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As dedicated gardeners, we’ve all had that dream. The allure of hauling in baskets full of veggies during the cold later months of the year makes for a tantalizing idea, indeed- but is it possible? Can you grow plants in a greenhouse year-round? Does a greenhouse work in winter?
Many kinds of greenhouses afford differing possibilities with regards to winter gardening. With thick walls and some sort of heating system, a heated greenhouse will keep you growing summer crops all year long. An unheated greenhouse is cheaper and, with the right crops, you can keep producing despite the snow and ice.
So, what kinds of plants will you be able to grow during the winter in a greenhouse? Can any greenhouse grow in the winter? What types of modifications will you need to outfit your greenhouse for the harsh winter months? All these questions and more will be answered in this article.
Does a Greenhouse Work in the Winter
Without further ado, let’s get right to our main question: does a greenhouse work in the winter?
When we ask ourselves if a greenhouse will work in the winter, we’re asking a question with many answers. It’s better to ask: will my greenhouse (or planned greenhouse) work in winter. Depending on what kind of greenhouse with what sorts of materials and equipment you’re using- the answer will differ.
If your greenhouse has sturdy, top-of-the-line materials lining its walls, dual-layered glass, and metal frames with an insulated door, you’re the best candidate for winter growing. Just make sure you’ve got a heat-source operating in your greenhouse. A sturdy greenhouse will trap heat, but passive heat-trapping won’t be enough to keep warm temperatures during the winter.
If you’re not into the idea of buying a super-efficient heating system (perhaps you exhausted your funds on a state-of-the-art greenhouse), then there are a couple of DIY ways to get your greenhouse temperature rising.
A hotbed is a great way to heat your greenhouse in the winter, and it requires no electricity or convoluted wiring whatsoever.
Hotbeds take advantage of natural processes that occur during the decay of raw materials. A hotbed is essentially a bed of straw and other compostable materials, lined with bricks or some other heat-retaining material.
As the straw composts, it releases methane and other gases- greenhouse gases, that is- which work to better trap heat in your greenhouse and keep temperatures rising.
Maybe it’s the smell that’s putting you off, or perhaps it’s constantly having to change out the compost material. Either way, you may be looking for another solution. In that case, you might be more receptive to the hot-water heating system.
A hot-water heating system is exactly what it sounds like. By lining your greenhouse with heat-conducting pipes and pumping hot water through them, you can heat your greenhouse via their radiation. While this involves a little more fiddling and craftsmanship than the hotbed, I’ve never known a gardener who was afraid of a good DIY project.
Smaller, DIY Greenhouses
Alright, so you’ve got a few DIY heating projects- but what if you don’t have the well-insulated, professional greenhouse? What if, instead, you’re working with something a little more makeshift?
For those of us with a tight budget, there’s nothing more familiar than the sound of crinkling greenhouse-lining material. Cheap- abundant- and effective- it’s the best choice for gardeners who don’t want to break the bank.
But can you garden throughout the winter in that little plastic tunnel you’ve built in the backyard?
No worries: you don’t need the big four thousand dollar structure to grow big, healthy vegetables all-year-round. All you need is a little innovation.
Take, for example, your lining. If you step into your greenhouse on a winter’s day and find a thick layer of frost lining the ground, you may be wondering: how could I have prevented this? The answer: try adding a layer or two of material to increase your greenhouse’s insulating qualities.
Another problem that might be making your greenhouse more susceptible to frost is bad ventilation. You may, for example, have a few excessively-sized holes where you’ve decided to staple your lining materials to your frame. In this case, it’s a simple matter of patch-work to get your greenhouse on track.
If, however, you’re really dedicated to your summer veggies but don’t want to spend a premium, you can try employing the methods we mentioned above to heat your more makeshift greenhouse. For example, a hotbed will work spectacularly to insulate your greenhouse and won’t cost you a fortune.
Plants to Grow in a Winter Greenhouse
If you’re planning on growing in a greenhouse with less insulation and no heating system, you might just have to accept that things will get a little cold on those chillier nights. But that shouldn’t stop you.
Avid gardeners may be familiar with the concept of the grow-box. These boxes, built from glass and wood, mimic high-quality greenhouses with all their insulation tricks. A DIY home greenhouse is more like a hoop tunnel.
Hoop tunnels are a strategy for winter growers that utilizes minimal resources for high returns. The basic premise is this- protect from frost, and that’s all. Growing vegetables in these simple contraptions just requires that you pick the right plants. Winter growing in your plastic-and-toothpick claptrap is just the same.
While you may not be able to keep it summery in your greenhouse, you can still guard your plants against frost. With this advantage, there are plenty of plants that will grow throughout the winter.
Who doesn’t love a good carrot? Whether steamed, mashed, cooked into a soup, or eaten raw, carrots are a great source of nutrients that always delight. But what most people don’t know about carrots is that they’re incredibly hardy little plants.
Your average carrot can actually withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes them the Rocky Balboa of the gardening world. Keep the frost off these babies, and you’ll be eating garden-fresh veggies year-round.
Spinach is great in dips, salads, and even smoothies, and bags of spinach fly off the shelves at grocery stores every single day. With their soft, leafy texture, you wouldn’t expect them to be as hardy as they are- but oh, they are.
Spinach can withstand the low temperatures of winter and is used by winter gardeners across the world to keep fresh vegetables flowing through the door despite cold temperatures. If you’ve got a craving for a garden-fresh crunch, try planting a few spinach plants. You won’t regret it.
The jury is far from out on radishes. Some think they’re a delightful addition to a salad and will eat them pickled as well as baked. Others won’t go anywhere near them. It’s true- that spicy kick can be a limiting factor in their popularity- but who can blame them? They can go through a lot in their little lives and still be edible and delicious.
Radishes- the ugly little tubers with an attitude- can withstand soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees! Keep the frost off their leaves, and they’ll be growing like champs all winter long. There’s nothing you can’t do with a good row of radishes in your winter greenhouse.
I have some personal memories with garlic- and no, not culinary ones. Some people may remember garlic as the little minced jelly you pull out of a jar. I remember it as the hardy crop that my uncle would grow in his garden all winter long.
If you’re looking for a vegetable that will stick out the cold temperatures with you, you’re looking for garlic. A clove or two of garlic is an excellent addition to a steak, a soup, or any culinary creation under the sun- and fresh garlic is all the better for really picky chefs.
Good lord, do we love peas. Just the thought of that crunchy snap as you bite into a fresh pea is enough to make the mouth water. But, like our other selections, these cute little veggies have a tough side.
While peas may not look as brutal as, say, carrots or radishes, you shouldn’t underestimate their ability to stick out a cold night. So long as you don’t let the frost get to them, you’ll be eating crunchy green peas whenever you want- rain or shine, wind or frost.
Just save some for everyone else- that crunch can get just a tad addicting.
For our final recommendation- why not try growing a bit of broccoli? Broccoli will stick it out in the colder weather and will grow just fine in less-outfitted greenhouses. Plus, a broccoli-cheddar stew never hurt anyone.
All in All
All in all, if growing in your greenhouse during harsh winters is what you want, it can be done. Certain greenhouses are better outfitted for the occasion, but with the right crops and the right modifications, you can be hauling in plentiful loads of fresh veggies all the way through Christmas.