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4 Types of Easy Greenhouses For Your Backyard or Balcony

A woman carrying produce from the small greenhouse.

If you're a plant-parent who always wanted to have a full-functioning greenhouse, let us show you how to easily do it in your backyard or even your balcony.

Growing one’s own fruits and vegetables is a right of passage every human should experience. The level of pride that arises from poking a tiny hole in the soil and planting a seedling, to watching it sprout, to visiting it every morning to see its progression. The experience of picking that glorious ripe tomato and turning it into something delicious for a loved one is incomparable to anything else.

The extreme level of care that goes into growing food is present every step of the way. From deciding on an appropriate space for it to grow, all the way to plating it, the more care that is shown for the food, the tastier it will be for you.

Today we’re going to look at 4 different types of affordable and easy to assemble greenhouses that are available for almost anyone’s skill level and budget: a cold frame, an A-frame, a pop-up, and a hoop house.

Some Things To Consider

This overview is designed to encourage people curious about growing to just go for it. But first, what are you looking to grow? Juicy fruits? Root vegetables? Tropical flowers?

What are the conditions where you live? Brutal winters? Unbearable summers? Swampy all year? Hot days but freezing nights?

All of these conditions are going to directly reflect on what kind of greenhouse you choose for yourself, but luckily there is one that exists for all conditions, as long as you’re willing to put a little bit of work in.

Placement

Many people who live in cities and live in apartment buildings don’t even consider growing their own produce, which makes sense. There simply isn’t enough space. But if you have a balcony or even a fire escape, you could be growing summer salad ingredients in no time.

A look at a small greenhouse surrounded by lush landscaping.

When choosing a spot for your greenhouse you obviously have to work with what you have. If you have space for a greenhouse large enough to walk in, that’s amazing. In your backyard, learn about what kinds of trees surround it.

If you live in an area with super hot summers but super cold winters, it may be a good idea to place it near some trees. Why? Shade from the leaves can provide a much-needed repose from the harsh sun in the summer, whereas in the winter once the leaves shed, they won’t block out those precious rays.

The point is, plants want the sun. But not too much sun (except for strawberries, those really can’t get enough). But luckily there are ways that we can interfere to attempt at the perfect climate.. more on that later.

Let me tell you a story…

I used to live in Montreal, Quebec. An area of Canada that is infamous for its comically horrendous winters. One year I was lucky enough to live in an apartment with massive windows and a south-facing balcony, and so I decided to test out if I could build a greenhouse.

I constructed a hoop frame greenhouse over the existing railing of the balcony, and simply lined the entire thing with a couple of layers of plastic sheets. It wasn’t completely sealed, but once the contraption was up, it was obvious how much heat it would be able to retain.

A balcony garden with lots of potted plants.

Luckily in Quebec, winters tend to function on a high-pressure system, so that even if the air was brutally cold, there was always a clear and sunny sky. Due to the fact that the balcony was south-facing, it was just beat down with sunlight all day. My garden was completely successful, and I was way ahead of the curve once spring arrived.

The balcony had double doors which led into the kitchen, and it was so warm in the greenhouse it actually helped heat the apartment. Having this humid oasis provided an incredible sanctuary during the harsh winter months.

Plastic vs. Glass

The choice between these two materials for lining your greenhouse frame, isn’t always going to be based on affordability. Glass isn’t always necessarily better, and not all frames can support the weight of glass either.

Plastic Sheets

This is the most affordable option, but may also be the best depending on your location. When using plastic for a greenhouse, it really hikes up the levels of humidity and concentration of carbon dioxide. Plastic obviously isn’t breathable, but sometimes this isn’t what we want when it comes to temperature control. Plastic sheets are awesome options in humid climates and won’t require extra heating costs.

A bunker-shaped greenhouse with plastic sheets for walls.

When it gets too hot, there are options for shade cloths and sides that can roll up for more ventilation. This is low tech, low cost.

Polycarbonate is super lightweight, much less flexible than just plastic sheets, and much more flexible than glass. It retains heat better than glass OR plastic sheets.

Plastic sheets are obviously going to be much less resilient to harsh storms and wind. Ripping often occurs and can damage the precious goodies inside.

