When Christmas is past, and New Years has been rung in, what we’re left with is winter. Bare, cold, naked, winter. For a lot of the country this means near hibernation as thermometers dip to sub-freezing and sub-zero temperatures (it’s 10°F outside as I write this…but hey, at least it’s partly sunny).
For those who do their gardening exclusively outside, right now is still pretty much a time of dormancy. Sure there may be some planning, some rustling through seed catalogs and the like, but for the most part if you start and grow everything outside you still have a few months before the work can really begin in earnest.
However, if you are one of the increasing numbers of gardeners taking the plunge with a greenhouse, then now is the time to get started on your first crop of garden vegetables…or flowers…or whatever it is that gets you growing.
Getting your seeds started early is a great idea, particularly with a vegetable garden. It will allow you to grow two full crops of vegetables in many locations and it doesn’t require many more supplies than what you’re already using (beyond indoor growing space). When other growers are just putting seeds in the ground, you will be moving your mature seedlings into freshly tilled soil outdoors and enjoying their bounty months ahead of everyone else.
You can be a little more precise when starting indoors too. Most likely you’ll be starting your seeds in inserts that have individual cells so you can precisely control the number of seeds planted for every type of plant you’re growing. This will lead to less thinning and waste than just dumping a packet of seeds into a furrow in your garden. Plus, you have plenty of time to work with when you start early, so you can be meticulous and make sure your seeds are at the proper depth and that they maintain adequate moisture and nutrient levels. All of the variables that you would naturally contend with when growing outside are under your control inside, so starting seeds indoors can lead to higher success rates for planting overall. This reduces your waste and saves you time and money.
Now I should clarify that you don’t need a greenhouse to get started early. Many people start their first plants of the year in their garage or basement with the aid of some lights and other such accoutrements. This is totally fine. But a greenhouse can offer some advantages that a basement and garage don’t offer. And really, this type of season extending activity is what a hobby greenhouse is designed to excel at. Sure you can grow year round if properly heated, but as a season extender is where a small greenhouse really starts to earn its keep.
One big advantage is that you get natural sunlight, so you don’t have to pay to power grow light systems. While seedlings don’t really need one of the higher powered grow light systems, the cost of running a small fluorescent system can add up. Sunlight is free, and you can supplement with a grow light system if necessary. The cost for this will be a lot less than starting indoors.
Additionally, your plants also get used to the natural day/night cycle. This way you don’t have to set up timers to simulate the natural daylight hours and your plants won’t be thrown off by any inconsistencies in your supplemental lighting regimen.
Another distinct advantage is that the process of hardening your fragile young seedlings is a little bit easier in a greenhouse. Hardening is the process of getting the seedlings you started indoors used to the cool temperatures outdoors in the early spring. Without this process, the shock of moving outside can kill otherwise healthy plants. The hardening process is a little easier to achieve with a greenhouse. Your greenhouse may dip to 50°F, something that probably would never happen in your house. Plus your greenhouse is already outside, so exposing your plants to cold weather is a simple walk outside as opposed to up and out of the basement or garage.
Of course, to use a greenhouse as a season extender may still require some heating depending on your location. Even though winter may have turned a corner and spring is coming (eventually), your plants still need to be kept toasty enough to be tricked into thinking it actually is spring. Without heat, especially in colder climes, this trickery can’t happen.
Using a greenhouse to extend the growing season and maximize your growing space is the logical next step for anyone serious about gardening. With just a little extra care and effort, you can double the production from your garden in a season. That can translate into big savings, but more importantly, into having a constant supply of fresh from the garden food for the majority of the year.