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Greenhouse Technology

and Management, 2nd Edition
To Elena, Nicolás and Carmen for their support.

Doubting is the principle of sapience.


Nothing would ever be discovered if we were satisfied with the discovered things.
Greenhouse Technology and
Management, 2nd Edition

Nicolás Castilla, PhD

Research Coordinator, Department of Horticulture

IFAPA (Institute for Agricultural Research and Training), Granada, Spain

Based on the second edition of the book

Invernaderos de Plástico: Tecnología y Manejo
by Nicolás Castilla, PhD
Published by Ediciones Mundi-Prensa, Madrid (Spain) and Mexico

Translated by

Esteban J. Baeza, PhD

Agricultural Engineer
IFAPA, Spain

Reviewed by

A.P. Papadopoulos, PhD

Senior Research Scientist, Greenhouse Crops

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Harrow, Ontario, Canada
Adjunct Professor (Laval and Guelph Universities, Canada)
CABI is a trading name of CAB International
Nosworthy Way 38 Chauncey Street
Wallingford Suite 1002
Oxfordshire OX10 8DE Boston, MA 02111
Tel: +44 (0)1491 832111 Tel: +1 800 552 3083 (toll free)
Fax: +44 (0)1491 833508 Tel: +1 (0)617 395 4051
E-mail: E-mail:
© Nicolás Castilla 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronically,
mechanically, by photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the copyright owners.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library,
London, UK.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Castilla, Nicolás.
  [Invernaderos de plástico. English]
  Greenhouse technology and management by / Nicolás Castilla; ­translated
by Esteban J. Baeza; reviewed by A.P. Papadopoulos.
   p. cm.
  Translation of the second ed.: Invernaderos de plástico: tecnología y manejo.
  Includes bibliographical references and index.
  ISBN 978-1-78064-103-4 (alk. paper)
1. Greenhouses. 2. Plastics in agriculture. I. Title.
  SB415C37813 2012

ISBN: 978 1 78064 103 4

Commissioning editor: Sarah Hulbert

Editorial assistant: Alexandra Lainsbury
Production editor: Tracy Head

Typeset by SPi, Pondicherry, India.

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY.

Foreword xv
Preface to the First Edition (Spanish) xvii
Preface to the Second Edition (Spanish) xix
Acknowledgements xxi

1  Protected Cultivation 1
1.1  Introduction 1
1.2  Types of Protection 1
1.3  Objectives of Protected Cultivation 3
1.4  History 6
1.5  Importance 7
1.6  Plastic Materials 9
1.7  Summary 10

2  The External Climate 11
2.1  Introduction 11
2.2  The Earth and the Sun 11
2.2.1  Introduction 11
2.2.2  The seasons 11
2.3  Day Length 12
2.4  Solar Radiation 14
2.4.1  Introduction 14
2.4.2  Quality of solar radiation 16
2.4.3  Quantity of solar radiation 19
2.4.4  Measurement of solar radiation 21
2.5  The Earth’s Radiation 22
2.6  Net Radiation 23
2.7  Temperature 23
2.7.1  Air temperature 23
2.7.2  Soil temperature 23
2.7.3  The relationship between solar radiation and air temperature 24
2.8  Wind 24
2.9  Composition of the Atmosphere 24
2.9.1  Water vapour content 24
2.9.2  CO2 content 27
2.9.3  Atmospheric pollution 27

vi Contents

2.10  Rainfall 27
2.11  Altitude and Topography 27
2.12  Summary 28

3  The Greenhouse Climate 30

3.1  Introduction 30
3.2  The Greenhouse Effect 30
3.3  Solar Radiation in Greenhouses 32
3.3.1  Introduction 32
3.3.2  Transmissivity to radiation 32
3.3.3  Orientation and transmissivity 34
3.3.4  Optimization of the transmissivity 35
3.4  Temperature 37
3.4.1  Air temperature 37
3.4.2  Plant temperature 37
3.4.3  Soil temperature 38
3.4.4  Thermal inertia in the greenhouse 38
3.5  The Wind Inside the Greenhouse 39
3.6  The Greenhouse Atmosphere 39
3.6.1  Greenhouse ventilation 39
3.6.2  Air humidity 39
3.6.3  CO2 content 40
3.6.4  Pollutant gases 40
3.7  Summary 41

