Finish Hanging Baskets In High Tunnels

Petunia Flirtini hanging baskets show the growth in a high tunnel basket (left) and greenhouse (right).

Minimally heated greenhouse structures have long been used by the floriculture industry to finish crops. Although finishing hanging baskets in a high tunnel may be profitable due to lower input and capital costs, the high tunnel may be riskier since temperature is not directly controlled, resulting in a more variable market date. Cooler temperatures can affect the finish date. This case study compares plant quality and economics of finishing in a greenhouse versus a high tunnel.

Plant Mixes Are Tested In Heat And High Tunnels

An experiment was undertaken in central New York in 2011 to compare hanging baskets finished in a heated greenhouse with those finished in an unheated high tunnel. The study would note finish date, plant size, flower number and the overall profitability of the crops.

Heated Greenhouses Result in Earlier Finshes

At Cornell, the high tunnel baskets had about the same number of flowers as the greenhouse baskets by May 27. The greenhouse baskets, however, were much larger in terms of their branch spread. Plants in the Cotton Candy baskets, for example, measured 25 inches from the center when greenhouse finished; high tunnel baskets measured only 14 inches from the center. The larger size of greenhouse baskets may be more appealing to the consumer, but the compact nature of the high tunnel baskets could make shipping and handling easier.

At the commercial operation, the basketswere sold at wholesale auction or on-farm when they were determined to have reached marketable maturity.

Heating Doesn’t Destroy Margins

Baskets grown in the heated greenhouse reached marketable maturity about two weeks earlier than their unheated high tunnel counterparts. Greenhouse-grown baskets also received higher prices across all varietal mixtures. The greenhouse baskets brought in an average $9.36, while high tunnel baskets averaged $6.56. Input costs were estimated at $4.59 per basket. In this project, baskets grown in a heated greenhouse gave a gross return of $2.80 more per basket than those grown in a high tunnel, likely due to the earliness to market, as well as a larger plant with more open flowers.

Heating a greenhouse from April 8 to May 14, as we did in this trial, adds to the production costs. Heating costs were calculated assuming a price of $2per gallon of propane (the most common local fuel) and a use of 200 gallons of propane to heat the 2,880-square foot structure from April 8 to May 15. Hanging baskets were assigned 15 percent of the $400 fuel cost, as they represented 15 percent of the total revenue from the heated structure.
To further refine the net return calculations, the greenhouse structure should also be assigned additional amortizable input costs above and beyond the high tunnel structure, namely a heater with a capacity of 200,000 to 250,000 BTUs per hour, an additional layer of polyethylene glazing and a fan to inflate the plastic layers.

High Tunnels Are Low Energy But Less Appealing

Even after calculating fuel inputs, greenhouse-grown flowers in this trial outperformed high tunnel flowers economically. It is important to remember that the data used here is based on one farm during one season, and the vagaries of wholesale prices could dramatically change the above results. High tunnel baskets remain a viable option for Northeast growers who are not risk-averse and seek to minimize inputs.

How This Study Was Conducted

The experiment took place at two locations: Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and at a commercial operation in central New York. Both were in USDA Zone 5b.

Choosing Flowers
Pelleted seeds containing both single- and multi-species varietal mixtures were selected for the experiment due to their ease and uniformity of planting. The plants were raised using nearly the same methods and scheduling between the two locations and were seeded on February 15, 2012, in a commercial potting mix. These plant mixes included pellets of:
• Flirtini (Petunia ‘Debonair Lime Green’ and Petunia ‘Carpet Rose’)

• Silk N’ Satin (Petunia ‘Shock Wave Pink Shades’ and Bacopa ‘Snowtopia White Improved’)

• Cotton Candy (Petunia ‘Shock Wave Pink Vein’ purple and Bacopa ‘Blutopia Blue’)

• Ol’ Blue Eyes (Lobelia ‘Riviera Blue Eyes’ and Lobelia ‘Mrs. Clibran’)

The seedlings were moved into 50-cell transplant flats at the two-leaf true stage on March 5, 2012. On March 28, four plugs per pelleted varietal mix were transplanted into 12-inch hanging baskets. There were 40 baskets per varietal mix. These were hung on the hoop cross pieces of a 20-foot by 74-foot heated greenhouse at a density of 16 square feet per basket.

Temperature, Watering And Fertilization
At Cornell University, the greenhouse temperature set point for heating was 65°F for both day and night. Plants were watered by hand with a complete water soluble fertilizer (21-5-20) at 150 parts per million (ppm) nitrogen.

At the commercial operation, the greenhouse temperature and ventilation were managed with a goal daytime temperature of 80°F and nighttime of 58.5°F. Irrigation was accomplished with a single drip emitter in each basket; plants were watered as needed. Plants were fertilized with irrigation water with 20-20-20 plus micronutrients at 150-200 ppm nitrogen, plus sulfuric acid sufficient to achieve irrigation water pH of 6.5.

