Plants For A Winter Greenhouse – What To Grow In Winter Greenhouse
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By: Amy Grant
Greenhouses are fantastic extensions for the gardening enthusiast. Greenhouses come in two types, standard and cold frame, which loosely translate into heated or unheated. What about growing plants through winter in a greenhouse?
Winter greenhouse gardening is similar to summer gardening when the right plants are chosen. Read on to find out what to grow in a winter greenhouse.
Winter in a Greenhouse
You can grow many winter greenhouse plants by simplyutilizing the natural sunlight or broaden your repertoire if you have a heated greenhouse.Either way, how do you choose plants for a winter greenhouse?
Winter greenhouse gardening can provide you with most of theproduce you need throughout winter months. In a greenhouse that is heated andcooled, even the most exotic fruits and veggies can be grown.
As you’re growing produce in winter in the greenhouse, othertender annuals can be sown for spring, perennials can be propagated,cold sensitive plants can be held over until spring, and hobbies such as cactior orchidgrowing can ease the chill of the season.
What to Grow in Winter Greenhouses
Almost any type of saladgreen will thrive in winter when using a greenhouse. Throw in some broccoli,cabbage,and carrotsand you’ve got fresh coleslaw or the makings for veggie soup.
Peasand celeryare excellent winter greenhouse plants, as are brusselssprouts. Winter’s chilly temps actually increase the sugar content in manyroot vegetables such as carrots, beets,radishesand turnips.
If you get on a root veggie roll, include other wintergreenhouse plants such as rutabagas,parsnips,and kohlrabi.Other winter greenhouse plants to grow include leeks,garlic,and onionswhich will become the bases for many comforting winter soups, sauces or stews.
But don’t stop there. A number of cold hardy plants aresuitable for winter gardening in an unheated greenhouse. And, of course, thesky is the limit if your greenhouse provides heating – any number of plants forgreenhouses can be grown in this environment, from heat-loving veggies andherbs to more cold sensitive plants like succulents and exotic fruit trees.
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Winter veggie gardens bloom in Minnesota as home greenhouse options grow
Listen Winter veggie gardens bloom in Minnesota as home greenhouse options grow
A short growing season. Sudden, killing frosts. Minnesota is tough territory for gardeners, but an Emily, Minn.-based company is enabling folks to grow their own organic veggies — in bulk — through our long, cold, dark winters.
"We can get up to 500 planting locations in a 96-square-foot farm, which would be producing approximately 140 heads of lettuce a week,” said Jon Friesner, founder of GroShed.
At the recent Home and Remodeling Show at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friesner showed off the sheds, which he calls farms. They're actually well-insulated, windowless prefabricated sheds that use hydroponics and LED grow lights to raise vegetables.
But you don't have to settle for just lettuce.
“We've grown over 70 varieties of plants, everything from eggplants to peas, beans, zucchinis, dozens of different varieties of lettuce, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes,” he said. “There isn't a whole lot you can't grow.”
Even when it's 30 below zero the days are short the sun is weak, he said. An 8-by-12-foot shed uses about $2 of electricity per day, and grow lights provide enough heat to keep the shed warm, he said.
Friesner envisions multiple markets for the sheds: Homeowners who want to grow tastier produce for themselves and friends, community groups looking to upgrade the quantity and quality of winter-time produce, and entrepreneurs who want to supply fresh, locally grown, organic produce to grocers and restaurants on a small scale. The sheds meet all of those demands while reducing the environmental impact of growing and transporting food, he said.
"Our current global food system is moving stuff all over the place at great costs,” Friesner said.
GroShed has sold eight units since its launch in July 2018. A basic model goes for $13,000. Larger units — up to 16-by-40 feet — are $150 per square foot. Friesner hopes to lower prices as his business scales up.
At the Minneapolis home show, people touring the GroShed remarked more about the freshness, flavor and healthiness of the food they could raise than whether it would save them money.
“It's definitely something to look into,'' said veteran gardener Brad Akkerman of Princeton.
