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Greenhouse Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Here in the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with some extremely rich soil allowing us to grow a multitude of fruits, vegetables and herbs.  But before you get started on plating that new garden, you need to know what plants grow best and hold up to the weather here in the Pacific Northwest.  Our growing season is shorter here so you need to careful when selecting your plants and make sure to invest in the array of supplies you will need to help your garden be the best it can be.  One of those supplies that would be a worthwhile investment is a good greenhouse.

As most of us know our weather here can be quite drizzly which can make for some tremendously lush soil, which most plants love, but you will need to pay very close attention to make sure that the soil is not becoming oversaturated.  Too much water can lead to root rot and leave plants vulnerable to disease. It is important to keep some plants fairly dry was the fruit starts to form, cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes are particular ones. Keeping these plants covered can also be helpful for keeping besky bugs off the plants as well.  Because of our wet weather here in the Pacific Northwest, bugs such as aphids, slugs and snails thrive here and these pesky little things can do a lot of damage to your plants so keeping plants protected is important.

Before you make the move to plant your edibles in the outdoors, starting them off in a greenhouse can be an excellent option to jump start your garden.  It’s best to wait until after the last frost before planting in the ground. Here in the Pacific Northwest late April or early May can be the ideal planting time for outdoors, plants such as strawberries, onions, garlic and beets can handle the cold, but starting them off in a greenhouse and then planting them outdoors once they are hearty enough, can help lead to their success in growing and producing healthy edibles. A greenhouse is also a good place to start if you are going to start with planting seeds.

With a little extra planning you can enjoy fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs year round.  Many cool season plants will produce well into the fall and can also produce into a mild-winter in some areas of the region.  These can be planted mid to late summer but using the greenhouse can allow you to start them early and have them ready to go once you have finished with your spring/summer plants in your garden.

Having your own greenhouse gives you a way to enjoy your garden the whole year round. It provides you with a controlled environment that you can manipulate to the exact conditions your plants need to thrive. There are a lot of choices when it comes to greenhouses, and it can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for.  Things to consider when selecting a greenhouse are the size and shape, what kind of materials do you want to be used and what design fits the overall esthetic of your garden environment.

Greenhouse come in all kinds of shapes and sizes but then can generally be separated into three categories: small/mini, medium, and large.  To figure out what size greenhouse is best for you, think about what it is you plan on growing. A mini greenhouse is ideal if you plan on potting a few plants because you don’t have a lot of space to spare.  They are usually very simple in style and don’t cost a lot. A typical size in this category would be about 6’x2’ or 6’x8’.

A medium-sized greenhouse is great if you have a little more space to spare, they can be a little more complex in style and accommodate more than a mini greenhouse due to their size of 8’x12’ or 10’x12’.  This is a size that can perfect if you have a fairly standard sized yard and want to mix the structure into the design of your garden.  

But if you plan on doing some serious bulk gardening, provided you have room for it, you might want to consider getting a large greenhouse.  At a size of 15’x7’, 10’x20’ or larger, this will allow you to grow pretty much anything you desire, well within reason of course.

Like they say it is all about Location, Location, Location!  Now that you have figured out what size of greenhouse will best for you, it’s time to figure out where you plan on placing it.  This step is very important since giving your plants the right amount of light is essential to maximize growth. Ideally you should select a location that will allow for a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day.  It can also be beneficial to place the greenhouse near an electrical point as well as having ready access to water. This can make things much easier when needing to use electricity and water for your plants.

Proper drainage is another vital element to your greenhouse.  A couple of options are either digging a trench or using gutters.  Both will give any excess water somewhere to to go and lessen the chance of the soil becoming oversaturated.  This will help to prevent the growth of any algae or disease and keep unwanted pests such as mosquitoes at bay.

Choosing the right foundation can also play into ensuring proper drainage as well.  While a concrete foundation is necessary, it something that should be considered if you live in an area that is prone to cold weather during the fall and winter months as it helps to contain heat.  Another option is gravel on top of sand and hardocre that will allow you to damp it down in the summer to ensure the air remains humid and also allows for easy drainage.

