Weather or Not

Fast-Start Greenhouse Yields Tomatoes in May

Julie Clay
Julie Clay starts seedlings in her Fast-Start Greenhouse, which is tucked into a side yard beside her house.
Last year, Julia Clay ate her first homegrown tomato in early May. That's at least a month before most of her neighbors got to pick a ripe tomato. Julia's garden is in zone 6, between the Shenandoah Valley and the West Virginia border, where it can get as cold as 18 degrees below zero in the winter. To get extra-early tomatoes, she needed to give the plants a big head start, and her new Fast-Start Greenhouse gave her the perfect place to do just that.

"I started looking for a greenhouse many years ago -- one that would fit into a small side yard next to the house," she said. "When I saw your Fast-Start Greenhouse, I went out in the snow and measured and said to my husband, 'I think it will fit!'"

Once the snow had melted, Julia asked her husband to remove all of the stuff they were storing in the side yard so she could measure properly. It looked like the greenhouse would fit perfectly, so she ordered the greenhouse.

MORE: Complete details on the Fast-Start Greenhouse.

When her Fast-Start arrived, a curious neighbor came over and ended up helping them put it together. "It was still cold outside and everyone was wearing sweaters," Julia said. "I made hot chocolate and coffee and neighbors started dropping by to see what we were doing."

After the greenhouse setup was complete, Julia put a thermometer inside. Though the outdoor temperature dropped down to about 10 degrees, it stayed balmy inside the greenhouse. That's when Julia moved in.

"The first thing I did was put a chair in the greenhouse. I'd go outside and drink my coffee in there every morning," she said. In fact, Julia's husband thinks the greenhouse has helped her get through the winter months without experiencing the usual lows from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

One night last winter, the outdoor temperature got down to 5 degrees and inside the greenhouse it dipped down to 27 degrees. So Julia decided to purchase an inexpensive greenhouse heater. She expected it to be an energy hog, but when it only added about $5 a month to her electric bill, she decided it was a good investment.

raised bed
With raised beds, you can grow crops right in the ground.
Julia bought the cedar Bench System for the greenhouse, and Julia said she easily started more than 1,000 seedlings last spring. She gave many away, but also treated herself to an abundance of annual flowers, all started from seed. Usually, she avoids growing annuals because she thinks the plants are too expensive for just one year of growth. Her half-acre yard, bordered by a creek, boasts mostly perennials and vegetables. Julia is particularly proud of her moon garden -- a plot of white flowers, many of which bloom at night. This year she used her greenhouse to start 15 or 20 new types of white flowers. Last season, Julia started tomatoes in her greenhouse the week of Jan. 1. She brought her first ripe cherry tomatoes into work on May 1 -- to the astonishment of her friends and colleagues.

Since Julia has been gardening for many years, she already has a whole arsenal of favorite tools. She recycles her pots each year, so all she usually needs to buy is soil. Her new greenhouse has been a very welcome addition to her gardening equipment.

"This greenhouse is great for anyone who likes to putter and garden," she said. "It's a good choice if you're thinking of buying a greenhouse but don't want to make a huge investment."

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