How to prevent fires at your greenhouse

A farmer explains how he grows tomatoes in a greenhouse. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The greenhouse should also have an entry porch and insect net to keep pests away and also have proper ventilation.

Fires have been burning their way through the news cycle. This disaster invades schools, homes, market places which is not exceptional for farms.
On the farm, your greenhouse could be at the highest risk of wildfires damage which poses immense risk to your crops, the health of employees and the surrounding.
Given that you cannot keep your farm fire-free, it is actually possible to prepare for a fire outbreak.
Here are some tips that can help greenhouse growers reduce overall risks of fires.
Fire resistant build-up

While building your greenhouse, Arthur Ruhyama, the managing director at Fire Extinguisher Services, guides farmers to plan right ahead from the very beginning.
He says: “It is crucial to be keen on which materials you intend to use to construct the netting, making sure that they are fire-resistant from the start. Greenhouses should not be compromised with wood or plastic constructions which are clearly more vulnerable to fire damage.”
“Materials such as steel and glass are definitely more structurally resilient to wildfires and totally reparable in extreme occasions that the structure is vandalised,” says Ruhyama.

However, the fire expert recommends professional guidance that ensures taking precaution in the greenhouse build up.
“You may need to look out for any electrical hook-ups and greenhouse setups that are completely fire-resistant,” he says.
While you intentionally install inner materials and layouts in your greenhouse, it is important to be vigilant on which materials can prevent fire damage.

According to Timothy Njakasi, a greenhouse grower, the exterior matters as much as the interior does.
He tips: “The greenhouse should be built in a clear place that is free from weeds which are cleared to at least five feet.”
To keep weeds away completely, the farmer suggests a stand-alone housing of approximately 100 metres from the surroundings.
Fire-resistant upgrade
Just in case you were not in time to plan ahead for your greenhouse construction, it is not too late to invest in electrical hook-ups or material upgrades.
“For a structure built on wood or plastic, you can upgrade to flame retardant plastics or portable fire extinguishers inside your crop housing,” says Njakasi.

Regardless of how costly this upgrade may be, it will eventually save you regrets and loss of your crops and business. Ruhyama tips on a few guidelines in upgrading a greenhouse interior. 
“Set up a smart design indoors that can predict any fire conditions and allow for highly flammable materials, oxygen and air flow,” he says.
The fire expert also discourages extra ventilation as much as your crops may need it during the periods that you do not need it since winds are conducive in accelerating a fire.
He cautions: “If you can, upgrade or establish ventilation settings that allow minimal air intake from outside to inside, so your crops don’t become spoiled or unhealthy.”

Fire breaks
These can be as simple as consistently mowing paths and patches around your structures, to fire-resistant vegetation, moats, and even just bare open soil.
Evacuating a place that is poorly planned for a greenhouse beyond repairs or upgrades should not be an option.
However, Ruhyama advises greenhouse growers to intentionally and consistently clean up the surroundings of their structure in case of any combustible materials as well as avoiding burying anything around it.

“Land between you adjacent to your neighbour should be cleared so that if they start a fire in their grazing land it does not cross to your farm.”
A gap in the vegetation he explains, “Acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of wild fire or Bush fire. A fire break may occur naturally where there is a river, a canyon, or lack of any combustible material.”
The weather man
While going about your greenhouse growing, it is a simple practice to regularly keep your eyes on news or weather conditions to understand the weather patterns that can affect your structure.
Njakasi believes the weather man is not only essential for plant growth but also for fire sensitivity on farm houses.
He shares: “Farmers have a habit of burning pastures in the dry season in order to reserve some fresh pastures in the rainy seasons which can ignite a fire to the surroundings.”

He additionally cautions farmers to avoid such practices during heavy winds that can escalate a fire to the surroundings.
“ Heavy rains too if early predicted can avail one time to upgrade their structure away from a fall flat and plan accordingly to look out for any electrical hook-ups that can cause a disaster,” he adds.

The farmer suggests organic farming for greenhouse growers in which they can embrace green manuring unlike burning the weeds around their farms. He explains: “For instance you can make a compost from the dry materials from beans and maize and merge them with ingredients such as cow dung, small sticks of maize strokes.”
These he concludes improves aeration from underneath and allow bacteria to act on ingredients through rotting of the sticks that turn into compost.


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