22. Greenhouses and watering Cucumbers

‘A cucumber a day keeps the doctor away!’ believed the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The Roman gardener produced a cucumber a day, right through the year, using an early version of a greenhouse. Cucumbers were planted in wheeled carts, which were wheeled out into the sunlight daily. They were taken inside to keep them warm at night. The cucumbers were stored under frames or in cucumber houses glazed with either oiled cloth or sheets of selenite.  Imagine growing what you want right through the year. Conquering the seasons, while saving water, energy and other resources. That is what a greenhouse does. A greenhouse or a glass house is made of transparent material like glass. Greenhouses in hot dry climates are called shade houses.

In the 13th century greenhouses were built in Italy to house exotic plants from the tropics. In 1438 we read of mandarin trees being grown in a greenhouse in winter. This is found in the records of the Joseon dynasty. Sanga Yorok, written in 1450 AD Korea speaks of a greenhouse where temperature and humidity could be controlled.

The concept of greenhouse appeared in the Netherland and England in the 17th Century. These early greenhouses required a lot of work to close up at night and maintain temperatures. Today Netherlands produce millions of vegetables and flowers using greenhouses. The French used their first greenhouses to protect orange trees from freezing and called them orangeries. Pineries or pineapple pits became popular.

In 17th century Europe, the palace at Versailles had a greenhouse that was 490 ft long, 43ft wide and 145 ft high. In England during the Victoria Era, botanists became involved ushering in the golden era of greenhouses. Botanist Joseph Paxton, built the Crystal Palace in London. The New York Crystal Palace and the Royal greenhouse of Laeken were built in Belgium for King Leopold. In 1880 the first greenhouse was built in Japan by a British merchant who exported herbs. It is fascinating the way ideas spread across the world. Sailing across oceans with commerce and sometimes religion.

The 20th century saw the geodesic dome. Polyethylene filter became widely used for greenhouses. Today commercial glass houses are filled with equipment including installations for heating, cooling and lighting. Computers are often used to control the conditions for optimum growth. Food supplies depend on greenhouses in high latitude countries. In Andalusia, Spain, greenhouses cover 49,000 acres. They can be seen from space. South Korea is the Asia’s leader in reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 30%. They plan a low carbon economy to accelerate economic growth. Incidentally the country is one of the top 10 carbon emitters. The country is full of greenhouses on both sides of the highway. The greenhouse of Gosan completed a massive turnkey project for growing green peppers. The stunning new nursery is on a scenic mountainside, it measures over a hectare. It has a sustainable heating system with a pump which can cool and heat.  Greenhouses all over South Korea grow exotic vegetables and flowers like roses and orchids. From simple greenhouse to multilayer cultivation systems, they use revolutionary multilayered water and energy saving systems to conserve resources. There is less loss of light radiation, or water evaporation in these.


Today the Netherlands has some of the largest greenhouses in the world. A major producer of food these structures occupy10,256 hectares. Today, we also see floating greenhouses. Cornerways nursery in UK, uses waste heat and carbon dioxide from a nearby sugar refinery. The refinery has a novel way of reducing its carbon emission through a good cause.

One can easily foresee greenhouses on the Moon or Mars or even distant planets where Earth colonies may appear!


Dr. Rekha Shetty

Water Warrior