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A Greenhouse Primer: What You Need to Know to Buy or Build a Greenhouse.
by Organic Gardening Review Staff

A greenhouse can be a great way to extend your growing season, in some cases allowing you to keep growing vegetables year-round. A greenhouse can also help you to move your gardening venture from the realm of a hobby to a livelihood. If youíre thinking of making the investment in a greenhouse you might want to consider some of the issues and options in this greenhouse product review.

Greenhouses come in many shapes, sizes and materials and costs can range from $500 on the low end to $10,000 and up on the high end. How do you decide whatís right for you?

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Greenhouse
The first thing you might want to consider is how you will use a greenhouse and where it will be located? Do you plan to use it to start seeds in the late winter or early spring or are you looking to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers year round? How much space will you need for the plants you intend to grow? Will your greenhouse be attached to your house or free standing? Do you have a sunny location that is protected from wind? How much do you want to spend?

Getting clear on these issues can help you to determine the best size and structure for your location and budget. You donít want to end up spending a lot of money on a greenhouse that is too large or too small or not structurally appropriate to your environment.

Determining the Right Size and Structure
Once you have determined the right size greenhouse you require the next step is to decide on what type of structure you need and whether you want to build it yourself from scratch, hire a professional or buy a kit.

Greenhouses come in two basic styles: freestanding and attached. Attached greenhouses are generally less expensive to operate as they tend to be more protected and your energy and water source are more easily accessible. However, either option you choose works best in full sun with the longest side facing south.

Attached greenhouses are more likely to require a compromise on exposure. A northern exposure can be possible with supplemental lighting or growing plants that prefer shade.

Freestanding greenhouses can give you more flexibility in terms of location but they can also be more expensive for several reasons. They will have more exposure to the elements requiring a heat source and they may require a more substantial structural system. Installation of plumbing and electricity will also be needed.

Greenhouse Materials
There are quite a variety of materials to choose from when building or purchasing your greenhouse. Greenhouse frames can be made of wood, galvanized steel, aluminum or PVC. Glazing or panels can be made from tempered glass, polycarbonate and acrylic panels, fiberglass and plastic film.

Wood Frame
If youíre building a greenhouse from scratch, wood is probably the easiest frame material to work with. Itís strong enough to support glass panels, which means that you could save on costs by using recycled glass. It may be possible to find recycled wood for some of your framing materials as well. Some communities have recycle centers where you can find these materials at very reasonable costs. If youíre on a tight budget and are handy with tools this is a great option to consider.

If youíre not up to building from scratch there are some affordable kit options that could save you time and aggravation. Sunshine Greenhouses offers several models made from pest-resistant redwood with double wall polycarbonate panels. Their basic model is surprisingly spacious at only 6' wide by 4' long. This may be due to its 8'4" height. The greenhouse comes complete with automatically operated solar powered roof and base vents plus a Dutch door. Their kits are easy to assemble and include a video to guide you through the process. Though more expensive than the aluminum kits on the market they are a good value for what youíre getting. The model described above goes for around $1300. 6' x 4' Sunshine Greenhouse

Galvanized Steel and Aluminum
Other frame materials that will support glass are galvanized steel and aluminum. A drawback to these is that they may conduct cold and heat. On the plus side, this material tends to be very durable and will hold up well in extreme climates.

You can find very affordable kits that include everything you need for assembly. A 6í by 7í basic greenhouse starts at around $600. A company named Juliana offers 23 models in several sizes. Their kits offer aluminum framing with double wall polycarbonate glazing, all mounting hardware, sliding door and adjustable window vent. You can also buy extension kits for their greenhouses that will allow you to add on and increase space as needed. All of their greenhouses come with a 12-year warranty.
Juliana Basic 300 Greenhouse

Rion Professional Greenhouse PVC and Acrylic
It used to be that PVC structures were generally less durable than wood and metal frames and generally required lightweight film coverings. However, this is not necessarily true as new acrylic materials and kits come on the market. These new greenhouses are quite durable, appealing to the eye, and they use polycarbonate panels rather than plastic film.

If youíre a do-it-yourself type you could put together a basic greenhouse with PVC pipe and plastic film fairly inexpensively. This would work best if you live in a milder climate or donít plan to grow year round in your greenhouse. Iíve seen some very large homemade greenhouses of PVC and plastic film that work quite well Ė though they were located in a subtropical climate.

If you want the ease of plastic with greater durability and without the hassle of building it yourself we recommend one of the new acrylic greenhouse kits from a company named Rion Greenhouses. They currently offer four models and boast the easiest kit assembly weíve ever seen. Itís a snap together system that requires no tools for assembly Ė- great for the weekend gardener. The greenhouses are basically maintenance free and are very pleasing to look at. They come in a barn shape that gives you added headroom. The polycarbonate panels are sealed and secured to the frame with a combination of rubber gaskets and plastic capping. The roofs have been tested and will hold up to 1100 lbs of snow. Models come with adjustable window vents and two lockable hinged doors with all hardware included. They offer a 7-year guarantee. Last time we checked they were even including a free ($50.00 value) wireless weather station with your order. Prices start at $1075 for a 6'5"W x 8'6"L x 6'6"H  Rion Professional Greenhouses

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