To Greenhouse or not to Greenhouse.. that is the Question

ChilbyJuly 17, 2014

Hi from Australia Guys, ( and Shiela's too )

I'm a retiring architect. A few years back I was given 750 sq feet of greenhouse glass which has sat forlorn in the shed under a bench.

Lately I messed up on an on-line auction site and won 3000 pieces of 39" long 2"x1" treated pine. It occurred to me it's perfect for making individual double frames for the glass. And so it seems that by accident I have most of the bits needed to make a reasonable sized glasshouse.

However I am the worlds worst gardener so my mandate in retirement is to improve my gardening skills marginally.

So here is my question: I live in rural South Australia. The soil is mainly deep volcanic sands often depleted in phosphorous. The climate is temperate ( tending to Mediterranean). Winters can be cold (10C), summer can be hot ( 30C mostly but up to 45C ). Frost is negligible but present. I live on the coast in a national park on the delta of the longest river in Oz.

if you were me, what would you grow in a glasshouse here? Why do I need it, would you build it? Is this a project that should involve hydroponics?

This is to say - i'd like to build something for that is my habit, I just don't know why!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You have the glass,wood,skill and all the time left to you in the world,question should be why not???? Learning to garden and grow is like saying cleanliness is next to godliness! Just look at the things your going to learn,mainly thru trial and error! Books you'll read learning your new hobby,besides it will help you live longer,keeping your mind refreshed!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 4:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

In a nearly frost free climate I see no need for a greenhouse. You can grow almost anything, or at least plenty of things, without a greenhouse. What I'd put up in that climate is a large cage covered with bird netting to keep out the critters, and hail if you have that. I've seen one in Australia but can't link to it now.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 10:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the suggestions guys.. but I seem to be back where I started! But perhaps I agree with dbrya1 more. Yes, so much to learn about the earth. In this region glasshouses are mostly used to grow tomatoes. I'd guess the covering allows less crop damage along with an extended growing season ( this I must learn about...) But that's commercial.. domestically many are used for tropical flowers or other plants that like warmth all year round, and climate control. Classically all the prize orchids in this region are greenhouse grown.
So perhaps I will build my structure, then see what transpires. My idea is to use a geometric form called a "hyperbolic paraboloid". This is basically a saddle shape, but can be extruded to sail-like panels. The advantage is that it's complex curved ( in both X,Y & Z planes ) but is constructed from straight sections. So if I design a timber "space frame" ( a web truss that spans in two directions at once ) lots of short sections of timber can be joined to make a strong and wide-spanning space. Then I can panel the structure with glass. This is the complicated bit for the glass must be laid down somewhat in the way roof shingles are. Once this would have been virtually impossible, but with the use of a CAD system, each pane of glass can be cut to a specific size to fit together as facets of a compound curve.. lots of work there eh.
Once I have completed this exercise, I can begin the really hard bit... learning about the complexities of growing plants.. :)

This post was edited by Chilby on Sat, Jul 19, 14 at 2:15

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 1:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

Rather than a hydroponics setup, you may wish to do an aquaponics setup ... I've seen videos on youtube of people raising yabbies and freshwater fish together, and using the water drained from the pond/tank to water their plants, which filter the impurities from the water to give fresh water back to the pond ...

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 1:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

example of a hyperbolic paraboloid structure made from all straight sections. This was a sound shell in a park, but I like the form rather

This post was edited by Chilby on Sat, Jul 19, 14 at 2:28

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 1:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

a very good suggestion by Skie_M... In fact I have an agricultural college near me where the students have an experimental aquaculture project that utilizes local fish species. But basically... yum and double yum on the yabbies....

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

a greenhouse I once designed. It is lens shaped and houses an elevated walkway and a rainforest exhibit. Adelaide Botanical Gardens , South Australia. Perhaps a bit large for my back garden. Also each glass section was scheduled, then made in Germany from toughened glass...a tad expensive for little ol me. This building has become known locally as the "Glass Pasty". In contrast though, a hyperbolic paraboloid shape is easily made with straight sections of timber clad with plastic sheeting stretched over. I wonder why more use isn't made of this shape in green houses since it is self-bracing and resists wind well. All poly-clad structures are basically tents, so having things well tied down is quite important. However, life has granted me a heap of rigid glass panels, so I accept my fate and will work with that instead of nicely plastic poly sheet...

