Building and Heating a Virtual Greenhouse
Comis June 7, 2007
Growers can now build and heat a "virtual" greenhouseor upgrade
existing greenhouseson a computer, to find out how much it would cost to
heat with different fuels, heating schedules, heaters, building designs and
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist
Frantz and research leader
Krause have published this "Virtual Grower" software on the World Wide Web
They are part of the ARS
Production Research Group at Toledo, Ohio.
Soon Frantz, Locke and Krause will add a plant component to the
computer program so growers can see the effects of their heating choices and
schedules not only on costs, but also on their plants. They'll gradually expand
the software to include all other aspects of greenhouse management, including
applications of nutrients, water, growth regulators and pesticides. Ultimately,
it will also help growers manage labor, optimize plant productivity and set
sale prices. There are many individual programs like this, but none that
considers all of these factors interacting together, as this one eventually
To estimate energy requirements and costs using Virtual Grower, users
input the dimensions of their greenhouse and its construction materials, such
as poured-concrete floor, glass sides and roof, or concrete-block walls. They
also choose design features, such as roof shape and orientation to the sun. A
historical database gives a year's worth of typical weather for the city
nearest to the greenhouse locationincluding factors such as temperature,
sunlight and cloud coverfor each hour of the day.
Growers choose a heating schedule and set the temperatures they want
to maintain during day and night, or for each hour. The program then calculates
per-square-foot heating costs by the month or year.
Since Virtual Grower is a work in progress, growers are invited to
e-mail questions or suggestions to help Frantz, Locke and Krause fine-tune this
tool for managing greenhouses for greater productivity at lower costs.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.