Greenhouse growing is extremely advantageous, but not without its risks. Though it helps ramp up profits, crop quality, and extends your season (and product availability), it can still be vulnerable to problems and threats throughout the year, no matter what you choose to grow or how you grow it.
These risks to your greenhouse business or hobby may look different depending on the time of year, or even where you grow. Drought, extreme heat, and humidity are common in summer or in warmer regions; but come winter (especially in cold climates), you deal with a completely different set of weather- and season-related risks altogether: including snow, hail, freezing, subzero temperatures, and more.
What are all the risks you can face being a greenhouse grower in a cold climate? What can you do about them? Winter and cold climates bring a unique set of challenges. So if you’re a greenhouse grower in a cold climate, here are some of the top ones to look out for.
Weakened materials and infrastructure
If you’re not careful, obviously, the harsh winters or unpredictable temperatures of a cold climate (including subzero temperatures) can damage the plants inside your greenhouse. But keep in mind: the elements and temperatures may have negative impacts on the structure itself, too!
Huge risks to greenhouses in cold climates are breakage, malfunction, or damage that only becomes prescient once cold temperatures have already arrived— and by then, it may be too late to save anything. Irrigation leaks that lead to freezing and broken piping, old heaters that need replacing (or can’t keep up with heating needs), or aged plastic on poly greenhouses vulnerable to freezing and shattering are all common examples.
If you grow in a cold climate, it’s wise to have all elements of your greenhouse checked, tested, maintained, or even upgraded and replaced before the worst of the weather begins. When it comes to the actual infrastructural materials of your greenhouse (hoops, trussing, perlin, plastic or glass), be sure to invest in products that are built to withstand the cold or possible freezing, for that matter.
Drafts, cracks, and holes
Holes or cracks that create drafts, whether in poly or glass structures, lend their own unique problems for greenhouses in cold climates. In even the newest or best-built structures, drafts like these can and do happen— and if unnoticed or unrepaired, can bring the entire functionality (and even profitability) of your greenhouse down.
It’s not just because drafts can lead to crop damage or loss in cold climates. Greenhouses with cracks or holes leak out precious heat! If your greenhouse must be heated to function, this is an enormous loss of energy efficiency and is a lot of money lost. If you grow in a greenhouse in a cold climate, be sure that it’s not heat-leaky one—which is better to fix ahead of time than to find out later.
If you’re in a cold climate there’s bound to be snow. Heavy (or even moderate) snowfall can catch growers off-guard and collapse a greenhouse of any size, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
In cold climates where snowfall is expected, you can anticipate and prevent snow load as early as during the greenhouse design and building process. Gothic arches help prevent snow load on poly greenhouses, while gutter systems on glass and panel structures are recommended to divert snow away from vulnerable points, too.
Inside greenhouses, you can take the extra step of installing additional or stronger trussing to enhance structural integrity. For smaller structures, manual snow removal is also a good approach and can help reduce the risk of collapse or damage.
Equipment malfunction due to cold
Though equipment like heaters has already been mentioned above, any type of equipment can run into problems in cold climates. The more extreme the cold weather climate (and likely to dip into subzero temperatures), the more malfunctions and hiccups you might run into.
Heaters are the most obvious to consider. But there’s also humidity controls, air circulation, ventilation, and lighting that can run into issues owing to cold temperatures interfering with their functionality. Things like vents and doors can create a lot of problems if they become susceptible to freezing shut, too.
To prevent this, do some maintenance checks before the coldest times of the year arrive. If you can, go with greenhouse equipment brands and models that are designed to withstand cold climates and colder temperatures better, whenever possible. Some heater models, for example, won’t heat or perform well at all if temperatures drop to a certain level.
Greenhouse foundation problems
Seasoned greenhouse growers will be quick to tell you: you need to approach the foundation of your greenhouse quite differently in cold climates compared to warmer ones!
In fact, the foundation of your greenhouse should be laid well below the frostline, typically 4 feet below grade. Otherwise, the expanding and contracting of the ground with each freeze and thaw throughout the year can shift and weaken an entire foundation— and if the foundation is weakened, then the whole greenhouse itself is at risk of damage or collapse.
Though its hard to fix a foundation like this after its already established, reinforcing the foundation with rebar, poles, or other structural supports placed deep within the ground is possible. But if you’re in the planning or construction stage, definitely don’t build your foundation too shallow to begin with.
Compared to greenhouse growers in warmer climates, cold climate greenhouse growers deal with a different set of obstacles. These can potentially threaten their livelihood, the life of their crops, and the structural integrity of their greenhouses.
Fortunately, each is preventable if you know what to look out for. For cold climate mishaps that can’t be foreseen or prevented however, growers can always turn to greenhouse insurance. Policies like these will cover unique threats, challenges, and risks to your operation or hobby that other policies and coverage may overlook, giving you the ultimate protection for growing in a cold climate.