how does a greenhouse work

How To Grow In A Greenhouse 101

If you want more freedom and flexibility with respect to your growing season, one way you can make it happen is by using a greenhouse.

In this newbie’s guide to greenhouse growing, we will teach you greenhouse basics. We will explain what you can do with a greenhouse and how greenhouses work. Then we will introduce you to some backyard greenhouse kits.

What are Greenhouses Used For?

commercial greenhouse kits
Image © Mark Stebnicki

Before we discuss how greenhouses work, let’s talk about some reasons why you might want one.

A greenhouse provides a warm, enclosed environment where you can grow plants. What you can do with the greenhouse depends on where you live and what you grow. But here are some possible benefits:

  • Extend a short growing season into a longer one.
  • Grow fruits, vegetables, and other plants year-round.
  • Successfully grow plants that would not be able to survive outside a greenhouse in your climate at all.
  • Provide your plants with a more stable environment throughout the year.
  • Avoid having to overwinter certain plants indoors.

Additionally, some people build greenhouses in their backyards just to have another space where they can hang out, similar to a backyard shed.

There is no reason why you cannot grow plants in a greenhouse and relax in it—you can always just set up a chair or two on one side and grow your plants on the other.

How Does a Greenhouse Work?

Now that you know what you can do with a greenhouse, let’s talk about how greenhouses work. How does a greenhouse create a warm environment for gardening?

1. The sun shines on the greenhouse.

The first step in the process is the sun shining down on the greenhouse. In doing so, it transmits light energy through the glass (or plastic) to the interior.

2. The light energy is absorbed.

Objects absorb light energy. Soil, for example, absorbs light energy inside the greenhouse. Plants do as well.  

3. The light energy converts into heat energy.

Once light is absorbed by an object, it changes form, converting into heat energy. The darker an object is, the warmer it gets.

This is why, for example, you feel warmer when you wear black on a bright day than when you wear white, even if the temperature of the air is the same.

4. The heat radiates outward.

Once an object has been warmed by the sun, it radiates that heat back out into its environment.

That means that the soil, plants, and other items in your greenhouse are putting out heat.

5. The glass traps the heat.

You might think that all that heat energy can just go out the way it came in, through the glass. But it can’t!

Why not? The shape of the energy wavelength is no longer the same as it was originally. Even though the previous shape fit fine through the glass, that is no longer the case now that the light energy has been converted into heat energy.

That means that the heat cannot effectively escape the greenhouse.

Depending on climate conditions, you might actually have to help the heat escape if it builds up too much. That means having a greenhouse with some form of ventilation.

Incidentally, now that you know how a greenhouse works, you also understand the science behind the Greenhouse Effect.

The Greenhouse Effect refers to the phenomenon where certain gasses in our atmosphere (greenhouse gasses) trap heat in the same manner as the glass of a greenhouse.

As human beings have been clogging Earth’s atmosphere with these gasses, the global average temperature has been heating up.

And just as your plants can die in your greenhouse if they overheat, the same will be true for human beings and other species if we do not rein in global warming and climate change.

Thankfully, just by growing a garden, you can actually help to offset climate change.

Plants store carbon, and composting can also help to remove emissions from our air.

How to Get Started Growing in a Greenhouse

Bootstrap Farmer DIY Kit

So, that brings us back to the topic at hand, which is gardening in a greenhouse.

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An in-depth explanation of how to grow fruits, vegetables, trees and flowers in a greenhouse is beyond the scope of this article. But here are some helpful basics to know:

  • Certain plants are easy for beginners in green houses. Some examples include peas, radishes, tomatoes, strawberries, onions, potatoes, and mushrooms.
  • Your greenhouse may not maintain the proper temperature automatically. You might need to either insulate it or vent it, depending on your climate. For heating, consider a 220-volt circuit electric heater or a solar, gas or oil heater. Fans or evaporative coolers may be helpful for cooling things down.
  • Keep in mind that your greenhouse needs to be a suitable temperature during the night, not just the daytime. So, a heating system that you can program may be helpful.
  • In some cases, your greenhouse might benefit from LED grow lights or fluorescent lights.
  • Sometimes, you might need just the opposite effect, and will require shade cloths to stop plants from getting too much sun.
  • If you do not want to water your plants yourself, consider installing a drip system.
  • When considering your greenhouse setup, think about installing some shelves for plants and gardening supplies.
  • Think about running fans inside your greenhouse even if you do not need them for cooling purposes. They can reduce the chances of disease affecting your plants, and might also prevent insects from taking hold.

Small Greenhouse Kits to Consider For Your Backyard

If you are excited about the idea of extending your growing season or enjoying some of the other benefits of greenhouse gardening, you probably want to get started.

