20 Apr 9 Ways to Optimize Your Greenhouse Performance
Greenhouses aren’t just structures that enable you to grow outside and greatly extend the normal growing season in your area; they are amazing growing machines.
State-of-the-art greenhouses, however, can have dozens of automated moving parts. It’s up to you and your budget to decide how much automation you want to incorporate into your greenhouse set up.
Surprisingly, many do-it-yourself, novice greenhouse owners go through much time, effort and expense to build a structure but don’t do the research into how to outfit their greenhouse with the proper equipment to simulate an ideal growing environment.
We’ll help you avoid creating stifling hot boxes that work against the natural environment and hinder or even kill the plants they are trying to grow.
To get you started in the right direction, here are nine factors that will help you make your first greenhouse a “growing” success.
Once you gain a comfortable understanding of these divergent aspects, and how to dial them all in harmoniously to create the most ideal growing environment for your plants, you will have greater yields with minimal effort.
Getting the best use out of a greenhouse is all about maximizing the amount of sunlight that can reach your plants. One important way to ensure your greenhouse will have plenty of sun coverage throughout the day is to find the correct orientation for the layout of your greenhouse.
If you are growing in a standard greenhouse, usually this means positioning the greenhouse at an east to west orientation, allowing the sun to track the length of the greenhouse throughout the day.
However, with an exterior light dep greenhouse, often times it’s better to orientate the greenhouse north to south to reduce the amount of shadow that will be casted by the blacked out endwalls and fixed system. That being said, your position in relation to the 45th parallel will really determine what your ideal positioning will be.
You will also need to get familiar with the natural growing environment for your plants. Then, based off of the natural climate you are working with, you can determine what kinds of accessories will need to be included in the greenhouse to ensure you are creating an ideal environment.
2. Stable Foundation
As with anything, especially structures, success will come from a stable foundation. Aside from natural disasters, your greenhouse should be able to stand up to the toughest of weather conditions.
A stable foundation starts with the pad layout for your greenhouse structure. The plot of land you will be erecting the building on needs to be a leveled pad with proper drainage for water run off. If you don’t consider proper drainage, you will find yourself wading through a swampy mess come rainy season.
When it comes to property excavation, there are many ways to go about foundation layouts from dirt, to concrete, to rock/granite. Whatever your needs, there’s an option out there. However, for the sturdiest structure, it’s recommended to cement your ground posts at least 2’ into the ground. Often times this looks like a dirt leveled pad, concrete footings, and a backfill of rock or just simply raised beds.
Another important factor, especially when taking into consideration installing an automated light deprivation system, is the alignment of the bows being even along with the grade. Again, this is really only obtainable if you are starting from a stable, level foundation.
3. Framing Material
Your greenhouse structure will only be as strong as the framing material used. It’s important to pay attention to the gauge and diameter of steel being used for your greenhouse frame.
Some properties will require permitted structures, and therefore your greenhouse frame will have to be made up of steel that holds up to the codes required by the county. Additional wind bracing for the sidewalls of the greenhouse will help spread stabilize the structure, dispersing where the weight is beared.
One of the more important aspects of a greenhouse structure is the end wall framing. Endwalls take the most amount of pressure from wind, so make sure your endwalls have proper framing to keep them standing and accessories secured.
You may also want to consider a form of trussing. Trusses will run the width of your greenhouse, most of the time with one at every bow. These can be quite convenient, as they give you plenty of space for hanging any additional accessories that assist in regulating your environment, as well as giving you a lower point to hang supplemental lighting that might be introduced. They can also help bear weight when it comes to areas that have heavy snowfall.
Fullbloom offers full kits, including all of the framing mentioned above. Everything comes pre-cut and drilled with the necessary hardware. It’s always recommended that frame installation be done by a professional contractor, but with the right knowledge, the instructions we provide, a little bit of time, and some attention to detail, you can have the greenhouse frame up in under a week.
4. Roof Arch
Depending on your area, a certain pitch or angle to the roof of your greenhouse maybe beneficial. The quonset style greenhouse with the half-circle roof is the classic style most people recognize as a greenhouse. However, the semi-gable, or gothic-arch, style greenhouse can be a better structure in high snow areas. The increased angle on the roof will sheet snow better for less risk of collapsing.
5. Poly Covering
There are a plethora of poly coverings available these days and it’s important to know exactly what kind of material is best for your situation before buying.
So what’s the difference between greenhouse poly and the plastic sheeting you can buy at Home Depot?
Well, the most important addition to a poly covering is UV treatment. Plastic will quickly degrade under sunlight and normal weather conditions. In order to ensure you don’t have to change your poly out every month, make sure your poly has been treated to stand up to UV rays.
A light diffusing poly can also be beneficial to a greenhouse operation, especially when utilizing light deprivation. Often times the blackout system will cast some shade on a portion of your greenhouse at some point during the day. Having light diffusion properties in your poly covering will help scatter the light coming through and disperse it to every corner of the greenhouse.
You can also find poly with anti-drip additives to help control the internal condensation build up and keep water build up from raining down on your plants. This will help keep mold/mildew issues at bay.
