A Complete Guide on How to Start Greenhouse Farming at Home

The decision to invest in a greenhouse for producing fruit and vegetables at your own home is a worthwhile investment for the hobby gardener and you can even create a full-scale mini profitable farm in your garden with a greenhouse. 

In This article, you will get a complete overview on How to start Greenhouse Farming at Home. We will discuss some of the basic things which you should consider before starting your own greenhouse hobby. 

10 years back, when I was building my first ever greenhouse, I was rushing so much that I was not able to gather enough information about this hobby and Guess What?

My Greenhouse was not that great and it tore apart in less than 6 months which was big setback for me and I was very dishearted. 

But! 

I am here now! and I will be giving you all the points and little details which you should consider before starting your own Greenhouse Farm. 

Here’s how:

Greenhouse:

Buying a greenhouse is an exciting and worthwhile investment and the size and type will depend on so many factors surrounding your circumstances and needs.  Here we assume that you have already chosen your greenhouse. But!

If not dont worry, I have prepared a detailed article, full of valuable information and instructions which you can follow to make your own Greenhouse (Hoop House Actually) all by yourself. Here is the article “How to build a Hoop House – A complete Step by Step Guide“.

The Next thing to consider after selecting a greenhouse structure is the location for your greenhouse.

Finding the best position to install your greenhouse is essential. Sunlight on all sides, as much as possible is a crucial part of the system.  An east-west orientation is best for a long-narrow greenhouse structure. 

If by some reason you are not able to find a place with abundant sunlight on your property, it is still possible to have a greenhouse, but the management will be a little different.

I mean, You can then consider using Grow lights for your plants. You can check out this article “GREENHOUSE GROW LIGHTS: Choosing the best grow Light“.

If you don’t want to invest in growing your greenhouse plants under the grow lights (When you don’t have enough sunlight). Consider growing plants and vegetables which require less sunlight.

In all cases avoid placing close to buildings and other structures that will shade the greenhouse, things like walls, fences, hedges, buildings should be avoided and keep it out from under trees.

Remember! the trees nearby your greenhouse may grow significantly taller during the lifetime of the greenhouse.

Greenhouse Base:

It is really very important that the greenhouse stands on a solid, well-built greenhouse base, and if you have bought your greenhouse from a supplier, your supplier will advise you of the exact dimensions that you will need to build a base for. 

Greenhouse Bases are frequently made from bricks, railway sleepers, concrete blocks, concrete mix or other timber or a combination.  It is very important that the Greenhouse base is perfect for the structure of your greenhouse.  It must be according to the exact dimensions of the greenhouse structure and should be completely flat.

Setting up your Greenhouse:

A greenhouse is a framework from where the magic happens and there are a number of accessories that you will need to make the best of the greenhouse to maximize yield and make the greenhouse work as efficiently as possible for you.

We are assuming that you have either already gained experience with easy to grow crops or that you want to jump right in with a full-scale backyard greenhouse mini-farm.

Greenhouse Drainage/Soak-away:

Something to consider is the greenhouse drainage, a lot of the plants we grow in a greenhouse need good drainage, so it is something to consider when you install your greenhouse

You should add some basic drainage channels or a soak-away as part of the building process.  Indeed a larger greenhouse or a scheme of houses will benefit from a well planned and constructed soak-away and should be factored into any hard landscaping that you do. 

Also, consider the position of the drainage. It should not be along the path to the greenhouse.  A damp environment of standing water will attract midges and mosquitoes, so if possible it does not want to be where you are gardening or walking near very much of the time. 

The soak-away can be created as a feature of the garden and again depending on where it is in relation to the greenhouse a tree could be planted there to take up the water.  I planted a small orchard in the part of the garden that my greenhouse drains and this is definitely a worthwhile consideration to increase profit from the fruit.

Just remember it needs to be far enough away not to adversely shade the greenhouse or down a slope to lessen height is ideal.

 Another alternative is to plant the area with water marginal plants and make an attractive feature of it that way.  There should not be a huge amount of wastewater runoff, but because regular watering and good drainage are essential there will certainly be some.  Careful drainage can ensure that it is not near to the greenhouse and the trick is to utilize the opportunity of the water for something you want rather than have it unused and wasted.

