Operating a greenhouse enables year-round cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals. With the ability to control growing conditions, greenhouses allow farmers to extend seasons, boost yields, and improve quality. Implementing these 36 tips will set you up for an productive, eco-friendly greenhouse operation. We cover crucial topics like greenhouse design, crop selection, soil preparation, irrigation, climate control, pest management, and more. Follow this comprehensive guide to get your greenhouse up and running sustainably.
Table of Contents
Selecting a Greenhouse
Choosing an appropriate greenhouse structure and glazing materials suited to your climate is key:
- Determine your USDA Hardiness Zone – Select plants and glazing that fit your minimum winter temperatures. This will impact heating and insulation needs.
- Research greenhouse styles – Hoop houses, polytunnels, hobby greenhouses, and more have different framing, sizes, and glazing like plastic or polycarbonate. Compare to pick the best fit.
- Maximize sunlight exposure – Orient the structure and factor in glazing to optimize natural light intake based on your location. Supplement with grow lights as needed.
- Anchor securely – Reinforce and fasten the frame to withstand wind, rain, and snow loads. Use posts set in concrete or ground anchors for hoop houses.
Selecting suitable plants is critical for greenhouse success:
- Research plant varieties proven to thrive in protected growing environments like greenhouses. Consult reputable greenhouse seed companies and cultivar guides.
- Opt for disease-resistant and hardy cultivars to reduce pest and disease pressure. Choose natural resistance over chemical dependence.
- Plan succession planting – Stagger seeding and transplant dates so crops mature at different times. Avoid gaps in production.
- Diversify your selection with fruits, veggies, herbs, greens, and flowers. Variety prevents monoculture risks.
- Weigh starting plants from seed vs transplants – Seeds take more time but avoid transplant shock. Transplants establish faster.
Preparing Greenhouse Soil
Creating optimal soil conditions improves plant health:
- Test soil pH and nutrients and amend as needed – Proper pH is critical for nutrient availability. Test annually and adjust.
- Incorporate organic compost to improve drainage and nutrition. Well-draining soil prevents diseases. Compost boosts organic matter.
- Add slow-release fertilizer at planting for extended feeding over months. Look for organic formulations. Apply per label rates.
- Disinfect reused pots and trays to destroy lingering diseases – Try hydrogen peroxide, bleach, or steaming methods. Prevent cross-contamination.
- Solarize beds by moistening soil and covering with plastic sheeting to heat-treat pests. Leave covered for 1-2 months.
Consistent moisture is vital for thriving plants:
- Install drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water slowly and directly to roots. This prevents disease by avoiding wet foliage.
- Collect rainwater in barrels for free soft water. Screen out debris. Rainwater contains no chlorine or fluorine.
- Water early morning so plants can dry out during the day, preventing diseases. Avoid overhead watering.
- Adjust frequency and volume based on crop, maturity, and conditions. Too much or too little water causes issues. Check soil moisture.
- Use a humidifier or gravel tray to maintain humidity around plants. Low humidity increases transpiration water loss. Maintain 40-60% humidity.
Prevent extreme highs and lows with proper ventilation:
- Ventilate the greenhouse daily – Manually open vents, windows, and doors to stabilize temps and refresh air. More ventilation is needed on sunny days.
- Use exhaust fans to improve circulation and pull out hot air. Position them high on end walls or gable peaks. Run fans anytime temps exceed 85°F.
- Install shade cloths to protect plants from excessive heat while allowing filtered light through. Use 30-50% shade ratings.
- Insulate the greenhouse in winter using bubble wrap, blankets, or plastic sheets to conserve heat. Insulate north walls and foundations.
- Have supplemental heating and cooling ready for extreme weather fluctuations. Base heating and cooling capacity on your climate and greenhouse size.
Reduce darkness with artificial lighting:
- Add LED grow lights to provide full spectrum light when daylight hours decrease. LEDs last for years and use less energy.
- Use lighting timers to control consistent photoperiods automatically. Match lighting schedules to each plant’s needs.
- Measure light intensity and adjust fixtures as needed – Different crops need varying levels. Use a PAR meter to quantify light levels.
- Keep lights the ideal distance from the plant canopy as it grows taller. Monitor and adjust height. Position lights as close as possible without burning plants.
An integrated approach prevents and controls pests sustainably:
- Block pests with row covers and insect screening. Use fine mesh exclusion netting.
- Detect issues early with pheromone traps and sticky cards. Check traps daily and keep records.
- Release beneficial insects like ladybugs and parasitic wasps which prey on pests. Order from a reputable biological control company.
- Immediately remove diseased plants and isolate to avoid spreading infections. Dispose of plants away from the greenhouse.
- Apply organic sprays derived from plants as a last resort if all other methods fail. Always follow label directions.
Fruit and vegetable crops need pollination to set fruit:
- Hand pollinate using a soft brush to transfer pollen between flowers. Gently brush inside each flower daily.
- Introduce bee hives or bumble bees into the greenhouse for natural pollination. Ensure greenhouse vents are screened.
- Use an electric toothbrush or vibrator to vibrate flowers, releasing pollen for self-pollination. Hold against the base of plants.
- Supplement with air circulation from fans which helps distribute pollen within the greenhouse. Position fans above plants.
Pruning and Trellising
Direct and shape growth through regular pruning:
- Prune plants to remove dead or damaged growth and stimulate new growth. Make clean cuts just above buds.
- Pinch off tips to encourage bushier, thicker growth habit. Pinch 2-3 weeks before transplanting.
- Trellis vining crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans on strings, wires, or cages for support. Set up trellises before planting.
- Trim lower leaves and branches to improve air circulation and light penetration. Remove leaves touching the ground.
Harvesting and Storage
Optimal handling preserves quality and shelf life:
- Harvest produce at ideal ripeness for best flavor, nutrition, and storage ability. Consult maturity guides for each crop.
- Clean and cool the crop right after picking – Remove any damaged produce and field heat. Quickly chill to remove field heat.
- Store crops under proper conditions – Maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels for each type. Use cold storage rooms if available.
- Reduce post-harvest losses by handling produce gently, cooling rapidly, and packaging correctly. Cull damaged or diseased produce.
Following these greenhouse growing tips will set you up for success. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!
A productive greenhouse relies on the interplay of many factors – structural design, equipment, crop selection, soil, irrigation, lighting, and pest control among others. Careful planning and maintenance in all these areas leads to abundant harvests. Refer to this guide regularly and adjust techniques to suit your unique climate and growing operation. With season extension and climate control, greenhouses enable sustainable fresh produce year-round.