A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Crops with a Cold Frame Greenhouse

A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing a Crop with a Cold Frame Greenhouse
October 25, 2022

Whether you’re a hobbyist gardener or a small-scale professional farmer, a greenhouse is a great investment! Not only will using a greenhouse extend your growing season, but it will also significantly increase your crop production.

While they’re well worth the cost, greenhouses generally aren’t cheap. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to use a greenhouse and have a solid plan before you make the financial commitment.

If you’re a first-time user, a high-tunnel greenhouse is a great option. They can accommodate both in-ground and pot-based growing and are less expensive to set up and operate. Here’s a closer look at how these cost-effective greenhouses work and some expert greenhouse tips to help you get started.

Cold Frame vs. Traditional Greenhouses

While they have some similarities, there are also important key differences between a high-tunnel greenhouse and a traditional one. First, most traditional greenhouses are either permanently or semi-permanently anchored to the ground. Second, their walls are often made of hard materials, like polycarbonate or glass, and they almost always have permanent utility hook-ups for lighting, heating, and ventilation.

Instead of anchored into a concrete foundation or footers, high-tunnel greenhouses are made of hoops that anchor directly into the ground. This gives you the ability to deconstruct and move them if necessary. The walls are also made of a thinner material, usually fabric.

While cold frame greenhouses protect your crops from the elements, they don’t usually have built-in ventilation, heat, and lighting. Instead, the sun’s rays heat the inside of the tunnel, creating exceptional plant growth. Ventilation comes from opening the ends of the tunnel and/or rolling up the sides.

We recommend the ShelterTech Greenhouse. It's made of a super-durable hot-dipped galvanized steel frame and features our unique Luminate Diffusion fabric cover, which is designed to encourage plant growth while also reducing water consumption.

Many gardeners prefer this brand because it offers so much flexibility. These structures range in size from a small option that is 8-feet high by 8-feet wide to a large 38-foot by 15-foot tunnel. They’re also available in lengths up to 100 feet!

Is a Cold Frame Greenhouse Right for You?

When deciding whether a high-tunnel greenhouse is right for you, it’s important to consider the types of plants you want to grow, the climate where you live, and your experience level.

If you’re an amateur gardener or a small farmer looking to extend your growing season and protect your crops from cooler temperatures and excessive rainfall, a cold frame greenhouse is the perfect solution. Cold Frame greenhouses also allow you to grow your crops either in pots on tables or directly in the ground. This allows you to grow everything from seedlings to full-grown tall plants.

The comparatively lower price of a cold frame greenhouse makes it easier for home gardeners to get started. However, larger cold frames are also effective for small professional farmers.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a cold frame greenhouse, you may also qualify for financial assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

A Step-by-Step Guide to Growing a Crop with a Cold Frame GreenhouseA Step-by-Step Guide to Growing a Crop with a Cold Frame Greenhouse

How to Use a Greenhouse: Simple Set-Up Tips

Now that you understand some of the benefits of using a high tube greenhouse, you might wonder how to get started. These simple tips will help you set yourself up for success.

1. Choose the Right Size

When deciding how large of a greenhouse you need, start by considering the type and volume of plants you want to grow and the space you have available on your property.

Make sure you choose a size that will give you sufficient room for your plants and extra space to move them around without damaging them. If you’re planning on adding a heating/cooling system, leave enough space for that as well.

2. Select Your Location

When setting up your cold frame, one of the most important greenhouse tips is to make sure you choose the right location. In addition, since they rely on airflow for ventilation, you’ll want to make sure your greenhouse is perpendicular to the typical wind pattern in your area.

Also, make sure the location you choose gets as much UV light as possible. If your greenhouse isn’t getting at least six hours of sun each day, you can install grow lights to give your plants extra exposure and maintain proper temperatures.

While you need plenty of light, it’s also possible for your plants to suffer damage from over-exposure. This means you’ll also want to choose a spot that gives you at least some shade throughout the day.

3. Prep the Soil

Most people who use cold frame greenhouses plant their crops directly in the soil. To get the best results, you’ll want to properly prep your soil before each season’s planting. This typically includes using composting, mulching around your plants, and, possibly, planting cover crops during the winter.

Growing Your First Crop Like a Pro

Once you’ve set your greenhouse up, you’re ready to start growing your first batch of crops! The following greenhouse tips will help you grow like a pro!

1. Choose the Right Crops

If you’re a little nervous about how to use a greenhouse, you’ll be glad to know that you can grow just about anything in your cold frame. This includes a wide variety of crops like:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Berries
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Asparagus
  • Root vegetables
  • Mixed greens
  • Herbs
  • And more!

Generally, as long as the soil is at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit and your greenhouse gets at least 10 hours of sunlight each day, there shouldn’t be any limits on the crops you can grow. If it’s colder or you get less sunlight, you can still successfully grow spinach, leaf lettuce, and root crops.

2. Plant at the Right Time

Even if you’re using a greenhouse, you’ll still want to follow the standard planting zone schedule you would use for an outdoor garden. However, since a cold frame greenhouse gives you extra protection, you may be able to get away with planting up to a month early or a month late. After that, you’ll need to keep an eye on the temperatures, as a cold snap can damage sensitive plants, like tomatoes.

Generally, when using a cold frame greenhouse, you can get three planting cycles in—plan on planting crops in the early spring, summer, and fall. If you’re in a warm climate, you may even be able to grow crops year-round.

3. Understand Pollination

When learning how to use a greenhouse, users often wonder what to do about pollination. The good news is, not only can pollinators, like bees, get into your high tube greenhouse but they should actually be drawn to it. In most cases, this means you won't have to do anything except occasionally open the doors and windows.

However, if the bee population is low in your area, you may find that you need to hand-pollinate your crops or purchase some bumblebees to help with pollination. You can also choose self-pollinating vegetables so you won't have to worry about it.

Maintain Your Crops

Perhaps the most important greenhouse tip is to make sure you maintain your plants! One of the biggest mistakes people make is not caring for their crops in the same way they would a typical garden. Make sure you keep up with a regular watering schedule. Keep an eye on the health of your plants, weed as needed, and watch out for pests.

Watch the Weather

Lastly, you’ll want to keep an eye on changes in the weather. While your greenhouse will provide some protection, a random hard freeze can still cause you to lose your entire crop. If you see that an unseasonable freeze is coming, you’ll either want to harvest your crops early or bring in a heat source, like a propane heater, to keep them warm overnight.

Over-exposure to heat can also cause problems. Make sure your cold frame has vents in the ceiling and also has windows and doors. During hot summer days, open them up to provide proper airflow and keep your high temperatures from killing your plants.

Get Started with Your Cold Frame Greenhouse Today!

Learning how to use a greenhouse is easier than you might think! Follow these easy greenhouse tips, and you’ll enjoy incredible crops season after season.

If you don’t have a cold frame greenhouse yet, now is a great time to get one. Our ShelterTech Cold Frame Greenhouse is an affordable, high-quality option that’s perfect for both beginners and professional farmers. Check it out today!

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