Eco-Friendly Farming

7 reasons to grow organically in a greenhouse

Organic Growing in a Greenhouse

you’ve heard all the hype, and now you want to get down to brass tacks: is growing organically in a greenhouse really a better choice?

Beyond the earth-loving, tree-hugging stuff, what’s in it for the grower? What’s in it for your business and profits if you’re producing commercially, for that matter?

Turns out that growing organically in a greenhouse goes far beyond just a concern for the planet and the environment. Even some studies show that organic production – when done correctly – yields higher value crops, while making both the lucrative and long-term viability of your growing mediums more sustainable (and not just for the environment – but your own setup, too).

You shave off some costs, though you do put in a bit more work. But in the end, everyone involved experiences benefit (including you, your plants, and your customers). Not only that: implementing organic practices into your greenhouse growing operation is easier than you think. Contrary to some beliefs, you don’t have to be certified organic for growing organic to be a possibility. All you really have to do is change the way you approach your setup and, ultimately, go chemical free.

WORRIED ABOUT LOWER YIELDS?

Don’t be. Many studies circulate out there comparing the yields of conventional growing to organic, saying that organic methods don’t produce as much. But here’s a couple reasons why they don’t apply to greenhouses: firstly, greenhouses foster very different growing systems than most high-yielding conventional agriculture.

Secondly, organic systems can be just as productive, but they simply require different systems to BE more productive. Lucky for you, greenhouse are just one of these systems that can make organic growing give you a real edge.

Not quite convinced yet? Read these following incentives (and eventual rewards) you get for ditching the chemicals, and how you can produce just as much without them. In no time at all, you’ll be reaping the chemical and guilt-free benefits. Just ask any all-natural grower if it’s worth it – they’ll say yes.

HEALTHIER, CHEMICAL-FREE PLANTS

Again, you don’t need to be certified organic to advertise your practices. To avoid any issue, advertise as naturally grown, chemical free, or a similar general descriptor. The USDA may be a little more than dissatisfied if you use the term “organic” on your labels if you’re not certified – but add in organic practices and a general chemical-free description in your marketing, and you may find yourself drawing in a wider crowd of customers (especially those of the more green-loving, health-oriented variety).

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SAVE MONEY ON CHEMICAL APPLICATIONS

Here’s a benefit for both hobby growers and business operators alike: going organic means you save money on the pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers you would typically buy. Pick up organic pest prevention, weed prevention, and even plant amendment approaches instead, and you’ll cut some costs for a little more work in exchange. Of course, this exchange may mean a LOT more work for large-scale growers and operators of larger greenhouses.

For these larger operations, sure – chemical costs are cut, but you will have to replace these methods with your own time handling weed and pest management, or doling out money for the labor to do it in your greenhouse. Fortunately, there are some all-natural, biodegradable sprays that can be used in the place of synthetic sprays to keep pests away. While these are still considered “chemicals,” they are deemed acceptable as organic to certifiers. (Pyrethrum spray is one good example of an all-natural pest deterrent, synthesized from the chrysanthemum plant.)

HIGHER VALUE CROPS AND PRODUCTS

Because more time and work goes into the production of chemical-free crops, their value is immediately increased, thus fetching a higher price in various markets. Not using pesticides and herbicides makes an organic grower turn to less convenient methods for weeding and pest prevention, which can also be more time-intensive – though higher prices for organic help make up for this. However, if you tighten up your system and the efficiency of your greenhouse production to be equally as time-intensive as conventional agriculture, growing and advertising naturally-grown could make you more money per product than if you applied chemicals.

Again: all of this depends on the growing system you set up, while making it as efficient as possible so it is comparable to a conventional one. More time put into weeding, pest prevention, cover cropping, and organic soil amendments (like compost or even worm castings) takes more time than spraying repellents and fertilizers, of course. But if you adopt organic-certifiable and biodegradable sprays for example, you can quicken the process, while still maintaining a naturally-grown label.

Further, some certifiable fertilizers and compost teas can come in convenient sprays (just like conventional), while certain greenhouse growing mediums and planting techniques can reduce weed pressure automatically and save you time (such as container planting, raised beds, or grow tables).

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BETTER OVERALL SOIL HEALTH

This is the most invaluable and pertinent perk to chemical-free growing. Conventional sprays have a negative impact on the soil itself, especially the microbial life there. Synthetically-made nutrients overwhelm and suppress bacteria and fungi when applied often over time. In the long run, this depletes soil in your greenhouse, which then leads to soils depending on more outside chemical amendments to provide nutrition.

