Sunday, February 19, 2006

Choosing a Greenhouse or Cold Frame

By Christina VanGinkel

No matter where you live, a greenhouse or cold frame can extend your growing season. Whether you are a large-scale grower of plants that you sell for profit, or an individual who just wants to extend the length of time you can spend gardening each year, there is a greenhouse available for your needs. I am going to focus on the small types of greenhouses and cold frames that are available, for the private individual (not a business) for those times that you want to provide a very early start to young plants and essentially toughen them up. They can be made, or purchased. Purchased ones are popular because they usually come with all the materials, including any panel material, venting options, and framework all set to assemble. Many of them are also sized to fit accessories such as soil warming cables or heat mats. If you have a good set of plans, or the area you are going to place it in is an awkward layout or size, building it from scratch may be a better choice, but keep in mind that supplies for erecting it properly may still not be much less than if you just bought a kit to begin with. Compare prices, keeping in mind the finished product at all times. Even among kits, two exact sizes can have quite a few differences in quality of materials, type of coverings, venting, warranty, and more.

One drawback to purchasing or building a greenhouse or a cold frame is of course the price, as we were just discussing. Even a relatively small greenhouse can be pricey, so identifying what your needs are before you buy can help alleviate any over spending. Consider what types of plants you plan to use the greenhouse or cold frame for. Also, consider if you are going to use it strictly for your own needs, or if you plan to share your seedlings and young plants with others. This alone can have a huge impact on the size of the greenhouse or cold frame you will need.

Consider where it will be situated. You may have been dreaming about an elite styled greenhouse, complete with Dutch doors, and decorative elements across the top, making it as much a decorative addition to your yard as a useful one, but any space you have to relegate to its construction may be more closely matched to a shelf unit on a cart. Be realistic when choosing the perfect greenhouse or cold frame for your yard, lest you get all the building materials or the kit set out, only to realize that there is no possible way it is going to fit where you intended to place it.

Depending on your yard's layout, and where you have your garden, you will also want consider things such as easy access for hauling things like potting soil, and access to electrical outlets if you plant to use warming mats, fans, or other items such as heaters that will require electricity.

Once you have a clear plan in mind, it will be time to shop. If you are not a good comparison shopper, now is the time to sharpen those skills. Coverings of greenhouses and cold frames are manufactured of a wide variety of materials and thicknesses. Know what you are buying. Just because a design is shown with an access door, does not necessarily mean one is included, and so be sure to find this out. Solar systems are another option on some greenhouses, so do consider this option if your greenhouse will need to be located away from main buildings and convenient power supplies, but at the same time, make sure you understand what is included, and what is not. A solar system can add substantially to the total price of a unit, but it can also save you on operating costs. Frame material is also made of a variety of materials, from cedar to aluminum, and may or may not include items such as gutters and end caps, so again, be aware of what is included in the price being quoted to you.

Having your own greenhouse or cold frame can be a great way to make your time spent with your favorite pastime, as long lasting throughout the year as possible. Choose a greenhouse or cold frame with care and it will last you for many seasons to come.

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