why a greenhouse?

I find that I’m asking myself whether I need the greenhouse anymore. Left over from an obsession with warm-growing orchids a couple decades ago, it sits in the middle of some prime real estate in the every-shrinking back yard.

Its current incarnation is more shed than greenhouse, with bags of potting mix and pots taking up most of the space. Still I continue to use it for some propagating. Because of the famous greenhouse effect temperatures inside during the daytime can climb ten to twenty degrees higher than outdoors–and that’s with heavy shadecloth on the western exposure. Even at night it stays a little warmer than the outdoors. Before sunrise during a cold snap a week and a half ago I looked at the thermometer inside: 42 degrees. Pretty cold, but it was but four to five degrees higher than a nearby thermometer outside.

The new patch of lettuce outside. Where's the lettuce?
Here's a little recycled sixpack that I seeded with lettuce five days earlier. Unlike the bare patch outside, the seeds are germinating.

The extra warmth can help seeds germinate a few days earlier than outdoors. And once the plants are up they can grow quite a bit faster. The warm spa temperatures inside the greenhouse, combined with some protection from marauding nature, can give you a leg up on the season.

I showed this photo of germinating bladderpods a couple of weeks ago. These plants are less than two weeks old.
And these are the same bladderpods last night, showing lots of luxuriant growth. I'll be repotting these soon and getting them ready for planting in the garden.

If you’re occasionally impatient like me it’s nice to see bigger plants sooner.

And this last photo shows another advantage of the extra warmth. These are yearling seedlings of the North American pitcher plant, Sarracenia. All three pots were started in the greenhouse a year ago, but the one in the middle spent most of the summer outside in strong sunlight. These plants are supposed to like the intense light, but you can see that they were more partial to temperatures that reminded them of the South than intense sun. For plants that ordinarily take five years to mature, it’s looking like the extra warmth can take a year or two off of the usual time. It’s cool to have a greenhouse to save a few weeks but having it help shave one or two years is pretty persuasive.

So as I talk myself through all this it’s looking like I’ll still want to have some sort of greenhouse, even in Southern California. But it might not be this really inefficient and poorly located greenhouse. And did I mention that the current building has termites?

The replacement might be separate little structures. Maybe they could be enclosed carts and have wheels so that they could be repositioned to take advantage of the best sun angles. And if they’re on wheels they could be stuck in a corner of the yard if they’re not being used for propagation. And something like a cart wouldn’t waste space on aisles to walk down.

Well, there are lots of possibilities, and I’ll be thinking about what to do. I’m one of those people who likes to stare at a problem for a long time, but maybe in a few months you’ll be reading about the next big garden construction project.

6 thoughts on “why a greenhouse?”

  1. Sounds to me that you are hankering after a new project. If your greenhouse is full of pots etc it seems that you arent using it to its full potential. Here in the Uk you can get small greenhouses which you cant actually get in. They go against the wall and are about 4ft tall and prob 3 ft wide. They dont take up much space. Something like that might be what you need? Just an idea

  2. Well the existing greenhouse certainly looks attractive, at least in that photo. However I understand the termites are a little less desirable. Your idea of something smaller and movable seems to be a good one. I went out to check on our modified greenhouse today. After 3 days of crazy winds and record setting rainfall it looked good, but moisture is getting in somehow. Not a problem right now I guess, when the temperature is a warm 59 degrees.

  3. Quite a conundrum! I guess I’m fortunate that I really don’t have enough room, it would be a temptation otherwise. Are you sure you’ll enjoy having the movable greenhouse in different parts of the garden? I tend to prefer to tuck away compost bin and tools, and might feel the same about a greenhouse… Maybe if you paint it green it will work.

  4. I would like to have a small green house if I ever get a house big enough. I think they are indeed very usefull. But I think I would also be very happy with only a coldframe or a big window in the house where to grow some seeds.

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