What better place to be green than in your own eco-friendly, DIY greenhouse? Reducing your carbon footprint can be as simple as growing some plants. In this day and age you don't have to be a horticulturist to have one, and they're easy to construct. Both large and small kits are available and designed to match the individual's needs, from the serious gardener to the casual do-it-yourself dabbler.
Of course, there are several things to consider before beginning, to prevent mistakes along the way and the ensuing regrets. Here are five tips to help make sure you end up with the greenhouse you envisioned:
1) Location: The first step is to figure out the perfect spot, which is important for several reasons. Consider lighting. Make sure to select an area with maximum exposure to sunlight, especially if you're putting up solar panels. If your greenhouse ends up in the shade, no matter how pretty it looks your plants won't grow -- or at least not well. Six hours minimum of sunlight each day is best, morning sun being preferable. If you can't avoid surrounding trees, try to make sure the location will get that early light if nothing else. Also, if you're in a colder region, position your greenhouse running east-to-west lengthwise -- this helps pull in more heat from the winter sun.
Another question to consider is which utilities you'll need. Select a spot with easy access to water, heat and electricity.
Finally, consider a greenhouse location with good drainage. To avoid having a swamp instead of a floor, build the foundation at a high point or above the surrounding ground.
Then the trick is to find the perfect place that meets all the above requirements!
2) Size: Now that you've gotten the location down, decide how much space you'd like. Then ask yourself how much space you might want for your DIY greenhouse in five years, and consider a size that will give you room to, well, grow. Many gardeners build their first greenhouses conservatively only to later wish they had more room.
Before building the largest greenhouse imaginable, however, consider budget -- the biggest operating cost for a greenhouse is heating in winter. Factors to help determine heating costs are climate conditions and the requirements of the plants you'll be growing.
3) Foundation: Take care to build a solid foundation on which your DIY greenhouse will rest. A common error for many first-time greenhouse builders is constructing an uneven foundation. Make sure the surface on which your greenhouse will rest is smooth, level and stable. While some people put down wood or concrete as flooring, it's actually not necessary. Leaving the ground exposed is not only more environmentally friendly, it also allows you to plant things right in the floor of your greenhouse.
4) Materials: Think about what kind of building materials you'd like. Greenhouse kits come with several types of frames, the most common being wood or aluminum. Because it's maintenance-free, aluminum is more convenient and conducive to busy lifestyles. But while wood requires more maintenance in humidity, it's a renewable resource and looks attractive and natural on a greenhouse. If you decide to go with wood, avoid treated wood -- FSC-certified cedar works well.
Then consider what type of panels you'd like to cover the frame. You'll have a selection of glass and plastics. Consider polycarbonate, a type of virtually unbreakable plastic and the latest addition to greenhouse supplies. This substance provides a full spectrum of light while filtering out ultraviolet rays. It's also lightweight, inexpensive and has a major advantage over glass -- it can't be broken by the neighbor boy's baseball.
5) Instructions: It's so basic it's insulting, but most of us are guilty of not doing this at one time or another. Follow the kit's instructions completely. Don't cut or alter parts, or try to build on instinct. The instructions are your map, your guide. So pick them up -- your greenhouse is waiting.