Magazine article Sunset

A Blow-Up Greenhouse for around $20

Magazine article Sunset

A Blow-Up Greenhouse for around $20

Article excerpt

Summer crops get off to a fast start inside a plastic dome

With the steady patience of the plant scientist he is, Robert Buker of Vancouver, Washington, has spent more than 30 years perfecting a pet project-an inflatable greenhouse. The one shown here covers more than 1,400 square feet and costs about $200. Frameless, strong, and reusable, it takes only six hours to set up and 20 minutes to take down.

It also gives Buker's summer garden a big head start. In February, he erects the greenhouse over the site of the garden and starts summer flowers and crops from seed. When the weather warms in May, he takes it down. Vegetables grown in the earth beneath the dome don't need transplanting, and he harvests ripe tomatoes and melons by midsummer.

The 33- by 43-foot dome is formed from a 40- by 50-foot sheet of 6-mil ultraviolet-resistant plastic, which is guaranteed to last for three years. Nursery supply firms sell 40- by 100-foot sheets for about $120; Buker cuts them in half (he bunches up the excess at the corners). The edge of the plastic sheeting is stapled or taped to a 3/4-inch strip of wood that fits snugly into a 1- by 1-inch channel running around the outside of the greenhouse's curblike concrete foundation. Just 6 inches deep and 4 inches wide, the foundation took Buker about two days to build and cost $20. (He says the structure could be scaled down to 8 by 16 feet and still function well.)

When the plastic dome is fully inflated, the greenhouse has 10 feet of headroom at its center. The dome is kept inflated by a 1/4-hp electric fan (less than $50), which runs 24 hours a day, blowing outside air into the dome to maintain static pressure (see drawing at top). …

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