Retractable Roof Greenhouse Cultivation Offers Flexibility
thrive under moveable shade
|We can completely open or close the roof and side walls, she says. The roof is water permeable so rain can leak through slowlyunless its more than two inches per hour, which would be too much. Water congregates along driplines in the spun polyethylene roofing material. Woven in two different thicknesses, the fabric provides 35 percent and 50 percent shade in an alternating arrangement down the length of the building. A black ground covering keeps out weeds and prevents crop roots from growing out of pots into the ground. Each of the six growing bays is 60 feet by 180 feet, enough to accommodate several rows of pots fitted with hydroponic tubing.||
All of this flexibility gives faculty and students the chance to test
herbs, bedding plants, shrubs, trees and vegetables using varying amounts
of solar radiation and ventilation. They use gauges to check soil temperature
and relative humidity around the plant canopy; computers regulate the
timing and operation of the roof panel motors and also the amount and
timing of irrigation and fertilizing.
Retractable roof greenhouses have been around for about 15 years but
are still considered relatively new, Schuch says. Most growers install
them in units of one to several acres, so this one is fairly small by
industry standards. She and several graduate students thus are conducting
experiments using the same technology available to the nursery industry,
but their emphasis right now is on crops that are not currently grown
in Arizona on a commercial scale.
The goal is to find out what grows well in desert retractable roof greenhouses
and determine the best techniques for producing high-value crops in them.
Workshops and tours are offered periodically to share research results
with growers. Experiments are sponsored by different organizations.
The basil study is funded by the Arizona Department of Agriculture to
explore the production of culinary herbs for high-end fresh-market sales
to restaurants and other gourmet outlets. Schuch and graduate student
Jennifer Nelkin chose basil because its a valuable cash crop with
a short shelf life. Among the finer restaurants in Phoenix and Tucson
there is a demand for this high-quality herb chopped up in pesto and other
dishes, and also as a garnish. The leaves need to be large, tender, flavorful,
attractive and unblemished.
Everything in the experiment is a series of twos: the researchers are comparing basil grown in media-filled pots and in rock wool, a hydroponic medium; they aregrowing two types of basil, Purple Ruffles and the green Genovese, under two types of shade. For comparison, the two basil cultivars are also planted in the ground outside the greenhouse.
Integrated pest management techniques are used for controlling loopers and other pests. These herbs are all organically grown, Schuch says. If we cant grow the crop organically were not even interested.Every week Nelkin harvests leaves from the plants and weighs the yields from all the treatments. The researchers also measure the size of the leaves, essential oils and several other parameters to learn how the different environments and cultural treatments affect plant growth.
We want to manipulate the root zone temperature, keeping it in the range optimum for growth, around 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Schuch says. Temperatures higher or lower than that prevent the plant from photosynthesizing on a maximum basis and thus depress yields. The researchers are aiming to produce the maximum amount of high-quality shoot tips per plant. Next season theyll grow the basil again to come up with the optimum cultural management strategy for doing that, including calculations on a per-acre basis for inputs and outputs and production cost estimates.
How good is this basil? A chef at one of Tucsons finer restaurants told Nelkin its the best hes ever seen.Other studies include testing lemon grass as a culinary herb; exploring tomato and pepper growing techniques; comparing dig dates and cold storage on performance and flowering of bareroot roses; and using integrated pest management to control rhyzoctonia (a fungus) on bedding plants.
For any of these projects, the big objective is to manage the various components of the retractable roof greenhouse to maximize photosynthesis for optimum plant performance. Schuch admits that it can be a juggling act. Yet its really exciting because there are so many questions and you have to think about how to use different strategies for each crop.
The retractable panels are operated by motors mounted on the roof. The thick panel on the left provides 50 percent shade; the thinner one on the right, 35 percent shade.
|Lemongrass, a culinary herb, thrives under the retractable roof.|
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Published January 2004
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