I am an avid gardener, motivated by a belief in producing as much of my own food as I can. There are many, many ways to devise your own greenhouse. Given a situation where you have limited supplies, this gets interesting. Being a cheap Yankee, I don't like buying much unless I really need to. But sometimes it's better to pay and have, than to wait for the time to make something you may never have. After researching quite a bit on the topic of greenhouses, I decided to go with a hoop house. (See: http://www.hoophouse.com/) I just wanted to get the ball rolling. A number of things I noted:
-They are located in New England, so I could reasonably compare their experience to mine (and shipping was cheaper)
-Snow-loads have not been a problem. I've swept off over 1.5 feet of wet, northeast snow and noticed very little structural stress.
-When I got the delivery I said something to the effect of "that's it?" the materials included are very small, so buying a kit, or taking one down with the anticipation of putting it in a truck and heading are both very realistic
-Once you get the kit, and look at the components: you will also probably say "that's it?!" because most or all of the items (except for the UV [resistant] plastic) are readily found at a hardware store (you'd need a tubing bender to get some stuff right). My point is that once you saw it maybe you'd be industrious enough to make your own kits to sell or trade.
-Having wooden sides, adding a small wood stove is a simple task. For fun, I have enjoyed February days out there, burning just a little wood. I am confident that I could live in this shelter with that small wood stove.
-As of late November, I am still picking greens and carrots. Spring and fall months I plant cold hardy crops you cannot plant in the garden. Summer I plant stuff that doesn't usually have a chance here in northern Vermont. This past summer I harvested 30 pounds of sweet red peppers from just two 3'x6' beds. The mantra is 'plant in season.' I also get my seedlings started out here before they head outdoors.
I'll wrap this up with a couple of other points to consider:
-It is very important to remember this: during winter months you are not so much 'growing' as you are extending the harvest. Elliot Coleman's book goes into great length of this alternate mindset. See: http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/main/harvest/harvest.html Expecting to grow tomatoes in January is fine if you have a powerful heat source and supplemental light. That is not for what we are planning for.
-See: http://www.radiantcompany.com/ These guys are not just selling catalogue items here. They are living the life. A simple incorporation of solar and
radiant (perhaps you already have solar? or burn wood and would like to capture some of that heat for other means?) into a greenhouse would make a
world of difference. We should all be planning on sustainable heat sources rather than trying to power a 60,000 BTU propane heater in the greenhouse. (It defeats the purpose.) In conclusion, I think that a hoop house could be a perfect shelter to get someone started. Like a mini-Earthship, you can live and grow food with it. - Z.H. in Vermont