Greenhouse Benching:

The first recommendation is to have benching down one side of the greenhouse.  This will be used for planting, potting and bringing on seeds and can also be utilized to house the smaller fast cropping vegetables like cress or sprouting grains. 

Low growing crops like lettuce or spring onions will grow successfully here and sometimes it is advantageous to have them at waist height rather than always bending down.

 The underneath area of benches is a good place to put seeds that need a darker area to germinate and sometimes they will still need covering. 

Tools and spare bags of compost can also be stored under the benches.  Benches should be of rugged wood with slats to allow a small amount of drainage, although I find that grooved decking is far superior for allowing draining and value because it lasts so much longer. 

It is also a good idea to have some area of the bench that meshed for growing seeds that need fast drainage and it is possible to build this into the structure or to have separate benches of different types.  However, remember if you are utilizing a mesh-based area that there will be quite a lot of water running straight onto whatever is below.

Greenhouse Power:

Electric power is essential and can be either from the mains, a solar unit or via a 12-volt battery either recharged via mains or solar. 

Of course, if your area is suitable and you fancy it you could even have a small wind turbine to charge the battery and therefore have a wind-powered greenhouse.  With today’s love of sustainable energy, there is so much to choose from.

You can also check our detailed articles on

Whichever method you choose power is essential to run items such as lighting, propagator, fans and potentially a heat source.

Greenhouse Ventilation:

Your greenhouse should come with one or more opening vents (windows) to ensure airflow and to help prevent overheating.  A simple auto vent system is a fantastic way to maximize the usefulness of the vents. 

And this is a simple gas strut that you set to rise at a certain temperature and close when the temperature starts to drop.  These really are a very useful addition to the time-strapped gardener or for peace of mind when you are out.

Also, consider louvre window ( Jalousie window ) they draw in cooler air at the base of the greenhouse and are designed to ensure a good, constant airflow that gives better growing conditions.  They really are worth the extra to install from the start and their usefulness will repay the purchase cost.

You can also check our detailed instructions article on “How to keep a Greenhouse cool in the desert or Hot Summer?

Greenhouse Thermometer:

A thermometer in the greenhouse is a very useful tool, to check if it really is as hot in there as you think and by knowing the temperature the conditions can be altered accordingly.

You can even consider installing a temperature-controlled fan that will start circulating the air when the temperature of the greenhouse rises above a certain threshold.

On the contrary, you can also install temperature-controlled heaters which will turn on when the temperature of the greenhouse falls below a certain minimum temperature which is being set by the thermostat.

Ground Surface:

The ground surface is a matter of choice, but what seems to continuously come out as a favourite is to have some slabs down the center for a small greenhouse or around a central bench in a larger greenhouse.

  Not only are these safe and easy to walk on, but they will capture heat during the day and slowly lose the heat whilst warming the greenhouse air overnight. 

Equally, in very hot weather watering the slabs will cause the water to evaporate bringing moisture into the air and cooling the area, whilst also creating humidity if the air has become too dry.

Probably the best system for the rest of the flooring is to use gravel on top of an anti-weed membrane.  Some people just use compact the soil where the greenhouse is and or put in a layer of chalk and compact it. 

Sand is another alternative that also has the advantage that it drains well.  It is possible to buy rubber-based floor matting, but these do smell when they get hot and there may be a risk of contamination as the rubber reacts to the high temperatures that the greenhouse will sometime endure.

Plant Area:

Many of us choose to use grow bags, compost bags or large troughs in the greenhouse that can be removed each year after harvest and either disposed of or in the case of the troughs cleaned ready for re-use.

Some gardeners like to have permanent borders in the greenhouse and if using this method, it is advantageous to board the lower area to avoid damaging the outer material when digging over or weeding the border. 

This method seems to lend itself better to a more rugged manual approach while utilizing bags is a method that tends to work well when using hand tools and a more hands-on as appose to a spade on the system.  The main disadvantage of creating a permanent border is the management of plant health and if a problem occurs you have to remove or cleanse the soil.

