenhouse temperature is around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but it all depends on what you’re growing. Opt for low humidity, especially in Summer, so temperatures are more bearable. 

To really control the temperature in your greenhouse, try a remote thermometer. It makes monitoring the temperature much easier, especially when dealing with snow and freezing outdoor temperatures. You can also plug all of your appliances into a smart plug bar. The bar allows you to connect to Bluetooth using an app, which helps you control temperature, light, and humidity from your phone. 

3 Beginner Greenhouse Tips from Patrick

Tip 1: A greenhouse isn’t necessarily the next step for improving your gardening skills. It’s a whole different category. Unfortunately growing in a greenhouse alone won’t make your plants healthier and happier: there’s a learning curve. Make sure you dial in the right parameters to optimize growth in your greenhouse to get those happy plants. 

Tip 2: You will deal with pests in greenhouses, but you have options. Greenhouses can actually give you enough space for a dedicated quarantine section of insect-ridden plants. You can use a corner shelf with all of your remedy supplies, far away from other plants. Put a sticky note with the date you placed it on the shelf, then transition it to the rest of your plants after about a month. 

You can also implement predatory insects in your greenhouse. Some great examples are ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Just make sure you’re not purchasing the invasive ladybug

Tip 3: If you’re not in a place in your life where you expect to be there for a while, then a greenhouse probably isn’t the best option. It’s a big investment in terms of money, time, and space. Many of them are at least a 10 year commitment unless you have a way to transport it. You still have options, like a cold frame or something a bit smaller like a grow tent.

To learn more about greenhouses, check out Patrick’s website Greenhouse Info.

*****

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Patrick Grubbs has a B.S. in Biology, where he fell in love with plants through his first botany class. He’s published aquatic ecology research and authored several books related to succulents and gardening pests. 

Patrick has spent a great deal of his career split between science communication and hands-on permaculture and ecology projects. His passion is teaching other people to enjoy plants and animals the same way he does.

​​Follow Patrick:

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Preserving Asian Heritage Through Seeds and Stories

Seeds not only provide us with food to eat, but they represent the future and allow us to reflect on our history. They are heirlooms, a connection to our ancestors and their stories. In this blog, we celebrate stories of Asian culture and connection to nature and food through seeds, with YC Miller from Kitazawa Seed Company

YC walks us through the importance of preserving our heritage through seeds with heartwarming stories from Kitazawa customers on how a simple vegetable can carry so much family history and pride. 

This blog is inspired by Episode 152 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed YC Miller from Kitazawa Seed Company

How Growing Food Can Reconnect Us with Our Heritage

YC didn’t grow up growing any Korean vegetables. Coming to them as an adult has played a huge part in how she has reconnected with their heritage.

Fifteen years ago, YC went on a heritage trip to Korea. For a portion of the trip, she worked on a farm. She recalls that experience as one of the first times she understood what roots really meant. It really spoke to YC’s soul about who she was as a person and created a deep sense of belonging. 

That moment served as an awakening of their heritage, but also a reconnection with food and the plants, vegetables, and agricultural practices that went along with that. Ever since then, it’s been a constant learning process through their work at Kitazawa Seed Company.

Many Americans, descendants of immigrants, share a similar experience in reconnecting with their culturally significant vegetables and stories of families bringing seeds over from their home countries. With their work at Kitazawa Seed Company, YC says it’s been a pleasure to be able to celebrate and honor that connection, and to be a source of seeds and food that help foster that connection.

How Two Brothers Built Kitazawa Seed Company

Kitazawa Seed Company was started by two brothers in 1917.  It is the oldest Asian seed company in the United States, specializing in Asian varieties. The brothers were selling seeds to Japanese farmers in California, and also providing traditional Japanese vegetable seeds to home gardeners who were growing them for their families and communities.

From 1942 to 1945 Kitazawa Seed Company was forced to abandon the business due to WWII. The Kitazawa family, along with all other Japanese-Americans, were moved and put into Relocation Camps during that time. The brothers restarted the business after the war. Many of their customers had relocated due to land ownership changes. This is when Kitazawa began selling and shipping seeds across the United States and really flourishing. It has continued the tradition of selling both to commercial farmers and to the home gardener. 

A major goal of Kitazawa has been to bring in seeds that are otherwise inaccessible. It started as a company that focused mostly on Japanese vegetables, because that was primarily the customer base. With waves of immigration from Asia to the United States, there’s been a changing demand for different kinds of Asian vegetables. Now Kitazawa has expanded its offerings to be able to provide vegetables for lots of different communities. 

