For growers large and small, the ancient change of seasons has long played foil to agricultural success throughout the year. Growers in northern climates - especially those in areas expecting heavy snowfall, low (or no) daylight, and extremely cold temperatures - often forgo growing altogether during the cold season, and simply shut down operations until the spring once again shows its face.
With a greenhouse, however, growers across the world are flipping the script on winter growing.
Because a greenhouse offers growers a controlled and consistent environment regardless of the season, many can keep their crops coming up throughout the year - and that means you can keep growing all through the winter. Here’s a look at how to keep your production steady even when the temperature starts to drop.
1. Winterize… The Right Way
Spring may be synonymous with “spring cleaning,” but for greenhouse growers, early winter brings its own call to clean up a bit in anticipation of the changing weather.
The “winterizing” process is fairly routine for greenhouse owners, whether you plan on keeping a winter grow going or not. Essentially, it’s your chance to clean up completely from the late summer and fall harvest season, and get your greenhouse in top working shape before the snow falls. That means thoroughly cleaning out any and all remaining organic materials in your greenhouse, as well as scrubbing and disinfecting the walls and equipment within your greenhouse.
It’s also a good opportunity to inspect all moving parts of your greenhouse for any maintenance requirements, which should be repaired or replaced well before the snow starts to fall, which will help ensure a healthy and happy greenhouse even when the temperature drops below zero.
2. Pick The Right Crops
Ever tried to grow a mango in the arctic? Obviously, it’s not going to work - the plant needs more light and heat than the arctic environment can really ever provide. Growing through winter - even growing the crops you succeed with all year long - can offer up the same problems.
That’s why it’s critical when planning your winter grow to pick crops you know will withstand the extremes of winter conditions. While your greenhouse may mitigate many of the most damaging aspects of the winter season, growers in northern and snowy climates should still seek out hardy root vegetables and leafy greens - like spinach, carrots, collards, and others - to ensure success throughout the winter growing season.
3. Light Well
Nothing great grows in the darkness - at least, nothing edible anyway. That’s why so many crops start to struggle just when the sunlight starts to creep backward, and long days of bright sunshine start giving way to colder, later mornings and longer, darker nights. Growing cold-tolerant crops will be sustainable in the grow cycle going through the dark.
4. Control Heat & Humidity
The colder it is outside your greenhouse, the higher your demand for heat will be inside your greenhouse. Whether you’re facing mild winters down south or harsh, sub-freezing storms up north, the heat from the sun may simply not be enough to keep your crops coming until spring. That’s why an efficient and properly-sized supplemental heating system might just be necessary for your winter greenhouse if required for the crops you are growing.
But it’s not only plants that need heat to keep growing through winter. Certain diseases love a warm hideaway when the outside is inhospitable, and your warm, humid greenhouse might just be the perfect place for diseases to settle in. That’s why it’s critical to balance your humidity as well as your heat, either through proper ventilation or effective dehumidifying systems, to prevent diseases from slowing down your crops.
5. Harvest Efficiently
One of the most common mistakes first-time winter growers make is to treat the winter harvest like the spring or summer. While grow periods during other times of the year might culminate in one big harvest of all the same crop over a short time span, winter harvests should ideally be spread out to cover the entire season. This means being smart about your scheduling, harvesting when you need to, and allowing plants that can regrow to do so.
Many winter growers plan out their beds in rows which can be harvested one-by-one, allowing the first-harvested rows to re-grow and repopulate in the time the other rows are being harvested. That way, the cycle of fresh veggies being harvested - although lower in number - will last all the way through until spring comes. This way, growers can continue to provide fresh crops at farmer’s markets throughout the winter without leaving customers wanting.
Grow Strong Through Till Spring
Keeping your greenhouse fresh and productive through the traditionally-barren winter may seem impossible to the inexperienced, but with smart planning and the right tools you can keep your best produce coming in strong through the winter and well into the spring season. With a greenhouse, year-round growing is possible. Are you ready to get growing this winter?