Greenhouse, Part One

Every time I broach the subject of building a greenhouse, my husband immediately reverts back to his childhood: kicking and screaming as though he’s being hauled off to an unwanted bath. I like to refer to this as the ‘Greenhouse Effect.’ Whereas I mostly see all of the perks to having a greenhouse, he sees the one (apparently devastating) downside; he will have to build it.

I begin my latest quest by tempting him with the prospect of a longer veggie growing season, bigger yields, and earlier harvests. I also make reference to fresh winter salads and greens, possibly even some tomatoes and peppers. Once I get his mouth watering, I initiate the second part of my initial plan; ‘We can just build it across the front of the house so it does double duty as insulation in the winter.’ (Note: If this were my actual plan, I would be talking about building a 50’ x 20’ greenhouse at the least.) My husband knows this is completely unrealistic, but what he doesn’t know is that I also know it is completely unrealistic. He simply shoots me a ‘no way in hell’ look and says, ‘If we do build a greenhouse, it’s going to be no bigger than that 12’ x 14’ side yard.’ I smile, that’s all I wanted in the first place.

I immediately begin researching types of materials, plans, seeds, and accessories. There must be at least 1,001 ways to construct a greenhouse. There are fancy sunroom additions for houses, separate greenhouse kits, and do-it-yourself geodesic dome greenhouses. I think we will best be suited by a wood framed polycarbonate sheeting greenhouse attached to the southeast corner of our home. Instead of installing heaters, we will take advantage of solar gain by installing several black metal water barrels on the north wall. White landscape rock placed outside of the south wall will help to reflect light into the greenhouse and heat up the water barrels. As I lay out the plan for my husband, he reluctantly admits that it’s a decent idea.

I immediately start envisioning a beautiful, warm winter sanctuary for my citrus trees and veggies, cacti and flowers. It will have a warm brick walkway leading to a table and chair where I will sit and write. My dream is temporarily shattered when I actually research the cost of the necessary materials: lumber, polycarbonate sheeting, barrels, lights, landscape rock. I mention this briefly to my husband, whose only reply is, ‘Shame, I guess you’ll have to get a job.’

It’s a common obstacle to sustainable living: money. We could not afford to buy organic food or clothes, a more fuel efficient vehicle, or solar panels for our house. Going green requires lots of ‘green’ that most families don’t have. Even though we have fewer bills than most (no cell phones or cable) we are still a family of four living on a single income. Sure I could get a job and put the kids in daycare, but even then we couldn’t afford to buy a Prius or shop at Whole Foods. Instead, I invoke my grandmother’s ideas of devoting my time to the health and well-being of my family. It won’t afford them fancy cars or amenities, but it is the most precious gift I can give. I can stay home and raise my children to believe that the earth is something we coexist with, not something we live on. I can provide fresh, organic veggies from our home garden and milk and cheese from our friendly goats. We can walk out our back door for fresh eggs and when it becomes necessary, we can slaughter one of our animals for meat. We can freeze or can summers bounty to help get us through the winter and hopefully we can continue to grow through the winter in our greenhouse. Instead of focusing on what we can’t afford, I focus on what my time can buy for us in order to make green living more feasible.

So, maybe we can’t afford to go with the top of the line greenhouse. We can, however, save some money, salvage a few materials, and commit a little of our own time to making it a reality. I have no doubt that two winters from now, we will be able to cross greens and a few other veggies off of our grocery list for good. In fact, let’s call this Part One of the Greenhouse Series. Next up, Part Two: Construction, or How to Bribe Your Husband into Putting up Your Greenhouse.

Jennifer Welch lives and writes in the Arkansas River Valley and is looking for usable greenhouse materials of any kind. You are welcome to send thoughts, inquiries, and suggestions to her at


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