What You Need to Know About Greenhouse Farming in Kenya
Over the last couple of years, the world has been facing a global food crisis, and Kenya is no exception. The food insecurity in Kenya has been accelerated by drought and famine. That notwithstanding, the climate has changed drastically, and it’s mainly characterized by dry seasons. Such situations lead to most farmers suffering because of poor soil nutrition and water shortages, which are poor conditions for food production. As a result, farmers are now looking towards greenhouse construction in Kenya to allow them to grow crops during both wet and dry seasons.
Greenhouses have proven an effective alternative to increase productivity for both small scale and large scale farmers. Besides, greenhouses can help improve their livelihoods and promote food security in Kenya. Farmers can construct either plastic-covered or permanent glass greenhouses that create a suitable environment for growing healthy crops all year round. The growth of crops in these structures is promoted by good irrigation systems, plus the temperature is mechanically controlled.
The benefits of growing plants in a greenhouse
Over time, farmers have come to realize that there are plenty of benefits of growing plants in a greenhouse, especially with the uncertainty in climate change lately. However, before you carry out your greenhouse construction in Kenya, you have to conduct adequate research to ensure that you will reap some of the following benefits.
- A greenhouse delivers an extended growing season
- There is consistency and reliability in food production
- You can plant a variety of crops in a greenhouse
- It allows you to control the growth environment, humidity levels, and soil easily
- A greenhouse makes it easy for you to control insect and animal infestation
Decide whether you need to buy or build a greenhouse
When you set your mind to do greenhouse farming, you need to consider if building or buying a structure is the right way to go. But first, you need to consider where you wish to place your greenhouse to establish if you have adequate space to grow the crop that you want.
However, before you come to the decision of whether to buy or carry out greenhouse construction in Kenya, you have to ask yourself a couple of things. First, you need to the type and variety of plants that you wish to grow in your greenhouse, and the space that they will require. Additionally, you need to consider if you have a tree nearby that can provide shade and if it sheds its leaves during certain seasons.
You also need to consider the material to use in the construction; particularly, the foundation. Moreover, you need to asses if the soil in the space that you have has good drainage or whether you need to come up with a water recycling system. That notwithstanding, you need to know if the area where you would like to set up your greenhouse has adequate water and if there is electrical connectivity within the area.
Most importantly, you need to consider your budget, and then decide which option works best for you. Building or buying? Apart from the cost, you need to know that greenhouses need to be constructed in a particular way to ensure that your crops will grow as expected. You have to position your greenhouse where it will receive optimal sunlight exposure during the day. It is recommended that greenhouses receive about 6 hours of sunlight every day.
Apart from the natural light from the sun, you must also install energy-efficient lights when it comes to greenhouse construction in Kenya. Before you decide between buying and building your greenhouse, you must also consider the design of the greenhouse. Do you want an all-in-one structure, or do you want a greenhouse that features your own design? If it is the latter, then you’re better off building your own structure. You can also customize it to suit your specific requirements.
However, if you are looking to establish it as a side business, then you are better off buying an already-established structure. Interestingly, there are various companies in Kenya that lease greenhouses to interested parties for a certain period. Some of those who have ventured into this business claim that it is quite profitable. Although these are just claims.
How to get started
When you decide whether to buy or build your greenhouse, you’ve already figured out the space that you require to grow the crop you have in mind. It’s crucial that you consider your greenhouse as a long-term investment. Consequently, you need to have adequate space that will accommodate the plants that you would like to grow in the years ahead. Greenhouse construction in Kenya also needs to match up to the type of plant you wish to grow. For instance, if you wish to grow vegetables, your greenhouse should have a lot of headroom, plus it needs to receive maximum light.
You also have to decide on the style of the greenhouse that you want. There exist several styles, and some can even get built in one day. Here are some of the different styles that you could settle for based on your budget limits and needs.
- Freestanding greenhouses – such types of greenhouses are stand-alone structures; therefore, you can place these structures where you would like on your property, but you have to ensure that the position you place your structure receives enough lighting. You can grow plenty of plants in this type of greenhouses, and you can start growing your plants as early as January.
- Attached/lean-to greenhouses – you could also go for this style of greenhouses. Such greenhouses don’t require you to build all the four walls. However, one of the walls needs to be sturdy such as the wall of your house so that you can construct the three remaining sides to be lighter.
Due to their construction design, attached greenhouses are less expensive to construct compared to other styles. You can use such structured to grow seedlings and herbs. A major downside with the attached greenhouses is that sunlight only comes in from three sides.
