September 26, 2019 4 min read 0 Comments

As a new gardener or a bootstrapper looking to try something new, you might feel uncertain about which type of greenhouse structure would work best for your needs. You're probably also debating the two most common choices: high tunnels and greenhouses. While these two structures share quite a few similarities, there are a few key differences that set them apart from one another — and that might make one of them the better option for you. Let's take a closer look at the great high tunnel vs. greenhouse debate.

What is the Difference Between a High Tunnel and a Greenhouse?

This can be a tricky question to answer because the ideas of what a high tunnel greenhouse and a gable greenhouse are sometimes overlap. For example, it's becoming quite common for farmers and gardeners to use hybrid styles in order to reap the benefits offered by each design. Mainly, though, high tunnels and greenhouses are distinguished from each other in two ways:

  1. How they're used
  2. Their structural and architectural features

How High Tunnels and Greenhouses are Used

Traditionally, greenhouses fall more in the commercial retail sphere since they're spacious and anchored to the spot by some form of foundation. High tunnels, on the other hand, are more often used for in-ground planting, although with the right size high tunnel greenhouse kit, seed propagation, potting and repotting can all be done comfortably and successfully. Both greenhouse styles are used to extend the growing season by protecting crops and other plants from low temperatures and the elements.

High Tunnel vs. Greenhouse Structure & Architecture

The biggest difference between the structure of a greenhouse and a high-tunnel is that a greenhouse is permanently (or semi-permanently) anchored to the ground by a concrete foundation or footers. A high tunnel, or hoop greenhouse, consists of a series of hoops driven into the ground so it can be deconstructed and moved to a new location if needed.

Greenhouses also generally have harder forms of glazing for their wall structure, like glass or polycarbonate, while high tunnels will have thinner greenhouse glazing or film to accommodate deconstruction.

Finally, greenhouses usually have permanent utility hookups for ventilation, heating and lighting. High tunnels may include these elements, but generally do not, simply acting as a line of defense between crops and the outside world.

Benefits of Greenhouses

The traditional greenhouse has a variety of benefits for new and experienced gardeners and farmers.

  1. Greenhouses can be used for year-round growing thanks to utility hookups to keep the space properly heated and ventilated.
  2. Greenhouses offer a bit more protection from the elements since they are completely enclosed and made of hard glazing.
  3. Greenhouses allow the option of planting on benches or raised beds with hydroponic systems if proper drainage is installed.

Benefits of High Tunnels

While a high tunnel greenhouse is not generally as sturdy as a traditional hard-glazed greenhouse, it still offers a variety of unique benefits.

  1. High tunnels allow ventilation without the need for a dedicated system thanks to their open-ended doors and the film used to cover them, which can be easily rolled up using a sidewall ventilation hand crank to allow even more airflow.
  2. Because they are not anchored by concrete and don't require utility hookups, high tunnel greenhouses are less expensive to construct and operate.
  3. High tunnels accommodate both in-ground and pot-based growing, making them ideal for seasonally-based crops and seedlings alike.

Which is Right for Me?

When deciding between high tunnel vs. greenhouse, it's important to think about the kinds of plants you want to grow and the climate you live in. Do you grow crops year round in an area that receives heavy snows, harsh storms, fluctuating temperatures or all of the above? You probably want a greenhouse, which is durable and temperature controlled. Do you want to extend your growing season and protect your plants from excessive rainfall and dipping temperatures? A high tunnel might be for you.

Another consideration is your level of experience with gardening or farming, and how large your operation is going to be. High tunnels are great for beginners, offering a lower price point for bootstrappers who are just getting started or who want to test a new kind of growing. Larger ones can even work well for seasonal commercial operations. If you need greater functionality, high tunnels can also be combined with traditional greenhouse design to create the ultimate nurturing environment for your plants.

The final factor that farmers and gardeners could benefit from is the High Tunnel System Initiative from the United States Department of Agriculture. The program provides financial assistance to farmers who invest in high tunnel systems to extend their growing seasons, enrich their soil and limit energy consumption and the use of pesticides. It's a great way to get a new project off the ground!

Find the Right High Tunnel Greenhouse & More at Bootstrap Farmer

Bootstrap Farmer has some of the best and most cost-effective DIY high tunnel greenhouse kits online. Our kits are adaptable to all climates, include a pole bender for preparing each of the hoops and even come with fast, free shipping and a 4-year warranty. Learn more about our high tunnel greenhouses, greenhouse kits, and all the other growing supplies we have to offer.