Those of us not blessed with acres of space for gardening need to get creative sometimes. It’s no different with greenhouses. A greenhouse is an excellent way to make the most of the growing season, grow things that otherwise wouldn’t thrive in your climate and live more sustainably. It might be a timely investment this year if you, like lots of people, are thinking about how to be more self-sufficient. If your space is cramping your greenhouse dreams, tiny greenhouses might be the solution.
Things to Consider First
Before you even browse through greenhouse designs and plans, spend a little time thinking not just about what you want to grow, but about what you want your greenhouse to do.
Do you need to raise seedlings or harden off young plants that you’ll then transfer into pots for the summer? Do you need to give your tomatoes or other tender crops a little extra warmth in the summer? Do you need to be able to extend your growing season into the fall? Are you overwintering plants? Thinking about function first will ensure that you choose the structure that will work best for you.
As with any kind of gardening, your tiny greenhouse planning will also consider the available growing space you have, the budget you have and the logistics you’re working with.
Do you have storage capability or does your tiny greenhouse need to stay put all winter? Do you need to be able to move your tiny greenhouse around to keep it in or out of the sun? Do you need that greenhouse to be aesthetically pleasing or are you cool with looking at a clear tarp and a frame of 2 x 4s? There’s no judgement there but it’s good to be realistic about what you want to look at all year.
Also, of course, think about the climate and conditions that space experiences. When we’re talking about small spaces, remember that the climate might differ considerably from the general climate. A sheltered, south-facing balcony corner might find itself much warmer and much drier than the surrounding environment. Think about what your individual space tends to experience so you can plan around any challenges that might come up.
DIY Tiny Greenhouses
Much like the tiny home industry, there are pre-fab mini-greenhouse kits you can order in a range of footprints and materials. Also like tiny homes, though, tiny greenhouses can be DIY-built with sustainable practices like resource and energy conservation, recycling and repurposing materials in mind.
If you’re on the hunt for greenhouse plans, check out Louisiana State University’s Ag Center. They offer free plans for a variety of greenhouses of all shapes and sizes. If you’re not even sure what you want to plan for, here are some options for DIY mini-greenhouses:
Lean-Tos and A-Frames
A simple, wooden frame and some clear, plastic sheeting are all you need for a functional tiny greenhouse. Pallets make great sources of wood, but any scrap lumber can be repurposed. These fit nicely into balcony corners and can be made to any size. The design needn’t be fancy – just sturdy enough to keep your plants safe from the elements and easy for you to access.
For those with a long narrow strip of space to work with, a hoop house might be the most efficient structure. You can make a simple hoop frame with PVC pipes or panels of livestock fencing and cover it with clear plastic sheeting. The nice thing with the hoop house is that you can create a taller structure that will give you more vertical space for things like beans and small squash.
Collapsible or fold-down greenhouses offer temporary protection for plants without having to permanently devote any yard space to that project. Usually constructed as lean-tos with a frame that can be lowered, raised and secured against a wall, a collapsible greenhouse is perfect for pots that need some quick shelter in spring or fall. Give your veggies a spring boost without sacrificing any real estate through the summer months.
Goods Home Design has a few ideas for easy-to-install collapsible greenhouses here. Those with some tools and some general building skill can try their hand at this fold-down greenhouse by Rockler. It measures 4 x 4 and is tall enough to stand up in.
DIY Very Tiny Greenhouses
If you have just a few plants that you want to protect as they grow, old windows can be put on hinges as a cover for a cedar or other weather-resistant wooden box. These boxes can be placed on the ground or you can build them with a bottom, which makes them useful for balcony spaces. Three Dogs in a Garden offers this tutorial for a larger box that measures 4 x 7 feet but you can build these to whatever scale your space requires.
Straw Bale Houses
Straw bale greenhouses can be extensive, permanent structures, but they can also be very simple to make. Using straw bales as walls and putting plexiglass or repurposed windows on the top as a roof creates a well-insulated, low enclosure for young plants. Modern Farmer shows you how to make a simple cold frame out of straw bales here.
For those who are growing in pots, you can make simple greenhouses for individual plants out of recycled bottles, mason jars, spindle cases for CDs, fishbowls, aquariums, clear cake covers or clear umbrellas. You’ll need to incorporate ventilation into your planning with any of these ideas. Check out this guide from Mega Crafty for making a greenhouse out of old CD cases.
The Tiniest Greenhouses
Starting seeds doesn’t require a huge set-up. If you have a reliable light source like a bright, south-facing window, a clear, plastic take-out container with adequate ventilation will give a half-dozen seedlings or so the extra warmth and protection they need. Clear food storage tubs, the bottoms of water or pop bottles and clear plastic totes also do the trick.
Limited space is no match for unlimited creativity. Happy growing!