The Solar Gem Greenhouse is molded in one unit of light-dispersing fiberglass to provide even light inside. It is extremely weatherproof and has self-opening vents for temperature control.
A few years ago I made a brief foray into raising plants for sale. At that time I purchased this greenhouse. During the time that I owned it I was very happy with it. I had looked at the information about this company’s products in a magazine and called them for more information. I believe that the price I was quoted for the 8' x 8' x 15' greenhouse was $4200. Although I really liked the style I was having trouble talking myself into that much money. But before I made a decision on what to buy, the company called me and said that they had a truck coming to my area and since they did not like to send partial loads, if I still wanted the greenhouse I could have one for $3400. I took this deal.
The units are delivered on a trailer. They are all one piece with the exception of the door, a lift-flap window in the back wall, and the two vents on the top. But these are already attached before the greenhouse arrives at your location. The only thing you must do is prepare a level area and dig a trench that is the dimensions of the house, three inches deep and ten inches wide. The two young fellows in the truck will unload the greenhouse, place it in your trench, and level it. It is light enough that two reasonably fit people can carry it around!
As part of the molded unit there is a six-inch bottom lip (as if there were going to be a floor, but then the middle was never filled in). This lip helps to stabilize the house and keep it square. Since we live in a high wind location I drilled a number of holes in this lip and drove four-foot rebar into the ground at, if I recall correctly, 12 locations around the perimeter, leaving about 6 inches of rebar above the surface. The greenhouse never moved in any storm.
To keep the back window open for ventilation you need to keep a stick or pole nearby to prop it up. I don’t consider this a real problem although occasionally the wind would blow my prop stick out. Since the door design has changed on newer models, this back window may also be different now.
The door of mine also has a flap window that could be folded closed or open. It looks on their web site as if newer models have a more standard type of storm door.
On the top of the greenhouse are two vents which open automatically when the temperature rises inside, and close when it cools. They are hydraulically controlled with wax-filled tubes. These were pretty much trouble free. There were a few times when the tube somehow unhooked itself from the bracket, but all I had to do was stand on something and hook it back together.
How it worked:
It also comes with one double planting tray. This is basically a rack of PVC pipe that you fit together and two large trays that were about five inches deep that fit into it. This was very nice for seedlings that you want to keep extra wet, or you could use it for a potting bench, although it would be rather low for that purpose. If you want to fill the greenhouse you will need to build additional benches or racks. We (I ended up sharing the space with a gardening friend) used sawhorses with boards laid across them and some crates. But you could easily and cheaply make some framing with old lumber to make more shelving.
And this is where the best feature of the Solar Gem comes into play. This is not just any fiberglass greenhouse. The fiberglass is formulated or layered in some way that it is supposed to disperse the light particularly evenly inside the space. We found that this really was true. We could place plants on an upper and lower level and they all seemed to receive equal amounts of light, and they would grow straight up, not angled toward the door or walls.
The roof vents do open and close by themselves. But if you want to really control the temperature you must take an active role. You will need a min-max thermometer, a fan, and a heater for winter (if you live where it freezes, and want to keep plants over the winter in it). I found that with opening the door and the back window, and running a box fan that I could keep the temperature under 110 degrees inside even on the hottest summer days.
I did not have as much luck keeping it warm in the winter. Perhaps I was just silly to think that I could beat a Michigan winter. I think I did not have a good enough heater. At any rate, I was not able to keep the inside temperature above freezing. I do think that this was due to my unwillingness to work at it harder. I could have banked it with hay bales. I’m quite sure that I needed a better heater. The sales lady did tell me that all I would need was a little box heater, but I was foolish to believe that in our climate.
We did have trouble with a lot of thistles growing up inside on the dirt floor. So whatever is in your seed bank in the location where you install this will be very happy with the new, controlled growing conditions. I would suggest that you might want to nail up a slat floor to fit inside the greenhouse, or perhaps just in the center aisle where you will walk. You will need to actively control this inside growth by some method (black plastic or geotextile, spray, or pulling)
I generally watered once a day, but in the real heat of summer, twice. We started lots of seedlings in the early spring, and the heater was able to keep the space above freezing on those spring nights when it dipped into the 20s, but didn’t plummet to frigid temps.
In the nice warm, humid atmosphere we could practically stand and watch our seedlings grow!
How it lasted:
The life expectancy of the greenhouse is rated by the company at fourteen years. My friend and I shared it at my house for six years, and then I sold it to her. She was enjoying it much more than I was at that point, and really wanted it at her house. (I had moved on from raising plants, except for my own garden) She has made it into a real trophy greenhouse with flowers planted around the outside and multiple shelves, benches and decor inside. It’s so cute, and I’m so jealous! I just thought of it as a functional space, and she has made it a work of art. So it is now nine years old, and still looks and works as good as new. There are no cracks, even though it has been moved that additional time.
The company also makes an 8' x 8' x 7.5' model.
I would highly recommend this greenhouse for anyone who wants to seriously raise plants from seed, or tend particular plants with special care. It can take a beating in all kinds of weather, provides even light dispersion, and I really liked the size of the larger unit that I had.