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Build Your Own Greenhouse

Re-purpose old windows to create a climate-enhancing space for garden starts, tomatoes and more.

I'll be honest: when my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to plant a garden this spring—our first living together—things quickly mushroomed out-of-control.

Our garden is not a planter box or a small patch of tilled-up yard.  that amount to 111 square feet of garden space and a 5-by-8 slant-roof greenhouse.

Yup, we built a greenhouse in our backyard. And now I'm going to encourage you to do the same.

Here's why: Our little micro-climate in Aptos tends to be a tad cool in the summer for prolific tomato-growing and impossible for peppers. We thought a greenhouse could outsmart Mother Nature by heating up those crops a bit. While not all of Santa Cruz County needs the heat reserve a greenhouse can provide, let's see a show of hands for who struggled to get tomatoes ripe the past couple of summers. Unless you live in Boulder Creek or Aromas, I imagine the summer fog spoiled your tomato production.

A greenhouse also will prolong your growing season—perhaps year-round for some veggies—with the added heat and protection from winter rain and wind.

Besides, we (well, I) thought the greenhouse would be an adorable addition to the little property we live on. Picture sipping a cup of coffee in an Adirondack chair as pea shoots climb toward the roof, a wind chime dangles from a corner and the morning sun twinkles through the glass.

So this is what we did:

First, we hoarded some single-pane windows that we had replaced in our house last fall. You could get old windows via Craigslist or at the salvage yard in Capitola (it's OK to haggle with the owner).

Later, the neighbor pointed out we could have built the entire greenhouse a lot safer and cheaper by enclosing the whole thing in plastic or Plexiglas. We discovered that corrugated plastic roofing costs about the same as old shower doors ($10 a pop) so expect to invest $100 in glass or hard plastic. Using rolls of plastic, while not as durable, would be much more economical.

Once you have your siding figured out, it's time to build the structure. With help from my parents, we used 2x4s to construct a frame for the greenhouse on top of some redwood planks. Be sure to brace the corners. We also found that using wood screws (instead of nails) was easier when working around all that glass.

We had just enough windows from the house to cover all the sides and build a door. Then we found some recycled shower doors at Capitola Freight & Salvage to tack onto the roof.

The planks for the base were cheap. We found an end-of-the-pile deal at  that cost 80 cents a square foot (delivery not included).

The 2x4s are a little pricier, but we went with fir instead of redwood to reduce costs. Although redwood weathers slower, we'll probably slap some paint on the greenhouse eventually, which will prolong the lumber's life. Also, unlike the redwood, the 2x4s aren't in direct contact with the soil.

To secure the shower doors as the roof, we screwed 1x2 strips of pine between the glass pieces. The 8-footers are less than $2 each and we only needed a couple.

We have a couple of gaps in the sides of the greenhouse where the windows didn't quite fill out. We'll tack old fence boards here. It increases the cutesy factor astronomically (think wind-blown beach cottage meets historic barn) and also provides a little stability to the structure. That old single-pane glass is frail; we've already shattered one window playing fetch with the dogs.

I'm also using the old fence boards to add shelving in the greenhouse, and Mom suggested hacking up an old bookcase as well. The plan is to cover the floor (currently dirt) with old black rubber kitchen mats, which will create more heat and keep the weeds down. You could also use ground cloth or old carpeting for this.

 As those graduate to the garden beds outside, I'll put pots of tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse.

While we went pretty big with our greenhouse (it might qualify as a studio apartment in Santa Cruz), you could create something smaller with 2x4 and plastic and place it atop existing garden beds to invigorate growth this spring. Or use plastic to create a hoop house over your garden, .

Pick up a book about greenhouse gardening if you want to know more.

JoAnn Pohorsky September 13, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Love your greenhouse, how did you handle the ventilation issue? Thanks, JoAnn
JoAnn Pohorsky September 13, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Love your greenhouse, how did you handle the ventilation issue?

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