The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Alternative ways to heat a greenhouse


Photo: Shed and stone dog

Photo: Shed and stone dog

The windowsills in the cottage and the greenhouse are already packed with seedlings. I was determined to get everything off to an early start this year. The little electric propagator is working 24/7 and seeds are germinating really fast.

Even though the greenhouse is lined with a thick layer of bubble wrap it needs a bit of extra heat to keep the temperature above freezing on really frosty nights. Do you remember that I bought an ancient Eltex  greenhouse heater at the church fete last year? When the frosts hit I tried to light it with no success so turned to my paraffin heater that I bought when we built the greenhouse. We have a maximum minimum thermometer in the greenhouse and I noticed that over night the little paraffin heater often just didn’t have enough welly to keep the temperature above zero.

The option was to either buy another heater or to get the Eltex one up and running. Determination and spray oil is a perfect combination. I doused all the moving parts with it and let the oil permeate for a few minutes. Then with a bit of a creaky cronky start everything was working well. This heater is great as it has a large surface area which heats up quickly. A much better design than my old heater which just heats the chimneys and the little metal roof on top. Even running on just two wicks, rather than four, the vintage Eltex heater is keeping the greenhouse warm and snug and I’m delighted with it.

However paraffin can be quite pricey and during the really cold weather in January most of the Newmarket shops ran out of supplies. One of the entries for our recent gardening competition was from Kate (UK). She had an ingenious suggestion for a small greenhouse heater using a nightlight, a saucer and a terracotta pot.  Usually a night light lasts eight hours so I’m going to experiment with these in saucers beneath a metal bucket and on a saucer in an old watering can. They would be a cheaper alternative to paraffin if they work. In fact I probably could adapt the Eltex heater to run on night lights too.

Watch this space.

  Leave a reply


  1. sarahgarth

    Going to give this a try in my very cold conservatory and hopefully turn off the electic oil filled heater.
    Found some 8 hour night lights on ebay unless anyone can point me to somewhere cheaper.

  2. Stephen

    Hi Fiona,

    You could also try making one of these self-heating greenhouses..

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cyril

    I don’t think I’m a skin flint! Just don’t want to waste money.

    Hi Lizie

    Yes I find tea-lights have a very short burn time.

    Really interested to hear that you kept your 4 tier greenhouse frost free using the nightlight/claypot idea. The bottles of hot water must make a difference too.

  4. Lizzie

    I find that if I buy something labelled as a tea-light, it has a burning time of only 2 – 3 hours. Not much use for overnight, when the winter night is well over 12 hours long. Nightlights, though, are a different matter and as already mentioned, have a burn time of around 8 hours.

    I use a nightlight under a clay pot in my 4-tier growhouse, which seems to have been frost-free this winter – albeit with the help of a couple of bottles filled with hot water on the worst of the cold nights.

  5. Why not say its a tea light instead of some other silly name. Dont be such a skinflint and buy the parafin.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joey

    I really didn’t want to shell out for another heater and the old one is so much better now it’s working.

    Hi Joanna

    Great ideas, thanks.

    Hi Saundra

    I hope you got my reply! They are a sort of flat candle.

    Hi S.o.L

    I love the swapping of ideas!

    Hi Steve

    I’m definitely going to give the diesel a go. Thanks.

    Hi Paula

    I hope that you got my reply. They’re a kind of flat candle.

    Hi Gillian

    What a great idea! I Think my flock would eat everything in a matter of minutes…

    Hi Seahorse

    They need to be pots with a hole in the bottom for drainage.

    Hi Mutley

    We are growing loads of herbs too. Thanks for the tip about the church candles.

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