A greenhouse is a glass or polycarbonate structure that is primarily used for growing plants. High quality greenhouses are a staple in Solar Innovations®’s manufacturing portfolio. Solar’s durable aluminum greenhouse structures are built to last a lifetime and can be engineered in any size, shape, and configuration to fit every individual’s needs. Solar Innovations® can customize and design greenhouses for everyone from backyard gardeners and urban plant-lovers to professional horticulturists alike.
Planning Your Greenhouse
Two crucial elements to determine when planning a greenhouse are:
- What season(s) will the greenhouse be used during
- What types of plants will be grown
These factors will determine which insulation and framework will work best for your specific needs. Solar Innovation® recommends the following choices:
- Non-thermal aluminum with non-insulated, single-pane glass for spring and fall growing;
- Non-thermal aluminum with insulated polycarbonate for three-season growing; and
- Insulated aluminum with insulated glass for year-round growing
Hobby greenhouses are typically less than 10’ x 10’, making them ideal for the casual gardener. Hobby greenhouses can be utilized for starting seedlings, propagating plants, and other general gardening.
In some states, greenhouses fewer than 200 sq. ft. do not require permits. Individuals should check with their local zoning board for exact permit requirements. Since smaller greenhouses are typically seen as temporary structures, they often will not require a formal foundation. For this reason, Solar’s team of engineers has developed an aluminum base plate, which will securely anchor the structure to the ground and prevent moisture build-up and uneven surfaces.
Commercial greenhouses are most commonly used for floral shops and garden centers, but Solar Innovations® can design a full scale or lean-to greenhouse for restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and virtually any business, location, or application. Greenhouses can also be designed to include several climate zones, making them ideal for displaying, growing, and refrigerating plants in floral centers.
Research greenhouses often include several individual rooms for potting plants, storing and applying pesticides, cold storage, composting, a “sick room” for unhealthy plants, and autoclave rooms for conducting experiments. Solar’s research greenhouses can be designed with as many rooms as required, as well as outdoor growing areas linked directly to the greenhouse.
Temperature, humidity, light intensity, carbon dioxide levels, and plant irrigation need to be constantly controlled in a research greenhouse in order to uphold daily experiments. Solar’s computerized environmental control systems and integrated accessories can be programmed to maintain specific heating, cooling, ventilation, and irrigation settings, as well as monitor carbon dioxide levels. If any of the controlled accessories malfunction, this system will immediately alert the researcher.
Specialty greenhouses are designed for a specific plant species and often contain different climate zones to accommodate the needs of the species’ hot weather and cold weather plants. Solar’s multi-zoned specialty greenhouses can be designed to suit the needs of bonsai trees, orchids, tropical plants, palms, and practically any plant variety. Palm greenhouses often utilize different zones, as many people like to grow both tropical and mountain palms. Solar’s palm greenhouses are often designed with a wall separating warm and cool weather palms, so you can grow as many species as you like.
Other greenhouses may not require separate zones, but they will need to include specific accessories to ensure their chosen plants thrive at their maximum potential. Bonsai greenhouses are designed with workstations for planting, trimming, pruning, and washing bonsai roots. Citrus greenhouses, on the other hand, won’t need as much work room, but they will need to include various heating and watering units to create the ideal tropical environment for lemons, limes, pineapples, mangoes, oranges, and more.
Educational greenhouses provide a unique opportunity for students to study horticulture first hand. Many universities and even high schools use greenhouses to study plant growth, pesticides, and genetics. Vocational schools can use greenhouses for propagation and landscaping work, and even elementary schools are beginning to use educational greenhouses to start seedlings and raise butterflies.
Institutional greenhouses are mostly used for pleasure gardening within an organization. Many prisons use greenhouses for training inmates and teaching them new life skills that will help them with future employment. Nursing homes, hospitals, and rehab facilities also use institutional greenhouses for their therapeutic benefits.
Not only are greenhouses perfect for plants, but they can also be an ideal environment for raising butterflies. With the right planning, almost any greenhouse can be converted into a butterfly greenhouse. Butterfly greenhouses are designed based on the butterflies’ micro-climate requirements, and they will require closely controlled ecosystems in order to mimic the natural habitats of the butterflies; temperature, humidity, fertilization, water, and plant species must be carefully planned beforehand.
The arrangement of the plants in a butterfly greenhouse is critical to the butterflies’ life cycle. The health of the plants directly affects the butterfly population and vice versa; therefore, the entire community within a butterfly greenhouse is dependent upon proper planning and design. Butterfly greenhouses should include “butterfly houses,” which are usually simple wooden boxes with thin slits that butterflies use to sleep. Butterflies are most attracted to red and blue, so remember this when purchasing plants and food trays. They will not stop, rest, or eat without a flat place to land, and they also will not usually drink from a “clean” water source, so they will need various flat stones for landing, along with several areas of wet sand or mud puddles. It is important to note that butterflies will be more tolerant of an enclosed environment when they are raised indoors from caterpillars. Be sure to adequately research your future inhabitants’ preferences during the planning stages, as some species are very particular about their food. It is also difficult to solely feed the butterflies with plants, but the addition of “nectar trays” will help keep the butterflies well nourished. Nectar trays can be in the form of sponges soaked in sugar water, trays of honey or squeezed fruit juice, or even small cups of Gatorade.
Butterflies need as much light as possible, so large panes of glass with minimal framing are ideal for butterfly greenhouses. Circulation fans should be used in moderation, as butterflies will not eat when it’s windy, and spinning blades can crush their wings or pin them against the wall. Screens should also be added to fans to prevent butterflies from getting sucked into ventilation systems. Butterflies enjoy fresh air, so vents are required; for this reason, some butterfly greenhouses are made completely from screen, but that prevents users from enjoying the greenhouse year round.
Public butterfly greenhouses may face certain state regulations, and most require an additional air lock structure, which Solar Innovations® can provide. An air lock structure is an adjoining structure, separate from the greenhouse itself, which acts as a security entrance to prevent butterflies from escaping.
Implementing a “pit” greenhouse is an energy efficient alternative to a traditional greenhouse. Pit greenhouses are typically located four feet below ground, where the Earth retains an approximate temperature of 50 degrees; therefore, if 70 degrees is required, the temperature will only need to be raised 20 degrees.
The north wall of a pit greenhouse will contain solid material, such as stone or brick, which will act as a thermal mass, capturing the heat during the day and releasing it back into the greenhouse at night.
Pit greenhouses are often attached to a preexisting structure in a lean-to or double pitch configuration, which will transfer heat and act as additional insulation. Pit greenhouses can easily overheat during the summer, so ventilation is crucial. Ridge vents can be incorporated into the roof, and an access door can be added to one of the ends and propped open to assist with ventilation.
Although most greenhouses are found in rural or agricultural areas, Solar Innovations® can also design urban greenhouses on rooftops and balconies for city gardeners. Greenhouses can also be used as storefronts for businesses. Since urban greenhouses are often smaller than traditional greenhouses, a great deal of creativity is required in the early planning stages. Instead of wall to wall benches, urban greenhouses have tiered benches and hanging baskets to expand the growing area, allowing urban gardeners to get the most out of their greenhouse.