At Futurepump our primary aim is to make irrigation easy and sustainable so it can improve the lives of smallholder farmers. But running a successful farm isn’t all about irrigation. We also strive to provide information on other relevant technologies and techniques through our website and YouTube channel.
Greenhouses are a great example of this – using one on your smallholding allows you to plant delicate plants and extend your growing season. So would a greenhouse be a good option for you? Lets take a look at how they can be used on small farms and the benefits they offer.
What is a greenhouse?
In simple terms, a greenhouse is a building built from glass – both walls and roof. This design is specifically for the protection of plant from excessive cold, winds or other damaging weather. They can also be known as hothouses or glasshouses. A greenhouse is typically used for the production of fruits, vegetables and flowers that require special temperature conditions.
How a greenhouse works
The simplest way to describe what happens in a greenhouse is to imagine light energy being transformed into heat energy.
The greenhouse’s glass walls and roof allow all visible rays of sunshine to pass through, this is fundamental to how they work. The idea is that by allowing as much light energy as possible to enter the building you can warms the air inside and then it remains trapped as thermal energy as the glass works as an insulator.
Heat is trapped inside the structure which keeps the internal temperature warm throughout the day and even maintains warmth after the sun sets. This residual warmth helps to protect fragile plants overnight if temperatures drop dramatically.
The greenhouse effect illustration – Image by brgfx on Freepik
Most greenhouses found on small farms are simple structures, so only use this thermal energy to regulate temperature extremes. However, if you do have more money to invest in your system then you can introduce some more high-tech features.
These ‘high-tech’ greenhouses include equipment such as screening equipment (for preventing insects), heating, cooking and lighting each of which can be monitored by a computer to improve plant development conditions. You’d be most likely to come across these on larger commercial farms.
Types of greenhouse (on a budget)
Even on the small-scale, before adding high-tech features, there are many different options to consider. What you choose depends on your budget, the things you want to grow and the space available.
Cold frame greenhouses
A simple wooden or brick box-like structure with glass or plastic as a roof. These use natural heat from the sun to produce a warmer than an outside environment for your plants. They are beneficial for extending your growing seasons, particularly during the transitional weeks between seasons when the weather might be uncertain.
These range from little compact greenhouses that can fit on a balcony to easy-to-assemble and disassemble garden greenhouses that allow enough area to grow as much as you want without tying you down to one location. They usually have plastic or metal frames and a flexible plastic cover.
Raised bed greenhouses
They are ideal if you have limited space. Simply construct a ‘greenhouse’ style cover over your raised beds to trap in warmth over the colder months.
If you need to cover a large growing are but have looked into a greenhouse made of glass and found it out of your reach, then there is a great stepping-stone. That’s a polytunnel. The polytunnel is economical because it uses plastic instead of glass. Although not fully transparent like glass, the plastic cover is flexible and semi-transparent, which still works well to trap the sun’s warmth.
What’s more, the construction of a polytunnel doesn’t require help from professional workers, they can be built with simple DIY (Do It Yourself) skills.
We see many of our customers using polytunnels on farms all around the world.
Why invest in a greenhouse
With a greenhouse you can harvest more fresh vegetables all year round. When managed correctly you’ll also have fewer pests and disease problems. You can even cultivate plants that would not grow outside in your climate.
Irrigating in a greenhouse
Choosing an appropriate irrigation system for your greenhouse is critical to the growth of your plants. You can’t count on rain in a greenhouse! So it is up to you to make sure that your plants get the right amount of water.
Here is a couple of different irrigation methods you can use in a greenhouse (and ones you can couple with a Futurepump solar pump!).
One of the most popular types of irrigation we see on smallholder farms. They are affordable and very easy to use.
The mechanism is very simple. Here, the output water from a pump passes through the pipe and is then separated by the sprinkler head, so it splits water into tiny droplets which spray it all over the soil surface.
There is a lot of research done on irrigation types, and the one which has the highest rate of success is drip irrigation. A pump or tank is connected to a set of pipes with small holes in it. When the water runs through these pipes, they drip water onto the base of the plant. This means you have a lot of control over where you water, and can save many gallons of water – something that is increasingly important with climate change.
Did you know? Drip irrigation saves 70% of water compared to other types. Also, the great thing about it is because it directly applies water to the roots of the plant. That way, it stops so much evaporation.
At Futurepump we are experts in the manufacture of long-lasting solar irrigation pumps. We want to help smallholder farmers across the world get access to efficient and reliable technologies to grow crops sustainably all year round.