Do a quick internet search for any phrase containing the word “greenhouse” and it is a fair bet that at least half of what you turn up will be about greenhouse gases rather than glasshouse growing. Perhaps it is not such a bad thing – in today’s increasingly environmentally aware world there are plenty of ways to do your bit and the greenhouse should give you ample opportunity to display your eco-credentials.
Save Your Energy
One of the simplest ways is by reducing the amount of energy you use, especially if yours is a warm greenhouse which needs to be heated in the winter – though it works for cool and unheated conditions too – and there are lots of things you can do.
Heating and lighting are obvious candidates, although this is one place where the oft-quoted piece of advice to turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees is probably not something to follow! The good news is that you only need to take many of the things you would normally do to run the greenhouse just a little bit further to begin to have real results. Winter insulation is a case in point – the usual application of polythene as the weather begins to turn colder helps keep the heat in; adding an extra layer of bubble-wrap will help even more – and should turn environmental benefits into economic ones too. With the recent announcement from Europe that ordinary incandescent light-bulbs are to be phased out in favour of their low-energy equivalents, shortly we will all be reducing our power consumption. However, there is nothing to stop you getting ahead of the game and changing your greenhouse lighting ahead of time – despite the higher initial price-tag, they do work out cheaper in the long-run.
Sometimes it pays to look at things a little differently. There can be few places, for instance, where the case for “solar” power is more clear, whether that involves installing solar lights rather than being totally reliant on mains or, in the cooler months of the year, trapping the heat of the day to keep the night-time greenhouse warm. Even something as simple as closing all the ventilators a while before the sun goes down and opening them up after the morning chill has worn off can make a worthwhile saving on the fuel bill. It may take a bit of trial and error to get the timings just right, but you would be hard pressed to find an easier way to make a difference than using the “greenhouse effect” in the greenhouse!
As successive droughts and hosepipe bans have shown, despite Britain’s decidedly wet climate, there are times when, for one reason or another, there simply is not enough water to go around. A lot of the water used in the greenhouse can be successfully recycled, but even if such a comprehensive system does not appeal, it is still possible to reduce the demand for treated mains water by the simple expedient of the humble rain-butt. A little guttering can soon be set up to collect the rain falling on the greenhouse roof and if the butt can positioned high enough, it should be possible to let gravity move the water to where it is needed, without the need for any additional energy to pump it.
Collecting your own rain-water or recycling suitable “grey” water – left after a bath for instance – makes clear environmental sense and financial too, if you are being metered. Couple this with a capillary watering system, which supplies water from a reservoir automatically, without the need for pumping and your watering becomes about as eco-friendly as you can get.
Food and Plant Miles
Perhaps one of the most direct ways to reduce your own carbon footprint is one of the easiest and requires nothing more than that you do what greenhouses are designed for – just grow some plants. Producing even a small amount of your own food under glass very neatly allows you to reduce the “food miles” of much of the exotic or out-of-season produce otherwise only available in supermarkets. Flying fruit and vegetables into the country from far-flung parts of the world causes carbon emissions in the first place and then transporting them along the road network simply makes the problem worse.
If the idea of tomatoes, strawberries, peaches, peppers or aubergines does not fit comfortably into your view of gardening, the same idea also holds true for many bedding and other plants – brought on in a nursery and then hauled up to local garden centres and DIY shops. Propagating your own in the greenhouse, from seeds or cutting, not only gets around the environmental problem of fossil fuel use, but could also save you a small fortune.
There is nothing quite so guaranteed to bring home the diversity and fragility of life as actually trying to grow something for yourself – it is an obvious connection to make and a largely inescapable one. After all, if you cannot be “green” in a greenhouse, where can you be?