Backyard Greenhouses Extend the Garden Season

Every year my Dad (Ron Simmons) starts many annual plants for our family in his backyard greenhouse. I get most of my flowering annuals, vegetables, and herbs from dad's greenhouse. His plants are amazingly healthy and grow better than any other plants in my gardens.

I see more and more hobby greenhouses and hoop-houses popping up in homeowner's backyards. What's the difference? They are both very similar. They both extend the growing season in spring and fall, sometimes allowing edibles to grow year round. Both hold in the heat with a covering, usually plastic. Greenhouses typically grow plants on benches or tables, while hoop-houses grow plants in the ground. Greenhouses usually have a supplemental heat source, while hoop-houses trap the sun's heat inside to warm plants in the ground.

Due to their relative low cost, hoop-houses are becoming more popular than greenhouses. Hobby greenhouses costs vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Operating costs can be high if year-round heating and cooling are required. Greenhouse kits are probably the easiest way to get started, or like my dad, you can design and build your own. Dads greenhouse started with recycle glass windows, but due to hail storm damage he later replaced those with greenhouse polycarbonate panels.

Most hobby greenhouses grow plants in soil, but hydroponics and aquaponics are also options. Hydroponic systems grow plants in nutrient enriched water, instead of in soil.

On a recent trip to Monterey California I visited a small community garden on the campus of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies where my son Derek is going to grad school. The garden had a small aquaponics system in the back where fish are raised in tanks that supply nutrient rich water to hydroponically grown plants. When I was there in April they were growing lettuce, swiss chard, and onions.

Gardening in backyard greenhouses is the topic of an upcoming University of Illinois Extension Four Seasons Garden webinar series. Join Extension Horticulture Educator Kim Ellson as she explains how, regardless of their shape or size, greenhouses allow us to get a head start on our favorite plants and be outside whilst the weather is bleak. Kim will discuss how to get the most out of your greenhouse this season.

Backyard Greenhouse Basics will be presented via live webinar on Tuesday May 24 at 1:30 pm and again on Thursday, May 26 at 6:30 pm. Or you can listen to a taped version beginning the following week. For more information visit our website at or call 309-543-3308Image removed.309-543-3308.

If you've dreamed of having your own greenhouse, let this be your year to make that dream come true. In just a few years, the savings from growing your own food will pay for the greenhouses.