The Glories of The Winter Greenhouse

I’m a Southerner. With a capital “S”.  Which is why I am Suffering, with another capital “S”. Here in the Blue Ridge mountains of western Virginia, we have officially surpassed Anchorage and Denver in total snowfall for the season. Today’s batch adds up to 24″ on the ground at our farm.

Blueberries in the snow. If one more person says “Probably good for all the insect problems,” I’m going to get violent.

The chickens are not happy. They’ve been cooped up (ha! I didn’t really mean to do that!) for 10 days straight. I myself suffer from cabin fever, limp hair, seasonal depression, and a persistent cough.

Hell no, we won’t go!

What keeps me from going totally nuts? Only the best $12,000 ever spent – no,no, not granite counter tops…it’s our very own greenhouse. This modest 24′ x 48′ polycarbonate sheet hoop house may not resemble a Victorian conservatory (you can get one of those beauties here), but it works like a champ.  Yes, we have greenhouses on campus for research and teaching, but that’s work; and pet plants are frowned upon.

Nothing beats your own private winter hideaway. My plant-diva-friend Elissa uses her crowded greenhouse for not only her immense plant collection, but also a festive (if cramped) happy hour.

As sleet pelts the roof, I’m surrounded by green: tropical plants dug up from the garden before frost and those “pets in pots” accumulated from hither and yon.  The humidity is wonderful – I can hear my skin go “aaahhhh” after a couple of hours.

Herd o’ Agaves and succulents. They’re perfectly happy with the cool temperatures – several are blooming.

I’ve dreamed of one for years; then finally took the jump 16 months ago. Again, it’s nothing a homeowner’s association would ever approve of; just a commercial-grade, heavy duty, Quonset-type production house. Stylistic concerns were sacrificed for square footage. The most common complaint from home greenhouse owners is “I wish I had built a bigger one.”

The other concern is heating costs. It has a propane heater, and propane’s not cheap, nor environmentally friendly. But we run it pretty darn cold – around 48 F night temperatures, which certainly helps. Are the tropicals thrilled? Not really, but they’re alive and hanging in there (however, the begonias are really grumpy right now).

Some PVC pipe + overhead misting + heating mat = broccoli spinach, and basil seedlings, happily germinating at a 75 F soil temperature, despite an air temperature below 50 F. Basil?! Yes, I realize I’m totally jumping the gun timing-wise here, made worse by the fact that I teach both greenhouse management and ornamental plant production (do as I say, not as I do!).

Yep, more fun than you can shake a shovel at!
I’ll take your questions, comments, and snowballs now…

11 thoughts on “The Glories of The Winter Greenhouse”

  1. Holly–I’m jealous! I’ve always wanted a greenhouse. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved that “greenhousy” smell and the rush of warm, moist air that greets you whenever you step inside.

  2. The internet has sensitized gardeners to the variations in Zones, and therefore, climatic conditions in other parts of the English speaking gardening world.
    Heavy snowfalls in the greater Montreal area are considered normal. Therefore, it’s hard to sympathize with your plight. However, I am envious of your greenhouse. That would make the winters here move up from bearable to delightful.

  3. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to go inside and breathe spring air?

    My GH is less than a quarter the size of yours, crammed with delights. Salvia elegans and pentas are among my fa
    vs. The dog and cat enjoy lemongrass all winter.

  4. Holly, your recollections remind me of our years in Buffalo (one year – 34″ in one day!). Buff State has a small glasshouse filled with all kinds of plants. I loved it in the winter for the same reasons you do…

  5. Holly I am a southerner by birth and a Hawaiian by 20 years of living there. The more winters I spend in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, the more obvious it becomes I will need a small production greenhouse for the basics of seed starting and plant propagation. You just can’t do that outside year round like I was so used to in Maui. Even my elevation lacks the heat needed for good rooting of cuttings in the summer.

  6. Oh, I have GE or Greenhouse Envy all right! I did see a little cedar greenhouse made by Pike Bartlett at the NEGrows Show. It had the option for ebb & flo benching and a thermostatically controlled roof. Comes in three sizes. I would love to have one but the hoop houses give more room for less $$$$.

  7. Thanks, all, for the comments (and a few snowballs – I knew I’d get a “Wimp!” note from somebody). And Christopher! You LEFT Maui?? Dude.

    Thanks for noticing my A. polyphylla, Hap! I’m very proud…

    Something I failed to mention is that last spring I grew vegetable transplants and sold them wholesale to the local garden center. Helped pay for some propane! Alas, this year I hung on to way too many plants – will barely have room for our own veg.

  8. Holly, you should be proud of your Aloe p. they are rot prone beasts! And while we don’t have snow (or such a nice hoop house) I did spent the afternoon shifting about sixty Aloe polyphylla babies to gallons, while we had a break in the rain! Stay warm!

  9. That is high praise coming from Mr. Cactus Jungle! I love your company and blog, BTW. I’m just a neophyte aloe/agave/yucca/succulent fan but I already see the tremendous, insidious potential for addiction.

  10. Hi Holly Do you have experience in rose garden? I think given the temperature and cold weather roses should grow well there.

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