“I should have done it years ago…” How many times has a farmer said that after they invested in a piece of equipment?
Once you’ve made the commitment, you can revel in that choice. We all have reasons to make the prioritizations we do on our farms. Maybe the choices are financial, holistic, guilt driven, obligation driven. And all of that is fine. A friend of mine says “everything is perfect,” and it’s true. At any given moment, the choices we make are perfect in that time. When you are ready for change you will make it happen.
What do you want to invest in?
Greenhouse and/or Cold frame
I feel this is priority number one for equipment because it brings seasonal extension which can be a complete game changer and allow you to grow more difficult crops. Always buy twice what you think you will need in materials for your cold frame–you will use it. I have added onto my first cold frame and built a high tunnel. I use all the space and would use more if it existed.
Over the past eight years, there are been great innovations in making your own hoop houses or caterpillar tunnels.
For this to be effective, you need a place to start seeds. It can be done using LED Lights, grow chambers with lights. But there’s is no substitute for pure sun.
Holistically, my greenhouse and cold frames are worth their weight in gold. I am gardening and seeding in March when there is still snow outside. Even if I did not do this professionally I think I would have to have some sort of a small greenhouse. Being in there with humid air, little green plants, and the magnified warmth of the sun makes the last bit of winter bearable. March is probably my most peaceful month of farming because I am in a warm bubble, creating life at my own speed. There’s no pressure of harvesting, orders, weddings, or farmers market. Everything is just starting, and seeding and transplanting is pretty meditative.
The greenhouse is a structure with heat and fans to control temperature. It is a manmade environment harnessing the sun. It requires heaters and electricity, and through use of these, gives you a longer growing season. I start my greenhouse the first week of March unless we are having an unseasonably cold spring/late winter. If we are, I push back opening it till March 15th to save money. It seems like you’re heating the outdoors when it’s in the single digits and the heater is running constantly.
Unless you have a great insulated sunroom attached to your house, a heated greenhouse is almost necessary. I have only known one flower farmer that farms without it. He is a 4th generation flower farmer who loves creating gadgets and is one of the most frugal farmers I know.
My seeding greenhouse is a 17′ wide x 24′ long, hoop-style greenhouse with an inflation system that blows air between two layers of plastic provided for insulation. I have temperature controlled shutter fans and no roll up sidewalls. This structure is mostly meant for seed starting though I have grown plants in the ground in it during the summer and fall.
There are many different heating systems. Forced hot air propane is the most popular currently in my region. But it’s worth looking into options: radiant heat, wood pellets. New systems are always being developed that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.
The most important factor for success is finding the right BTU for your space.
In more temperate climates like the Pacific Northwest, some farms use electric heat mats and row cover on cold nights.
Find a system that works for you! Low maintenance is important for small farms. You need to be able to step off and leave your farm without worrying if the heat or venting is working properly. This time is critical and a proper seed house is one of the best investments you can make. Research other farms or nurseries and see what they are doing; you can’t have enough knowledge in this ever-growing business.
Cold frames and High tunnels
These are plastic-covered structures used without added heat and mostly rely on sun for warmth and proper ventilation. They employ doors and roll-up sidewalls to keep the temperature controlled. These permanent in-ground growing structures can hold a snow load and create a nice controlled environment for your plants. This is your high end real estate, where you put big $ crops in or season extension crops. Using space efficiently and always growing something in the the cold frame is critical to money making. You can get market bouquets out earlier and later in the year, have unique hard-to-grow crops, setting you up for success while your field crops are just starting.
In another post we will be talking about caterpillar tunnels and row covers.. extensively.