It is possible and successful to grow tomatoes in specialist tomato grow bags and there are collars available to allow you to make the depth of the compost deeper and preferable to produce a good crop.  Things like cucumbers and peppers grow quite happily in a cut open compost bag and this is very easy to remove once they are harvested.  The once used compost can go onto the home compost heap or be used as topsoil in the garden.

Greenhouse Screens:

It is worth considering fine mesh screens over doors and vents (windows) to keep out unwanted insects.  Just remember that they will find any tiny entrance if the screens get damaged or are left pinned back at all.  Also, please note that by keeping out the unwanted insects you are also keeping out the pollinators, so any pollinating will need to be done by hand.

Pollinating Brushes:

It is worth buying a few brushes for manually pollinating plants.  Some can be pollinated by gently shaking or tapping stalks or flowers that release the pollen from the male flower parts to the female parts. For best results, tomato plants need pollinating every day to ensure a good fruit set and harvest.  Some of the plants mainly cucumbers, squashes, and melons though will require pollen to be transferred between flowers and this is easily done using a small paintbrush.

Gutters and Water Butt:

It is a good idea to have the greenhouse fitted with rain gutters and that way rainwater can be captured in water butts to water the plants inside.  It is surprising just how much rain runs off even a small greenhouse structure and rainwater will always be the best water to give the plants as it should be free from chemicals and therefore purer for the plants.

Tap:

Chances are the rainwater captured will not be enough for all the water needed, so consider having a tap inside the greenhouse or ensure that there is one nearby.  A well-sited water source will save hours of labour and increase profitability because time will be spent elsewhere.  Watering techniques vary and may depend on the plants growing, for example, some really appreciate a fine spray whilst tomatoes are better fed from the base.  You might like to consider an automatic or semi-automatic system to save on time as well.

Fan:

A fan or series of fans is a worthwhile investment and essential if you are using a heat sink system in the greenhouse.  They circulate the air and they will bring the temperature down marginally when it is very hot and help prevent stale air pockets.  There is a good selection of solar-powered fans on the market although they work well from a battery or of course you could use mains electric.

Compromise:

Sometimes there will be unavoidable factors to overcome.  Careful planning should minimize the impact of less than perfect positions and locations, but it will really pay to factor in any eventualities and compromises at the onset of the venture.

Where a greenhouse is in a partially shaded area there are a number of ways to manage this scenario.

The first thing is to consider the plants you want to grow?  Can you select plants that will give you what you want with less light, or are you happy to compromise the size of the crop and the shorter growing season?  If the answer is no, which it probably is, then look into the many artificial light systems available and there are some that charge up by sunlight and can effectively extend the lighting duration for your plants.  Although, never underestimate the power of the real sun on your plants.

Of course, some greenhouses are lean-to structures where they face the way that gets the most sunlight and are otherwise unobstructed to gain the sunlight.  For a lean-to it is essential that this is the case, to put one onto a wall in a direction that does not maximize the light is futile for almost all growing cases.  This type of greenhouse works well to have grapevines growing along the wall at the back.  The wall will be warm and sheltered.

Scale and Equipment:

You will have an idea of the scale your plan for your backyard farm and this will depend entirely on your individual circumstances and will be a unique situation for you.  So there can be no hard and fast rules. 

However, you will need to consider the equipment you have and will need.  If the project is going to be fairly large scale then you will probably have either several large greenhouses or polytunnels and you may well then decide that automation is the way to go. 

Using a small tractor, automatic waterers and things like a CO2 system will be things to consider.  In most cases, though you will probably be thinking of the higher yield you will get from a piece of ground by installing one or more greenhouses on it and if that is the case my advice to you is to consider two smaller greenhouses rather than one large one. 

The reasoning behind this is that different plants have different requirements and you will find, with careful planning that one greenhouse requires less heat and light than the other one (Based on the plants).  So you will be saving alot of energy. On the other hand, If you have one large space, you will need to heat and light the whole area based on those plants that need additional heat and light.

For many home farm style units, you will use the equipment that you already use in the garden although a word of caution is to take care getting physical with the digging over in a greenhouse when handling a long-handled spade or fork, it is very easy to damage the side of the greenhouse. 

Frequently, a carefully managed greenhouse system can be worked just using hand tools, being a much safer option, especially in a smaller space.

