For many tasks in life finding the right tool for the job makes the work easier and faster. This also holds true for horticulturists who use various tools to lessen their workloads and to make their hobby that much more enjoyable. Greenhouse hobbyists, in particular, have an array of different tools they use in cultivating their plants. More specifically, there are many greenhouse accessories that can either improve the function of the greenhouse itself or provide a simpler solution for the every day chores greenhouse growers face. A closer look at some of the available greenhouse accessories and how they function can give any gardener a better understanding of which accessories may provide them with the most benefit.
Some greenhouses come equipped with ventilation systems while others require the hobbyist to install the vents of his or her choosing. Some greenhouse gardeners, especially those in extremely warm climates, choose to install additional vents to aid in cooling the greenhouse. Greenhouse hobbyists have a variety of vent systems to choose from. There are basic roof vents that are as simple as a hinged panel which opens manually and there are quite advanced solar powered vent systems which operate on a thermostat to ensure the vent opens at the predetermined temperature. Some vents are designed for the roofs of greenhouses while others are specific for wall applications. In most climates, greenhouse hobbyists can achieve proper temperature regulation with a non-powered ventilation system. In other words, vent systems that require no fan but rely on natural convection to draw the otherwise trapped heat out of the greenhouse. When you consider how devastating an overheated greenhouse can be for the plants contained within, ventilation systems become one of the most important accessories for the greenhouse grower.
Two of the most important environmental factors in any greenhouse are the temperature and humidity. Although they can be purchased separately, many greenhouse gardeners opt for a combo thermometer/hygrometer. These duel meters have the ability to measure both temperature (thermometer) and humidity (hygrometer). A greenhouse hobbyist who is aware of the environmental conditions is able to make better decisions regarding the greenhouse’s ventilation system and, in many cases, avoid the environmental extremes which can lead to a multitude of problems.
Some of the greatest accessories to become available to greenhouse hobbyists are shelving and benching systems. Shelving systems are exactly what the name implies, a shelf or series of shelves commonly used to hold multiple container plants. Like shelving within a home, greenhouse shelving systems are a big space saver and can offer the grower a larger square footage area of actual growing space. Shelving systems can be vertical or stadium-style and are made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, wood and various poly-plastics. Shelving systems offer benefits beyond space saving. Plants on shelving systems are raised off the floor, which helps to keep a more uniform temperature and provides a place of water run off.
Benching systems offer many benefits to the hobbyist greenhouse grower as well. Like shelving systems, benching systems raise the plants off the floor which makes it easier to maintain a uniform temperature around the plants. This is also a huge advantage in climates where a hobbyist is required to heat the greenhouse. Greenhouses with plants raised off the ground on benching systems require less heating than greenhouses with the plants sitting directly on the floor. One of my favorite benefits of benching systems in greenhouses is that it reduces some of the labor required when tending to one’s garden. By having the plants raised on a platform, there is no bending over required. In other words, benching systems are a major back saver which is something that any experienced gardener can appreciate. In some cases, benching systems can be included into the design of the greenhouse in order to save money in the overall cost. Gravel floors can be used instead of concrete and are actually ideal for benching systems because they will not hold run off water. On hard level surfaces, like concrete, benching systems with wheels can be installed and these have a few benefits. First, the benches can be moved around the greenhouse which provides more versatility f or plant placement and management. Secondly, benches on wheels can cover a larger square footage than permanent benches. Permanent benches require numerous walkways for the gardener to access all the plants in the greenhouse. When using benching systems on wheels, gardeners can move the benches as they work which minimizes the required space for paths or walkways. Benching systems can be constructed from a variety of materials but are most commonly found in wood, stainless steel, and various poly-plastics.
In some cases a greenhouse may require supplemental heating. Year-round greenhouses or greenhouses in colder climates can benefit greatly from a greenhouse heater. There are various heaters sold for greenhouse applications but the two most common types are electric and gas. Electric heaters are a great choice for small applications and are the most common choice for small hobby greenhouses. Gas heaters (propane or natural gas) are a bit more efficient than the electric heaters and also offer an additional benefit to the plants, an increased amount of CO2. Since plants use CO2 for photosynthesis, additional CO2 in the atmosphere of a greenhouse can help to accelerate plant growth. Many commercial and large hobby greenhouses use gas heaters as their source for supplemental heat.
For greenhouses that experience undesirable humidity or greenhouses in climates where the ambient humidity is generally high, a dehumidifier may be used to control or reduce the humidity in the greenhouse. Most dehumidifiers available today are digital and include their own humidistat. This is great news for the greenhouse gardener who is able to set the desired humidity and then let the machine work as needed. For year-round greenhouses, dehumidifiers are practically a necessity, especially when nighttime temperature fluctuations start causing condensation to develop in the greenhouse. A dehumidifier can be the most essential tool for combating unwanted pathogens (whose growth is promoted by high humidity and low temperatures) in a year-round greenhouse.
Fans are the accessory that every greenhouse should have. Even though most small greenhouses do not require mechanical ventilation systems, all should be equipped with an oscillating fan to help move the air within the greenhouse. Air movement within a green
house is essential in maintaining uniform environmental conditions. Air movement also helps to strengthen the structure of plants and stimulates more vigorous and hardy growth. In some cases, especially in larger greenhouses, mechanical ventilation may be required to maintain the proper environmental parameters. These greenhouses require powerful fans which help to maintain the proper atmospheric conditions.
Irrigation systems offer a way to automate watering and feeding cycles to the plants in a greenhouse. Although most commonly found in commercial greenhouses, irrigation systems are becoming increasingly popular for hobbyists. Most irrigation systems include a submersible pump, a reservoir (or direct pluming to a water source), feed-lines which are connected to each plant’s container or tray, and a timer. The gardener can use the timer to set up the watering schedule for the given crop on that irrigation system. A hobbyist can use an irrigation system, which saves time and labor, as a way to simplify the chore of watering irrigation systems.
Greenhouse environmental controllers are becoming more popular for hobbyist greenhouse gardeners. These greenhouse accessories are the cat’s pajamas when it comes to environmental automation. Fans, dehumidifiers, ventilation systems, heaters, and CO2 injection systems can all be controlled by one central “brain”, known as a greenhouse environmental controller. These amazing devices will control temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels in the atmosphere and, where applicable, horticultural lighting and the mechanical pumps for irrigation or hydroponic systems. For commercial growers, these devices are essential tools in maintaining the optimal growth conditions within the greenhouse at all times.
There are always devices or new developments which can make our lives a little easier. This is no different for greenhouse hobbyists who are continuously striving to make their gardens that much better. Not only do some greenhouse accessories make the plants in a greenhouse thrive, some can help the gardener continue to thrive with a strong back (benching systems and irrigation systems) and a relaxed mind (thermometers, hygrometers, and environmental controllers). Most small greenhouse growers can benefit from the addition of one or more greenhouse accessory. A closer examination of hobbyists’ greenhouses and their particular goals will reveal which greenhouse accessories are most beneficial to them.
Eric Hopper resides in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula where he enjoys gardening and pursuing sustainability. He is a Garden & Greenhouse contributing editor and may be contacted at Ehop@GardenAndGreenhouse.net.