Photo: Tina Larkin
Trey Frisbie, 9, hands his great-grandfather William Woosey, center, the peppers Woosey and his son-in-law Mike Barwick, right, grew in their greenhouse
Originally published in Taos News
Greenhouses are the perfect answer to our short growing season. Among the many advantages of owning one are having fresh veggies, fruits and herbs at your doorstep and knowing exactly what is in them. Growing your own food saves money and trips to the store. And a greenhouse can also function as a communal space where the family meets, works, reads—and eats.
Michael Barwick has built a standalone greenhouse where he and his family grow cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, chiles, onions, potatoes, and pineapples. There are also different varieties of orchids, cacti and dahlias.
The structure is 24 X 24 feet and has a galvanized frame with insulated Plexiglas panels. It is a climate-controlled greenhouse with one thermostat for the heater, another for the exhaust system that takes the air out, and a third one for the misting system.
The place is big enough to double as a family room. In the summer, Barwick said, they simply bring a table to the greenhouse, pick up veggies and fruits and eat right there.
The most expensive part of building a greenhouse is the setup. Some kits, like the one used by Barwick, cost up to twelve thousand dollars, but the investment is eventually recovered by the amount and quality of the vegetables harvested.
“If our greenhouse were set up without the flowers we could grow vegetables for ten families all year around,” said Barwick.
Barwick bought the greenhouse kit three years ago. He hasn’t recovered the investment yet, but that is not the most important issue for him. “It’s more about knowing the quality of the food, the fact that everything is organic, the authenticity of it,” he said. “And the enjoyment of working here with my family, of doing things together…”
Now, considering that the greenhouse yields around three thousand dollars of produce a year, it will turn out to be a profitable investment after all. “We give a lot of food away,” said Barwick. “Right now, it supplies three families—us, my daughter’s family of five and my son.”
In the summer, many plants are taken outside and they make the Barwick residence’s backyard look like an oasis.
The greenhouse also guarantees a steady supply of veggies. “Once you have stuff established, it isn’t seasonal anymore,” Barwick said. “You can have jalapenos and tomatoes every week, no matter if it is summer or winter.”
When asked for advice to those who want to build their own greenhouse, Barwick said, “First, they need to know how serious they are about it; that determines the size of the unit, if it is climate-controlled or insulated panels. They also need to figure out if they are going to grow edible produce or potting plants, to choose the size of the greenhouse. There are lots of great websites about greenhouses and greenhouse supplies.”
He is planning to add hydroponics to the greenhouse next year. “We have done a lot of research about it and found out that a hydroponics system takes very little space and has high productivity,” he said. “This is also a great way to get started if you have limited space.”
Tips for building a greenhouse
The most important thing is location. It should be in a place where it gets as much sunlight as possible.
They can be attached or freestanding structures. The former is closer to the home’s sources of electricity, water and heat, thus saving in building costs, but they tend to be smaller. The latter gives more location choices and the temperature doesn’t fluctuate as often as in small places. But it requires the installation of a heating system and a water source.
A watering system is essential unless you have a lot of time to devote to watering every plant yourself.
Automated systems with thermostats (that should always be located away from the sun) are keys to maintain a suitable environment for plants.
You don’t need to spend lots of money to build a greenhouse. Using PVC pipe is a good, inexpensive option. The plastic film used for covering can be recycled when it needs replacement.
An excellent book on this topic is The Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion, Revised: Growing Food & Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace (Fulcrum Publishing; 2000), by Shane Smith. The author deals with topics like the greenhouse environment (light and temperature, ground beds and containers) as well as pollination, crop spacing and growth of different kinds of vegetables, flowers and herbs.
To buy the book go to