Textile strength of the poly is perhaps the most important aspect when it comes to properly investing in your greenhouse. You don’t want to get a thin sheet of plastic that will rip off with the flap of butterfly wings.
Take into consideration the winds in your area, if you have trees on your property, or any loose debris that could potentially puncture your covering. You can find woven polys that will stand up to 80 lbs of pressure per a sq/inch before breaking. For a thorough review, check out our blog on “The Best Greenhouse Covering for Your Grow.”
6. Blackout System
In a greenhouse operation, it’s all about optimizing the environment in the greenhouse to get the best quality yields as possible.
You can add a light deprivation system to your greenhouse structure to simulate micro seasons and get three or more growing seasons a year. There are many light deprivation systems out on the market these days, including manual pull-tarp systems, fully automated systems that can roll on the outside of the greenhouse, and accordian-style interior curtain systems.
To ensure that your blackout system will function properly and achieve total darkness, you’ll want to use a proven light-deprivation technique. This should include a black and white poly that can be rolled or folded in an easy manner, but still has durability and textile strength.
Here at Fullbloom, we use an 8mil string reinforced poly. The white on the outside will reflect heat and sunlight, keeping your internal temperatures a little lower. The black inside will ensure total darkness. The string reinforcement will allow for some wear and tear and pin pricks without tearing through the whole sheet, so patch work is easier and replacements are less frequent.
If utilizing light deprivation, an automated system is ideal. Automating your greenhouse will reduce the stress of making sure a worker can get out to the farm twice a day at the same time. There’s less manual labor for hours of pulling tarps over multiple greenhouses and no worries about the schedule getting off, causing your plants to hermaphrodite.
When growing through the months with days longer than twelve hours, the blackout system can be applied after twelve hours of sunlight. This will simulate night time and force your plants into thinking the flower season is upon them.
You can get a full greenhouse designed to include a light deprivation system, or you can affix Fullbloom’s retrofit kits to your existing greenhouse. You can get any level of automation that works for you, from a standard timer to a full environmental controller.
If you are growing through the winter months, outside of the natural growing season, you will need a way to winterize your greenhouse for energy efficiency. When pumping heat into a greenhouse without insulation, you will lose a good amount of that energy. The best way to insulate your greenhouse when using a soft poly covering is to use a second layer of translucent poly film and an inflation blower to fill a bubble of air between the two layers, creating a form of insulation.
Another option would be to cover your frame in rigid poly panelling. You can get a rigid polyethylene, which comes in either panel or roll form, or you can look into polycarbonate options. If you are in an area that gets really cold temperatures and heavy snowfall, this would be the strongest way to go. These rigid poly panels come double paned to create the insulation you need to keep warm air in and cold air out. When you combine a heat source and excellent insulation, you can grow through all seasons.
8. Row Layout
Setting up the layout of the inside of your greenhouse is really about optimizing the space used for growing. For the smoothest operation, keep equipment you may need readily available inside the greenhouse.
You could simply plant directly into the ground inside the greenhouse. However, this may prove more difficult come harvest season, especially if you are looking for a quick flip back into flowering.
Raised beds can be a nice way to go, especially when using living organic soil. When it comes to replanting, you already have a living garden thriving and ready for more flowers.
Pots can often be the easiest form of planting, as they are easy to transport and get off the ground if needed. You can get hard plastic or cloth pots ranging in a wide variety of sizes. You can even get tan pots if you are worried about your plant’s roots collecting too much heat.
The best way to optimize your growing space is to get rolling top benches. You can easily connect these benches together so you can move table tops around to make more space as necessary. You could even fit your whole greenhouse out with a hydroponic system for auto feeding.
Proper airflow is the most crucial factor that can make or break your internal greenhouse environment.
Since plants breathe out (transpire) over 80% of the water they absorb through their roots, an un-ventilated greenhouse can build up unacceptable levels of humidity and heat. This can bring plant growth to a standstill and even destroy an entire garden in a matter of days.
Also, since plants breathe in CO2, you will want to make sure there’s always a fresh intake of air into the greenhouse, so you are not inhibiting their ability to grow.
Many rudimentary greenhouses employ simple roof vents to exhaust upper ridge heat and passive intakes for fresh air. On the hottest days, you can utilize roll up sides for maximum air flow.
More outfitted greenhouses, however, recruit the convenience of technology to easily manage all of their air-flow, temperature, and humidity concerns.
Along with sidewall roll ups, you can include exhaust fans to create consistent active airflow through the canopy of your plants.
Motorized louver intakes can also seal up in the winter, ensuring your temperatures are maintained in any season. Light traps, or breathable walls, are affixed to each ventilation opening to ensure proper airflow, even when in blackout mode.
Horizontal airflow fans will make sure your upper air is moving constantly, removing any temperature pockets that may build up. When growing out of season, you can introduce accessories like heaters, dehumidifiers, and CO2 generators to maintain an ideal environment for you plants.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to operating a thriving greenhouse than just putting up a structure around an outdoor garden. By using the correct materials with knowledge and informed planning, you can grow year-round with the greenhouse of your dreams.