4  The Plastic Greenhouse 43

4.1  Introduction 43
4.2  Evolution of the Greenhouse Concept 43
4.3  Geographical Production Areas 44
4.4  Climatic Suitability for Greenhouse Vegetable Production 46
4.4.1  Introduction 46
4.4.2  Climate requirements of vegetables 47
4.4.3  Obtaining the required climate conditions 47
4.4.4  Climate suitability 48
4.5  The Plastics 50
4.5.1  Introduction 50
4.5.2  Plastic materials commonly used in agriculture 51
4.5.3  Plastic additives 51
4.5.4  Properties of plastic films 52
4.5.5  Plastic films most commonly used in greenhouses 56
4.5.6  Rigid plastic materials 60
4.6  Greenhouse Construction 61
4.6.1  Introduction 61
4.6.2  Greenhouse types 62
4.6.3  Structure materials 63
4.6.4  Covering materials 65
4.6.5  Greenhouse screens 68
4.7  The Selection of the Greenhouse: Options 70
4.8  Greenhouse Site Selection 72
4.9  Criteria for the Design and Construction of Greenhouses 73
4.9.1  Introduction 73
4.9.2  Criteria for the design of plastic-film greenhouses 73
Contents vii

4.9.3  Design criteria in areas with a Mediterranean climate 74

4.9.4  Design criteria in humid tropical climates 75
4.9.5  Greenhouses for other climate conditions 75
4.10  Maximizing the Radiation Inside the Greenhouse 76
4.10.1  Introduction 76
4.10.2  Factors determining the available solar radiation 76
4.10.3  Solar radiation inside the greenhouse 77
4.10.4  Greenhouse orientation 77
4.11  Normalization of Greenhouse Structures 79
4.12  Summary 82

5  Greenhouse Heat Exchanges 84

5.1  Heat Transfer 84
5.1.1  Conduction 84
5.1.2  Convection 84
5.1.3  Radiation 86
5.2  Heat Exchanges by Air Renewal in the Greenhouse 88
5.3  Heat Exchanges in the Greenhouse and Energy Balance 88
5.4  Simplified Greenhouse Energy Balances 89
5.5  Summary 89

6  Crop Physiology: Photosynthesis, Growth, Development and Productivity 91

6.1  Introduction 91
6.2  Physiological Functions and Growth 92
6.3  Photosynthesis 93
6.3.1  Introduction 93
6.3.2  The stomata 94
6.3.3  Internal factors affecting photosynthesis 95
6.3.4  External factors influencing photosynthesis 96
6.4  Photomorphogenesis 100
6.4.1  Introduction 100
6.4.2  Vegetable pigments 100
6.4.3  Periodic rhythms in plants 101
6.4.4  Photoperiodism 101
6.5  Respiration 102
6.6  Distribution of Assimilates and Sink–Source Relations 102
6.6.1  Introduction 102
6.6.2  Distribution of assimilates between organs 102
6.6.3  Management of the assimilate distribution 103
6.7  Growth 104
6.7.1  Introduction 104
6.7.2  Influence of the microclimate on growth 104
6.7.3  Growth analysis 105
6.8  Development 106
6.8.1  Introduction 106
6.8.2  Development stages in greenhouse crops 106
6.9  Bioproductivity 107
6.9.1  Bioproductivity and harvest index (HI) 107
6.9.2  Interception of radiation by the crop 108
6.9.3  Efficiency in the use of solar radiation 109
6.9.4  Strategies to maximize the use of radiation 110
viii Contents

6.10  Production Quality 111

6.10.1  Introduction 111
6.10.2  Effects of climate factors on quality 111
6.10.3  Other factors affecting quality 112
6.11  Summary 113

7  F
 acilities and Active and Passive Climate Control Equipment:
Low Temperature Management – Heating 115
7.1  Introduction 115
7.2  Reduction of Heat Losses 115
7.2.1  Reduction of the exchange surfaces 115
7.2.2  Reduction of heat losses per unit surface 115
7.2.3  Total heat losses 116
7.3  Insulation Devices 117
7.3.1  Inflated double cover 117
7.3.2  Mobile thermal screens 118
7.3.3  External double sidewalls 119
7.3.4  Windbreaks 120
7.3.5  Other insulation devices 120
7.4  Heating 121
7.4.1  Convective heating 121
7.4.2  Radiative-convective heating 123
7.4.3  Soil or substrate heating 127
7.4.4  Heat production 128
7.4.5  Sizing of the heating systems 130
7.4.6  Heating and temperature management 130
7.5  Summary 133

