Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 4, 2014

Green on the inside

Innovative greenhouses make for growing plants all year

TAHLEQUAH — Greenhouses have been around a long time. They’ve documented since 4,000 B.C. in Egypt.

Modern greenhouses can be as basic as a wood or metal frame covered with plastic, or elegant and expensive, built in the design of a new home.

Gardeners build greenhouses for a variety of reasons. They may want to know where their food is coming from or what poisons it may be exposed to. Others may enjoy having blooming plants year-round.

Sand Mueller has two greenhouses – one built in the traditional style, and another he created from used windows – and both have advantages. Ventilation is key in both greenhouses. The traditional greenhouse has a wood stove, and seals up tightly, being made of twin wall polycarbonate.

“That’s now considered the top glazing option, glazing referring to the use of glass as they did in the past,” Mueller said.

He dug out a foundation, which makes it partially sunken inside for cooling and warmth.

“It captures thermal heat because there’s more volume inside than outside the structure, and there’s less problem with heat buildup,” he said. “And tall structures ventilate better than short ones. Both greenhouses are relatively tall for their size.”

The traditional greenhouse is 22 feet by 16 feet, and cost about $1,500 to build. The glass window greenhouse is 26 feet by 8 feet, and cost only $600. Both greenhouses were designed and built by Mueller.

The use of recycled windows, both wooden and aluminum framed, save a lot of money and provides better summer options for plants. According to Mueller, it doesn’t hold heat as well in the winter, but ventilates much better.

“I can ventilate a little at a time or a lot in the summer, when it’s really hot,” he said. “It’s unique to any I’ve seen regarding shade, because it opens up so much to air and breeze, and gets very little heat buildup.”

In the summer, the traditional greenhouse has to be shaded, the covering removed, or the plants emptied out.

Mueller chose to build greenhouses to have growing plants available all year, and he loves gardening.

“In addition to planting production in the fall, winter and early spring - the cold period – I grow vegetables, including greens, peas, herbs and citrus because I can maintain temperatures at just above freezing,” he said. “I worked in greenhouses for a 40-year period, so I know the strengths and weaknesses. A traditional greenhouse like mine is good for family or personal horticulture, for a gardener or plant fancier, or small-time nurseryman. Mine are superior because they grow plants in a more sustainable fashion, with far less fuel and ventilate without electricity.”

Lisa and Brian Blancher built their own greenhouse, and in winter months, Lisa can be found in there sitting and enjoying a cup of tea.

“I can have house plants and get a head start on spring from seeds and cuttings,” she said. “When I lived in the tropics, I had flowers year-round, and I miss that.

Another perk is blooming plants.

“I always have really attractive house plants in my home, and if one gets bedraggled, I can switch it out with one from the greenhouse,” she said.

The couple researched options and purchased theirs from a Canadian company.

t features metal framework with special greenhouse plastic panels that have cells of tiny tubes with air pockets for insulation.

“Air is a good insulator,” she said.

They put it together on the south side of their shed so its long side is facing true south, for maximum sun in cooler temperatures. And it features a heated floor.

“The tubing in the floor circulates hot water for even, radiant heating coming up from the floor, so there are no cold spots, like having a heater in one spot does,” said Lisa.

For those with four free standing walls, she suggests placing heat close to the walls.

Their greenhouse also features a small radiator, like a baseboard heater, along the long wall set to turn on automatically if temperatures drop below 46 degrees.

They also have installed a drip system for watering.

Greenhouses should have an automatic vent system, like one with wax or other substance that expands and pushes the vent open, she said.

“Being too hot is a big problem for greenhouses,” said Lisa.

Another problem for greenhouse plants is pests, aphids, white flies, mealy bugs and soil gnats, she said. While she prefers to always find an organic option, she uses Bonide from the Farmer’s Co-op for container or potted plants.

“It has granules you can mix in the soil and it has no smell, so it can be used in house plants,” Lisa said. “I don’t use it in the garden because it harms the environment, like earthworms that you want.”

Some plants do better in a greenhouse than others.

“Shade plants don’t do well with too much sun, so it’s too sunny for overwintering, but geraniums, succulents, kalanchoes and bougainvilleas do,” she said.

“I have a lemon tree and grow herbs in mine, too.”

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