Growing:

Remember the main thing that all plants need to grow is light heat and moisture.  As seedlings grow they take up more space and compete for the light, so they need space.  Overcrowding the greenhouse will just lead to weaker, smaller plants that give lower yields. 

So, it really is necessary to be careful regarding how many plants you need to grow and their positioning within the greenhouse to maximize yield and therefore profit.   Always read the requirements on the seed packet carefully and note any advice regarding the spacing of the plants. 

If you plan to plant closer than recommended it may be necessary to supplementary feed the plants to help counter the stress as they compete for light and nutrients from the soil.  However tempting it may be to pack them in a little tighter, in almost all cases it really is best to give them a bit more space and increase the yield per plant.

You also need to decide what you are going to grow.  Growing from seed is by far the most cost-effective way of populating the greenhouse and leftover seedlings can be sold on.  It is easy for the hobby gardener to decide what to grow.  You grow what you like.  If the aim is to grow for profit the considerations are not quite so straightforward and you need to factor in things like labour, length of time from seed to harvest and comparable income for the time and labour something takes.

How much time will you have to give to the garden?  Do you want to grow easy crops that are quick and easy to manage or are you intending to spend most of your day in the garden and therefore can consider the more labor-intensive crops and if so, do they sell for a price that reflects the time spent on them?  Again, your situation is unique and there are no rules other than to think carefully about what you want from the venture and learn all you can before you start.

For many, a sensible option would be to explore the market before planting anything.  Will you be selling to a retailer, at a market or at the gate?  It may be a good idea to specialize in a few particular crops, or do you want to offer less of each thing but offer a larger variety.  Are you keen to supply herbs and fresh vegetables out of season to restaurants for example?

If the idea is to sell at the garden gate or to local restaurants then your chosen path will probably be a variety of less usual vegetables and fruit and here things like unusual gourds and pumpkins are always pleasers as is a mix in the variety of tomatoes available, mix colors, large, average and cherry tomatoes.  Mixed varieties of lettuce add interest and are always a winner.

Consider growing strawberries in the greenhouse for an early season to cash in on being able to provide them ahead of others. Herbs are always a good thing to grow in a greenhouse out of season as are edible flowers.  Fresh cress is so easy to grow all year round and whilst not high value alone makes a big difference in a box of vegetables for someone.

In most cases, you will also be growing hardier vegetables outside in the garden and many of these can get a head start in the spring by being started off in a greenhouse before planting out.  It is also possible to extend the growing season of things like potatoes and carrots by planting late and growing in an unheated greenhouse with extra light to harvest in time for the winter holiday season.

Routine:

Once the greenhouse or greenhouses are up and running you will soon get into a routine over the months and years and it is important to ensure that the routine includes some general maintenance and cleaning.  Also, consider the nutritional needs of the plants you are growing and that these needs are met.  

At times the routine will be amended to try something a little different.  Greenhouse gardening is fun, rewarding and it is easy to make some extra cash from a small greenhouse.  If your system is intense you will have to repay by adding additional fertilizer, light, heat and maybe CO2 as well.

System:

It is important early on to decide on your system.  Are you going down the intensive route, organic route or natural but not quite organic?  It really will pay in time and the anxiety to decide at the onset which way you are going with your home greenhouse farm. 

If your garden is already organic, then that makes the choice easy.  Growing using organic and natural systems such as moon planting and so on is a highly satisfying method, but sometimes the yields are not as good, hence the higher prices.  If you are going the organic route, it is well worth getting certified early, as the full certification takes five years and to begin with you can sell as “in conversion” so there is every reason to decide and register early. 

Of course, an intensive system for your greenhouse is a system that will also work very well.  For many reading this article, that is part of the reason for the greenhouse in the first place, to increase the yield for the area of the garden it takes.  Your reasoning might be that you want to grow out of season or like many of us grow things that would not thrive outside of the controlled atmosphere of the greenhouse where we live. 

A greenhouse is certainly a tool for an enterprising person to utilize for a home business and the beauty of it is you do not need a large area to successfully harvest bumper crops of valuable food.

Wishing you every success with your exciting venture.

 

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