Doing so is faster and easier than you might think. In fact, you can build a greenhouse in your own backyard simply by ordering a kit.

We often get asked about “how much does a greenhouse cost?”. It truly depends on your budget and expectations. You can go as low as $100 for DIY kit or up to tens of thousands for commercial grade buildings.

With that said, since this a beginners guide, let’s check out some high-quality kits worth considering that own’t break the bank.

1. EAGLE PEAK 8’x6′ Portable Walk-in Greenhouse Instant Pop-up

Eagle Peak Backyard Greenhouse

If you want to make setting up a greenhouse as fast and easy as possible, you could consider the EAGLE PEAK 8’x6′ Portable Walk-in Greenhouse Instant Pop-up.

This product is different from a traditional greenhouse in that it is not made of glass. Instead, it essentially takes the form of a pop-up canopy tent with mesh-reinforced fabric walls that the sun can shine through.

Pros:

  • You can assemble this greenhouse just like a regular pop-up canopy tent. It has the same structure, and even one person working alone may be able to set it up without trouble. The frame is a single piece. You do not need any tools for assembly.
  • This product is portable. You can easily set it up in one part of your yard, take it down, and relocate it to a different part of your yard or another location altogether.
  • The legs are adjustable to three different heights, ensuring that you have sufficient headroom when you are inside working.
  • There is a convenient roll-up zippered door along with two roll-up side windows. With a 6’x8′ footprint, this is a relatively small greenhouse, but it is still breathable.

Cons:

  • The biggest drawback with this product is that it can feasibly blow over if the wind kicks up. So, you will need to use stakes or anchors to secure it, and possibly more than you think is necessary.

Best For:

We would recommend this greenhouse if you want one that is portable or if you are just setting up one temporarily. It also might be a good choice for anyone who just does not want to deal with the hassles of assembling a traditional glass or plastic greenhouse on their own.

We find it to be perfect for an affordable raised bed greenhouse kit.

2. VEIKOU 6′ x 10′ Aluminum Greenhouse Kit

Aluminum Greenhouse kit for sale

If you are looking for a more traditional option, you can consider the VEIKOU 6′ x 10′ Aluminum Greenhouse Kit for Outdoor, Walk-in Polycarbonate Garden Greenhouse.

While we are looking at the 6’x 10’x 6’ model, there is also one that measures 6’x 8’x 6’.

Either size should be compact enough to fit even in a relatively small backyard, yet still offer you plenty of room to work in comfort.

Shelves are built right into the greenhouse, saving you the trouble of installing them separately.

Pros:

  • The aluminum frame for the greenhouse is lightweight but strong. It also can stand up to the elements thanks to its powder coating.
  • The panels are made of polycarbonate, which is a type of plastic. But you will find that it is thick and sturdy, and suitable for prolonged exposure to the outdoors. It is also UV-resistant.
  • To enhance ventilation, this greenhouse features a double window design and adjustable poles.
  • Each side of the structure features a rain gutter so that precipitation will be able to drain.
  • If you know what you are doing, you can complete assembly on your own within under an hour.

Cons:

  • The tie backs on the door are on the short side, so you might have to augment them to make them more useable.
  • Although the product includes instructions for assembly, they are arguably not the clearest.

Best For:

If you want a greenhouse with a traditional frame and panels, this one features the convenience of built-in shelves, sturdy materials, and relatively easy assembly.

3. Aoxun 20’x10’x7′ Large Walk-in Garden Tunnel Greenhouse

tunnel greenhouse kit

If the greenhouses we have shared with you do not offer adequate capacity for your needs, you might consider the Aoxun 20’x10’x7′ Large Walk-in Garden Tunnel Greenhouse. It is also available in the size 26’x10’x7′.

Instead of featuring straight sides, this structure features the shape of a half-cylinder.

When you consider its size, it is an excellent deal for the price.

Pros:

  • The galvanized steel frame is strong, and it is extra-stable thanks to the inclusion of diagonal braces.
  • The PE cover is waterproof and UV-resistant.
  • There are mesh-covered vents all along the sides of the tent to ensure adequate circulation through the entire large structure.
  • The roll-up zippered door makes it easy to enter the greenhouse to check on your crops.

Cons:

  • It is possible there are some issues with quality control since some customers report issues with broken zippers or other components.

Best For:

If you are on the hunt for a larger greenhouse that is still cost-effective and convenient, this may be the one.

Build Your Backyard Greenhouse Now

You are familiar with backyard greenhouse basics now, and you have had a chance to check out some top products that are fast and easy to set up, cost-effective, and rugged enough for ongoing use.

Are you ready to begin greenhouse gardening in your backyard? Click any of the links in this post to get your greenhouse now.