Akkerman uses greenhouses, but not in the winter — they're hard to heat and he’s had them collapse under the weight of snow. He said he'd like to grow his own veggies year-round.
“If you can maintain herbs or vegetables in the wintertime that's great,” he said. “Everything is so much better (that) you grow at home than what you find in the store.”
Show attendee Randy Green of Minneapolis said structures like GroShed’s could be healthy community assets.
"Minneapolis definitely has a shortage of fresh produce in communities like north Minneapolis that I feel could really benefit from something like this, especially if it's affordable and sustainable," he said.
Ron Kidder, who lives in Ideal Corners, north of Brainerd, bought a GroShed in December. He had long tried to grow veggies in a dome-type greenhouse in winter. He said the plants didn't get strong enough sunlight, but his new structure works great.
"I just plug it into an outlet from my porch, use a hose to get water to the reserve tank every couple of weeks or so. Otherwise, it takes care of itself because it's so automated. The lights are on timers,” he said.
So far, Kidder has focused on growing lettuce. One head he let grow and grow hit about 2 feet. He's harvested about 40 heads, sharing what he and his wife can't eat with neighbors and friends.
Kidder said his GroShed also provides mentally refreshing doses of green during the eternal gray of winter. It's just 10 feet from his back door to his GroShed
"You just walk in there. It's toasty warm and everything is growing," he said.
GroShed is not alone in thinking it makes sense to try to grow veggies through cold northern winters, without using massive commercial greenhouses. A Boston firm — Freight Farms — puts hydroponic farms inside 40-foot shipping containers.
And the University of Minnesota has developed what it calls deep winter greenhouses. They are passive-solar greenhouses that rely primarily on the sun for heat, using supplemental heat only when necessary.
The greenhouses have a south-facing, glazed wall angled to get the most solar energy possible on the coldest day of the year. Heated air is blown underground and stored in rocks that provide heat at night.
"There are some people that are like, 'Oh we're just growing for ourselves.’ Then there's the other people who are actually trying to sell (produce),” said Daniel Handeen, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research.
The model is well-suited for lettuces, herbs, sprouts and other greens that don't need a lot of sun to grow. There are 25 of these Minnesota-hardy green houses in operation across the state.
Handeen said the greenhouse owners who sell produce focus on serving small groups of customers who sign up to receive produce through the winter. They’re not looking to serve grocery stores. Companies like Bushel Boy in Owatonna and Revol Greens in Medford are focused on that business, with big commercial greenhouses producing tomatoes and lettuce throughout winter.
Anyone who wants to build a smaller winter-hardy greenhouse can download plans from the University of Minnesota Extension website. Handeen said it’s possible to build a 100-square-foot structure for about $5,000.
Financially, investing in a GroShed or other greenhouse to grow food in winter may or may not pay off, said Ryan Pesch, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.
"It's economical for some and for others it's not economical," he said. "But the primary motivating factor for people to do this at all oftentimes relates to just how can we better feed ourselves and other people throughout the winter."
He said most people with one of the university’s deep winter greenhouses are growing veggies as a winter side business.
"Nobody is getting rich off winter greenhouse production, just yet. These are very modest-scale enterprises and modestly-sized greenhouses," Pesch said.
The city of Minneapolis is working with the university and a couple of Minneapolis nonprofits — Appetite for Change and Tamales y Bicicletas — to deploy two 1,200-square-foot deep winter greenhouses in the city soon.
“This project could help people in food-insecure neighborhoods to grow food at both a better price and better climate impact,” said Tamara Downs Schwei, the local food policy coordinator for the city.
And GroShed will soon have a presence in Minneapolis, too, at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.
'Deep winter' greenhouse grows veggies year-round
Listen Deep winter gardening
Nothing should be growing this winter day on these frozen, rolling hills.
Yet here are green vegetables, kale and lettuce, growing in near-90 degree temperatures. They're thriving in a specialized "deep winter" greenhouse, letting farmers Tom Prieve and Sue Wika grow fresh vegetables year round -- without a crushing electric bill.