This post was edited by Chilby on Sat, Jul 19, 14 at 2:25

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

So ... gonna build a pyramid out in the middle of koala land? =D

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

lol.. Skie_M.. yes it'll stop the tourists who drive by my house in their tracks for sure... As you may understand, an architect likes to hit you in the eye! But a building must have a function or it is merely a sculpture. I like your idea a lot as I think about it.. for it tends towards a design using water in an enclosed artificial tropical climate. This would give me.. fish.. but also all that comes from fish ( a lot of manure.. ) .. along with a range of tropical fruits not normally available here. So I see moving water and healthy fish and crops of mangos and banana's ( which cost a fortune here..) .. lol. But yes you make it clear to me.. a glasshouse makes this possible, and this is it's value perhaps. The combination of water/energy efficiency/sustainability is quite exciting. As always.. I must read a lot more... :)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

Don't forget to get yourself some solar panels .... not necessarily for grow lights, but for pumping water ... it would cut your overall production costs considerably.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sturgeonguy(5a ON)

One thing a GH will allow you to do is alter temperatures, humidity, and light exposure. The link I have added is just a general example of an evaporative cooler. Basically, water is misted through your wall.

As far as what to grow, that's not a hard question. What produce do you eat the most of...start with that. What produce is least available locally...grow that. Can you grow anything that can be stored for later use (potatoes, carrots, onions, shallots, etc...) grow that. Of course many of these are not necessarily GH candidates, but hopefully you get the idea.

Then there's the germination side of things. You will be able to get heirloom seeds started earlier and in better conditions with a GH.

At any rate, think first of your own consumption, then think about things you'd like to show off to friends (e.g. your very own Orchid), and if so inclined, something you could sell at a local market (I have Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms on logs, but they wouldn't do well in your outdoor environment, but could do very well in the controlled GH environment.)

Good luck and have fun.


Here is a link that might be useful: Evaporative Cooling Products

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 4:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks Russ, all taken onboard.

I once worked on an apple orchid for an Arab Sultan. It was 5 acres of desert sand with a 20' high masonry wall with machine gun towers at regular intervals. The sand was sprayed with crude oil as a mulch, and a drip irrigation firm from England put in a pumping station with water and fertilizer feeds. Water came 50 miles from a desalination plant on the coast. After 3 years it started producing fruit and the sand was turning to soil with birds and insects resident in the place. It altered the moisture levels in the area so much that native vegetation is now growing outside the walls. And so I learned that if you were the richest man in the world and lived in a desert.. the thing you'd value most is fresh apples.
And so I begin to think about the fresh tomato's I could have in my salad, the juicy mango's and other tropical fruits that a greenhouse could produce. Also I visualize a table and chairs on a sawdust floor with orchids hanging around me inside the magic place.. and it being warm even in the dead of winter. So with a little thought I will try to live better than a Sultan methinks :)

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 2:18AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

me thinks you thinks are on to something goood

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 7:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Wait...the guy mulched with crude oil? Wouldn't that kill the plants?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 7:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Skie_M(Zone 7 (Southwestern Oklahoma)

If you really think about it, where does oil come from? It's the result of a massive amount of plant matter that tried to decompose without the presence of oxygen thousands of years ago .... Wouldn't that make it the perfect fertilizer, after the light volatiles have evaporated off?

The "bad" oil you are thinking about is stuff that's been used in your car engine ... the metal fragments that are sloughed off the parts and the chemical additives dumped in to change some of it's inherent properties are what make it bad. That and synthetic oils that just wont break down over time with exposure to air and biological agents....

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 12:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Sandiasingh(6B NM)

What an exciting project, Chilby!

I am currently working on a year-round indoor gardening project using galvanized horse troughs for raised beds. I have a 2,000 sq. foot finished space with concrete floors, two stories high and an entire north wall of windows. Not best for exposure here in the North, but loads of indirect light to which we will add grow lights as necessary.

It's a very exciting project for me and I hear where you're coming from. You sound like a life-long learner so it will be fun for you as my project is for me.

Do keep us posted!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 5:00PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
HELP!! First year with greenhouse
Hello friends. My hubby bought me a small 6x8 greenhouse...
Avocados for zone 3?
Please see below for the question.
temp in your greenhouse, and temp/weather outside, right now?
I'm curious as to what kind of passive solar gain you...
Photo--Jim's chic shack
Not quite finished yet, but thought that I’d share...
James_Shaw_San Francisco Bay Area
I want a greenhouse but I'm not sure where to start?
I want a greenhouse to keep bigger animals like rabbits...
Sponsored Products
FontanaArte | Kodo 3099/120 Wall/Ceiling Light
$310.00 | YLighting
MFC3600 Portable Evaporative Cooler
$399.00 | FRONTGATE
Light My Shed III White 18 1/2" Wide Solar Shed Light
$99.00 | Lamps Plus
French country produce rattan basket
Origin Crafts
Sage Countertop Greenhouse
$44.99 | Dot & Bo
Blue Wave Solar Pro Xf
Beyond Stores
Baby Tears Succulent Set
$14.99 | zulily
Cold Frame Bureau
$999.99 | Dot & Bo
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™