Your greenhouse construction in Kenya should feature one of these styles, but that’s entirely dependent on the crop(s) that you would like to grow. It is also recommended that you refrain from building your greenhouse near coniferous trees. Those are trees that don’t shed their leaves during the cold season in Kenya, blocking the little sunlight that is available.
You can also place your greenhouse structure on any surface. However, you have to ensure that you construct it in an area that has good drainage. You can place a layer of landscape cloth where you intend to place your greenhouse. Doing so not only allows proper drainage but also keeps the weeds out.
Apart from the frame and exterior structure of the greenhouse, you need to know that there are accessories that have to go into a greenhouse to ensure that your crops grow as you would like. However, the accessories you put greatly depend on your budget allocations as they could get pricey at times.
You need to consider what you really need in your greenhouse, and the accessories that you could place during your greenhouse construction in Kenya include a heating system, automatic vents, shelving, a fan, a mist system, and a rack among other accessories.
How do you prepare for your first growing season
Now that you’ve already set up your greenhouse, including the accessories you want, you have to prepare for the growing season, but that also depends on the type of plant that you would like to grow in your greenhouse.
If it is your first time dealing with a greenhouse, then you need to start off with straight-forward crops instead of going for complicated crops without the experience. You will find that most greenhouse farmers in Kenya start with vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens, and turnips among others. It is also advisable for you to group together plants that have a similar growth cycle so that you can organize your planting season accordingly.
You should also know that not all the seeds that you plant will germinate. That’s why it is advisable for you to plant more seeds than you would expect to grow. Doing so will help you save a significant amount of time, which you would otherwise spend transplanting. On the other hand, if you are planting crops that climb vertically such as tomatoes, then you need to plant them on a raised platform on your greenhouse’s floor. A bench could also serve as a suitable alternative.
Usually, experts advise against using pesticides in greenhouses as they could compromise the quality of produce, but there are some greenhouse owners who still use pesticides. Instead of using pesticides, you need to ensure that your greenhouse construction in Kenya is done to perfection. A well-constructed greenhouse has measures in place to prevent entry by pests.
You can install insect screens on the exhausts and air intakes of your greenhouse to prevent insects and or mites from getting into your greenhouse. Furthermore, you need to ensure that the equipment you use in your greenhouse isn’t used anywhere else to prevent cross-contamination, which could result in the presence of insects and diseases in your structure.
A majority of greenhouse owners in Kenya prefer using organic fertilizers as opposed to manufactured products. If you find natural fertilizer, then you’re in a better position. However, there are some situations where you may need to get manufactured fertilizer to deliver the nutrients your crops need.
Greenhouse construction in Kenya should never be done without considering environmental control. You must keep in mind that a greenhouse is a place where you grow your crops under a controlled environment. One of the things you need to do in your greenhouse is heating. You have to insulate your greenhouse to ensure that your crops receive the heat they need even when there is no sunlight. You can find different types of heaters available, which are powered by different means. You must also ensure that the heating system in your greenhouse has an automatic shut-off feature.
Shading is also a requirement when it comes to greenhouses. Shade comes in handy when the sun is too warm and it is hitting the greenhouse directly. You can get roll-up screens of aluminum or wood, polypropylene shade cloth, or paint-on materials to provide the necessary shading during such times.
Your greenhouse must also have proper ventilation. Why is ventilation so important? Well, it is because plants also get hot, and the vents will allow proper circulation of air, preventing any damage from coming to your plants. Proper ventilation also minimizes the risk of various plant diseases.
Challenges that greenhouse farmers face in Kenya
Setting up a greenhouse in Kenya does not only provide farmers with positive results. It also has its challenges. Some of the main challenges include:
- Temperature and humidity – greenhouse farmers in Kenya fail to get good harvests as a result of temperature and humidity. Sometimes, these conditions may go too high or lower than the required levels for plants to grow. The perfect temperature should range between 16 and 30 degrees Celsius during the day and 13 to 18 degrees Celsius at night. Anything below or past that could cause issues. Proper ventilation could help counter this challenge.
- Loss of soil fertility – farmers also complain that poor soil fertility affects crop productivity. However, you can counteract this issue by rotating your crops, treating the soil, or adopting technology such as growing crops in pots.
- Pests and diseases – managing pests and diseases is a great challenge among greenhouse farmers in Kenya. They can affect productivity in a major way, and they could be hard to get rid of. However, you can limit the existence of insects in your greenhouse by using UV-absorbing plastics.
Greenhouse construction in Kenya serves as an effective way to curb the food security crisis in the country. A greenhouse will allow you to grow high-quality plants throughout the year, but you have to make sure that the structure is built to excellence. You might face some challenges along the way, but you can counter them using the proper methods.