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Get Growing: Greenhouse Basics

Updated on June 17, 2014
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Ever considered having a greenhouse in your backyard? No? Well, it’s probably best to give it some more thought because greenhouses make one of the most valuable additions to your home. Sure, they’re meant for growing crops and whatnot; on top of that, though, greenhouses allow people to be more self-reliant by raising more of their own food.

What is a greenhouse, anyway?

In simplest terms, a greenhouse is a structure in which plants are grown – and by structure, I mean either something small or something quite large in size. Its concept traces back all the way to the Roman times – when the Romans grew cucumbers in greenhouse-like systems so Emperor Tiberius could enjoy them even out of season.

In walks 13th century Italy, a time that witnessed the coming of the very first modern greenhouses. What used to be more commonly spotted in the backyards of fancy homes soon branched out to universities. Six centuries later, the largest greenhouses were built; and another century later, geodesic domes became in style.

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How does it work?

Greenhouses essentially reduce the rate at which thermal energy flows out of its structure. How? Quite simple, really: it impedes the heat that’s been absorbed from leaving its confines via the wonders of convection. Given its glass/plastic construction, sunlight can easily pass through greenhouses – and that’s perfect, as the sunlight is integral to keeping them warm.

The sunlight heats up the ground inside, which, in turn, warms up the air, which then keeps the plants inside warm.

What do I use it for?

By design, greenhouses are solar structures built to create a warm and flourishing environment for crops and other plants: no excess cold, no unbearable heat, and zero unwanted pests. And owing to this, greenhouses make it rather easy to grow certain types of crops all year round.

Greenhouses are most common in high-altitude countries, where a viable food supply is maintained. And if you’re keen to see some of the biggest ones, visit Spain – the Almeria province is pretty much packed with plastic greenhouses.

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Is it a "thing" now?

Gardening ranks among the most popular hobbies in the world, and so operating greenhouses only makes perfect sense – that having one basically means you’re extending the crops’ and other plants’ growing season. And in saying that, you know who else should feel ecstatic about greenhouses? Horticulture heads, because greenhouses allow them to grow flowers all season long.

Now when it comes to actually owning one, anyone can build a simple greenhouse on the cheap – make one out of glass or plastic, and it’ll still serve its purpose, all while looking attractive. If not, there’s always a variety of snap-together greenhouses for your home.

While other gardeners deal with wet soils, drought, or northerly winds, you have the option to operate a greenhouse, capture the sun’s heat, raise your plants in pots, and keep them warm. You may opt to build one yourself or purchase one of those snap-together ones, which may suit your home just as well.

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