Greenhouse Farming: Helpful Tips for Successful Greenhouse Farming
Greenhouse Farming is the process of cultivating crops and vegetables in a controlled ecosystem know as a Greenhouse. Growing crops in a greenhouse is a practice that actually enables the farmer to increase crop yield and work efficiency by providing optimal conditions for plants to produce maximally.
Greenhouse farming globally has been hailed for allowing crops to grow without the stress from diseases, pests, and extreme weather, therefore, improving the yield and quality of farm-fresh produce. In Kenya, greenhouse farming is increasingly becoming popular in different parts of the country. The popularity of this farming method can also be attributed to the dependence on agriculture as a serious investment for those who want to make money.
But lack of correct information, improper installation, and poor management have brought huge losses to many farmers. It is not uncommon to find a greenhouse that tore apart in less than 6 months of setting it up.
Many people rush to invest in greenhouse projects without doing enough research and end up losing their entire investment. Research has shown the most profitable crops to grow in a greenhouse are:
- Kales and spinach
Why Soil Testing is Important for Greenhouse
Soil testing will help a farmer decide what inputs (fertilizers) their soil needs and just how much of it to use. The current usual practice is that most farmers merely use fertilizer based on what they assume their soil needs without carrying out an actual evaluation of their soil.
This results in unwise investments through buying the wrong inputs composition (fertilizers), unneeded inputs (plant foods), and also over-utilizing them which subsequently leads to fill with air ranch expenses, minimized yields, and profitability. A soil test will certainly make sure that they use the proper inputs (fertilizers) as well as in the best quantities for their certain plants and also soil.
Soil testing is the analysis of a soil sample to identify nutrition content, make-up, as well as various other attributes such as acidity or pH level. Soil analysis which is an essential part of successful key greenhouse farming will save the farmers money and also help them enhance their yields by approximately three times.
Healthy well-balanced soil is additionally the basis for high-generating crops which will certainly, in turn, earn the farmer even more cash.
When you know what is in your soil through a soil test, you will certainly be able to recognize what is missing out on in relation to minerals and nutrients and also what you require to add into your soil to fix it.
For example, different plants need different nutrients and different pH’s to do well. It is also vital to note that due to soil testing, a farmer’s threat of crop failing is considerably reduced.
Factors to Consider Before Starting Greenhouse Farming.
Here are a few things to consider before setting up a greenhouse:
Do thorough research.
Find a lot of information about greenhouse management. Get to know the challenges and benefits of starting greenhouse farming. Make an effort to visit farmers who have been doing greenhouse and get advice
Get to know the cost of setting up the greenhouse.
There are several types of greenhouse designs. You can do a wooden or metallic greenhouse. Metallic greenhouses are more expensive compared to wooden greenhouses. There is another cost you need to factor in like; drip lines, water tank, polythene covering, cost of installation, and inputs like fertilizers and seeds.
Choose the Crop Wisely.
To make the most profit from the greenhouse, do research on crops not usually available during certain times of the year as you can produce fresh vegetables out of season. Also, consider crops that are resistant to diseases and pests. Choose a crop that has a ready market.
Get to know Water Source
Water is key and you should ensure sufficient supply. Get to plan for your key water source to sustain drip irrigation in and out of the season.
You may need Customer support.
This is extremely important. There is a learning curve in the greenhouse which you can gain from attending training, farm visits, and having your own agronomists You need to learn fresh crop ideas and management of disease and pests.
Do Soil test
As mentioned earlier, this an important factor. You need to establish your soil fertility in order to know the right fertilizers you need to apply therefore saving you on the cost of buying unnecessary fertilizers.
The market for the Produce
This seems like a no-brainer but is crucial. Before growing any crop in the greenhouse, you need to know where, when, and who will purchase your produce. Don’t start growing your crops blindly as this will leave you a frustrated farmer.
Advantages of Greenhouse Farming.
There are several advantages of growing crops using greenhouses. We highlight some below:
Increased Crop Productivity
One of the key advantages of greenhouse farming is increased production. By planting in greenhouses, the crops are under optimal conditions that will ensure the good development of the crops. This will therefore make it possible to increase yield by as much as 33% with greenhouse cultivation.
It feels great to know that a profit is secure, doesn’t it? When a farmer chooses to grow in greenhouses, the risk is minimized in the face of possible random problems, such as pests, extreme weather like drought, hailstones, etc.
Little space needed
You need a small space to set up the greenhouse. A standard is about 7 Metres by 15 Metres long.
Shorten Growth Period
Greenhouse farming can shorten the growing period by about 25%. Let’s take an example, if the normal growing period of some of your crops is 90 days under open-field, they will take only 60 days in the greenhouse.
This means greenhouse farming enables the farmer to produce much more within a year and make more money.
Crops grown in greenhouses are much cleaner compared to those grown in the open that have scratches, hence lowering their market value.
Pest & Disease Control
Crop pest remains to be the greatest threats to any crop. In greenhouse farming, however, the farmer has huge control over the pest. A good well-designed greenhouse makes it much easier to control pests and diseases. This is because the crops are isolated from the environment and pests can’t get access to the greenhouse. This is how the pest is controlled.
With good hygiene in the greenhouse, diseases as well are kept at bay.
