5 Jul Greenhouse Maintenance: Why It Matters By: Clay Wilkerson Spring is always a hectic time around any greenhouse operation whether you’re a retailer dealing with a steady flow of customers or a commercial grower trying to ship every plant possible before the heat dries up demand. What you are probably not doing is thinking about your greenhouses and what kind of condition they are in. As a matter of fact, the mere mention of this line of thought may make you think I have either lost my mind or have never walked through the doors of a greenhouse business of any kind in the spring. But before you write me off as being out of touch or out of my mind, please let me explain. Whether you’re a wholesale grower or retailer, the condition of your greenhouses and related equipment can have huge implications for your business. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the importance of greenhouse maintenance. Let’s start with the actual greenhouses themselves. If you are a retailer the condition of your facilities can affect your sales. After years of dealing with retailers and doing work on retail garden centers I am convinced that the average consumer makes part of their buying decision based on the image the facilities project. If the greenhouses have covering that is yellowing or has holes in it, they will take note. If the benches are rotting and the tops are shabby they will notice. Not only will they notice, they may decide to purchase their plants somewhere else if they have a choice. So, in retail, looks really do matter. For a commercial grower it is true, “curb appeal” is not as big a deal. Because you are not dealing with the general public you don’t have to be as concerned about how your greenhouses look. But before you get too comfortable about that you may want to consider a couple of facts. Light transmission is affected by the condition of your greenhouse covering and the quantity and quality of light has a definite affect on plant growth. That means that brittle yellow fiberglass you’ve been holding off on replacing could be costing you in plant quality. The same could be true of that 4 year poly that you have determined to squeeze another year or two out of. Even if you are fortunate enough not to have it fail because of UV degradation, after the 4th year you will have a significant loss of light transmission which can have some very unfavorable effects on your plant quality. So, even if you aren’t concerned about how it looks, you need to be aware of how well the product is functioning or it could cost you. A second area you might want to consider is your greenhouse equipment. This is not an area that typically gets a lot of attention in a greenhouse operation until something quits working. But the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” can really cost you if applied to equipment. That’s because equipment not operated at peak efficiency means higher operating costs. For example, that curtain system with the holes and frazzled fabric looks bad. Again, if you are a retailer some of your customers will notice it and wonder why you haven’t done anything to fix it. But the bigger issue for any greenhouse business (retail or wholesale) may not be aesthetics. In the winter and early spring that unsightly curtain system could be costing you in lost heat. A hole or rip 4.5” in surface area can allow 500 cubic feet per minute of air to infiltrate and require 25,000 Btu’s per hour of additional heating. Those same numbers could apply to a rigid vent or aluminum shutters that will not close due to wind damage or lack of maintenance. Again, it looks bad but looks don’t tell the whole story. The real story is the money it costs you in energy dollars lost. One final example for the yet unconvinced would be those rusty exhaust fans that still work but probably should have been replaced. Chances are you are loosing money and don’t even know it. With every slip of the belts, every gust of air that blows through the rusty housing and every extra amp that is required to open up the inlet shutters that don’t work like they once did, you are loosing efficiency. And lost efficiency means less money in your wallet. So finish out your spring with the full focus and intensity it deserves. But before the season disappears from your memory and you leave to take that much needed vacation I would recommend that you ask two questions. What do my facilities (greenhouses & equipment) say to my customers about the kind of business I run? How much money could I save just by keeping my facilities in good working order? If you answer those questions thoughtfully and honestly, and then act accordingly, you may be able to take a bigger vacation next year.