Using the fall to spring back into business

Added November 17, 2020

Making the most of off-season maintenance helps prime your business for peak growing season

For most U.S. growers, the fall season is when business itself begins to chill. But experienced greenhouse growers know that downtime is an important part of growth. Rather than using this time for rest and relaxation, the most successful businesses conduct careful maintenance and planning to protect their facilities in the winter—and prime them for the spring growing season ahead.

As Greenhouse Grower explains, properly preparing your greenhouse for fall and winter is one of the most inexpensive and easy ways to maximize profits. As part of Hortica's commitment to helping horticulturists' businesses thrive, we've compiled the following list of tips and recommendations for how best to use the off season to sow the seeds of a successful spring.

Maintain your structure

As the foundation of your operation, your greenhouses should be spruced up regularly—and there's no better time than fall and winter to do so. Start by checking out the structural integrity of your greenhouse, including its framework, walkways, and panels. Carefully inspect components for signs of damage, including:

  • Rust and corrosion

  • Broken or slipped glass paneling

  • Deflated polyethylene

  • Loose, damaged, or missing fasteners.

If you do find signs of damage or corrosion, make sure to identify their underlying cause. Ultraviolet light, water, stress from movement, and pressure from elements like snow and wind can cause different components of your greenhouse to break down. In addition to addressing any problems you identify, make sure to maintain accurate records of any service or maintenance you have performed. Doing so will help you keep an eye on critical components and avoid headaches in the busy season.

Pare down pests

As some pests and diseases are more likely to overwinter in a greenhouse, your fall or winter greenhouse inspection should include a thorough cleaning to get your next growing season off to a fresh and healthy start. Cleaning can and should include:

  • Removing old crops and those that have developed signs of disease

  • Thoroughly disinfecting irrigation and holding tanks (which can develop algae or harbor pests)

  • Properly sanitizing structures, equipment, and surfaces to avoid propagating disease

Warm up for winter

When fall and winter come, your greenhouse's heating system becomes an important part of your business, keeping employees, customers, plants, and stock warm during the cold months. Whether you rely on wood burners, fuel or electric heaters, or boilers, it's important to have all heating devices inspected annually by a licensed HVAC company or other qualified individual to ensure all heaters and exhaust pipes are clean and in safe operating condition. As one of the most common heating devices within greenhouses and shops, boiler inspection costs (and, in some cases, the associated state fees) may be covered under our commercial property insurance plan.

Stay aware of your surroundings when preparing heaters for the winter. Look for any signs—or smells—of fuel or gas leaks, and ensure proper clearances around heating equipment, keeping flammable liquids and combustible materials at least three feet away. Also make sure to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are present—and properly functioning—wherever necessary.

Once you've assessed the safety and operational readiness of your heating systems, conduct a test run to ensure they heat your greenhouse as expected. This can help you avoid getting left in the cold if snow arrives earlier than anticipated. And remember, it takes time to thoroughly heat a facility. Following National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association guidance, we recommend heating your greenhouse to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit 48 hours before a snow event to avoid freeze and snow damage. Also make sure to retract any energy curtains before you crank up the heat.

Find new ways to grow

Whether you're looking to meet growing demands, changing protocols for employee and customer safety, or adding sanitation or other new safeguards, now is the time to get a head start. A shift in operations—such as taking steps to add curb appeal or delivery services—can be a big boon to spring business.

Growing a business takes time and patience, but making the most of off-season maintenance will help get you off to a healthy start every year. As always, if you have any questions about how to protect your employees, inventory, and buildings, Hortica loss control safety representatives are here to provide answers.

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