One of the great things about living in Florida is being able to grow whatever you desire all year long. I did discover, however, with my first vegetable garden here that shade cloth was a vital necessity during the summer months as the hot tropical sun becomes too much for many veggie plants. While there are definitive growing seasons for vegetables here, primarily from late October to April, one can successfully grow year round, especially greens and tomatoes, if a shade covering is provided. I intend to discover this level of success in doing so this year in my new tropical octagonal greenhouse.

I paid a friend to help me design and build the greenhouse. I studied my tropical jungle yard for several months to determine the best sunny location. I relocated all the plants in this area to a new spot. We then began laying out the design with string to see what shape might present itself within this space. Before long, a lovely rectangular, octagonal shape emerged. Within days, this emergence began to take on life.

building a greenhouse

The foundation was set and leveled on four concrete blocks beneath the primary pillars with a “rot proof” composite flooring, and the floor panels spaced closely with an allowance for water to drain out. The structure was built with beautiful smelling red cedar wood for durability, and then completely covered in two overlapping layers of 2 x 2 green metal wire with a durable coating. The final touches included a black custom made shade cloth from a growers supply company to fit the roof like a glove, and an irrigation line run along the interior top beam with misters. Lastly, a huge triangular stone was placed as the step to enter the greenhouse. It seemed more than appropriate that the name of the stone at the quarry was called Emerald Forest.

emerald forest stone

I absolutely love spending time in my tropical octagonal greenhouse. It feels like a garden sanctuary, a sacred space for me to connect more deeply to Nature and Her mysteries. I have filled the top shelves with pots of culinary herbs, including some unusual ones like Cuban Oregano, Mexican Sweetleaf and Tarragon and Kama Sutra Mint along with some medicinal herbs like Una de Gato and Graviola. Mixed in with the herbs are exotic flowers like Desert Rose, Crown of Thorns, Amazon Lily, Golden Gardenia and Calla Lily seeds beginning to sprout. A variety of orchids hang from the beams while fragrant Moon Vine is climbing its way up the back side. A Crossandra bush with rare turquoise flowers awaits blooming by the entrance next to a big pot of sprouting mixed Calendula. The exterior front side displays a mix of Chicken and Hens and Flapjack succulents. I am still pondering my decision on which flowering vine will grace the other back side; perhaps a Bleeding Heart or an exotic Hawaiian Sunset Bell.

amazon lily

I have begun planting my food. I am testing out root bags for the first time. I have two 3 gallon root bags, one with Peruvian Red Kuri squash and the other with lemon cucumbers, perched on the top shelf below a horizontal ladder- like trellis. It is my hope the vines will grow atop this ladder where the fruit will hand down for easy picking. In one of the deep shelves, I have placed the larger root bags planted with beets, carrots, peppers and onions mixed with smaller root bags planted with radishes, arugula and cabbage. Very large root bags sit on the floor planted with snap peas and tomatoes where the vines can crawl up the wire sides. In the other deep shelf, I am experimenting with Garden Soxx, black mesh bags I filled with compost and garden soil. I have cut small holes in the tops of the soxx into which I have planted from seed all my greens: lettuce, spinach, kale and chard. Another small soxx is filled with basil. More edible plants gracing the greenhouse include Spice Ginger, Goji Berries, Star Fruit, Barbados Cherries and a Fig tree.

gardening soxx

While there is tremendous satisfaction in watching everything grow, each day brings me closer to the ultimate enjoyment of harvest time and eating my own home grown food. There is no substitute for both the pleasure and health benefits of consuming just picked food, full of all the natural mannose (sugars) that are responsible for carrying all the nutritional value throughout the body. My beautiful, tropical, octagonal greenhouse is now the perfect complement to my jungle yard where I have also planted Dwarf Banana and Mango trees, a Guava tree, an Avocado tree while Meyers Lemon, Key Lime and Blood Orange citrus trees are potted by the pool. The lemon tree is now in full bloom with the promise of many lemons to come.

lemon blooms

It is curious, in a place with an abundance of warmth and sunshine, how few folks I know here who are growing their own food. This sandy, alkaline soil in Florida needs amending for vegetable gardening just as many soils in other locations throughout the country require soil amendment. I suspect this big task is the primary deterrent. A tropical greenhouse can provide a far easier and simpler solution for family food growing without the need for soil amendment nor an expensive greenhouse that requires heat and cooling. While my octagonal greenhouse suits me to a T, the tropics provide infinite design possibilities for building your own greenhouse in which to enjoy growing both exotic flowers and your own food all year long. This is greenhouse gardening at its best.