8  Management of High Temperatures: Cooling 134

8.1  Introduction 134
8.2  Function of Ventilation 134
8.3  How Airtight is the Greenhouse? 136
8.4  Natural Ventilation 136
8.4.1  The thermal effect 136
8.4.2  The wind effect 137
8.4.3  Characteristics of the openings 140
8.4.4  The crop and air movements 142
8.4.5  Measuring the ventilation of greenhouses 142
8.4.6  Anti-insect screens 143
8.4.7  Screenhouses 144
8.5  Mechanical or Forced Ventilation 144
8.6  Cooling by Water Evaporation 145
8.6.1  Pad and fan 145
8.6.2  Fogging and misting 146
8.6.3  Cooling by evapotranspiration 148
8.7  Shading 148
8.8  Other Cooling Methods 150
8.9  Ventilation and Climate Management 150
8.9.1  Temperature management 150
8.9.2  Humidity management 151
Contents ix

8.10  Dehumidification 151

8.10.1  Associated heating 151
8.10.2  Dehumidification systems 151
8.11  Summary 152

  9 Air Movement in the Greenhouse: Carbon Dioxide

Enrichment – Light Management 154
9.1  Air Movement Inside the Greenhouse 154
9.1.1  Introduction 154
9.1.2  Air movement: objectives 154
9.1.3  Plant responses 154
9.1.4  Air movement regulation 155
9.2  Carbon Enrichment (CO2) 156
9.2.1  Introduction 156
9.2.2  Recommended CO2 concentrations 156
9.2.3  CO2 enrichment techniques 157
9.2.4  Distribution of CO2 158
9.2.5  CO2 balance 159
9.2.6  CO2 control 159
9.3  Light 160
9.3.1  Introduction 160
9.3.2  Light increase 161
9.3.3  Artificial light to increase the illumination 161
9.3.4  Partial light reduction 163
9.3.5  Control of the duration of day/night 164
9.4  Summary 166

10  The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 168

10.1  Introduction 168
10.2  Desirable Characteristics of Horticultural Soils 168
10.2.1  Physical and hydraulic characteristics 168
10.2.2  Chemical characteristics 168
10.2.3  Considerations on the management of greenhouse soils 169
10.3  Soilless Cultivation 170
10.3.1  Introduction: systems 170
10.3.2  Advantages and disadvantages of substrate-grown crops 170
10.3.3  Substrate cultivation systems 171
10.3.4  Characteristics of the substrates 171
10.3.5  Types of substrate 174
10.4  Changes in the Management of the Root Medium 177
10.5  Summary 178

11  Irrigation and Fertilization 179

11.1  The Plants and Water 179
11.2  Transpiration 179
11.3  Evapotranspiration 180
11.4  The Water in the Soil 180
11.4.1  Introduction 180
11.4.2  Characterization of the soil water stress 180
11.4.3  Measurement of the soil water content 182
11.4.4  Quality of the irrigation water 184
x Contents

11.5  The Water in the Plant 184

11.5.1  Introduction 184
11.5.2  Characterization of the water in the plant 184
11.5.3  Water stress 185
11.5.4  Effects of water stress in the plant 185
11.5.5  Saline stress 185
11.6  Greenhouse Irrigation 185
11.6.1  Introduction 185
11.6.2  Components of the drip irrigation system 185
11.6.3  Management of drip irrigation 187
11.6.4  Water and salts movements with drip irrigation 187
11.6.5  Greenhouse irrigation scheduling (soil-grown crops) 188
11.6.6  Irrigation scheduling in soilless crops 194
11.6.7  Water use efficiency 195
11.6.8  Quality of the irrigation water 196
11.7  Fertilization 196
11.7.1  Introduction 196
11.7.2  The nutrients cycle (soil cultivation) 196
11.7.3  Nutrients extractions 197
11.7.4  Tolerance to salinity 197
11.7.5  Fertigation 198
11.7.6  A practical example: a soil-grown tomato crop 198
11.7.7  Fertigation of soilless crops 199
11.8  Summary 201

