The Profitable Way to Build (and Use) a Greenhouse

Have you ever wanted to know how to make the most of your backyard or patio, even if you don’t have a green thumb? The short answer to that question is one word: greenhouse.

There are plenty of smart reasons to build your own greenhouse. Enjoy fresh vegetables year round, grow a few exotic herbs and sell them for a tidy profit, or merely indulge your gardening hobby in the most creative, fun way possible.

No matter where you live, or how harsh the local winters are, greenhouses can protect delicate plants all year long, sheltering them from rain, snow, and temperature extremes. That means a lush garden anywhere, any time.

Take the Greenhouse Plunge

I decided to build rather than buy a greenhouse for two reasons: To save money, and to gain a sense of accomplishment that comes from constructing a working, practical greenhouse.

Fortunately, simple greenhouse plans are free and easy to find online. If you’re like me and you want to start small, it’s a cinch to grab a free plan off the Internet and purchase a few supplies from a local home store. After that, a moderate dose of elbow grease and about 10 hours of work will yield a “beginner’s level” greenhouse that can do everything the big ones do, won’t cost a fortune, and doesn’t require a degree in engineering.

Plan Before You Plant

I learned one big lesson when I built my greenhouse: It pays to have a written plan before starting. A related lesson is to assemble all your tools and supplies nearby so you don’t have to go out and hunt down equipment or construction materials halfway through the job.

Here are some of the suggestions I collected along the way from friends, family and online resources about how to build a small greenhouse from the ground up, for minimal expense.

Building the structure: There are a few basic ways to approach the project. One consists of building a small structure out of PVC pipe and connectors. After it’s complete, you simply cover or wrap it with see-through plastic or any lightweight material that lets sunlight in. Click HERE to see a short video of a PVC mini-greenhouse project.

If you’re marginally handy with tools, a wood-framed greenhouse is one of the other choices for this project. Click HERE to see a time-lapse video of a small wood-frame structure going up.

Even kids can do it, sort of. The video clip linked HERE shows a very simple method using a few pieces of rebar, PVC for the roof, and duct tape to hold the frame together.

Points to remember: As you can see from the linked videos above, size is a matter of choice, as it construction material. The main thing to remember is that you want something sturdy enough to withstand local weather conditions, wind and rain. It also helps to make the greenhouse secure enough to keep pets, pests (not including your brother-in-law) and curious insects out. That means an entryway that seals completely shut and has some kind of a latch.

I personally prefer building the entire frame out of PVC pipe and connectors, using duct tape only on joints where I want extra stability. The beauty of PVC is that it can be secured to the ground with rebar and moved with ease when and if you decide to do so. Plus, there’s no waste of material when the time comes to upsize the structure: all the PVC can be reused, as can the plastic covering and connectors.

Cover material: Plastic sheeting can be found practically anywhere. Art stores, home improvement centers and even painting supply houses carry it. Look for a thickness that lets in plenty of light and is wind-resistant enough for your local weather conditions. I use clear plastic drop cloths that I buy at paint stores. They come in gigantic sizes, cost almost nothing, and are sturdy enough to get the job done.

Experiment: Don’t be afraid to experiment with materials until you decide what works best for your own greenhouse. Start out simply and, like me, you’ll find your way as you get into the project. Unlike many other DIY endeavors, the cost of greenhouse supplies is so minimal that you can make lots of mistakes without concern for expense.

What to grow

After your greenhouse is ready for “occupancy,” you’ll want to begin using it right away. Of course, your growing choices are largely dependent on location, but spinach, beets, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are the most common greenhouse food crops among U.S. gardeners. For one thing, they’re easy to grow. And they all thrive in protected environments like greenhouses, so take advantage of what you have built!

Another idea for greenhouse gardeners is to grow a few things that can be sold to local grocers and specialty food stores. Herbs like parsley, oregano, cilantro, chives and basil are simple to grow and relatively easy to sell at farmers’ markets or to your local grocer. There’s currently a huge consumer trend for “buying local,” and that’s a big advantage for greenhouse gardeners who specialize in popular herbs.

A Garden of Greenhouse Resources

There are three very good books that are worth reading before you start on your greenhouse project. Not only will they answer most of your technical questions about building, but they are packed with pertinent information about what to do with your crops.

Learning to grow herbs for profit is the subject of the aptly titled, How to Grow Herbs or Microgreens for Health or Profit, by Meredith Green. If you really want to jump-start a profitable gardening side business, this is the book with all the details.

Roger Marshall’s book, How to Build Your Own Greenhouse, has designs and plans for every budget and interest level. If the videos above left you wanting more, this is the book that covers every base. Fortunately, he wrote it for people like you (and me) in mind: those who are not professional builders or gardeners. But if you want the more “advanced” greenhouse plans, the book has those as well.

Finally, the book “Build a $1,500 Portable Greenhouse or Garden Shed for $150” delivers on the promise of its title. Beginners will love the author’s simple, inexpensive greenhouse plans and clear explanations.

Today, the Backyard. Tomorrow, the World!

We’d love to hear about your greenhouse projects in the comments section below and/or on our Facebook page. Let us know how you did it, how big your greenhouse is, and what your main crops are.

It’s true what they say in all those gardening books: There are as many kinds of greenhouses as there are people in the world. Even though most gardening enthusiasts start out small, nearly everyone upgrades their greenhouse at one time or another.

So, don’t wait for summer to end before you get going on your new project. Venture forth, and then please share your experiences with us. Gardeners love to hear each other’s stories, and building your first greenhouse is always an exciting do-it-yourself adventure. Good luck.

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