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The Multifunctional Homestead Greenhouse


*Table of Contents for Greenhouse Section is at bottom of this page.*

The title of this topic area is “Greenhouse,” but it is really about all forms of protected gardening. It is about season extension, about continuing to “eat fresh” beyond the onset of the first serious freezes.

It is also about finding creative new uses for the greenhouse. Success with our homesteading endeavors depends more than anything on establishing integrated patterns. We should avoid approaching each element—for example, tilling in cover crops, fertilizing the soil, insect control, and keeping a flock of chickens—in isolation. Rather, we should strive for interwoven patterns in which these various elements complement and support each other, creating synergies in which the total is greater than the sum of the parts. A greenhouse can be also be a multi-functional answer to many homestead needs and goals, beyond the obvious opportunity to grow cold-hardy crops right through the winter—and as such is one of the most valuable additions you could make to your homestead. In this section, we will tell you about ours.

A word about nomenclature: For some, “greenhouse” implies a protected gardening space with added artificial heat to allow for the growing of warm-weather crops in the winter. Under that definition, what I am calling a greenhouse should be called a “hoophouse,” even a “cloche” or “cold frame.” Well, when I go into my 20x48 foot enclosed winter haven, it's gloriously green, so I call it a “greenhouse.” Just be clear that I am not talking about a structure with any added heat. The homestead greenhouse is not about harvesting tomatoes in January. It is about giving cold-hardy crops like chicories, mâche, kale, spinach, etc. that extra edge of protection so that their harvest can continue right through the chill and dark of winter.

Be sure to check out Eliot Coleman's excellent Four-Season Harvest (Chelsea Green), my original inspiration to try winter gardening, and still the best source of information on the subject I know.

Beyond the winter greenhouse’s multiple other uses, it is first and always the doctor’s Rx for the wintertime blahs. It may be 20 degrees with a rude wind blowing over frozen snow outside—as long as the sun is shining, step inside the greenhouse and it’s Miami!