Introduction: Design and Build a Customizable Tabletop Greenhouse
Commercially available tabletop-sized greenhouses (such as the examples pictured here) are great for getting plants started, but their size and shape are not very flexible and don't offer many opportunities for customization or personalization.
With this greenhouse building method, you can adjust the shape and size of your tabletop greenhouse to fit your plants or experiment ideas. For example, you could build a greenhouse that starts small to grow healthy seedlings and then build the greenhouse up as the plants grow tall.
You can also get creative and build greenhouse structures that support technology like soil moisture sensors and water pumps to create experimental automated plant growing systems.
This is just one way to approach building your own tabletop greenhouse. There are lots of other materials and approaches to construction that you can explore.
- free tinkercad account
- access to a 3D printer
- .5" wooden dowels
- clear landscaping plastic + brass fasteners and/or twist ties (alternate material: plastic food wrap)
Step 1: A Closer Look at the Supplies
Before proceeding with the instructions, I want to highlight a few important notes about the supplies I'm using.
- I ordered wooden dowels that were 12" long and then used a small handsaw (the one pictured here is an Irwin dovetail and detail saw and worked well for cutting dowels) to cut the dowels into various lengths.
- The lengths I used most often were 12", 6", and 8"
- If you have access to power tools you could also use a chop saw/miter saw to cut your dowels
- I ordered a clear landscaping plastic for my greenhouse. You want to double check and make sure that the plastic is actually clear. If it's too opaque, light might have a hard time getting through to your plants.
- You can also used plastic wrap (more on this in later steps)
3D Printed Connectors:
- You can view all of the connectors in the Tinkercad file below OR you can find the connectors in the shapes library menu in Tinkercad under "materials for making"
- Feel free to make your own connectors! You might prefer a connector that's not as bulky or that has a different shape.
- You could also skip these connectors altogether and use existing tools like tinkertoys
- When it's time to print the connectors I recommend printing one small connector first and testing the fit with your wooden dowels. Some wooden dowels and types of filament will create a looser or tighter fit. These connectors are designed to create a pressure fit with the dowels, meaning that it should take a little bit of effort to fit the dowel into the connector. If the dowels fit loosely into the connectors, it makes the structure less sturdy and more difficult to build with. If the fit is too loose, try sizing down the connector piece just a little bit and then print another test piece.
Step 2: Plan Your Greenhouse Design
There are a few different approaches that you could take to plan your greenhouse design:
- Use traditional skills like sketching!
- Gather a bunch of connectors and dowels and try free-building
- Use Tinkercad to digitally prototype your greenhouse design*
*If you digitally prototype your greenhouse first, you'll know exactly what size dowels you need and which connectors you need to print. And you'll end up with a nice digital blueprint to follow. Remember, these pieces are all in the shapes library in Tinkercad.
If you want more greenhouse building inspiration:
- Check out these remixable greenhouse building prompts that I've shared in Scratch and google slides
- Take a look at these collections of greenhouse inspiration images: Large scale greenhouses, small DIY tabletop greenhouses, technology-enhanced greenhouses
Here's an example of a digital greenhouse prototype:
Step 3: Build Your Greenhouse
Now you should have all of the information and tools that you need to get building!
Make sure to set aside 30+ minutes for building your greenhouse.
Step 4: Seal the Greenhouse
One important aspect to consider when building any greenhouse is controlling the environment.
To control the greenhouse environment you need to seal it from the outdoors. Then you can add things like fans and flaps and windows to increase or decrease the humidity and temperature.
The images here show one approach to sealing your greenhouse. Here are the materials I used:
- Clear landscaping plastic cut to fit my greenhouse
- Brass fasteners*, hot glued to dowels and connectors
- Twist ties*
*You don't need to use both brass fasteners and twist ties. Either material works. It takes a little extra time to glue the fasteners to the dowel, so if you're in a hurry twist ties might be a better option.
The benefit of sealing your greenhouse using this method is that you can reuse the plastic and rebuild your greenhouse without ruining the plastic. This helps to prevent plastic waste, and also makes it easier for you to take apart your greenhouse.
You can also wrap the entire structure in plastic wrap. Or you might have different ideas and different materials that you want to test out like sheets of overhead transparency or recycled plastic from food containers.
Once you've sealed your greenhouse, you're ready to grow!
Remember to put a tray underneath of your greenhouse to catch excess water from your plants if your plants don't already have a tray underneath them.