Mr Wood Rat retrieved the superstructure from behind the white fence where it had blown, metal post and all.
It was an omen for sure. Only the other day we had been having this conversation:
"Oh Ratty dear, could you please build me another lovely duct tape greenhouse? Against the pool fence there, where it's nice and sunny?"
"I really need more light now it's winter, as well as protection from rain, wind, and critters, to get these seeds going. Plus I could move the seed flats out of your office, and also off of the coffee table in the living room."
"Yeah well I just don't know if I want to do another cobbled-together solution."
"Maybe it's time to look at building you a real greenhouse."
"Yeah, I think it might be a fun project to build, and it looks like your interest in growing stuff isn't going to go away."
"In fact, how about we drive over to the UCSC farm and look at their setup."
So we did. I love wandering around the arboretum and farm areas at UC Santa Cruz. There were lots of greenhouses at the arboretum, but only of the geodesic dome, or hoop and plastic sheeting variety, and I'm sure they do the job fine but they're not what we are looking for. But at the farm, we saw some brand-spanking new greenhouses.
I love the amazing work they do there, not only for university students and researchers, but for young children too. Here's a view of the new greenhouses from a teaching area.
Ratty was immediately enthralled. "I know how to do construction like this - this isn't much different from a pole barn."
Town Mouse had sensibly suggested that we use recycled materials such as windows from demolished homes to make a greenhouse. But Mr Wood Rat comes from a construction background and just isn't interested in the funky earth-friendly approach. As he is my building resource, we got on the net instead.
Rat started researching the company that built those greenhouses, Conley's and wandered out from there. He quickly decided that we should just get a kit and be done with it. Kits take between 2 hours and 2 days to assemble, depending on the kit and the assembler.
But Conley's "hobby" greenhouse kits are expensive - $3,500 plus. And that seems to be about the going rate for greenhouses of this type.
Of course, I did some basic research, too: First, is it worth having a greenhouse? Heck with worth: I WANT ONE.
I put that angel on one shoulder, and on the other I put the frugal angel who considers other options such as using the horse barn and just adding heat and light lamps. Disadvantages: 1. the horse barn is in the coldest most shady part of the property. 2. It's no fun. I WANT ONE.
OK, given that this is not totally a rational decision, what more do I need to know about greenhouses before we go ahead with the project? I found a good article from the University of Virginia ag extension from which I learned the following about greenhouses, and more:
- Sun: Put the greenhouse where it gets maximum sun. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun if you have to choose. So, facing south or south east is best, in full sun. no shady trees etc. This is for winter use, not so much in summertime.
- Size: The larger the greenhouse, the easier it is to maintain the temperature, and the less expensive per square foot. But I don't aspire to even the bottom end of their minimum efficient size - this is an agricultural site. More importantly - don't get one that's too small for your needs. You'll regret it. I figure 8X12 gives the most bench room, without getting really enormous. Maybe 9X12 feet, but no more.
- Structure: Well there are a lot of options. The hoop (quonset) style is very efficient and simple. But I like the more traditional look, with a pitched roof, and this will be in our garden, so I have some aesthetic preference here.
- Structural materials: Wood, steel, aluminum, plastic/PVC piping. The article has various plus and minus points on each option. We read about one poor person whose greenhouse melted in the Texas heat, so we eliminated plastic. Wood is nice but is more expensive. Plus, fire risk. Steel and aluminum both seem like good options. Aluminum is cheaper. Many grades available, but we figure as long as the structure is securely anchored it should withstand wind.
- Coverings: Glass, double-pane polycarbonate, plastic film. (And another one I read about, like dual-wall polycarbonate, but translucent and more flexible, called Solexx). Glass is very nice, but too expensive, and you can't do-it-yourself so easily. Also I worry about it breaking. The polycarbonate seemed like the best option, other than the fact that it's not easy to recycle, so that's not so good. It ranges from 4 ml to 10 ml. We are not sure what is best, given we don't have extreme weather here. Most of the better quality greenhouses we looked at were 6ml at least, and thicker was more expensive. I'm not sure what you get for the money and thickness - better insulation or more strength.
- Flooring: Seems best to not have a floor but to dig-out the foundation area and add a few inches of gravel for drainage. Wood floors won't do.
- Ventilation: You need one roof vent at least, and a door. For a smaller greenhouse that seems to be sufficient.
- Heating and so on: It gets complicated. I don't really think my natives need a lot of heat, and for the ones that do I could use fluorescent bulbs or heated mats. Also Christmas lights apparently work fine to just keep things a bit warmer to prevent freezing. We don't get a lot of freezing here.
- Watering: Well you can spend a lot of money or you can hand water. I hand water right now, so I think I would continue like that, but I'd look at misting systems down the road.
There are a lot of aluminum frame dual-wall polycarbonate greenhouses out there to choose from, and most seem to be in the $3,500 price range and above. They are not quite my picture of a greenhouse, which looks more like this:
(From www.whitecottage.co.uk) But then, we're not in England any more, Toto.
I also love Montana Wildlife Gardener's greenhouse, which you can read about here.
One small company whose product I like is Santa Barbara Greenhouse, located in California. They have a model called Montecito that would do me fine, if I had over $3,500.
Neat, simple, seems to be good quality. The Danish company Juliana seems to be well regarded in this price range - And there are many more.
Then there is the low-price leader, EasyGrow, whose 8X12 foot model is on sale right now for $1299 - $1500 depending where you look. It's made in China. Its walls are only 4 ml polycarbonate. But - maybe it's plenty good enough.
(image from www.greenhousemegastore.com shows 8X8 model)
So what's a poor besotted mouse to do? It would be great if there were some real reviews out there, but we can't find any. It would be great if we could drive someplace and actually see these greenhouses, but it doesn't look like we can. Even the cheapo model is a lot of money and we don't have a lot of money.
So we agreed to put our search on hold and cool down and think about this. Mr Wood Rat went out for a run, and I've been blogging.
Oh, and here he is back, with this thought:
"I was thinking about this greenhouse thing while I was runing and here's what I think: I think I should just build it myself. We've got plenty wood lying around, and on the shady side we don't need so much light, right? So I could reuse those six little windows I took out of the cupola on that side. Two of them open and close. So anyway, I'm going to put these groceries away but that's what I think."
Gotta love that rat.
If any readers have any thoughts to add, we would certainly appreciate hearing from all sides of the question. And I hope our researches into what is possible in the home greenhouse are helpful to others with similar desires, rational or otherwise.