Keeping the proper temperature and atmosphere inside the greenhouse is an absolute must, so another element to consider is ventilation.  The best means of doing this is by having at least one roof vent that covers around 20% of the floor area on either side of the roof. Side vents can also be used as extra ventilation if needed or desired.

The final elements of your greenhouse to work out is what materials to use.  There are so many options to choose from, and we won’t go into detail with all those options here, let’s just say that you will want to do your research on framing materials from aluminum, wood, PVC, resin and steel, as well as glazing material from Thermal Insulation, tempered glass, multi-wall polycarbonate, corrugated polycarbonate and polyethylene film.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these materials so you will want to do your research and determine which options is best for you, that will provide you with the look that you want and also fits your budget.

So what is the best design for a greenhouse in the Pacific Northwest.  Well that is still up to personal taste so I’m going to offer up one option here for you to consider.  The design I am offering is one that I have come up with that will mix well with the design of my garden and landscaping, fits well with the look and feel of the Pacific Northwest, and utilizes some elements of upcycling and form of Aquaponics.  

For my design I have opted to use a wood frame that allows for the structure to blend with the woods and nature that surrounds my property.  The wood frame, while providing a natural and aesthetically pleasing look, also provides for a sturdy structure that if treated properly will also stand up to the variety of weather that we experience.  It also helps to maintain proper temperature control for the plants. To also provide some additional stability to the structure as well as keep the look and feel of our natural surroundings, I have used brick or stone along the bottom of the structure.  This can also provide an additional layer of insulation that can be helpful in keeping the proper climate control needed on the inside. To finish off the structure are the actual wall panels and if to use glass or some other material. While glass can be the optimum material to use, it also the most expensive, extremely heavy and the most difficult to install.  For this design I have used Polycarbonate Panels, they made from clear, rigid plastic that transmits light almost as well as glass. The panels are typically available as flat twin-wall panels, which contain two flat polycarbonate panes separated by an air space. This air space between the panes improves the insulative properties of the panels. Another benefit is that it approaches the durability of glass though it is about one twelfth the weight, making it much easier to handle and install.  If installed properly you can get usually 10-12 years out of the panels before they start to yellow and would need to be replaced.

On the interior certain elements would be standard that you would see in most greenhouses, there would be a variety of shelves and platforms to handle a variety of plants of many sizes.  These can be plants that would be transplanted into the exterior garden, and others that would stay in the green house. On the other side I have utilized recycled gutters hanging in rows along the wall.  These are perfect for growing a variety of herbs and strawberries as well as starter plants that can then be transplanted into pots as they grow larger. A watering system would be installed that would provide the adequate amount of water into the gutters and then also a drainage system but utilizing the runoff to water additional plants below.  The final unique element is a fish pond that would be built to be partly inside the greenhouse and partly outside. The pond would be set up to provide a form of Aquaponics. Aquaponics is a system where fish and plants grown in a symbiotic relationship. Plants are grown in trays filled with gravel. These trays are then placed over the top of the pond on the inside allowing for the fish to feed to off of the food sources provided by the root system of the plants and the plants gain nutrients from the water and the waste material from the fish acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants.  This process allows for both the plants and fish to be healthier than the traditional way, and with part of the pond on the outside it also becomes a beautiful addition to the garden.

The design of this greenhouse is versatile enough to be built as either a smaller, medium or larger size, for me I have designed it to be more medium at about 10’x12’ which fits well within the space that I have designed for it to be as part of my overall garden landscape.  My desire is to utilize my greenhouse to continue my path towards living a more organic and self sustaining life as well as extending the growing life cycle on into the autumn and winter months when growing certain edibles that i desire and use year round like herbs and tomatoes are not possible in exterior gardens.  

I hope what I have shared here with you will be of assistance to you in your path towards a more natural way of living.  So regardless of what direction you go, be it a mini, medium or large greenhouse, be sure to research what works best for your region and pick a design that fits your space and surroundings and that you will be happy with.  While the purpose of the greenhouse is for growing plants, it also can provide a sense of calm and zen for your life so be sure to make it something that you will be able to enjoy for years to come.

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