Greenhouse farming allows you to extend growing seasons, partially isolate crops from contagion or pests and supply yourself with fresh produce year-round. While greenhouses offer farmers a number of advantages, proper techniques are necessary to truly take advantage of greenhouse growing and avoid any of the typical pitfalls associated with greenhouse use.
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Prepare for the Weather
If you manage your greenhouse year-round, you'll need to prepare for the hazards of each season. In the summer, most greenhouses require some kind of cross-ventilation system. Passive ventilation, with exhaust openings cut both high and low on the walls, may provide sufficient air circulation for very small greenhouses. However, most greenhouses require a system of fans to keep the air circulating during the summer's high temperatures. By wintertime, the circulation will be unnecessary in most locations. However, if you live in a place that receives snowfall, you'll need to add strong bracing for your greenhouse to withstand the substantial weight of fallen snow. Simple 2-by-4 boards, set up as vertical braces, may prove adequate. If in doubt, select a greenhouse structure that errs on the side of caution, with 1 1/2-inch-diameter, or larger, steel beams.
Tend to Your Soil
Just as for outdoor crops, you need to look after the soil quality in a greenhouse. Between your primary crops' season, grow a complementary plant that allows the soil to rebuild its nutrients. Consult horticultural guidelines for crop rotation or companion planting techniques for your crops. Turning your "off-season" crops back into the soil enriches it with humus, as does regular application of compost and mulch. In addition to increasing the soil's nutrients and fertility, these techniques moderate soil temperature, conserve its moisture and foster helpful microbial populations. If you plant in the open air during the summer months, leaving the greenhouse fallow can "burn off" soil pathogens and kill insects. If you can spare the expense of the additional watering, planting a resilient crop like cowpeas during the dry summer months, and turning it over at the end of the season, will also enrich the soil.
Fumigate in the Fall
Before planting in the fall, you can give your greenhouse an all-natural "fumigation" to clear out any pests ahead of time. Blend dried and powdered cayenne pepper, garlic skins and cow or horse dung. Place the mixture within a heavy-duty pan over a portable stove, or set it within a fire pit, close and seal the greenhouse, and let the mixture burn down. One-quarter pound of mixture will fully fumigate a small, 12-by-16-foot greenhouse structure and will burn for one to two hours. For thorough fumigation, let the smoke remain for several hours longer. The treatment will smoke out aphids, white flies and other common pests. This method should never be used in any greenhouse attached to a home.
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