I'm a big fan of small greenhouses. The best money I've ever invested on my farm has been to build my little lean-to greenhouse and the somewhat larger mobile greenhouse on rails (inspired by Eliot Coleman.)
My greenhouses have more than paid me back for the time and money I spent in constructing them. In my opinion, this is one of the first tasks a small farm should undertake.
Here's why building a greenhouse is a great investment for a small farm.
Small greenhouses are cheap to build.
A light frame (of wood, steel or PVC) covered with poly is the cheapest covered space you can create. Depending on your resourcefulness, they can cost you a couple bucks per square foot, or even less.
Both my lean-to greenhouse and the mobile greenhouse were built with steel hoops I bartered for with a neighbour. My cash outlay for the framing lumber, screws and bolts, and 5-year greenhouse plastic brought the cost per square foot to about $1.50 for the lean-to and $2.50 for the bigger one.
Small greenhouses are productive.
Even my little lean-to greenhouse (about 160 square feet) produces thousands of dollars worth of transplants each season. The production per square foot would probably be in the range of $15-20 or more, if I calculated the value of the transplants the greenhouse produces.
Small greenhouses are easy to manage.
My greenhouses don't require complicated and expensive heating, ventilation or irrigation systems. I water the greenhouses with a hose and sprinkler. Since I operate my greenhouses seasonally (the big one from March to November, the little one from April to October), I don't need a lot of extra heat.
If frost threatens my lean-to greenhouse, I just stick in a small portable electric heater. The lean-to greenhouse is ventilated with a cheap box fan ($25) that I turn on in the morning, and turn off at night.
Turn your imagination loose; a greenhouse can be constructed in lots of ways. One of my gardening neighbours used a fast-framing kit intended to make a small shed to build her little greenhouse. The plastic and 2x2's cost her less than $50.
My farm helpers from a couple years ago (they now operate their own market garden) scrounged a used garage shelter kit. They covered it with clear poly, and now have a very productive 10 x 20 greenhouse. They used pool noodles wrapped around the piping to protect the greenhouse plastic, so it's pretty colorful, too.
Best reason: greenhouses are just plain fun!
I've been doing this for a while, but I still find greenhouses to be magical. On a bright and sunny day last February, with a couple feet of snow on the ground, I started working in my mobile greenhouse.
The indoor temperature was about 18C (65F). I was working in just a sweater and jeans, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. It was like being transported about 3 climatic zones south without having to eat airplane food (and I didn't lose my luggage.)
Our latest Bootstrap Book will show you step-by-step how to build a greenhouse and use it to best advantage your small farm.
We include plans and directions to
build each of the 3 greenhouse designs we use on New Terra Farm.
Check out Bootstrap Greenhouse here.
Or for an even better deal, get Bootstrap Greenhouse as part of my Complete Start Farming Pack and save 60%.
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