“There has been an increase in greenhouse projects in the last few years due to efforts to tackle food and water security. Greenhouses are a large part of the solution to these global problems,” says Neta Isralls, engineering manager at Vegtech Netafim South Africa.
The company undertakes around 30 greenhouse projects in Southern Africa per year.
In KwaZulu-Natal, Vegtech constructed a 4,500m2 hydroponic greenhouse for strawberries where a sugarcane field used to be. In the Mt Elias greenhouse there are 65,120 plants at a spacing of 17 plants per square metre.
The greenhouse now produces around 5 tons of strawberries per month for local retailers.
A strawberry greenhouse in KwaZulu-Natal, where sugarcane and vegetables used to be grown (photos supplied by Vegtech Netafim South Africa)
The greenhouse is kept at 22°C to 28°C and at 60-70% relative humidity. The plants are replaced once a year and production is about 7 to 8 months, depending on the climate. Strawberry ripening is more controlled under greenhouse conditions than in open land, with fewer peaks and troughs, but the ripening period is not necessarily quicker inside a greenhouse, he notes.
Moreover, greenhouse strawberries are seldom sprayed as opposed to outdoor crops, he points out, and this makes them more attractive to consumers.
“The challenge was to move and convert a greenhouse that was used for vegetable production to a strawberry greenhouse in a very short period of time,” he says. “The strawberries need to be planted by a certain time of the year and the client wanted to get the last vegetables picked before we moved the greenhouse and upgraded it for strawberries.”
The Mt Elias greenhouse from the air, showing the sugarcane fields for which KwaZulu-Natal is known
Watch a video of the project below: