The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Why we might want a greenhouse after all

Plants through a window

So why am I writing a whole lunchtime series about greenhouses when I've been adamantly anti-greenhouse in the past?  Oehler's less-than-exciting results aside, Toensmeier and others have shown that you can get more out of an unheated greenhouse than I'd seen elsewhere.  But, mostly, I'm just trying to figure out how to keep our dwarf lemon tree growing.

In the winter of 2011-2012, our potted lemon tree provided thirty-some lemons from its large pot in the East Wing.  However, a variety of factors worked against our darling tree over the ensuing year, so we only enjoyed four measly lemons this winter.  Part of the problem won't happen again --- the cicadas laid eggs in the stems just like they did in everything else, and I pruned the roots too drastically in an effort to keep the plant from becoming root-bound. 

Sun closetHowever, the biggest issue is that Mark changed his use-patterns and ended up putting a wall in front of the windows in the East Wing so he wouldn't have sun glaring in his eyes while he rested.  To tend to the dwarf citrus at the moment, I first have to climb over a sofa and slip into a three-foot-wide closet, trying not to hit my head on a brace-beam.  Suffice it to say that I've barely given the plants the watering they crave and have completely avoided any extra TLC.  And the citrus show the neglect by sitting there and scowling at me (which makes me want even less to visit their den).

The ailing lemon has dampened my mood this winter, and Mark and I eventually decided we didn't want to go through another year of this.  We'll either give our darling lemon tree away, or make it an accessible home by the end of the year.  Unfortunately, there's no window space in the trailer for a lemon tree, and since the East Wing is now out, any sunny window would have to be in a newly constructed space.

New grow area

Two alternatives are currently in the running.  Option one is to build a little nook in front of the trailer, just like the wood stove alcove but a hair bigger.  Since this area would open into the trailer right by a heat source, it probably wouldn't be take much extra wood to keep the lemon tree above freezing therein.  As an added bonus, a second round of glazing outside our south face of windows would insulate the glass and help hold heat within the trailer itself.  (As a side note, I had written last summer about the possibility of turning our south-facing porch into a sunroom, but a winter of cogitation showed us that we really like that area as a porch and that it feels too big to heat for our small family.)

The second option is to build a passive solar greenhouse into the south-facing side of the gully.  This would be a much larger project, and has the disadvantage that it wouldn't be connected to a building, so if I didn't design it well enough to stay above freezing due to passive solar heating and thermal mass, I'd be heating what's essentially the outdoors.  On the other hand, a greenhouse down there would give me more room to play with other plants --- currently I've completely filled up the area under the table and on top of the fridge with rooting cuttings, and could use more space.  In addition, the gully gets much more sun than the front of the trailer in the winter months.

Luckily, we have plenty of time to ponder the project, and the worst case scenario would consist of one of our friends getting a stellar house plant, so that's not all bad either.  In the meantime, we'll keep thinking....

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Read more about sunrooms in this 99 cent ebook!This post is part of our Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We got a small 6'x6' greenhouse last year for the intended purpose to move our citrus trees out of the house and to allow them to receive more sun during winter. Since it's polycarbonate I can't see in easily so I tend to ignore the plants from time to time. With the day time highs that can reach over 100F even with an automatic vent sometimes my oversight results in some dried up seedlings.

If I were to do it again I would build one with clear glazing, at least on a portion so I could view in easier and see if my plants need attention as I walked by. In our case I think it is best that we have ours in a zone 1 location since those plants can be exposed to some extreme temperature swings. The size of ours allows us to use a very small space heater on a handful of days when it gets below 25F outside (freezing inside). This small size also allows for some extreme temperature swings though.

I hope this helps.

Comment by Brian Thu Apr 4 16:03:56 2013

Hi Anna,

I vote for the lean-to greenhouse attached to the house. You could still find lots of room there for your seedlings (perhaps add some shelves) and it will lift your spirits on those dull winter days. You will also be able to gaze at all of your plants and tend to them. You will be gaining solar heat on sunny days too. As you noted, the wood stove is close enough to provide needed heat at night or on sunless days. I have a small (6 x 10) greenhouse and it's the best thing I have ever purchased. I want another one but have run out of room in my city yard for the moment, before we move back to the country. In the winter (Canada - not all cold as last week it was 65 F. here) it warms up to 100 F. (we have lots of sun in winter) and I can go out with my pup and read and have a tea. I leave the door open. I start my tomatoes and cukes early out there with a small heater and a thermostat that keeps it at just above freezing at night. In the day, I don't need it at all but I've had wonderful success with it and can't grow my special heirloom tomatoes without it here (think Alaska-type climate and short 90-day summer). You can also imbibe some needed light in there. It's a win-win all the way.

Comment by Heather W. Thu Apr 4 16:58:16 2013
Go to YouTube and watch a great greenhouse video. His name is texasprepper2 he built a every easy inexpensive greenhouse using cattle panels.
Comment by thereidss Thu Apr 4 17:24:12 2013
Go to YouTube and watch a great greenhouse video. His name is texasprepper2 he built a every easy inexpensive greenhouse using cattle panels.
Comment by thereidss Thu Apr 4 17:26:01 2013
Go to YouTube and watch a great greenhouse video. His name is texasprepper2 he built a every easy inexpensive greenhouse using cattle panels.
Comment by thereidss Thu Apr 4 17:27:31 2013
Go to YouTube and watch a great greenhouse video. His name is texasprepper2 he built a every easy inexpensive greenhouse using cattle panels.
Comment by thereidss Thu Apr 4 17:29:04 2013
Oops that post button went crazy.
Comment by thereidss Thu Apr 4 18:00:25 2013
I vote for the extention on the house. Heres what I did in my outside 14x20 greenhouse. Lined the floor with bricks. Painted any jug I could get Black (milk, laundry ) I took those and filled them with water. Then we lined the inside walls of the greenhouse with them. The sun heated the water which helpped heat the bricks. It worked ok but I still have to use a smallheater at night. I'm thinking that an extention on the house will also help heat the house. It would be a win win situation. It would be great to easly check on your plants from the inside instead of having to battle the weather.
Comment by Donna Sat Apr 6 11:43:40 2013
I have been drooling over a 6x8 greenhouse for some time now. I usually do all my seed starting in two modified 4 tier mini greenhouses indoors. Its worked great. This isn't going to work anymore because we have 11 cats (long story short Mama got out and had kittens last year, the kittens have health problems meaning they cant be rehomed.)They won't leave the greenhouses alone, so I told DH that before next spring there would be a greenhouse in the yard ;)
Comment by MamaHomesteader Thu Apr 11 09:32:08 2013

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