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It is a question almost every grower, gardener, and farmer will eventually ask themselves. Greenhouses cost a lot; between their financial burden and the effort they require to function, not to mention the space they take up, it is inevitable that you begin to wonder if it is worth it.
So, are greenhouses worth the money? Greenhouses are worth it. For all the resources requires to operate them, they give returns on multiple levels: From the practical returns of the fruits and vegetables you can harvest, to the emotional returns of watching something you care for grow.
But as appealing as it is to simply promise that greenhouses are worth it, not everyone will be convinced by such an appeal to emotion. How does one break it down? How do we decide whether they are worth it or not?
Well, it all depends on the reason you are using your greenhouse in the first place.
Most people who operate greenhouses will be the average consumer. Perhaps they bought a small greenhouse on Amazon, or perhaps they built their own.
You can build your own greenhouse for less than $500, so the question becomes: Is a greenhouse worth it for around $500?
Is Gardening for Pleasure “Worth It”?
It is, because just the set-up of a greenhouse will teach you a lot about a lot. To begin with, building your own greenhouse will involve purchasing, cutting, and transporting wood. After you have all that, the greenhouse’s paneling needs to be installed.
Do you know how few people actually know how to do all those things? Building a greenhouse is like a massively discounted vocational school class on construction.
In particular, hiring a contractor to help with window paneling can cost up to $10,000 dollars (depending on the size of the window). Building a greenhouse will teach you a very rudimentary level of the same skill. You will not necessarily be ready to replace car windshields, but you will have some experience.
Should you choose to accept the challenge, building your own greenhouse will provide you with skills that most people end up paying thousands of dollars for.
Even if you get a pre-built greenhouse, you will still need to learn a lot (or “get” to learn a lot, depending on your outlook). Starting with the placement of the greenhouse, you will need to learn how the sun travels across the sky. This, in turn, requires you to understand how the solstices work.
Once you have the greenhouse placed and decide on your plants, you will need to learn about their sunlight needs, feeding habits, and everything else that might help them grow. The great thing about learning about plant life is that knowledge is highly transferable.
Learning about growing flowers, for instance, will require learning about every stage of a plant’s life cycle: Germination from the seed, growing from a sprout, and then finally flourishing into a bud.
These principles are important to all forms of plant life, so there is no wasted effort in learning about them no matter what you are growing.
One of the most important things to remember when evaluating the worth of greenhouses is that knowledge builds on itself. If you get a pre-built greenhouse you will learn about growing. If you build a greenhouse yourself, you will learn about planting and growing.
By that same token, the next tier of commitment to your greenhouse will both require and yield even more expertise.
Is Growing for Food “Worth It”?
Building your own greenhouse to take care of your green friends is one thing. But what about growing plants that you actually intend to harvest? How can you make that worthwhile?
In this case “growing enough to harvest” means “growing enough to harvest for a meal”. That is important to note, because if you have a greenhouse it is likely you have already harvested something off of your existing plants.
In this case, you need to consider what it takes to grow enough to eat a whole meal, grown entirely by your own hands, in your own greenhouse.
The key difference between growing for pleasure and for a harvest is the volume of plant life grown. Whereas growing simply to spend time with your green friends means you can water each plant individually, growing to have enough to eat means investing in actual agricultural science.
One of the biggest additions to the process is that of “manuring”. This is the use of compost, mulch, and other fertilizers to feed plants nutrients that will super-charge their output. Manuring has to be done at regular intervals, and the type of supplement has to be chosen based on what plant you are growing.
After that comes irrigation. This is the technique by which lines of sprinklers are laid out alongside your plants. It allows you to water them en masse, meaning that you never have to worry about missing one, or not watering one enough. This allows you to take care of far more plants effectively.
Growing enough in your greenhouse to harvest means that you will need to add these techniques to your repertoire. This means that this knowledge becomes part of the harvest: Learning about chemistry from manuring, then learning about plumbing and the water cycle from irrigation.
So, is it worth it to grow in a greenhouse in order to harvest the (sometimes literal) fruits of your labor? It is. And not only that, but it is also more worth it than just building the greenhouse. Having a greenhouse means you are able to grow in winter as well as grow in summer.
Building a greenhouse will save you money on costs that you might have to incur. Things like fixing woodwork and replacing windows. Harvesting with your greenhouse will save you money on costs you will definitely have to incur. Namely, eating.
But even an abnormally large greenhouse will yield you enough to eat a single meal. If you want more than that, you will have to go bigger. Big enough, in fact, to be considered a farm.
That is the next tier of questions: Are greenhouses worth it for farming? Can you grow enough in a greenhouse to sell for a profit?
Is Farming for Crop Yields “Worth It”?
Once more the answer is yes, although this is usually where most people stop investing in going further.
The reason for this is that farming is rather time-consuming. It has the potential to replace most of your meals with personally grown fruits and veggies, barring protein needs of course. But the trade off is that it almost becomes a full-time job, supplanting most other uses of your time.
But the question is not whether or not farming is worth it for you. The question is whether a greenhouse is worth it for farming.
In order to grow enough to actually make a profit, you will have to go beyond just manuring and irrigating your crops. You will have to install special lights to help your crops grow, as well as greenhouse vents to carefully monitor the temperature of your crops.
These are more important when farming for profit than for food. You do not want to grow too much when farming for food, otherwise you will produce waste that you will just have to dispose of. When farming however, since all your product is meant to be sold, the more you produce the better.