Not so with proper organic and natural techniques. Sans chemicals, natural growers use organic matter to replenish the soil of its nutrients over time, while using amendments like microbially active compost, compost teas, and other additives rich in soil life to help their mediums bounce back. The more life in your soils, the more nutrients stick around naturally, without your help – and the happier your plants will be too, not just your soil.

LESS SOIL MANAGEMENT

As a continuation from the previous section, better soil health ultimately means less soil management, thus lower greenhouse operation costs in this department. Conventional growers who use synthetic chemicals deal with issues of runoff and topsoil loss on an almost chronic basis, which can also be an issue in greenhouses (especially with direct planting). Nutrient loss, another common problem, can become an issue in container plantings in greenhouses too, which may require constant soil replacement.

When growing organically, not only do you save costs on managing soil for its nutrient and structure loss, but you also save on completely replacing that soil repeatedly once it becomes completely nutrient deficient (such as in container growing). Taking care of soil health means that you get to hold on to it for longer. Soil that lasts longer ultimately costs less over time.

LESS PH ISSUES

On the soil topic once again, more organic matter put into soils for plant needs also helps pH balance itself completely naturally, and without too much interference from the grower. The presence of more microbial life means that your growing medium will regulate pH on its own – that is, as long as the bacteria and fungi there are allowed to flourish. Apply tons of synthetic chemicals, however, and this soil life will struggle, calling for more help on the grower’s part to bring pH back to where it needs to be.

When plant root systems are allowed to freely associate with the life in the soil around them, they can actually adjust and tweak pH to meet their own needs on their very own. When pesticides and herbicides – chemicals that slowly destroy and weaken soil life – are applied, plants can’t do this for themselves. Further, synthetic fertilizers tend to artificially change pH beyond a plant’s desired range, which can give rise to plant disease.

Go organic, however, and you’ll save time and money correcting pH on your own with amendments like lime or gypsum. (In fact, you probably won’t hardly have to mess with soil pH when you grow organic – ever!)

GENTLER ON THE ENVIRONMENT

This is the obvious one, and definitely more of a big picture benefit. Sure, it doesn’t directly affect your business, revenue, or how many plants you grow (though it can sometimes). But knowing that your practices are sustainable – and that they don’t harm nature and your living surroundings – can give you a sense of pride, responsibility, and stewardship for the business or hobby you run.

It can also give you a sense of stewardship for the land you take care of under or around your greenhouse structure, too. Using chemicals in many aspects of your growing operation, especially if irresponsibly applied, can land these substances in rivers, lakes, water tables, and even the ocean, where they build up and become harmful over time.

This goes for a greenhouse too: the water you use to irrigate your crops in your structure ends up somewhere, and will wash any chemicals into the environment – whether that’s a wetland, the ocean, or even your own residential water table.

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GOT GUTS? GO NATURAL

It could be said that growing organically is not for everyone. In exchange for a few costs shaved off – such as chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, renewed soil mixes, and pH adjusters – you ultimately grow higher-valued, healthier crops and plants. But you also have to put in a little bit more work, sweat, and streamlined systems in place to make it work like a dream.

With that said: are you up for the challenge? With natural methods, do you want to grow the very best greenhouse plants possible, and without the help of artificial chemicals, just as nature intended? It’s a harder task, but reserved for the most passionate and inspired of greenhouse growers – those who are truly dedicated to minimizing impacts on the environment.

Will that be you this growing season?

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Adrian White is an organic farmer of near a decade, and a food, health, and sustainable ag writer of 6 years. Her writing can be found in publications like The Guardian and Civil Eats, and she is also a regular contributor to Rodale's Organic Life and Healthline. She lives in Iowa as co-owner of organic farm Jupiter Ridge Mushrooms and Veg, fueled by her passion as a next-generation farmer.

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Adrian White is an organic farmer of near a decade, and a food, health, and sustainable ag writer of 6 years. Her writing can be found in publications like The Guardian and Civil Eats, and she is also a regular contributor to Rodale's Organic Life and Healthline. She lives in Iowa as co-owner of organic farm Jupiter Ridge Mushrooms and Veg, fueled by her passion as a next-generation farmer.

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