Efficiency & Ease of Operations
Efficiency is about using available resources in the right amount and in the right way to reap maximumly and get the best results.
In greenhouses farming, the farmer is able to easily track the use of resources like fertilizers, seeds, water, and even time. Farmers are also able to monitor the growth of the crops as well as able to apply necessary fertilizers at each stage of plant growth.
In most advanced greenhouses, they have automatic irrigation systems that can work on its, therefore, can save on time and money.
Greenhouse farming saves on labor as one person can work on many greenhouses unlike in the open field that may require a large workforce.
Crops Grown All Year Round
Most outdoor farming activities usually depend on the weather and the environment. So, you can only plant crops during the rainy season and in the recent past, the rain has remained to be very unpredictable. This has therefore affected agriculture in general. In greenhouse farming, however, the weather is 100% controlled.
The farmer, therefore, is able to plant crops all year round without worrying about heavy rains is or temperatures allowing them to protect their crops from adverse weather effects. Greenhouse farming gives you the power to create the necessary conditions that suit your choice of crops.
Challenges of Greenhouse Farming
Cost of Setting Up a Green House
Setting up a greenhouse might be expensive for many farmers but the benefits that can be realized make it worth it as an investment. For a small-scale farmer, it is advisable to start small to save on capital.
Pests & Disease Control
One of the major greenhouse farming is the management of pests and diseases. Pests and diseases will depend on the type of crops in the structure. Some diseases and pests are quite adamant and are very difficult if not impossible to get rid of them completely.
Lack of Quality Water Sources
Availability of water in many parts of the country is a challenge. Many farmers have this challenge and getting water from any source could bring more problems. It could be chlorinated, saline, or contaminated with diseases like bacterial wilt hence risking the crops in the greenhouse.
Contaminated water is common in areas where farmers in sources of water plant crops like potatoes, tomatoes, and water flowing downstream are collected by farmers for greenhouse farming. This introduces bacterial wilt in greenhouse tomato.
Soil Fertility Loss
Loss of Soil fertility is a common problem because most farmers plant one crop continuously without crop rotation. The soils when used continuously with the same crop will have a buildup of diseases, especially bacterial wilt. The problem can be solved by rotating crops, e.g growing onions after harvesting tomatoes.
Another way is to replace greenhouse soil by bringing quality soil from outside. You can also adopt the technology of growing crops in pots or soil-less cultures.
A Complete Guide to Greenhouse Tomato Farming
Production of Greenhouse Tomatoes
Traditionally, the production of tomatoes in Kenya used to happen almost 100% in open fields. But things have changed with the adoption of greenhouses by a group of modern farmers seeking to increase crop production. Amiran, the pioneer greenhouse company played a big role in this by making greenhouses mass and accessible to the everyday farmer as opposed to the trend before where greenhouses were the preserve of big corporate farmers.
Greenhouse farming of tomatoes has advantages over open-field farming in terms of the longer production period, reduction in pests and disease risk, and better management of resources. On the other hand there without proper management greenhouse farming could lead to losses.
That notwithstanding, much of tomato production in the country happens in the open fields. This is because greenhouse farming despite its advantages is a relatively capital-intensive venture. Kshs. 70,000 and above is that is required to set up and farm on a standard 8 meters by 15 meters greenhouse is still out of reach for many small farmers.
Advantages of Greenhouse Farming Over Open Field Farming
- Longer production period – Tomatoes can be harvested for 6 to 8 months
- Provides Ideal production environment hence high yield
- Gives high-quality produce
- Shorter maturity period – On average tomato varieties grown in greenhouses mature within 60– 70 days as compared to 75 to 90 for outdoor varieties.
- Reduced risk of pests and diseases.
- With greenhouse, Market timing is possible
- Better management of resources for example through drip irrigation
- Better use of land – Using greenhouse technology a small piece of land can be leveraged in such a way that several crops are grown
Although by and large tomato farming looks lucrative with the high demand and billion shillings value, the reality is that growing tomatoes is a high-risk venture and not always as smooth as it may look or as some have portrayed it.
Reasons why it is a high-risk venture :
- Because of diseases and pests. Some of which are resistant to pesticides.
- Because of unpredictable weather conditions, e.g. too much rain, extremely low or high temperatures, and the like.
- Tomatoes are highly perishable products, and thus have to get to the market within a reasonable time otherwise they get spoilt. Thus, if harvest prices are depressed, a farmer without cold storage facilities can’t store the produce for sale in the future when prices are favorable.
- Prices are volatile. There is no pool of information good enough to help correctly predict price trends. For instance, a farmer using the previous year’s trend can say, January tomato prices are usually great. But then there could be more farmers like him all aiming for January and come to the start of the year the market is flooded with tomatoes and prices are comes down.
Diseases & Pests: In a way, tomatoes are fragile creatures susceptible to a number of diseases and pests that can destroy the whole crop within a short while. Even before the coming of Tuta Absoluta to Kenya diseases and pests have killed the dreams of many farmers. Sometimes not even pesticides are of help.
As a tomato farmer, you should be real to this, and be extra keen in monitoring your crops and consulting professionals in case of anything you are not sure of. (Download the Complete Guide below for diseases and Pests analysis)