Is it worth getting a greenhouse in Portugal? I get this question a lot from clients and friends that are just getting into growing food in this lovely country. The answer is “yes” and for many different reasons. We started our greenhouse experience in 2017 when we first got here, and 2 years later decided to extend it to another polytunnel. It is just so rewarding to get even more out of the Portuguese growing season!
Have a space to keep tropical and frost sensitive plants
That was our first reason for having a greenhouse in Portugal. We wanted to experiment with the climate, which was so new to us, and find out how much we can stretch its limits. We wanted to grow very desired plants like lemon grass and avocados, but we knew starting outdoors is very risky, because frost does occur on our land occasionally. Some plants, like passion fruit for example, will survive the winter outdoors, but won’t give so many fruits as if grown with protection. Here is a list of perennial plants we grow successfully in the greenhouse:
- passion fruit
- lemon grass
- aloe vera
- climbing jasmin
- curcuma (turmeric)
If you are curious for more info about that, read our post about tropical plants.
In the picture you can see the first year of our greenhouse experiments, with some new potted trees and young tomato plants. We were lucky to have an existing ruin with an old chicken coop extension, so the only thing left to do was to put a greenhouse tarp over it. The whole structure was built on top of the big boulder. This contributed to the thermal mass by slowly releasing daily warmth over the night. We found this advantage really important while designing a polytunnel a few years later. This time we decided to incorporate an existing terrace wall, partly also inspired by the walipini concept.
Greenhouse in Portugal will extend your winter and summer growing seasons
Usually we only talk about one growing season. But the good thing about this Mediterranean country is that you can basically grow your food all year round. That’s also why Portugal experiences such an interest for the nature loving foreigners to establish here. It is true that certain plants will do just fine without any protection over the winter, like all the cabbage family or fava beans. But some others can only make it with a little help. Here is a simplified list of annual vegetables that grow well in the greenhouse in Portugal during the winter season:
But that’s not the end of the story! We can also use the greenhouse as a summer season extension and keep harvesting tomatoes and peppers most of the winter. That will also depend how well-built your greenhouse is and what’s the particular microclimate at your property. But there is no fun without trying, so here are some tips what plants you can experiment with:
Use your greenhouse as a different microclimate during the summer
Over the few years of experience we realized how important it is to try out different places and conditions for the same type of plants. The seasons in Portugal are changing so much that at the moment it’s really hard to call any weather “normal”. It’s crucial to be prepared for droughts and floods, humid or dry days with extraordinary UV intensity, all that can happen within the same season. We found out that by opening the sides and shading the top of our greenhouses, we create very convenient space for the fragile plants to grow in the summertime. So don’t hesitate and try out all of the plants from the list above during the summer as well. The cucumbers are especially perfect for that. They seem to love increased humidity and slight shade, plus it’s much easier to make them climb inside than in the garden.
Feel free to comment below about your own experiences and resources. We really love when these posts become a sharing platform, where we exchange ideas and opinions.
Hello, what is the temperature inside your greenhouse during pick winter time ?
In the night the coldest temperature will be just above zero, around 2 Celsius. In the day it raises easily to 20 or more on a sunny weather. It can be even more if we don’t ventilate in the early afternoon hours.
Do you use any heating system at all such as compost heating for example?
We haven’t try that in the greenhouse yet, but it’s a great solution! We have done the massive compost heater three winter times for heating up the shower water. Each time it worked nicely, also warming up our banana plants growing next to it. Other simple techniques you can do to increase the temperature is to place many big bottles of water next to the greenhouse’s walls or the most sensitive plants. The body of water acts like an extra thermal mass.