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5 Essential Learnings for Better Greenhouse Management

Greenhouse management

What one grower can learn from a greenhouse season, could be turned into a trilogy as long as any one of the Game of Thrones novels. We will try to highlight the five most essential lessons in managing a greenhouse we learned so that you can bring them into your next greenhouse season

#1: Be Clear with Your Team on What Your Expectations from Them Are

Always have a clear action plan when working in your greenhouse. / Credit : Alex Chabot
Always have a clear action plan when working in your greenhouse. / Credit : Alex Chabot

Whenever you’re working in the greenhouse, whether it be with a team of 10 or a team of 2, always have a clear action plan. Set up the expectations for the day right at the beginning. If you have more than 3 tasks to do in one culture, do not do all the steps at once. Ask your team to do two steps, and then go over the second pair of steps and do them after. As an example, in the tomatoes on a given day you might have to: harvest the fruit, remove a leaf from the tomato head, remove the suckers, lower and lean the plant and strip excess leaves off the plant. If you ask your team to do all those steps, all at once, you’ll notice that either not every task has been completed appropriately or that certain steps were skipped altogether. Of importance, also, is to set a time frame for a task’s completion and watch how they do each task (and come back and check!) multiple times within the first few weeks of the season. 

#2: Never Skip a Week

Greenhouse cucumbers / Credit : Alex Chabot
Greenhouse cucumbers / Credit : Alex Chabot

When you’re working on a busy farm, it might be tempting to skip a long and tedious greenhouse task. Don’t. You will assuredly regret it. One time this summer, right at the beginning when the new team was still a little slow, we skipped the pruning in the cucumbers. We needed the team to do work in the fields and all the designated time for greenhouse work was taken up by the tomatoes. What a bad idea. It must have taken us 3 weeks’ worth of Mondays (our greenhouse day) to gain back control in the cucumber! There were too many leaves, the fruits hadn’t been pruned and the pests were thriving. It was like walking through an unhappy, prickly jungle. We ended up cutting the cord on them two weeks earlier than planned and lost two weeks’ worth of harvests.

#3: Scout for Pests at Least once a Week… and Take Your Time

Beneficials insects in the greenhouse. / Credit : Caroline Cloutier
Beneficials insects in the greenhouse. / Credit : Caroline Cloutier

One essential lesson we learn managing a greenhouse is that if you catch a problem early you will be able to manage the problem with relatively low costs. As soon as the problem is glaringly obvious, you know that your scouting has failed, and you will need to react more aggressively. Rather than doing one predator introduction, you will have to do it for 3-4 weeks, essentially multiplying your costs by the week. And the longer it takes you to take control back, the longer the pests are multiplying. It can be a financial disaster. Every week walk through all your crops at least once with your magnifying glass and look for problems! If you don’t find any pests, look harder; it will save you later. 

#4: Check the Weather and Manage Your Climate Daily

Installing drip tape in a greenhouse. / Credit : Alex Chabot
Installing drip tape in a greenhouse. / Credit : Alex Chabot

Daily tasks, such as adjusting your irrigation in regards to the weather, managing your humidity, and setting your temperature setpoints, cannot be skipped. The first reason is for production: you want your plants to be happy, healthy, and productive! The second reason is to minimize costs. If it’s a rainy, miserable day and you have a warm-weather setpoint managing your greenhouse, you might be spending unnecessarily on heating and dehumidifying. It’s the number one advantage of greenhouse production: controlling the climate! Use it to your advantage and be diligent.  

#5: Keep Calm and Farm on

Greenhouse management can be a challenge! / Credit : Caroline Cloutier
Greenhouse management can be a challenge! / Credit : Caroline Cloutier

One of the most essential lessons in managing a greenhouse to remember is that things will go wrong. Do not panic when they inevitably do. Even the most experienced growers can have seasons where unexpected challenges come up. The most important thing is to stop, reflect, and move on. If you lose your head or your cool at every struggle, you’ll never want to get out of bed. Something we always try to remember is to never let your struggles affect your team. You might have fusarium wilt in your eggplants, while also balancing a precarious aphid situation and then have powdery mildew in your cucumbers and a spider mite infestation in another greenhouse… That sucks. But it’s okay. You will learn, react, and move on. Trust that you will make the right decision and keep calm. You will rarely make the right decision if you are panicking. 

The installation of a greenhouse is a major project that is recommended for a farm’s profitability. We have prepared a series of articles that will help you expand your knowledge on the topic and get more essential lessons in managing a greenhouse.

We invite you to consult the following articles:

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