Earning a profit from agricultural or horticultural products requires more than just an efficient and affordable greenhouse. You’ll also need to choose the best possible growing system for inside of the structure to make the most of the controlled environment it provides. There’s no one best growing system for all situations. In addition to the type of greenhouse you choose, your location and market demands also determine which system will be most profitable. The options range from basic in-ground rows to incredibly complex automated conveyor systems that lift plants high into the air for maximum light exposure. Regardless of the system you choose, don’t forget to balance its upfront installation costs against the potential for profit to see how long it will take to recoup your investment.
In-Ground Rows and Beds
The most traditional option for growing in a greenhouse is to simply plow up the covered soil and plant directly in it. These in-ground rows and beds offer the largest possible soil volume for healthy root growth. This method is generally only used for vegetable and herb crops that are eventually harvested partially or entirely. It’s not great for plants sold for bedding or replanting in any way, especially in containers, since it’s hard to remove the root balls from the ground without damaging them. You can’t pour a concrete foundation when using this method and may find it difficult to keep the soil warm enough to grow through the winter. It’s a far more popular option for seasonal greenhouses than for year-round operations.
Raised beds allow you to use large volumes of soil, or a soilless mix, without having to dig into the ground or forego a poured foundation slab. Yet, they require a carefully designed drainage system to deal with irrigation runoff since there’s no way to absorb it through the bare soil. As with in ground growing, this method is primarily used for harvestable crops since it’s difficult to transplant young plants out of these beds. The one exception to this rule is tree saplings, which tend to be grown in raised beds full of gravel or crushed stone to help them quickly develop strong roots that are easy to remove without damage.
Container and Table Cultivation
Transplants, plugs, and potted plants tend to stay in containers and pots from sprouting through the point of sale. This means that many greenhouses merely need some sturdy, properly sized tables and drainage basins to handle the water released during irrigation. Container cultivation is simple and doesn’t use up the floor space of the greenhouse, making it easy to rearrange everything as often as necessary when seasons change. However, plants are limited to the size of containers you provide. That works fine if your goal is produce bedding plants in six packs or even four-inch pots, but may not work well if you’re trying to grow 20 pounds of tomatoes per plant for a profitable harvest.
Hydroponics and Related Systems
To maximize your profit as much as possible, you may need to invest in a hydroponics system. These growing systems rely on nutrient-rich water and a growing medium instead of soil and irrigation equipment. Water is circulated or flushed past the plant roots, allowing them to absorb nutrients and moisture rapidly and at optimal levels. With no soil to get in the way, plants also get plenty of oxygen at their roots for rapid growth. Unfortunately, these systems are far more expensive to set up than basic raised beds or in-ground rows. However, you’ll find that most of them are quickly profitable, as long as there’s enough demand for plants or crops that can be grown in water.
Greenhouses are usually designed much taller than what’s strictly necessary for workers to move around in, because the extra air mass helps stabilize interior temperatures. Short greenhouses are a little easier to heat, but they also cool faster. Why waste all that vertical space by simply growing a single layer of plants on tables or a few layers of shelves? Vertical conveyor systems allow you to take advantage of every vertical foot of space and rotate plants as needed for better light absorption. These systems do tend to involve some amount of automation, making them too expensive for many medium to smaller growers to consider.
Regardless of how you plan to grow your plants, you’ll need to follow the best practices for that particular method. For example, choosing aquaponics rather than hydroponics could give you a free source of nutrients for the plant water while producing a second profit through fish sales. Don’t be afraid to get creative and try novel growing methods in at least some of your greenhouses to potentially tap into new profit sources that your competitors are still missing out on.