Twenty baskets per varietal mixture with the same density and fertilization were moved to an unheated high tunnel on April 8. The other 20 baskets were kept in the heated greenhouse. The baskets at Cornell were grown until May 27, when they were measured to determine plant size (weight), spread of the branches from the center of the container and number of open flowers. During the experimental period, temperature averaged 66°F in the greenhouse and 59°F in the high tunnel.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Finish Hanging Baskets In High Tunnels

  1. i live in central ma.in the same zone how does a high tunnel reach 59 degrees in april?ihave temps below freezing. i would love to grow with no heat .how do you do it?

Latest Stories
North Creek Nurseries Feature Image

August 29, 2016

North Creek Nurseries Unites Horticulture With Sustaina…

The team at North Creek Nurseries, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year, leads the way in implementing ecologically responsible practices that will sustain the future of growing.

Read More

August 28, 2016

BioWorks IPM/Sustainable Practices Scholarship Goes To …

Schaller, a senior at the University of Arizona in the Plant Sciences Department, is interested in ornamental and floriculture crop breeding and crop physiology.

Read More
Next Generation

August 27, 2016

Australia Launches Initiative To Ignite A New Generatio…

Hort Innovation Chief Executive John Lloyd says the goal is to identify and build future industry leaders at all stages of their career through investment in a host of new initiatives.

Read More
Penn State University Trial Day

August 26, 2016

How Greenhouse Growers Can Broaden Their Horizons

Allan Armitage says you can learn new ideas to help your business when you get out to visit plant trials and other growers.

Read More
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

August 25, 2016

7 Ways Albert Grimm Strives To Be An Effective Leader

Grimm, Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, tries to live by the "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” from author Stephen R. Covey.

Read More
Tidal Creek Growers

August 25, 2016

Maryland-Based SunMed Growers Nabs Cannabis License

The company was one of 15 licensees selected by the commission out of a pool of 145 grower applicants to receive one of the license pre-approvals.

Read More
GrowSpan Light Deprivation Greenhouse

August 25, 2016

New Light Deprivation Greenhouses Help With Light Manag…

The GrowSpan light deprivation greenhouse from Growers Supply is outfitted with a blackout system that provides growers with control over the light cycle.

Read More
Albert Grimm GOY feature

August 25, 2016

Up Close And Personal With Head Grower Of The Year Albe…

According to Grimm, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Head Grower Of The Year, the key to being a successful grower is educating and inspiring yourself, your staff, your customers, and the next generation of growers.

Read More
To offer consumers an attractive crop, Local Appetite uses high tunnels to grow cherry tomatoes

August 24, 2016

New Food Safety Compliance Resource Available For Green…

The FSMA Wizard from Registrar Corp makes it easy for food producers, including greenhouse vegetable growers, to determine their possible requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Read More
Cannabis Structure

August 23, 2016

5 Factors To Consider In Your Cannabis Structure

Along with the size and specs of your greenhouse, it's also important to focus on ventilation, light deprivation, benching, irrigation, and odor control.

Read More
Penn State Plant Bud

August 23, 2016

AmericanHort Is Helping Plant Importers Adjust To New R…

A report from Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort says the government is implementing a streamlined system for imports, in which all required data will be submitted electronically through a single window.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Kick Spring Sales Up A Notch With 18 New Plant Introduc…

It’s time to look forward to the spring season and what plants will get your business off to the right start. These 18 new cultivars have all the traits of good breeding — uniform habits, bold colors, showy blooms, good vigor, and excellent branching.

Read More
Bees And Pesticides

August 23, 2016

Studies Offer Conflicting Views On Neonic Effect On Bee…

How much exposure to neonicotinoids do bees need before their health becomes affected? That’s the question two research teams look to answer.

Read More

August 23, 2016

Gardens Alive! Parent Company Buys Zelenka Farms

  Zelenka Farms, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, says LM Farms, which owns Gardens Alive!, has purchased the company and all of its assets. BFN Operations LLC and its affiliated entities, d/b/a Zelenka Farms, operated one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the U.S. Its products include shrubs, trees, perennials, roses, and groundcovers. The owners of Gardens Alive! have successfully purchased several other companies from bankruptcy and are experienced nursery managers. Niles Kinerk, Chairman of LM Farms, stated that “the opportunity to purchase Zelenka Farms assets and to continue the turnaround that is well underway is exactly the kind of opportunity that we look for. We understand the efforts of the management team led by Eric Ek and others have been successful, and we will support the management team in the coming months and years.” Zelenka Farms operates its six facilities across the key growing regions in the […]

Read More
Chrysanthemum Aphid

August 22, 2016

How To ID And Manage Black Aphids In Chrysanthemums

Growers in Michigan have recently been reporting a higher presence of this pest. Here are some tips on how to control it.

Read More
LuxFlora - feature

August 22, 2016

Check Out Luxflora’s International Adventures In Europe

A new, women-led professional organization provides its members the opportunity to gain insight, develop ideas, and build connections on its annual international trip.

Read More
Cannabis Crop Protection

August 22, 2016

Cannabis Group Stays Focused On Consistent Standards Fo…

The Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS), is an independent, third-party, not-for-profit organization, is in the process of developing cannabis-specific standards for everything from cultivation and extraction to packaging and retail.

Read More

August 22, 2016

Syngenta

Growers have new broad-spectrum fungicide options with new Segovis and Mural, as well as a new systemic insecticide with Mainspring GNL.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]