Understanding and Using the Greenhouse Effect

Humans like to observe nature and try to reproduce it to their advantage. I could give hundreds of examples in fields as diverse as architecture, fashion, technology, economics, and many more!

So how can we humans understand, reproduce and use the greenhouse effect? Are you ready? Jump into your leopard print pajamas, settle into your cozy nest and dive into this text found on the web.

Triangular window greenhouse
Photo: Palu Malerba.
Hexagonal shaped windows
The structure of these buildings is inspired by forms that appear spontaneously in nature. The trials and errors of evolution are infinite and only the best solutions have survived; why not reproduce them? Photo: Soloman Soh.

What Is the Greenhouse Effect?

You’ve obviously already entered a greenhouse: it’s hot, humid, and usually sunny. There’s no magic here: the greenhouse effect is the art of retaining the sun’s heat in a closed space. It’s possible to observe it on a very large scale, like the ozone layer which is the “greenhouse” of the planet and allows us to have a temperature favorable to life. But you can also recreate this effect with a simple piece of cellophane paper (better known as: “Saran Wrap”).

Diagram showing sunlight passing through the ozone layer and heat trapped within it
Our beloved star is one of our main sources of energy; without the sun, there would be no planet Earth as we know it. The ozone layer prevents heat from returning completely into space, and allows us to maintain a comfortable average temperature for life.

Why Keep the Heat In?

There are many benefits to creating greenhouse effects while gardening: extending the season of your vegetable garden, providing ideal conditions for germination or cuttings, having a warmer tropical plant corner in the house (those of you with large south-facing windows understand me!), and many other uses!

Here’s to your cellophane, your transparent bags and your empty vegetable wrappers: we’re doing something about the greenhouse effect!

Tomatoes in a clear plastic container
Be smart: reuse your containers instead of spending a fortune on gardening equipment. Photo: FOX.

Beware of Overly Efficient Greenhouse Effects

Yes, being able to capture heat and use it to your advantage can be very useful for a gardener… BUT! Be careful what you wish for… I have already smothered, burned, drowned, in short killed, plants and seeds by playing with the supreme and divine power that the greenhouse effect gave me.

The saying “Too much is like not enough” is very relevant here. If your greenhouse is small—like a single pot in a bag, for example—its space will heat up much faster than an industrial greenhouse. Make sure you don’t leave your small greenhouses out in the sun all day, because you might be dutprised. You know, your car can become sweltering in the sun, even if it’s not hot, the same goes for your cold bed, your terrarium or your seedlings.

Useful Gardening Tool: The Thermometer

If, like me, you like to play with the forces of nature, I strongly suggest a small thermometer/humidity meter to put inside your greenhouse. It’s not always possible with the smaller sizes, but it’s definitely a good thing to know how high the temperature is. It can also help you relocate plants if they get too much light before it burns up… or to open your cold frame a bit in April during the sunniest hours.

You will also notice how much the temperature drops when the sun is gone. Depending on various factors, such as the airtightness of your greenhouse or the materials it is made of, heat will eventually dissipate. The day-night differences can be significant, so this may not be a good solution for your delicate plants that are looking for stability.

Unfortunately, a piece of plastic is not enough to grow tomatoes in winter, but controlling the greenhouse effect can still be very practical.

Plants in a terrarium.
Foto: Huy Phan.

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

5 comments on “Understanding and Using the Greenhouse Effect

  1. Jennifer Arzola

    Ever since I was a kid I love to keep my neck area green so I keep looking about it and I also love to keep my fashion updated so I keep looking at outfits like this Diddi Moda Bowknot Leather Jacket.

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  4. I work at a greenhouse and I become very ungrateful for the Greenhouse during the poinsettia sticking season when it is over 90 degrees and so misty you cant see more than four feet…

  5. Deborah fear

    If you live in an old house as I do aquariums are a God send for many sensitive plants. You can regulate the temp & humidity with a pc .of glass .I keep mosses & orchids & avocados in them. My terrarium is a 45 gal bow front aquarium with glass lid had for a twenty dollar investment at a thrift store. The outside greenhouse was made with industrial windows found & unwanted free is a plus !

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