12  R
 egulation and Control Systems: Computer Climate
Management – Mechanization 204
12.1  Regulation and Control Systems 204
12.1.1  Introduction 204
12.1.2  Input–output systems 204
12.1.3  Regulation methods 205
12.1.4  Application to climate management 205
12.1.5  Types of controllers 206
12.1.6  Selection of the type of automatic control 208
12.1.7  Models 208
12.2  Computer Climate Management 209
12.2.1  Controls performed by greenhouse management systems 209
12.2.2  Digital control systems 210
12.2.3  The climate control computer 210
12.2.4  Functions of climate control computers 210
12.2.5  Towards integrated control 213
12.3  Mechanization 213
12.3.1  Introduction 213
12.3.2  Mechanization of operations 214
12.3.3  Occupancy of the greenhouse 215
12.4  Summary 217

13  Plant Protection 220

13.1  Introduction 220
13.2  Chemical Control 220
13.2.1  Main aspects 220
13.2.2  Treatment equipment 221
Contents xi

13.3  Biological Control 221

13.4  Integrated Pest Management 222
13.5  Climate Control and IPM 224
13.6  Most Common Greenhouse Diseases 224
13.7  Most Common Greenhouse Pests 226
13.8  Prophylaxis 226
13.9  Other Aspects 226
13.10  Summary 226

14  Economic and Environmental Analysis 228

14.1  Economic Analysis 228
14.1.1  Introduction 228
14.1.2  Greenhouse structures and equipment 229
14.1.3  The Spanish greenhouse horticultural farm 230
14.1.4  Production costs 231
14.1.5  Other aspects of interest 234
14.2  Environmental Analysis 235
14.2.1  Introduction 235
14.2.2  Most important residues 236
14.2.3  Environmental impact assessment 237
14.3  Summary 239

15  Postharvest 240

15.1  Introduction 240
15.2  Postharvest Respiratory Metabolism 240
15.3  Ripening 241
15.4  Ethylene 242
15.5  Postharvest Handling 243
15.6  Quality 245
15.7  Food Safety: Traceability 247
15.8  Postharvest Pathologies 248
15.9  Summary 249

16  Marketing 250

16.1  Introduction 250
16.2  Postharvest Alterations: Storage 251
16.3  Standardization and Classification 252
16.4  Marketing Channels 253
16.5  Transport 255
16.6  Distribution 256
16.7  Quality 258
16.8  Quality Management 259
16.9  Future Prospects 260
16.10  Summary 260

17  Greenhouse Production Strategies 262

17.1  Introduction 262
17.2  Crop Productivity and Production Costs 263
17.3  Destination of the Produce 263
17.4  Greenhouse Production Options 263
17.5  Production Strategies and Tactics in Mediterranean Climates 263
17.5.1  General aspects 263
xii Contents

17.5.2  Biological aspects 264

17.5.3  Strategies and tactical management 264
17.5.4  Future perspectives 265
17.6  Summary 265

Appendix 1 267
A.1  Chapter 2 267
A.1.1  Calculation of the zenith angle 267
A.1.2  Calculation of global radiation as a function of insolation 267
A.1.3  Day length 267
A.1.4  Wien’s law 268
A.1.5  Wavelength and frequency 268
A.1.6  Hellman’s equation 268
A.1.7  Saturation vapour pressure 268
A.2  Chapter 3 268
A.2.1  Thermal integral 268
A.3  Chapter 4 269
A.3.1  Diffuse solar radiation inside a greenhouse 269
A.4  Chapter 5 269
A.4.1  Conduction 269
A.4.2  Convection without phase change 269
A.4.3  Evaporation and condensation 270
A.4.4  Radiation 270
A.4.5  Air renewal 270
A.4.6  Energy balance 271
A.4.7  Specific heat of a body 271
A.4.8  Latent heat of vaporization 271
A.4.9  Global heat transfer coefficient 271
A.5  Chapter 6 272
A.5.1  Interception of the radiation by the canopy: extinction coefficient 272
A.5.2  Radiation absorbed by the crop 272
A.5.3  Growth parameters 272
A.5.4  Fruit harvest and biomass indexes 273
A.5.5  Use of radiation in a typical greenhouse ecosystem 273
A.6  Chapter 8 273
A.6.1  Wind effect in natural ventilation 273
A.6.2  Thermal effect in natural ventilation 274
A.6.3  Wind loads 274
A.6.4  Air flow reduction when a screen is placed on a greenhouse vent 274
A.7  Chapter 9 274
A.7.1  CO2 units 274
A.8  Chapter 11 274
A.8.1  Crop water stress index 274
A.8.2  Irrigation water quality 275
A.8.3  Estimation of the evapotranspiration (ET0) in a greenhouse 275
A.9  Chapter 12 276
A.9.1  Transmissivity models 276

