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Greenhouse interview - Maine Sunday Telegram Special Feature in the Home and Garden section

October 29th, 2006:

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Home & Garden Special Feature

By Ray Routhier

Give 'em Shelter

Maine gardeners put up greenhouses from kits so they can grow what they want, when they want.

Michael Pabst decided to build a home greenhouse, essentially, to save the rosebushes.

"My wife loves roses, so when we moved to Maine from Massachusetts we planted six rosebushes, but not all of them made it through the winter," said Pabst. "So we decided to put up a greenhouse."

Building a greenhouse, with all that glass, can seem a little daunting. So Pabst did what a lot a people do: He searched online and read about the numerous companies that sell greenhouse kits. He ended up buying a kit for a 14-by-16-foot greenhouse for about $6,000 from Backyard Greenhouses in Detroit. In about three days he had assembled it next to his house in Pownal.

And the rosebushes are doing better.

"They still had blooms on them until the beginning of October," said Pabst.

In Maine, having a home greenhouse lets gardeners extend their hobby into the fall, or even year-round. Greenhouse options range from "mini" structures that cover a few plants to large glass buildings as big as a small house. A mini greenhouse can cost $200 or so while the larger, higher-quality home greenhouses can be $8,000 and up.

A lot of home greenhouses are the size of a small room, maybe 6-by-8 feet or a little larger, and kits for that size may fall in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. Heating and construction costs are extra.

Many kits have aluminum frames and panels of either glass or heavy plastic material. Some have wood frames as well.

Backyard Greenhouses, the 35-year-old company that sold Pabst his kit, has seen the greenhouse business take off, at the same time gardening has become a popular hobby.

"I think it's really grown along with the baby boomer population," said Shelley Awad, vice president of Backyard Greenhouses. And it's not just people in cold climates who want greenhouses either. "We do business in every state, anywhere there is a threat of frost."

Shipping costs are a consideration, unless you live very close to a greenhouse kit company. Awad said shipping costs for $3,000 to $5,000 kits usually range from about $200 to $800.

Pabst said his kit was fairly simple to install. He bought a "lean-to" greenhouse, meaning it attaches to another building, in this case, Pabst's house. The frame of the structure is aluminum and single-pane glass. Double-pane glass would keep more heat in, Pabst said, but would be about twice as expensive.

Pabst rented an excavator from Home Depot and dug and built a concrete foundation. The foundation was insulated to help keep frost out of the greenhouse.

The kit was well-labeled and the directions were easy to follow, Pabst said, and he had it assembled in about three days. He also bought a couple 4-by-6-foot pond forms, made of plastic and about 2 feet deep, and dug holes for them in his greenhouse, creating mini ponds with about 60 or 70 gallons of water in each.

Pabst said the sun heats the ponds during the day and the warm water helps to heat the greenhouse. He has no heating system in his greenhouse, though Awad says if you want to use your greenhouse year-round in Maine, you need some sort of heating system.

Wayne Printy of Gray bought an 8-by-16-foot greenhouse kit from National Greenhouse Co., which he found online. Like Pabst's, his was a lean-to type, and he assembled it so it opened to an existing doorway to the house.

He had a plumber run hot-water heating into the greenhouse. In the winter, he wraps the greenhouse's single-pane glass with a plastic bubble-wrap-type material, to help keep the heat in.

He figures the total cost - including the kit, heating system and brick along the bottom of the greenhouse - was about $16,000.

The main purpose for Printy's greenhouse was his wife Debbie's orchids.

"Before this, the orchids were all over the house and she'd have to haul them all to the sink (for water)," said Printy. "This greenhouse has an in-floor drain."

Based on his experience, Printy said he would tell a prospective builder of a kit greenhouse to make sure it is big enough. Expanding an all-glass building is not easy.

Awad said one of the big things to consider when building a greenhouse is to consider what plants you want to grow and what sort of temperatures they need to flourish.

She said her company has a formula that helps people calculate how many BTUs of heat they need, by taking into consideration the minimum inside temperature a plant needs and the lowest outside temperature in the area where you live.

Backyard Greenhouses
A div. of Ecolad Corporation

Written By: Ray Routhier
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