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Home-scale greenhouses for next-level gardens

MY YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, DELANEY, now 15, has always been inquisitive when it comes to nature—tending to broken-winged butterflies and rescuing waterlogged bees from puddles. As she grew and learned about the depleted habitats of these creatures, Delaney wanted to do something to help them. Her solution? A backyard greenhouse. 

Cut flowers and Boo Berries 

This spring marks Delaney’s third growing season in the greenhouse she and her dad, Aaron, built directly on our deck for easy access to water, plus electricity for a portable heater powered by Pennyrile Electric. Though her greenhouse is small, just 6 feet by 6 feet, Delaney finds it easy to maintain, while still growing hundreds of plants. 

“I get to start a lot of pollinator-attracting plants from seeds,” she explains. “Once they get big enough, I plant them in a cut flower garden.” Among the flowers she grows are snapdragons, zinnias, hollyhocks and sunflowers. 

Not only do the bees and butterflies benefit from her flower garden, but we enjoy the blooms all summer long. “I start envisioning the bouquets before they’ve even popped up from a seed,” Delaney says. 

Last year, her bouquet arrangements earned several red and blue ribbons at the Muhlenberg County Fair. One entry was an upcycling project of yellow moss grown from seeds in her greenhouse and then planted in a recycled colander—it moved on to the state fair in Louisville where it won a blue 4-H ribbon. “It was one of the most exciting feelings to see my plants there and to know that I accomplished something,” she says. 

Delaney also sows vegetable seeds, like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers to plant in our family’s garden. Plus, she sells some through the blueberry farming business, Boo Berries, that she started when she was just 12. This year, she plans to donate some plants to local nursing homes for the staff and residents to care for. 

Of course, back on our farm, Delaney will be busy planting lots of flowers she grew right here in her greenhouse. “I’m helping out the bees and the butterflies,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m doing a big part in giving back to the Earth.”

In the warm environment of her greenhouse, Ray can start unique plant varieties from seed with plenty of time to grow. Photo: Joe Imel 

A storybook space for sowing seeds

In Henderson, Barbara Ray’s backyard greenhouse looks like it’s straight out of a magical storybook. An avid gardener, she always wanted a greenhouse. “Some women want certain cars and certain things in their houses,” laughs Ray, a Kenergy consumer-member. “I just wanted a greenhouse.”

That wish was fulfilled 14 years ago when her husband, Billy, and friend Tim McLevain, used a Sunshine Greenhouse kit to build the structure, which she now sees when she looks out her kitchen window. Since then, Ray has gotten a jump on the growing season. She isn’t afraid to experiment with different seeds, particularly heirloom varieties.

“I like to raise special, unique vegetables and things that you can’t just go out and buy starts for,” Ray says. Among these interesting plants are bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage; and radicchio, which Ray describes as “a bitter lettuce.” There’s also tromboncino, an Italian zucchini that closely resembles a gourd.

When it comes to flowers, plenty of cockscomb and zinnias get their start in Ray’s greenhouse. The space enables her to grow what she specifically likes, rather than just generic plants found at big-box stores, she says. For example, Ray grows dahlia tubers with eventual dinner plate-size blooms in cool colors—purples, pinks, whites and yellows.

Ray shares the extra produce she harvests with family and friends, adding that she feels good about knowing 

the food is healthy for them since she doesn’t use chemicals in her garden. Another benefit? “I don’t have a big grocery bill in the summer.” 

For Ray, gardening with her backyard greenhouse is a way of life. “It’s hard work,” she says, “but it’s fun and fruitful.” 

Ray works in a bed of zinnias that she started in her greenhouse. Photo: Joe Imel

Fresh flowers grow from adversity 

“I’ve always loved flowers,” says Deborah Wilson, a Licking Valley RECC consumer-member. “My grandmother, she started me a little flower garden when I was young in her garden.” It was during those childhood days of gardening alongside her grandmother that Wilson first learned how to care for flowers. 

Wilson’s early interest blossomed into a lifelong passion that eventually led to building a greenhouse. Several years ago, a tornado came through and destroyed the first structure. Not easily deterred, Wilson and her husband, Doyle, a retired Kentucky State Police officer, drew up plans for a second greenhouse, which they built together. 

The greenhouse jump-starts the growing season for crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and even strawberries grown from seed. The extended growing season also reaches into the fall months, when Wilson enjoys greenhouse-grown lettuce. 

But it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when florists were having difficulty obtaining fresh flowers, that Wilson got the idea to sell her blooms. She reached out to some florists to see if they had any interest in her flowers—gladiolas, lilies and more—and to her surprise, they did. That’s how Wilson’s flower farming business, Farm Girl Flowers, began. “I’ve met a lot of people through this,” says Wilson. “It’s a lot of fun.” 

Besides selling flowers to florists, she also creates her own bouquets, sold locally at the farmers market and at Fannin’s Vegetable Farm in West Liberty. Now, she even has people contact her for special event bouquets, like birthdays. “I don’t have any training. I just use my own style,” mainly using her own flowers, Wilson explains. 

She finds working in her greenhouse exciting, and says she learns something new every day. But her favorite part, she says, is “just the enjoyment of your hands in the soil and watching the seeds grow.” 

More greenhouse benefits 

Miranda Rudolph, Graves County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, has seen an increase in homeowners adding greenhouses to their backyard spaces in recent years. 

“People are wanting more and more control over their food sources,” says Rudolph, a consumer-member of West Kentucky RECC. 

Like Delaney, Ray and Wilson, Rudolph notes the benefits of greenhouse ownership: starting seeds earlier in the spring, extending the growing season well into the autumn months, reducing the grocery bill and choosing the types of plants that best fit the gardener’s space and interests. 

Rudolph points out that a greenhouse gives the gardener better control over lighting, temperature, watering and even pests—all issues that affect plant growth and eventual flower or produce production. For families with children, a greenhouse helps them learn more about science, nature and food sources. 

Rudolph also notes the positive impact of greenhouse gardening on mental well-being: “It’s a great way to get outside and be in the warm greenhouse and play with plants.” 

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