By Miriam Schaffer
The more difficult question lies in the specifics. How big does my greenhouse need to be? What do I plant? What growing method do I use? How do I design the space? What kind of greenhouse will I need? These are the questions you need to consider if you and your family are trying to be more self-sufficient. So let’s address each one.
How big does my greenhouse need to be?
This question can lead to a whole host of new questions, such as how many vegetables does your family eat? And, how efficient is your greenhouse? So keep in mind we can only approximate. A 12 ’x 18’ or 12’ x 24’ can be the appropriate size, if the family is growing fairly intensively. An 18’ x 24’ might be more ideal if you want to include fruit trees because they take up more space. Around 400 sq ft (20’ x 20’) is what we would recommend to eliminate the need for the grocery store.
What do I need to plant?
This question is really about personal preferences. So, the answer really comes down to– what do I want to eat? But also, what am I capable of growing? Climate will also play a factor in what you might want to plant. There are plenty of resources that can help guide your planting, and we recommend using one of our professionals to help answer any questions related to planning your grow calendar.
What growing method do I need to use?
We recommend using soil if you are a novice or are on a budget. But, if you are trying to grow intensively and space is a factor, you might want to consider hydroponics. If you are an experienced grower, who wants high-output and a closed-loop growing system you might want to consider aquaponics (which incorporates the use of fish into the system as a means of fertilization and recycling of organic matter). We design for all systems and believe in the virtue of each. For a residential greenhouse any system can be used, and we can make recommendations considering factors such as how large of a greenhouse you have (soil takes up more room, as do fish tanks), how much you are willing to spend (nutrients for hydroponics can be pricey), and what you want to grow (hydroponic systems are great for leafy greens and tomatoes, but will not work for root vegetables).
Here is what you could expect (approximately) from an 18×24 aquaponics system:
75-100 heads of LETTUCE or LEAFY GREENS weekly
150-200 lbs. of FISH annually
225 lbs. of TOMATOES annually
135 MICROGREEN flats annually
Would this be sufficient to feed your family? If you love lettuce and tomatoes then everyone will be plenty satisfied. But a system like this does not allow for much plant diversity.
A soil based system typically allows for the most plant diversity since you will be able to grow root vegetables, leafy greens, fruiting crops, herbs, and trees all in one space. Companion planting many different varieties together can also help increase plant health and reduce pest and disease pressure.
The choice is up to you.
How do I design the space?
This will depend on what you are growing and whether you are using any additional climate controls. If microgreens are at the top of your list you can design your system with shelves and supplemental lighting. If you want fruit trees, then you will have to consider maximum height growth and shading. We can work together to lay out the space that makes the most sense for your output and taste preferences.
What kind of greenhouse will I need?
If you desire a year-round grow system, we recommend a Ceres greenhouse. Ceres’ greenhouses are passive solar and highly insulated, built from quality long lasting materials. This means you can expect to save money on operating costs, energy bills, and replacing materials. A Ceres greenhouse uses 50% less energy than a traditional greenhouse and is able to capture 50%-100% more light. If efficiency and longevity are priorities, opt for the best in the industry.