Their plants survive largely on natural winter light. Fans force rising heat down into a rock storage area, part of a passive solar heating system that captures the day's warmth and releases it at night. On cold nights, a gas heater kicks in to help keep the temperature at 42 degrees. There are no banks of artificial lights.
It's a different kind of greenhouse, mixing technology and old school ingenuity to create an energy efficient winter farm. University of Minnesota researchers say the idea is starting to take off. About two dozen deep winter greenhouses can be found now in Minnesota. Many more are in the planning stages. A deep winter growing association will soon give winter gardeners a place to share what they're learning.
The small operations can be put up and run without spending a lot of money. Wika and Prieve's $5,000 winter greenhouse near Ashby is built like a lean-to against the south wall of the barn. Clear plastic panels cover the south wall, which is slanted at a 60 degree angle to best catch the midwinter sunlight. Next year a wood stove will help fight the overnight chill.
"I want people to know that this is a definite reality for people in northern climates," Wika says. "They can have greens in the depths of winter."
This is the second winter green plants have filled her greenhouse. Wika, the chief gardener, keeps careful records on everything growing. She says she's still learning. What plants are best suited to winter production? What soil works best? What's the most efficient way to heat the greenhouse at night? Who has the best ideas for affordable construction?
Dozens of 3-foot-long pieces of plastic roof gutter filled with soil hang from the ceiling. Rows of them are suspended from just above the floor to head high. Thick green vegetation spills over the sides.
On the floor are plastic bags of soil with holes cut in them. Chinese cabbage, turnips, radishes and beets sprout from the bags. The heated rocks under the floor keep them warm.
"Today we'll harvest some red Russian kale and we'll also harvest some of this komatsuna which is another really fast growing and productive Asian green," says Wika, who praises the Asian greens as the "the real star in these deep winter greenhouses."
There are also trays of barley, looking like squares of lush green grass - a treat for the goats and cows the couple milk as part of their sustainable farming effort.
"When it comes to feeding time you just simply peel it out of there and chunk it up and they gobble it down," says Prieve, who trained as a large animal veterinarian. "It's candy, they look for it first thing when they come in and it's a more healthy form of energy than the straight grain."
In about a month, the greenhouse will be filled with young tomatoes and other plants getting a head start on the outdoor gardening season. In summer, Wika uses the greenhouse as a giant dehydrator to make sun-dried tomatoes.
Wika and Prieve eat fresh greens every day and they sell or trade produce to six families in the area.
There are a lot of varieties that do very well in the winter with little care. Still, Wika spends about eight hours a week planting, watering and harvesting.
"I'm in here more time than I'm working," says Wika, who holds a doctorate in sociology. "I always spend a lot of time just enjoying the sun and temperature. A lot of it is leisure and therapeutic."
The plants will keep growing. Wika expects another harvest in three weeks. "They have amazing ability for recharging," she says. "Some you might only get two harvests from, but there are some of these greens I might get four harvests from. They can be very productive."
Wika places a tray of kale on a bench and starts trimming the thick bushy plants with a sharp knife, dropping the greens into a plastic tub. As she's working, she sees Buddy Kasper peering into the greenhouse through fogged-over sunglasses. The 69-year-old drives 30 miles each week from Fergus Falls to get his fix of winter greens.
"You don't even worry about salad dressing or anything. You reach in and grab a handful and stuff 'em in your mouth," he says. "It's just all of these different flavors come together at once. It's all you need in the dead of winter."
If you're new to greenhouse gardening, you might be surprised to learn that cooling your greenhouse is just as important as heating it. Daytime temperatures can be too high for many plants even in cold climates, and the whipsaw change from daytime heat to nighttime cold is brutal. Often, it's not the frost that kills your plants, but the transition itself.
Design your greenhouse to include lots of venting, either manually operated or automatic. Some automatic systems are self-contained and require no electricity, while others are electronic but low-voltage. Whichever option you choose, some form of venting is a must.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including Our Everyday Life, GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.