Both of these tools require foreknowledge of what kind of crops you intend to grow. Every plant’s ideal wavelength of light is different, so the lights will only stimulate plant growth if they provide exactly the right wavelength of light.
This applies to the vents as well. Every plant requires a certain amount of heat to germinate its seeds, and then grows stronger when germinating in greater heat. But by the same token, each plant also has a temperature at which they become too hot to germinate.
To recap, that means that on top of the technical knowledge required to build a greenhouse, as well as the harvesting knowledge required to produce edible produce, greenhouse farming also yields knowledge of light and plant science. That is quite a bit of knowledge!
But going even further than that, farming out of a greenhouse will also teach you some rudimentary electrical skills. Lights and vents have to be electrically powered, after all.
This is not everything you can do to make your farm yields greater, but it is just about what you must do. Especially in a greenhouse, farming is hard work that pays off immensely.
How do you Sell Crops, Anyways?
Once all of this is set up and producing enough for you to sell, you can then move your product at a local farmer’s market. Although that market might not be big enough for the amount you will have by that point.
There are a variety of places farms can sell their goods. Farmer’s markets are one, but restaurants are always looking to stock up on produce. With some business sense, you can undercut the prices of bigger farms.
It is not necessary to be so competitive, however. Many farms and farmers actually work together to provide produce. Usually this will take the form of an agreement between farms: Farm A will only produce Crop A, while Farm B will only produce Crop B.
That way when a restaurant, farmer’s market, or grocery store needs either crop, either farmer can refer the other. Neither farmer is taking the other’s business away, and everyone gets what they need.
This does not mean that you always have to farm according to the whims of other, more well-established farmers.
Cooperatives are another way of selling your crops that relies on multiple farmers growing the same crops. These are farmer’s groups dedicated to filling even larger production needs.
These are the pathways you have to making farming in a greenhouse worth it. But these tips make a few assumptions.
They imagine you to be working in a greenhouse, or multiple greenhouses, of sufficient size to grow what you need. These tips also assume you have the space for such structures.
Is a greenhouse worth it if you are somewhere that a greenhouse is not usually placed? Can a greenhouse be worth it if you are growing in a city, for instance?
Is Growing Where Plants Cannot Grow “Worth It”?
A greenhouse is a structure that captures light and holds in the heat it creates, using both of these things in conjunction with a caretaker (that’s you) to grow plants in environments where they would not normally be able to survive.
But most people forget that greenhouses do not have to be in backyards.
There are two kinds of greenhouses that can function in a city environment: Rooftop types, and basement types. Rooftop greenhouses are almost identical to the kind you might build in your backyard. They feature the same structure, glass paneling, and can even include irrigation.
Rooftop greenhouses can be built on the top of any apartment or office building. You will have to get permission to use the space, but many leasing companies are willing to give it.
Office buildings might actually let you use the space for free as well since greenhouses and the accompanying plant life are proven to boost productivity. Rooftop greenhouses are worth their effort for the same reason backyard greenhouses are.
Even more so if you are living in a particularly dense urban environment—in some cities you can go miles without seeing any plant life at all. It is just miles and miles of concrete sprawl. This has a detrimental effect on human beings. Greenhouses can help combat this.
Basement greenhouses are a slightly different story, at least in terms of how they are situated in an urban environment.
As stated before, greenhouse farming will usually require the use of lights to stimulate plant growth. The thing is you can use those same lights not just to supplement light but substitute it.
This will only work when caring for smaller plants, however. You cannot farm out of a basement, at least not in the amount necessary to make a profit. Basements, especially in major cities, just do not have the space.
Regardless, a basement greenhouse is still a greenhouse. It still has heat, light, and plant life, all of which provide the same benefits as a rooftop greenhouse.
Basement greenhouses do not require you to build the same skills as a backyard greenhouse. You might begin to wonder if it is worth it to even bother with keeping plants alive in a basement. After all, what are they giving you if you are not going to eat or sell them?
That question ignores the fact that plants give much more than their purely utilitarian value. Plants do not exist simply to be eaten by humans or sold on a market.
Growing in General is Worth It
In fact, plants have existed since long before humans began walking upright. And throughout our whole history as a species, we have coexisted with plant life. Not always perfectly—there is plenty of evidence to that effect. But we have coexisted nonetheless.
Greenhouses and the growing of plants are worth it even if they do not satisfy physical or financial incentives. This is because people relate to plants; people see plants’ struggle to grow and survive and project onto it. You will get satisfaction from the growing of plants no matter who you are because that sort of thing is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of DNA.
You can still experience this even if you do not currently own a greenhouse. Many parks and botanical gardens offer classes and events that teach people how to take care of plants.
If you are skeptical about the non-material value of greenhouses and plant growing, take one of these classes. Or even just pause to consider how frequently you interface with plant life on a daily basis. You do not have to literally stop and smell the roses. Just look around.
Are there plants outside your window? Are there plants on your way to work? There are likely plants decorating your workplace. And even if there are not, your body is subconsciously put at ease by the chirping of birds.
If birds are chirping, then humans instinctively know that dangerous predators are not nearby. Birds will not nest in environments devoid of plant life.
Cultivating a greenhouse means cultivating this exact relationship between your unconscious mind and the natural world. This should not be mistaken for pseudo-science either; time and again, science has proven that this relationship is real and measurable.
So, give greenhouse planting a try. If you can spare the time, you only stand to gain from it. And even if you cannot spare the time, you can watch videos, take classes, or just take a moment to reflect on what nature gives you besides food and money. You might find that what nature gives you is more valuable than many things you own.