Gardening has been at the top of many people’s hobbies this summer. But there is a way to keep that interest going and veggies in your fridge even until winter. Build a greenhouse.
“You can force bulbs, but greens like lettuce, a mesclun mix, kale, spinach, chards, radish, all the herbs and the root crops like carrots and even beets will grow,” said Suzanne Balet of Balet Flowers and Design in Saratoga Springs. “You can seed every two weeks and harvest in November.”
None of these crops require pollinators. Because they’re cold tolerant and as long as the outside temperatures don’t get below 25 degrees — you may have to throw a sheet over the plants, being inside a greenhouse will work, she said.
But where to find a greenhouse?
For Keith and Cindy Crandall, they looked no further than their garage. Last year, Crandall, a carpenter by trade, took his 10-foot-by-20-foot canvas picnic canopy and mounted it on aluminum pipes, got some plexiglass corrugated roofing from a local building supply store for the sides and roofing to create a 10-foot-by-12-foot structure. He used no published designs.
“There was stuff laying around,” Crandall said. “It just took a little ingenuity.”
They quickly discovered, however, that after they’d planted some squash and cucumber plants, without any bees or insects visiting the plants there was no fruit and then everything died from the heat that accumulated within the plastic enclosure.
So this year they changed things.
They opened the eaves to let in air; put up weed barrier on the interior of the roof to filter the sun; tore out the east side wall and put in bird netting; added two ceiling fans on a timer; put weed barrier on the dirt floor with two old carpet runners; and put in 2×4’s to anchor the corners cementing them in place. Plants were put in planters. And he added a grow light because the only actual sunlight they get is from the west side where his open door is.
The result amazed them.
“Everything is doing great,” Crandall said, eyeing the plants crawling across the floor and up the sides of the structure with yellow squash peeking through. “I talk to them every day.”
Next year, Cindy said, she’s going to start seeding flowers in January.
For those who don’t have talents in carpentry but are handy with tools, putting together a greenhouse kit is possible. Harbor Freight in Clifton Park has several including a 6’ x 8’, a 6’ x 10’ and a 10’ x 12’ kit, which come as corrugated plexiglass with aluminum frames and a sliding door. The smaller version has a ceiling vent and the larger kit has four vents.
According to Andrew, one of the store’s supervisors, the box is eight feet long and “one guy can carry it. It’s not heavy.” The structure is lightweight and is simple to put together as most of the pieces slide together. The polycarbonate panels are U.V coated, which helps cut down on glare.
These kits are supposed to be able to be erected in a weekend, but a YouTube video on the store’s website of a Virginia client who erected one of the kits himself says help may be needed. But Andrew said he’d recently sold two of the 6’ x 8’ kits, a popular size for local customers. Of course, as Crandall discovered, items like fans, barriers to shield the sun’s heat and putting plants in planters may need to be added.
If price is no object, take a look at the 24’ x 30’ greenhouse that Pitney Meadows Community Farm erected in 2019. Built by a crew from Atlas Greenhouses of Alapaha, Georgia, which specializes in educational greenhouses, the space has been used for children’s garden classes. This fall, because of the virus and with no classes, seedlings will be raised and later transferred to the complex’s other greenhouses, said Joyce Carroll, the Community Garden director.
Pitney received a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust to pay for the structure, whose base price on the Atlas website is about $18,000. Fans, tables, and a heating system were later added to make for year-round use.
But if all you want to raise is some greens this winter, take Balet’s suggestions.
“Unless we have a cold snap — if it’s zero not much will make it, plants like broccoli, which likes the cold, can last,” she said. “Kale can germinate from seed in three to five days; herbs, too, are a quick crop.”
Balet has 30’ x 100’ greenhouses, which are in the Gothic design with one layer of plastic. The peaked roof allows for easy snow removal. One of her houses called a long tunnel is unheated. This is where she grows her plants inground. Her other house is heated and kept at 50 degrees at a minimum and plants are in pots. No planting is done between December and February. She plants in March and by April the sides of her houses are raised for ventilation and open to pollinators, which fly in and out, she said.
“By April, I’ve got a head start and then can transplant to get more pollinators. Even flowers help the veggies to produce fruit,” she said.