Greenhouses are a practical, cost-effective, and eco-friendly tool for growing a variety of plants year-round, and they’ve been around since the Roman ages. The emperor Tiberius was fond of a cucumber-like vegetable, and so his gardeners came up with an idea to plant cucumbers in wooden carts (much like wheelbarrows) which they left in the sunlight during the day and took inside at night to keep them warm. The gardeners stored the cucumbers under frames covered with an oiled cloth. This primitive method ensured Tiberius had his favorite snack during every season.
We are unsure when the first heated greenhouses developed, but the first mention of them comes from the Sanga Yorok, a detailed work about husbandry that was written by a Korean royal physician in the mid-1400s. The Sanga Yorok discussed how to care for plants during the winter, including building a greenhouse. The heat derived from heated floors and was held in by the structure’s cob walls and a thin, oiled paper that allowed in the light from the sun.
Koreans weren’t the only ones to implement greenhouses. The Netherlands, followed by England, built their greenhouse structures in the 17th century, though the first attempts required a massive amount of labor to close the greenhouses at night or to prepare the plants for winterization. Ensuring proper heat levels was also a challenging aspect for Dutch and English gardeners. Now, however, some of the world’s biggest greenhouses are located in the Netherlands and can yield millions of vegetables each year.
The greenhouse, as we know it, emerged in Holland during the 19th century, designed by a French botanist named Charles Lucien Bonaparte. The modern greenhouse was designed to grow tropical medicinal plants and was usually only found on land owned by the wealthy. As botany grew to become a popular subject of study, universities started building greenhouses of their own.
Greenhouses only improved as technology produced better glass and improved construction ideas. The Victorian Age was the golden era for greenhouses, when the largest, most elaborate, and most beautiful greenhouses were built. In 1880, across the world, the first greenhouse was made in Japan by Samuel Cocking, a British merchant interested in growing herbs.
Since then, greenhouses have undergone various architectural designs allowing for better growth among plants and cheaper construction costs. The 1960s and 70s marked the next revolution in greenhouse technology, when polyethylene became available as large sheets, inhibited UV rays, and had improved flexibility.
Hoop houses, made from inexpensive materials like aluminum or PVC, significantly reduced the cost of building a greenhouse and resulted in their widespread use on small farms, garden centers, and backyards. In the 1980s and 1990s, gutter-connected greenhouses rose in popularity.
Today, greenhouses are a central component of innovative farming and maintain their usefulness as a tool for year-round plant growth. They can be large-scale structures for the production of a large number of cops, or as small as a backyard lean-to. Combined with vertical growth techniques, hydroponics, and other modern-day farming methods, greenhouses have the potential to outproduce traditional farms in the future.