Greenhouses for Space Farming?

One of the biggest areas of development in terms of technology is solar technology, which I have discussed at length in this blog. The rapid development of solar carports and other such hybrid technology has overshadowed a lot of other innovation in the field of portable shelters and other such products. I recently found a story that talks about the progress being made with portable greenhouses, which are very useful for the expansion of potential sources of food in undeveloped areas.

When I say undeveloped areas, I don’t mean unfarmed sections of the earth, but the vast potential of growing crops and other plant life on other planets and moons. According to an article in Popular Science, the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (in conjunction with private industry) is developing a lunar greenhouse that will show how hydroponic systems may one day be able to grow some crops on other planets. In true form, this lunar greenhouse is portable, simple to set up, but still incredibly advanced:

“The 18-foot, membrane-sheathed system collapses into a 4-foot wide disk for easy packing on an interplanetary mission. When extended, it is fitted with water-cooled lamps and seed packets prepped to sprout without soil. They hydroponic system needs little oversight, relying on automated systems and control algorithms to analyze data gathered by embedded sensors that optimize the controlled ecosystem. The whole system takes just ten minutes to set up and produces vegetables within a month.”

The initial design for this greenhouse came from the United States’ station at the South Pole in Antarctica, where the same type of greenhouse was being used to grow crops. This story shows the importance of portable, easy to set up greenhouses to everyone. Right now, you may be using one to grow fresh vegetables for tonight’s dinner, but in the future we may be setting these greenhouses on the Moon.

Start Planting With a Portable Greenhouse

When is the best time to begin planting? For most farmers and gardeners, this includes whenever the frosts pass, which can be found in various frost guides. But, if you own a greenhouse, planting vegetables, fruits, and plants never seems to stop. In fact, if you want to get an early start on spring vegetables and fruits, it’s advised that you start growing them in a greenhouse to protect them from any possible late frosts. Some plants can withstand frosts, while most will be damaged by them. This article gives some tips on using a greenhouse to start growing your spring vegetables.

One affordable option to start growing any spring vegetables is with a portable greenhouse. These structures, made from a galvanized steel frame and enclosed polyethylene canopy, can be used all year, with or without a heat source. But, even if you don’t use these structures to tend your plants in the colder months, you can take your portable greenhouse out from storage to start growing your plants. This is particularly easier if you’re a gardener, but even farmers can use large greenhouses to start growing certain vegetables and fruits in colder weather without the threat of frost.

One issue concerning portable greenhouses is to heat or not to heat. This, of course, depends upon the plants you’re growing. If certain species call for a specific temperature, finding a way to heat them is necessary to their growth. If middling early spring temperatures are appropriate to start growing, then the portable greenhouse may not need to be heated. However, if you plan to use the greenhouse in winter months, the shelter must be heated, especially if you’re growing off-season plants. Additionally, lighting and watering may be other issues much like heating that need to be addressed with all plants in a greenhouse.

Portable Greenhouses for Locally-Grown Food

A recent article talks about the benefits of locally-grown food in Iowa, although the benefits are practically the same anywhere else. The article talks mainly about the price: Some won’t buy food from a farmer’s market, both produce and meat, because they assume the price is too high. In fact, as the article found out, produce and meat from a farmer’s market cost less than that from a conventional supermarket. Farmers, additionally, look to find ways to extend the growing season on certain crops, and this is where portable greenhouses come in for producing your food on a local level.

Portable greenhouses range in size from sheds to put in your backyard to high-tunnel options, which are generally used on farms. High Tunnel greenhouses are made from a rounded galvanized steel frame and a translucent polyethylene canopy on top. Having this additional protection for certain seasonal crops allows them to be grown for a few months longer. In the case of the linked article, the goal is to extend certain crop growing periods by four to five months by using such structures.

Portable greenhouses and other similar shelters aren’t unusual on farms. In fact, they can be found sheltering livestock and equipment for part of the year. Aside from use on a farm, one of these portable greenhouses can be used on an individual level to grow your own vegetables. In some cases, if you use potted plants, you can continue to grow some vegetables and fruits in the winter months but, much like the use for the high tunnel greenhouses, smaller models can extend the use of your garden into colder weather. Continue growing your own fruits and vegetables for a few months longer and, in the winter, heat one of the greenhouses to continue growing potted plants.

Keeping Your Greenhouse in Winter

If you’re not able to install a glass and metal greenhouse in your backyard, don’t worry. Dealers like Shelters of America and Portable Garage Depot carry portable greenhouses that, using the same type of design plan as a fully-enclosed portable garage, can be installed on your property for a fraction of the cost. Each shelter consists of a galvanized steel frame and a semi-transparent heavy-duty polyethylene canopy that fits over the frame. Inside, you can grow and arrange your plants much like in an ordinary greenhouse. For ventilation, vents can be added and, in the winter, a portable heater can be kept inside to give your plants additional warmth.

Such greenhouses offer portability, as one can be loaded onto a truck and taken to a local fair or gardening show, the practicality of such a greenhouse includes the fact that you can tend to your plants in winter. Much like how boats or RVs are stored during the cold months, plants can be kept in such an outdoor greenhouse to continue to grow. Amateur gardeners who tend plants or vegetables around their home often become disappointed in the colder months, as the ground is too hard and too cold to sustain anything. With a greenhouse on your property, you can continue to grow such plants during the winter months.

If a standard glass and metal greenhouse is too much of a financial hurdle, a small size portable greenhouse costs significantly less, with a small shelter starting around $400 at Shelters of America or Portable Garage Depot. Use one of these around the year to grow plants or use it as storage for your ordinary outdoor plants in colder months. This way, you can continue gardening without the cold stopping or hampering your efforts.

Building a Portable Greenhouse

Even for the avid horticulturalist, having a glass greenhouse can be difficult to maintain. Not to mention, whenever you need to transport plants to a show or festival, the shelter can’t go with you. One option to still have a high-quality greenhouse that is easily transported is to set up a portable greenhouse. Much like any portable shelter, portable greenhouses are made of a galvanized steel frame that supports a polyethylene canopy. The polyethylene tarp, in this case, is partially transparent, allowing some light to pass through the surface. If you’re a budding horticulturalist, one of these structures can be beneficial, as well, and can evolve your gardening from only a seasonal endeavor to one that lasts all year round.

What about adjusting temperature? One of the benefits of owning a greenhouse is that plants can be grown all year long. With glass greenhouses, the inside can be heated naturally and, to alleviate some of the heat, vents are added. This same design is added to many portable greenhouses. Two possible portable greenhouse designs include polycarbonate and polyethylene panels. When completely closed, these structures retain heat inside but, in warmer months, to cool off the plants, vents are added to the roofs. With the temperature outside, the vents can be adjusted to the plants’ needs.

As with all types of portable shelters, portable greenhouses come in a number of shapes and sizes. Rounded and peaked roofs are two designs used across all portable shelters, and these, too, are applied to greenhouses in large and small sizes. For your personal garden, smaller portable greenhouses can be put together. But, if you need an industrial-size greenhouse for growing vegetables or plants in the winter month, rounded roof industrial-size portable greenhouses can be installed to cover a large area of up to 20 feet by 26 feet.