Greenhouse farming is a fast-growing trend in Kenya with many small and large scale farmers investing in the technology. Before the introduction of this concept, most crops were grown in open fields leaving them exposed to the vagaries of nature.

 Weather conditions directly influenced the length and successes of growth seasons.

However, indoor crop growing using greenhouses ensures controlled climatic conditions which neutralise the impacts of weather hazards and enables a year-round growth.

Greenhouse production has become a new technology-based industry, involving new types of technical equipment capable of achieving predictable results and profits.

The advantages of using modern structures include their ability to control crop growth, growth schedules and yield, almost regardless of external factors, while protecting the high quality of produce year-round and ensuring the farmer a stable flow of income.

Competition in the markets and ever-growing demand for improved quality from growers have made it more important for farmers to be well informed before starting greenhouse projects. First considerations: When you want to go into greenhouse farming, there are certain factors you must consider first.

These include: choosing the right structure, location, and planning. Don’t just buy and construct a greenhouse — think about future growth and plan for the long-term, otherwise it can turn out to be a costly mistake.

Develop a master plan that takes into consideration at least the next five to 10 years. Many greenhouse businesses survive longer, so consider growth for the next 10 years.

 Determine your farming business needs

First, determine what your business will need to make it successful.

 If you have been in business for a while, this may be easier.

If you operate a new greenhouse business, here is a list of questions you should answer.

  1. What is the purpose of the business?
  2. What are you planning to grow?
  3. What size products are you going to produce?
  4. Who are your customers and how will you get products to them? How will you irrigate your crops?
  5. In what climate will your greenhouse be located?
  6. What type of soil conditions exist where the greenhouse will be built? What can you afford?
  7. Do you want to automate the greenhouse or operate it manually?

The purpose of the greenhouse You need to know whether you will be sell ing the produce wholesale or operate a retail business.

 The purpose of your business will determine things such as customer accessibility, seasonality and growing patterns.

You may also want to have a more eye-appealing building if it will be used as a retail garden centre.

If you are building a structure for commercial production, tailor it to the specific structure that offers flexibility to produce crops depending on your customers’ future needs.

 Crop, customer choices What are you planning to grow and what light levels, temperatures and humidity levels are needed?

 If airflow is important, will natural ventilation do the job?

What size of product are you planning to produce in the greenhouse?

There are many choices and special needs for certain sizes of produce for example cucumber and pepper. Irrigation concerns How do you plan to irrigate your crops?

You might think that all you need is to connect your facility to a local water and sanitation company and then just turn on the tap.

You could find you need more water than the local authorities are willing to supply. You need to plan for this situation and make sure your operation is near an ample water supply. Over the last few years there has been an increasing amount of regulation related to water and its use.

Calculate your water needs at least over the next five years and become familiar with the local water authorities. Some growers in the eastern and central province have used well water for 10 to 20 years.

Unfortunately, well water may at times be too salty at places as Makindu.

 Increasingly, growers are required to install retention ponds to collect water runoff from irrigation and rainwater.

With the increasing cost of municipal water supplies, it may be more economical to collect water runoff and pump the water from a retention pond.

Your master plan should include details on where a retention pond would be located and how much water it can hold.

Climate and codes In what type of climate will your greenhouse be? Natural temperatures and light levels help determine what crops are economical to grow.

Consider severe weather conditions including the frequency of high winds and rainfall. What are the soil conditions where you plan to build? Is there adequate drainage at your site or will you need to install a drainage system? Soil can be very porous, allowing for easy drainage.

Some clay soils tend to hold water, which can result in muddier conditions for longer periods.

Be sure the land is graded for proper surface drainage and the soil is sufficiently porous for adequate subsurface drainage.

 Land that has a 0-to 5-per cent grade will support drainage and reduce land prep or excavation costs. Buying the “right” structure When it comes to greenhouse structures, cheaper is not always better and is not really cheaper in some cases.

You might be able to get by with a cheaper structure for the short term, but if you are considering a long-term plan for the greenhouse and its value over many years, you might want to invest in a structure that is built to last.

There is more to the overall cost than just the price of the greenhouse itself. Some structures are more labour intensive to erect.

When looking at structure costs, compare the total cost including construction costs.

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