We bought a home with a l... #279859 - Ask Extension

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We bought a home with a l... #279859

Asked September 22, 2015, 9:56 AM EDT

We bought a home with a leanto, aluminum framed, polycarbonate paneled greenhouse four years ago. It has a huge energy inefficient heater, poor weatherstripping along the aluminum door, is too dark and too cold to grow efficiently in the wintertime, and too hot in the summertime. There is a temperature controlled ventilation dormer at the top of the greenhouse and a manual dormer on the side. Deteriorating foam board insulation was glued to the exterior of the greenhouse with little effect. We need help with air sealing, insulating, lighting, ventilation, temperature control and watering. We have a poorly set up automatic watering for some plants, but are hesitant to leave town without having someone stop by to hand water the remaining plants. It is expensive to run in the winter. We have no idea whom to talk to. We have no success growing food, and some success with some plants. Insect control is another major issue (mealybugs). We are willing to make upgrades to make it an operable greenhouse in all seasons and to lower the operating costs. Help! Thanks!

Ramsey County Minnesota

Expert Response

I agree, small polycarbonate or glass greenhouses can be very frustrating to grow in.  These greenhouses will work great a few months of the year but are difficult the rest of the time.  This is because the air mass is so small that it heats and cools quickly.  They also tend to be poorly designed insulated and ventilated to handle those fluctuations.  

Here are a few resources to get you pointed in the right direction:  A really good read is the Cold Climate Greenhouse Resource: A Guidebook for Designing and Building a Cold Climate Greenhouse.  It was written by the University of Minnesota and you may be able to glean design tips to help retrofit your existing structure.  

A local resource is your county Extension office.  I'm not familiar with the specific faculty that help with greenhouses in Minnesota, but check with the Ramsey County Extension personnel to get a referral.  (Good bet might be to start with the Master Gardener Coordinator).  

It does sounds like you're dealing with quite a few issues (irrigation system, insect issues, greenhouse issues) that sound very overwhelming.  There probably won't be a single person that can help with everything but experts that can help tackle individual issues.  A good starting point would be to get the structure functioning how you want and then work on the irrigation and insect management. 

I hope this gets you headed in the right direction and thanks for using Ask An Expert!
Brooke Edmunds Replied September 22, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT

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