It may not seem like it at the height of summer, but the gardening season is much too short. Right now your garden is so active that it may feel more like a full time job than a peaceful hobby, but this is the pay off for all the work you did during the spring. Before the weather was fully warm, you were in the garden, turning the earth and preparing the beds.
On those grey days, the hectic growth of summer seemed like a far off dream, but even now you realise that it is going to come to an end far too soon. Soon enough you and your plants will feel a chill in the air. Even the trees around your garden will feel the change and their leaves will fall (and you will act quickly to add their richness to the compost pile for next springs garden. Although there are a few crops that will survive the first cold snap, after the first hard freeze your gardening days will be over for the year.
Unless you have had the good fortune to build a greenhouse! A greenhouse is a way to extend both ends of the growing season. Greenhouse gardeners can extend their growing season past the first hard frost in the fall and they have the means to start their seedlings earlier so they will be stronger for transplant in the spring. In fact, there are technologies which will allow tomatoes to grow above the Arctic Circle year round!
Year round gardening is certainly possible, but it is probably better for the beginning greenhouse gardener to take advantage of this relatively simple technology to extend his growing season. A miniature example of greenhouse technology is a cold frame. The cold frame is simply a box with no bottom and a clear glass or sheet plastic top. The cold frame can be placed over growing plants before the first killing autumn frost. Sunshine shining through the clear top will warm the air in the cold frame and the soil below, as well as insulating the area and protecting the plant.
The next size up from a cold frame is a hoop house. The hoops may be made from any flexible material handy, ¾ inch PVC pipe is a popular option. The hoops can be placed over a row of plants, and a clear plastic sheet is draped over the hoops, and used in a similar fashion to a cold frame.
A ‘real’ greenhouse will be large enough for the gardener to walk into and work with his plants. The classic examples are London’s Crystal palace and the Eden Project in Cornwall, but greenhouses as small as one square meter can be useful for the urban farmer. Four foot by six or 4 x 8 are popular starter sizes, small enough to be easily placed and constructed but large enough to be useful.
A greenhouse this small will fit in most gardens. There are a number greenhouse kits on the market, and there are also a good many greenhouse plans available on the Internet. You can also find reports and blogs by gardeners who have built very nice greenhouses from recycled and upcycled materials.