Published: July 2024   Written by: Megan Allen and Mark Seibert

Figure 1: 8x26 Sturdi-Built Deluxe Glass-to-Ground Lean-to

Sustainable Gardening reduces your environmental impact as you provide food and flowers for your family. With a greenhouse, Sustainable Gardening offers protection from the weather, a controlled growing environment, and efficient use of resources which yields higher production.   Produce healthy, organic produce year-round using Sustainable Gardening practices.

What is Sustainable Gardening?

Sustainable Gardening combines two larger concepts: Sustainability and Gardening. Sustainability includes practices that meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability focuses on maintaining an ecological balance and conserving resources. Gardening focuses on cultivating plants for food, beauty, and environmental benefits. When combined, Sustainable Gardening means creating and maintaining gardens that support long-term ecological health while using resources wisely.


Sustainable Gardening does not mean avoiding all interventions or rejecting proven techniques. Instead, Sustainable Gardening emphasizes the wise use of practices that minimize any negative impact on the environment while maximizing the health and productivity of the garden.


Sustainable Gardening does not mean avoiding pest control. In contrast, Sustainable Gardening advocates for natural or organic methods over synthetic chemicals. Sustainable Gardening also supports using modern technologies like drip irrigation systems, which conserve water efficiently and embrace practices like Permaculture.
Practices such as composting, which recycles organic waste into nutrient-rich soil amendments, play a vital role in Sustainable Gardening.


Additionally, sustainable gardeners choose native and climate-appropriate plants that require fewer resources and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to control pests in a way that minimizes harm. We discuss these strategies later in this article.

Figure 2  - Sturdi-Built Trillium 7x9 Greenhouse in Boston

Sustainable Gardening with a Greenhouse

Sustainable Gardening limits the use of harmful chemicals, conserves natural resources, and supports local ecosystems. A Greenhouse supports Sustainable Gardening by:

  • Providing a controlled environment including optimal temperature and humidity control, light levels appropriate for your plants
  • Greenhouses create optimal conditions for plant growth regardless of external weather conditions
  • Protects your garden from deer and other critters that may want to feast on or trample your garden, while protecting beneficial insects like bees
  • The physical barrier created by a greenhouse structure reduces the likelihood of infestations and infections, decreasing the need for harsh pesticides and herbicides. Plants are protected ensuring the produce remains organic and safe for human consumption.
  • Reduces water use through efficient irrigation systems, containment of humidity, while contributing to more sustainable gardening practices. Rainwater, for example, can be captured from the roof of the greenhouse.

In addition, by providing a sheltered growing environment, greenhouses allow for the cultivation of crops year-round, increasing the yield and diversity of produce that can be grown sustainably.

Here are considerations when setting up a greenhouse suitable for sustainable gardening:

Choose the Right Location

It's best when a greenhouse site receives ample sunlight throughout the year, as natural light is essential for plant growth and reduces the need for artificial lighting.  If your site is in a shadow, there may be enough reflected light for growing, if not there are abundant LED lighting options.

Additionally, the location should be sheltered from strong winds to reduce heating requirements. Proximity to water and electrical sources is important to simplify watering, as well as provide heating and air circulation. Locating the greenhouse near your kitchen will provide you with easy access when you need fresh herbs.

Figure 3 Sturdi-Built Garden Deluxe 10x18

Select Sustainable Building Materials

Sustainably sourced building materials can reduce the environmental impact associated with transportation and manufacturing. Metal framing, for example, requires mining to obtain the raw ore, processing, heating and transportation. Metal framing is not a renewable resource.  Wood framing, which is grown as a crop and replanted is renewable, but still has processing and transportation.  A third example is polycarbonate panels that provide light diffusion and double-glazed glass that provides better insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.

 

Figure 4 Figure Starts with Grow Light and Heat Mat in a Sturdi-Built Tudor 10x14 Greenhouse

Ventilation

A greenhouse needs to breathe; Warm air needs a way to escape.  With overhead roof vents in a greenhouse, you can depend on natural ventilation that allow hot air to escape and cool air to enter. Further, automated ventilation systems powered by solar energy can provide consistent airflow based on temperature and humidity sensors. Exhaust fans offer a forced breeze through the greenhouse, simulating wind action while keeping the temperature inside no higher than outside.

Insulation

Choose glazing that provides insulation based on its thermal properties and sustainability. Options like Twin Wall Polycarbonate roofing, bubble wrap, or thermal screens can insulate greenhouse walls and roofs. Additionally, installing insulated foundations and double-glazed windows can further enhance thermal efficiency, like Sturdi-Built‚Äôs Thermal Option‚ĄĘ.

Sustainable Practices for Greenhouse Gardening

Here are some practices to incorporate in your gardening activities as you set up your greenhouse. Think about the following:

Soil Management and Composting

Effective soil management is essential for maintaining sustainable greenhouse gardening practices. By maintaining healthy soil, gardeners can ensure robust plant growth and minimize the need for chemical fertilizers. One way to enhance soil health is composting. As such, you can recycle organic waste, such as selected kitchen scraps and garden clippings.