Preserving Seed Diversity and the Immigrant Experience

Kitazawa strives to provide lots of hybrid seed varieties that are reliable, but they also value open pollinated varieties. If you were to grow an open pollinated squash variety in California and grow that same variety in New York, saving seeds year after year, those seeds would adapt to the different microclimates they were grown in. While they’re still the same variety of squash, certain traits would emerge, making them better suited for each region.

An interesting parallel to note is the similarity in the seed and the home grower who originally brought it to the United States. Seeds come from a different homeland and take on the soil, the air, and the sunshine from their new home. As seeds thrive, they continue to change and evolve. Similar to the immigrant experience in adapting to your new environment. 

As home gardeners, we may not think much about saving seeds. But it’s something YC highly encourages us to do to create more locally adapted, resilient seed varieties. 

Where and How Does Kitazawa Source Their Seed Varieties?

A lot of Kitazawa’s seeds are imported from Asia, where they have been working with many of the same reliable growers for decades. There are plans in place to consider more domestic production, especially considering supply chain issues and shipping. There are amazing people doing small batch seed production in the United States that are doing incredible work, specifically with landrace varieties. Landrace seeds have evolved traits naturally over time in response to growing conditions like pests, climate, and diseases in a specific location.

Kitazawa not only considers a particular variety, but also a high standard of quality when bringing in seeds. They grow out new varieties first so they can ensure the health and vigor of the seeds they offer to customers. The process can take several years to not only source the seed, but to also ensure the integrity of the seed packet they sell.

What Are the Differences Between Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino Eggplants?

One of Kitazawa’s new varieties is a Filipino eggplant. They have had customer requests for  years to carry a Filipino eggplant in their seed options. While they have lots of Japanese and Chinese eggplant varieties, none of them were quite right for their Filipino clientele. 

Traditionally, people think of a Japanese eggplant as being long, narrow, and purple. Generally the Japanese eggplants also have a purple calyx, which is the part of the eggplant that attaches to the stem. They are also quite firm with low moisture content, and often used for pickles. 

Chinese eggplants often have a green calyx and are lighter in color than the Japanese eggplants. Their texture is a bit creamier too.

The Filipino eggplant Kitazawa is sourcing is a greenish purple with a green and purple calyx. Generally, Filipino eggplants are more tender and a bit sweet. 

YC’s Recommended Kitazawa Varieties for Beginners

One of the great things about Asian vegetables is there’s such a huge diversity. There is something for everyone from the beginning gardener to the more experienced gardener and everyone in between.

For people who are just starting out, some of the easiest plants to get started are Asian herbs. There is a huge variety of Asian herbs from bunching onions that you can use in pretty much everything to Thai basil and all of the different kinds of perilla. 

And then there are types that YC would consider big payoff varieties. With a crop like peas, you can eat the shoots and the peas once they form. They’re easy to grow and you get a lot of vegetables for your effort. Japanese cucumbers are another wonderful option and fairly easy to grow with a trellis.

Kitazawa has a huge number of pak choi (or bok choy) available that can be easily grown in a container. They have a bunch of smaller varieties for small space growers. It’s a cold hardy vegetable you can grow in Spring and Fall. 

If that all sounds overwhelming, Kitazawa is always happy to give seed recommendations. You can give them a call and they’d be happy to help assist you. 

YC’s Favorite Recipe to Cook

Korean perilla is a Korean herb, and a very meaningful plant to YC personally, so it’s their go-to plant. She uses it in two ways: one, as a kind of lettuce wrap and two, she pickles it!

It’s really wonderful as a pickle or as a kimchi. Kitazawa carries many of the perilla varieties, including Japanese shiso, a Vietnamese variety, and a Korean variety. They’re also very easy to grow in containers! 

To learn more about different Asian recipes, check out the Kitazawa Recipe Blog

Visit  Kitazawa Seed Company

*****

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast 

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

YC Miller works for Kitazawa Seed Company, which specializes in offering the highest quality Asian seeds to delight the diverse palates of their customers. They offer over 500 seed varieties that produce dento yasai or traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan, to the Asian vegetables popularly found in farmers’ markets, specialty grocery stores, and restaurants. Now you can grow them in your kitchen garden, sell them at your garden center and grow them commercially.

​​Follow Kitazawa Seed Company:

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