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Greenhouses And Greenhouse Alternatives. What to choose?

Greenhouses are used to create a protected growing environment for tender plants and seedlings. There are many different kinds to choose from, available in all shapes and sizes, so in order to buy the right greenhouse, consider your growing requirements.

By the way, the idea of growing plants in environmentally controlled areas has existed since Roman times. The Roman emperor Tiberius ate a cucumber-like vegetable daily. So, the Roman gardeners used artificial methods (similar to the greenhouse system) of growing to have it available for his table every day of the year. Cucumbers were planted in wheeled carts which were put in the sun daily, then taken inside to keep them warm at night. The cucumbers were stored under frames or in cucumber houses glazed with either oiled cloth known as specularia or with sheets of selenite (a.k.a. lapis specularis), according to the description by Pliny the Elder.

If you cannot afford to buy or build a freestanding all-purpose greenhouse at the moment, there are several main types of greenhouse alternatives, which can help you in growing different plants: cold frames, polythene tunnels, mini or portable greenhouses and lean-to greenhouses.

Cold frames are designed for direct seed germination and for hardening off transplants. Cold frames are primarily used in early spring to get seedlings to sprout and take root, to introduce the plant to the outside gradually, enabling it to adapt better. Cold frames are set directly on a garden bed and can be moved to different beds to follow the spring planting schedule.

Polythene garden tunnels (polytunnels) are used to grow summer crops, such as tomatoes, or cucumbers, they are great for protecting hearty greens like kale, collards, and spinach from cold weather and wind, but are rather unsightly and not usually economical to heat and keep frost-free over winter. Although they can be used for growing hardy winter crops such as lettuces, or beets, they cannot be used for overwintering tender plants. Garden grow tunnels can be low and high. High tunnels offer plants protection from wet, saturated soils and low temperatures in the spring and fall, thereby extending the gardening season. Low tunnels warm the soil and provide a temperate micro-climate for growing vegetables. Even though there may be snow on the ground, the temperature under the low tunnel is often just right for growing cool season vegetables

Mini or portable greenhouses are used to propagate seeds and starter plants before they are transplanted outdoors. Usually such greenhouses are tall, plastic-covered, boxes (with shelves) and are open at the front. They can also be indoor or outdoor, smaller variants can be covered with glass. Such mini-greenhouses are used if you are tight for space or are not allowed to build permanent structures on your allotment. So, they are also can be called Patio Greenhouses and Allotment Greenhouses. They often have clear or semi-diffused coverings, since the direct light favors seed propagation. Mini-greehouses are ideal for summer crops of plants too tall for cold frames, such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes. This type is a lot cheaper than a proper glass greenhouse.

Lean-to greenhouses are often used when there is not enough space in the garden for a freestanding all-purpose greenhouse. Also it is cheaper and easier to keep warm. Consider making use of a back or side wall with a lean-to greenhouse. They can have wooden or aluminum frames, with glass, polyethylene or polycarbonate materials, with venting, heating, or insulation. They can also be build similar to mini-greenhouses with just aluminum frames and polycarbonate panels.

Freestanding all-purpose greenhouses are larger greenhouses, more expensive, often with adjustable shelving, for growing crops full-term indoors under shelter. They can have wooden or aluminum frames, with glass, polyethylene or polycarbonate materials, with venting, heating, or insulation. These are all-purpose greenhouses are good for propagating seeds, great for indoor growing of crops, and spacious enough for curing harvested crops and preparing them for storage.

When choosing your greenhouse, remember the experienced gardener’s rule: “Buy one size bigger than you planned.” Over a short period of time you will fill it up, especially over winter. Happy gardening! 🙂


Are you growing your vegetables and other crops in a greenhouse? Share your experience in the comments after the article!