Permaculture Garden Greenhouse

Learn how building a greenhouse can combat adverse weather conditions in any permaculture garden.

| May 2016

Not every aspiring homesteader has access to 5 gently sloping acres of rich, loamy soil. Author Jenni Blackmore presents a highly personal, entertaining account of how permaculture, "permanant agriculture", can be practiced in adverse conditions. Permaculture for the Rest of Us (New Society Publishers, 2015) describes how to retrofit even the smallest homestead, illustrating the fundamental principles of this emerging gardening technique in a humorous, reader-friendly way.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Permaculture for the Rest of Us.

I used to view a greenhouse as a luxury of the first degree. Now I realize they are actually an integral part of a successful garden. In essence, a greenhouse must allow in as much natural light as possible, while protecting plants from extremes of temperature and precipitation. In the spring and late fall it’s necessary to keep plants warm but in summer it becomes equally important to keep temperatures from rising too high. A thermometer that records both highs and lows is essential for doing this. Such a thermometer has a round dial face and three hands, very much like a typical clock. One hand registers the lowest temperature it has dropped to, one registers the highest temperature it has risen to, and the third hand marks the actual temperature in the greenhouse at any given moment. They are not terribly expensive and are so useful in monitoring the temperature fluctuations within the greenhouse that I would class them as indispensable.

A greenhouse has a special feeling all its own, whether on a cool spring day with rain pattering on the roof or a late summer day when tomato vines are threatening to poke their way through the roof. One of my earliest childhood memories is being shown my uncle’s greenhouse. I was not allowed to enter but the spicy, exotic smell of tomato vines was enough to hold me wide-eye and enthralled as I peeked around the rickety old door. Even to this day that smell transports me back through time and across the ocean to the grimy industrial north of England and my uncle’s greenhouse. Perhaps that’s where some of the seeds for my own life’s journey were planted. Who knows?

Our greenhouse is a simple frame affair covered with a heavy duty, semi-transparent plastic. It measures sixteen feet by nine feet and didn’t cost much over a hundred dollars to construct. I was fortunate enough to be in a large hardware store when several rolls of translucent plastic tarp were being dragged out from some dusty corner of the storeroom. As they were not “in their system” no one knew what price to put on these rolls of poly sheeting, so they were priced ridiculously low for a quick sale. For once I was in the right place at the right time and I bought all that was available, knowing it would come in handy for any number of projects for years to come. Without this lucky purchase we probably would have used a heavy gauge vapor barrier, which I’m sure would serve the purpose equally well, or special purpose greenhouse film which is also available — at a price.

There are many really good designs for greenhouses available through university extension offices and it’s best to see what’s available before deciding which is the best fit for the space and requirements it is expected to fill. I would encourage starting small and moving slowly, not just with greenhouses but with all aspects of development. This will help to keep the learning curve from feeling like a roller-coaster ride!

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