2010-06-17 / News

Looking ahead: A home greenhouse for everyone?

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

Could it be that in the future, every home will come with its own greenhouse? How would people survive if food could not be transported across oceans, countries or states?

The volcanic eruption in Iceland showed through just-in-time deliveries of food by airplane from places like Kenya to Britain, from South Africa to Spain, just how vulnerable our food chain really is. Many tons of fruit, flowers and vegetables rotted on African farms because they could not be transported.

What if a major earthquake shook California and broke the food chain right at its origin? Or a major oil shock as happened in the 1970s occurred again and lettuce, for example, went to $5 or even $10 a head? We’ve already seen an escalation in the price of tomatoes as bad winter weather decimated Florida and California growing areas.

What would – or could – you do, except spend more money on food?

Growing your own vegetables is easy and fun. You can get some practice this summer by sowing lettuce and other easy-to-grow greens right now.

Buy a few tomato plants and put them in an area where deer can’t eat them. As long as you water them properly, you will be rewarded with juicy, tasty tomatoes far better than those you can buy in the store.

According to the Organic Consumers Association, organic food is better for you because it contains higher levels of vitamins C, D, and E, polyphenols, antioxidants, flavinoids, essential fatty acids and minerals. The association estimates that organically grown food is 25 percent more nutritious than food produced using conventional agriculture.

Nutrient levels in food grown with synthetic chemicals, where pesticides are used, have shown a steady decline in levels of trace minerals. British and American governmental studies have shown that the levels of vitamins and trace minerals have declined by more than 50 percent over the last 50 years. Trace minerals are important for your health and can be supplied by organically grown vegetables.

Just taste a store-bought strawberry and a homegrown one, and you’ll be surprised at the difference in taste. You have a choice about how you want to grow your food when you grow it yourself. You can grow organically – that is, without the use of synthetic pesticides or fungicides.

In one study, Alan Greene, a pediatrician and author from Danville, Calif., ate nothing but organic food for three years. He reported that he had more energy, felt better and was healthier than he had been in years. He also said that it was difficult to find organic food, especially if he ate in a restaurant, and that he often paid a premium for organic food.

The problem in Rhode Island is that winters get cold and our growing season is relatively short. But what if every home came with its own greenhouse on the south side?

It would be up to the homeowner whether to use the greenhouse for growing their own food or for something as simple as solar heating. I know that on a sunny day in February, my greenhouse temperature can get to 80 degrees by 11 a.m. By opening the door to the greenhouse, I heat my office with warm moist air that keeps it warm until evening.

I also grow many vegetables and fruits in the greenhouse. On average, in spring, I harvest greenhouse vegetables about five to six weeks before outdoor vegetables are ready. The harvest usually lasts until the outside vegetables or fruits are ready.

For example, I’ve been harvesting organically grown snow and sugar snap peas, strawberries and herbs for about four weeks and the harvest is just about depleted, but the outdoor peas are four feet tall and just coming into flower, and the outdoor strawberries are green. I’ve been harvesting lettuce and salad greens for six weeks and the cold frame lettuce is just getting large enough to pick. The outdoor lettuce is about three inches tall and will be ready in two to three weeks.

Having a greenhouse has made it all possible and has helped to insulate my homegrown food supply from interruptions and price shocks. Plus, the taste is so much better.

How long does your garden take? Frankly, I don’t measure the time I spend in the garden, but I’d say a few hours each week. With lights in the greenhouse, most of the work can be done in the evenings. In winter, I work mostly in the basement, germinating seeds and propagating flowers ready for planting into the greenhouse and later, into the garden.

Having your own greenhouse is a big plus when it comes to both heating and growing vegetables. It provides moist warm air in winter to cut fuel bills and can provide lots of winter greens. In spring, it is a place to enjoy as flowers come into bloom early, and vegetable crops show off their strengths. In summer, a greenhouse is a place to grow tropical plants that will not normally grow this far north, or you can use it as your own melon house. In fall, it becomes a home for late tomatoes, peppers and melons – a year-round place for production, good taste and warmth.

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