 This natural fertilizer enriches the soil with essential nutrients, improves soil structure, and promotes beneficial microbial activity. In a greenhouse, compost helps create a closed-loop system where waste is converted into valuable resources, reducing the dependency on external inputs and enhancing sustainability.

Soil Health Monitoring

Soil health monitoring is a crucial aspect of sustainable greenhouse gardening, ensuring it remains fertile and capable of supporting robust plant growth over the long term.

One of the primary methods of monitoring soil health is through soil testing, analyzing soil samples for key parameters such as pH, nutrient levels, organic matter content, and microbial activity. Regular soil testing helps you identify deficiencies or imbalances. For instance, if soil tests reveal low nitrogen levels, you can adjust your fertilization practices accordingly, using organic fertilizers or compost to replenish this essential nutrient.

Beyond soil testing, visual and physical assessments are valuable tools for monitoring soil health. Thus, observe soil structure and texture, looking for signs of compaction, erosion, or poor drainage. Healthy soil should be crumbly and rich in organic matter, supporting a diverse population of beneficial microorganisms.

Implementing these soil health monitoring practices within a greenhouse supports a sustainable gardening approach by promoting long-term soil fertility and resilience. Healthy soil reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which aligns with sustainable gardening. Moreover, maintaining optimal soil conditions enhances water retention and root development, leading to more efficient use of water and nutrients.

Physical Pest Control Methods

Physical pest control methods minimize chemical use while effectively managing pest populations. For example, barriers, such as insect nets and row covers can prevent pests from reaching plants, creating a shield that protects crops without harming beneficial insects. These barriers are useful in a controlled greenhouse environment, where they can be easily installed and maintained.

Further, traps, including sticky and pheromone traps, attract and capture pests, reducing their numbers without chemical intervention.

Manual removal involves hand-picking pests off plants or using tools to eliminate them. This method is labor-intensive but highly targeted, ensuring you remove only harmful pests. Together, these physical pest control methods contribute to a healthier, more sustainable greenhouse ecosystem by reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides.

Water Conservation Techniques

Water conservation is crucial in sustainable greenhouse gardening. Thus, efficient irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation, deliver water directly to the roots, minimizing water waste and reducing evaporation. Additionally, you can install rainwater harvesting systems to collect and store rainwater for irrigation purposes. This practice also conserves municipal water supplies.

Mulching is another effective conservation technique, and it involves spreading organic material over the soil to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.

Figure 5 - Sturdi-Built Deluxe Regular 9x16

Energy-Efficient Practices

Greenhouses can be energy-intensive in the colder seasons, but by adopting energy-efficient practices can mitigate their environmental impact. For instance, using solar panels to power greenhouse operations is sustainable because it harnesses renewable energy. Note: Avoid  mounting solar panels on the greenhouse roof as solar panels create shadows.

Heating and cooling systems, such as geothermal heat pumps or passive solar designs, help maintain optimal temperatures with minimal energy consumption. LED grow lights are another energy-efficient alternative to traditional lighting, providing the necessary light spectrum for plant growth while using less electricity.

Selecting and Growing Sustainable Plants

It's important to select the appropriate plants for sustainable greenhouse gardening. Native and climate-appropriate plants are more likely to thrive in the local environment with fewer resources.

Further, growing organic and heirloom varieties ensures that plants are free from synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms, supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health.

In addition, practices like companion planting, where compatible plants are grown together to enhance growth and deter pests, and crop rotation, which involves changing the types of plants grown in each area seasonally to prevent soil depletion, further promote sustainable gardening. These methods reduce the need for chemical interventions and create a more resilient and sustainable greenhouse ecosystem.

Innovative Tools for Sustainable Gardening

These tools streamline various gardening tasks and promote eco-friendly practices:

Rosin Presses

Unlike traditional extraction techniques that often require potentially harmful chemicals, rosin presses utilize only heat and pressure to produce pure, high-quality extracts. This solvent-free process is environmentally friendly and ensures the extracts are safe and organic. Different rosin presses cater to various scales, making them suitable for small and large operations.

Soil Moisture Sensors

Soil moisture sensors provide real-time data, helping gardeners avoid over-watering or under-watering their plants. By integrating these sensors with automated irrigation systems, gardeners can ensure optimal water usage, promoting sustainable water practices.

Compost Tumblers

These enclosed systems accelerate the decomposition of organic matter, producing nutrient-rich compost to enrich the soil within the greenhouse.

Smart Irrigation Controllers

These systems use data from soil moisture sensors and weather conditions to automate watering schedules, ensuring that plants receive the right amount of water without wastage.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Kits

These kits combine biological controls, such as beneficial insects, with physical barriers and organic pesticides to manage pest populations. In the controlled environment inside a greenhouse, IPM strategies can reduce the need for synthetic chemicals and promote a balanced ecosystem that supports plant health.

Conclusion

Greenhouses help Sustainable Gardening by offering a controlled environment that supports extended growing seasons and protection from pests and diseases.   Select a greenhouse made with sustainable materials that also incorporates all the needed features needed for your sustainable garden. This includes natural lighting and passive ventilation to reduce your dependence on electric-powered solutions. With water collection, greenhouse downspouts can supply your gardening activities with rainwater to reduce your water bill.

 

Figure 7 Growing in the Snow

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