Glass

Glass sheets are the most durable option by far. They are more efficient at helping with consistent temperature and respond very well to the use of additional heating. Although more expensive, it may end up saving money since it doesn’t need to be repaired as often as plastic, and has more efficient temperature regulation.

A small backyard greenhouse.

There are only certain types of frames that can support the weight of glass panels, and A-frames are one of the only options.

Now, the 4 Types of Greenhouse Frames

The Cold Frame

Cold frames are not completely classified as greenhouses, but they function in the same way. Cold frames are tiny structures that are designated to protect seedlings and vulnerable plants that may not have any otherwise.

They are small frames that are usually no more than 1 meter tall (you’re usually on your knees when tending to a cold frame garden). They’re constructed on wood panels with a wood panel framed glass window on the top.

A look at a row of white cold frames made of wood and glass.

They are very low maintenance, all that really needs to be done is ensuring that there isn’t any debris blocking out the sunlight. They are very affordable, but they also can’t contain all of that much due to their size.

If they need extra heating, a hot water bottle will do, or even some heavy black rocks inside the cold frame. Black rocks are incredible at heat retention and can keep the little area warm at night.

The Pop-Up

Remember those strange little striped tents folks used to bring to the beach to change into their bathing suits? The pop-up greenhouse is this exact shape and size. It’s basically a tiny closet for herbs and smaller produce.

A small backyard greenhouse with tomatoes.

These are awesome for early season plant propagation and seedling preparation. They’re made from a flexible UV resistant clear plastic, with a zippered and screened vent opening. As beneficial as their lightweight is, it also proves to be a disadvantage. They aren’t very sturdy and definitely need to be anchored down. Also, plants tend to grow out of them very quickly.

They’re a wonderful option for people who don’t have any garden or backyard space, and who are looking to get into the planting season early. However, they may not have any extra space if heat is needed at night time.

The Hoop House

These are going to be for people who have access to wide-open spaces. Hoop houses can be made small, but are generally the design for industrial level produce production. They’re in the shape of a hay barn, with flexible, metal curved beams surrounded by flexible layers of clear plastic.

A large hoop house greenhouse at a backyard.

This is the type of greenhouse I created for my balcony! So it goes to show they really can be made any size. They’re a wonderful low-tech and low-cost option, with the benefit of growing produce that would regularly thrive in high heat, high humidity environments.

By using plastic sheets, the levels of carbon dioxide and humidity tend to be very high in hoop house greenhouses. So that they don’t get too hot, they usually have the option of shade cloths or rolling the plastic sheets up to let in some fresh air.

The A-Frame

This option is going to be on the pricier side, but its aesthetic appeal and rigidity may prove to be worth it. A-frames are one of the only frame options that can support the weight of glass sheets. Glass is very sturdy and hardly ever needs reparation.

A large A-frame greenhouse made of wood and glass.

The basis behind the A-frame ensures two things. One: the A shape prevents any debris or snow from sticking on the glass and blocking out precious sunlight, and Two: this is the most desirable angle to capture sunlight in winter months. Oh, and a third, condensation isn’t going to be as much of an issue as it would be with glass panels.

Since the A-frame has such a strong foundation, additional accessories can be added to control the conditions inside the greenhouse. Things like boom irrigation, curtain systems, and timed heaters, will save you tons of maintenance time.

FAQ

Are greenhouses good in the winter?

They may need some extra help at night time when they can’t access energy from the sun, but if properly maintained greenhouses can help plants thrive in the winter months!

Can greenhouses get too hot?

Absolutely, yes. It is crucial that they get enough ventilation in the summer months, and this can be helped by either having openable windows or an oscillating fan.

Are greenhouses good for the environment?

Yes! In so so so so so SO many ways! If every person dedicated themselves to growing even just 30% of their own produce it would help the planet in so many ways. Industrial sized farming practices are literally destroying the planet, but that’s a topic for another time. The point is, yes, greenhouses are good for the environment and everyone should have one.

Where can I have a greenhouse?

Almost anywhere! As long as you’re willing to be a bit of extra effort in, a greenhouse can help any garden be successful.

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