The Magic Greenhouse: How to Make a Cheap Greenhouse
Learning How to Grow Tomatoes in Greenhouse Settings
For as long as I can remember, my husband has wanted a greenhouse. But we weren’t sure how to make a cheap greenhouse — all of the greenhouse plans we had seen online and in books called for lots of expensive materials, and being on a budget, we just didn’t have the cash for something like that. While we have lots of room to spread out in the gardens, growing seedlings indoors was always a problem because our tiny 1,000-square-foot house didn’t have much space for hundreds of plants every spring. Every year, I listened to my husband wistfully talking about building a greenhouse for us to extend our growing season, and then I listened to him telling me all the reasons why he couldn’t build a greenhouse. There was never enough time or materials or money, it seemed, so we just let it go year after year.
We’ve always been interested in simple homesteading since we moved here in the spring of 2003, and this year was going to be the year that my husband finally figured out how to make a cheap greenhouse. My husband realized that he had a ton of leftover 2×4 lumber from other projects. He had sketched out a preliminary plan for a small greenhouse that was smaller than 144 square feet, which would have required a building permit from our town. In a couple of days, he had the greenhouse framed up against the side of the garage and placed it so that the garage window would also be part of the greenhouse to encourage air movement.
As he continued to build and plan, materials seemed to come from out of nowhere. It was, as I liked to call it, The Magic Greenhouse! A co-worker provided the antique glass windows. A friend provided the siding, leftover from a building project. We had two buckets of paint in the garage left from other building projects — plenty to cover the wood frame. My husband found an old door from a mobile home at the dump that was in good working condition. We had plenty of nails and screws in the workshop for assembling the greenhouse, so no need to buy any more of those, either! In just a matter of days, we had assembled pretty much everything we needed — except for the roofing material – to build a small greenhouse. If we were looking to learn how to make a cheap greenhouse, we certainly got a good start with the materials we had on hand.
After the initial frame went up at the end of April, we had to wait a couple of weeks before we could continue to work on the project. Visitors from out of state kept us busy for the first two weeks of May, and then my husband had a week-long conference to attend for work. He came home every night and talked incessantly about what he was going to work on next, and when he was going to do it.
Finally, one beautiful Sunday morning, he handed me a paintbrush and a bucket of paint and told me to “slap it on”. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s slapping paint. I spent the whole day barefoot in the grass carefully painting every inch of exposed wood while my husband worked on the greenhouse roof. To my surprise, it didn’t take as long as I had thought to paint the greenhouse, and after a short lunch break, we were done.
Next came cleaning up the louvered glass windows. These windows had been sitting in storage for at least 30 years, and they looked just like the ones I remember my grandmother having on her front porch when I was a kid in suburban New Jersey. My husband carefully took each piece of glass and washed it, then slid it into place to make sure it fit comfortably. Once he installed the window frames along three walls of the greenhouse (the fourth wall is shared with the garage), it was time to put in the door and the insulation. If you’re looking to figure out how to make a cheap greenhouse, look for windows like these at estate sales and auctions, or anywhere you might find surplus building materials.
We found some used Styrofoam insulation from another old greenhouse project and placed it underneath the barn wood siding. This thing was starting to look like a real greenhouse!
The last piece of the puzzle was the roofing. Unfortunately, the roofing fairy didn’t drop down with the corrugated roofing material we wanted to use, so it was a trip to the building supply store in Plattsburgh. After cutting each piece to size, my husband installed it in just a couple of hours. Once the roof was up, we put in two tables that my husband made using more leftover scrap lumber and some leftover hardware mesh cloth wire from an ill-conceived duck coop project. We had learned how to make a cheap greenhouse and were finally ready to start moving our plants into The Magic Greenhouse.
Because we had started the project so late, we made a trip to the local garden supply shop to buy seedlings. We stocked up on tomato plants, pepper plants, eggplants, potted herbs, and pac choi. A couple of hours in the greenhouse and everything was transplanted into bigger pots and containers. We had seeds for string beans, cucumbers, dill, and some squash varieties, so we took two big pallet wood planters that my husband had made a couple of years ago and planted them. We had a couple of planter boxes leftover from when we were growing lettuce in containers, and the pac choi fit nicely in them, perched on a couple of improvised shelves on the shady side of the greenhouse.
We needed a couple of trellises for the beans and the cucumbers, so my husband took a couple of old wheelbarrow handles and sliced them in two. He drilled holes in them and used twine to make a couple of trellises that simply rest up against the garage wall, and are ready and waiting to house those beautiful vegetables!
Because we’re planning on extending our growing season, we’ve got plans to plant some leafy greens and maybe some broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables once the tomatoes, pac choi, cucumbers, and squash are finished. If the weather cooperates, we’re hoping to extend the growing season straight through the winter holidays and into January this year.
While we don’t have the ideal homesteading layout on our property, we’re learning with each new project how to make our dream of self-sufficiency work with what we have. So if you’ve ever dreamed of learning how to make a cheap greenhouse where you can start seedlings indoors, grow vegetables in containers, or extend your growing season after winter has set in, all you need is some creativity, a handful of good friends and a little bit of magic.
Have you built your own greenhouse? Share your tips and tricks with us below.