Joanna Marie, Negosentro | Farming is coming back as a hobby and small business venture. Greenhouses stand out as a good way to cash in since you can produce far more produce or flowers throughout the year and typically do so in relatively little space. Or, you could produce plants that otherwise have to be transported long distances, tapping into the local sourcing movement. Here are a few tips on how to start your very own greenhouse business.
Decide What You’re Going to Grow
The plants you decide to grow will determine everything else about the operation. They will determine everything from what seeds you need to buy to environmental controls and supporting equipment. Don’t just pick crops that are in high demand. Look for crops that require minimal care and ideally require as little space as possible if you’re just starting.
Running a greenhouse is simpler if you have one exclusive crop. If you want to expand later, you can either get a bigger greenhouse or a second one and start producing more of the same crop or other species that are in demand. Having too many types of crops can be a logistical nightmare with all the different watering, fertilizing, spraying and shade requirements, so keep things simple.
Run the Numbers
You’ll need to learn how much you can receive for grade A products and secondary markets. Knowing the price that you’ll earn for the plants gives you a starting point for your operating budget.
Multiply the yield per square foot by the price you’d receive by the number of square feet you’ll be growing the crop in. This gives you the maximum gross income from which you’ll have to pay bills out of. However, since you’re just starting out, take another 20% off that theoretical value at a minimum. You’re not going to achieve those ideal figures for your first crop.
Generate some rough estimates on operating expenses like rent for the land or the greenhouses themselves, the water bill, the electric bill, and labor costs. If the budget looks too tight, start looking for ways to reduce your costs.
Maybe you need to buy used equipment. You may want to choose a less labor-intensive crop or one that doesn’t require as much water and heat. It is certainly cheaper and easier to change plans now than try to re-tool an existing greenhouse after failing to sell your first crop.
Design Your Greenhouse
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to grow and understand the conditions needed to raise it, you can design your greenhouse. You may need to bring in help, not only to lay out beds but also to determine where pumps, irrigation pipes, grow lights and power lines need to be.
And always remember to plan for access as well. This means having enough space to be able to walk between the rows and around pumps and generators in case something goes wrong. You or the experts you hire will need to take the rules regarding drainage, wastewater collection, power connections and water connections into account.
Look up information on commercial California greenhouses and their manufacturers to find out the rates world-class greenhouse builders charge for designs like yours. They may be able to advise you regarding the permits required to install the greenhouse, as well, or you may need to seek professional advice.
Buy Your Supplies
Now that you have a greenhouse, you need to buy your supplies. They may be seeds, seedlings or plugs. You may be buying soil or liquid fertilizer for a hydroponics system. You should already have generated the shopping list as part of your business plan, but you may have waited until after you had the infrastructure in place to go shopping. Buying items too soon mean you run the risk of having a stack of boxes in the shed when you’re told the local zoning board won’t let you put the greenhouse there.
While you’ve already done a feasibility study, now is the time to be working hard building the contacts to sell your product. If you’re selling produce, try to get a kiosk at a local farmer’s market on board. Create recipe cards that include your crop and contain your contact information; hand them out at farmer’s markets and send them to local residences. The more visibility you get, the more chances you’ll have repeat clients, as long as your product is top quality.
Raising crops in a greenhouse may allow you to start generating some good income with reasonable capital. It’s also a great way to monetize your horticultural skills and offer a product you love.