Appendix 2  Symbols and Abbreviated Forms 277

Contents xiii

Appendix 3  Units and Equivalences 283

Length 283
Area 283
Volume 283
Mass 284
Thickness of Plastic Films 284
Temperature 284
Pressure 285
Energy and Power 285
Radiation 285
Water Lamina 285
Prefixes 285
List of Tables 287
List of Figures 291
List of Photos 299
List of Plates 303
References 307
Index 327

The colour plates can be found following p. 178.

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The introduction of polyethylene (PE) films for agriculture use in the 1960s produced a
tremendous change in out-of-season production of vegetables and flowers in southern
Europe, especially in the frost-free coastal regions around the Mediterranean Sea.
PE films allowed the construction of very simple and cheap greenhouse structures well
adapted to the so-called mild-winter climate and to the incipient technology locally avail-
able. Growers’ ingenuity turned the new mild-winter greenhouses into a very efficient tool
for the production of vegetables and flowers during the winter season. This was the start of
a ‘plastic boom’, which was fuelled by produce exports and increasing home
The environmental control of mild-winter greenhouses had many specificities and
strong limitations. Dr Nicolás Castilla was one of the first scientists to realize that this new
type of structure should be optimized in order to improve crop productivity and produce
quality. With this in mind he soon initiated a successful research and development pro-
gramme at the Experimental Station ‘Las Palmerillas’, Almeria, Spain. This book incorpo-
rates the long experience of the author in mild-winter greenhouse production systems
where the most successful solutions are those that integrate greenhouse design and envi-
ronmental control with crop husbandry.
The content is focused on plastic greenhouses for vegetable growing but includes cross
references to glasshouses, high-tech environmental control methods and other cultivation
systems when these are needed to fill some gaps and to justify the basic concepts. The
major attention is on the principles and techniques of greenhouse technology and manage-
ment. However, plastic mild-winter greenhouses cannot be dissociated from local socio-
economic conditions and crop characteristics. This explains why this book is not restricted
to greenhouse design and environmental control but also deals with integrated production,
crop physiology, soilless cultivation, irrigation and fertilization, plant protection, posthar-
vest, economics, marketing and production strategies.
Due to the attention devoted to the principles and the diversity of technological solu-
tions the content of this book is also applicable to many other regions of the world where
plastic greenhouses are currently used. It is well written and profusely illustrated, and
combines theoretical, technical and practical information.

xvi Foreword

After the success of the Spanish editions the English version is expected to attract a
wider audience. It is an excellent tool for specialists on greenhouse cultivation, an original
textbook for students and an occasional resource for experienced growers.
António A. Monteiro
President of the International Society for Horticultural Science
Preface to the First Edition (Spanish)

Greenhouse cultivation has expanded during the last few decades around the world to dif-
ferent areas of ‘mild winter climate’, an expression coined by Portuguese colleagues Carlos
Portas and António Monteiro in December 1985, on the occasion of an ISHS (International
Society for Horticultural Sciences) Symposium, held in Faro (Portugal). These mild winter
climate conditions are characteristic of the Mediterranean region but are not exclusive to
the countries of the Mediterranean Basin.
This book is mainly focused on plastic greenhouses, the majority in Spain, and chiefly
oriented towards the cultivation of vegetable crops. The reader will often find references to
works carried out in the north of Europe and other areas with a tradition of growing in
sophisticated greenhouses, when it is necessary to fill some gaps in information.
The text is aimed at both qualified horticulturists and field technicians, as well as at
students and specialists in greenhouse cultivation.
It is not a general treatise on protected horticulture, enumerating and describing the
growing techniques, providing recipes on fertilization, plant protection or other similar
aspects. It deals with the current technology and the management of plastic greenhouses,
describing the principles on which they are based, with a pragmatic and quantitative
approach, when possible, and also dealing with other interesting aspects within the inte-
grated approach of protected cultivation (economic analysis, marketing, production strate-
gies). I trust that it may contribute to improving the protected cultivation agricultural
systems in plastic greenhouses of very diverse areas.
The encouragement received from José María Hernández, director of Mundi-Prensa,
during the last few years and from Joaquín Hernández during the slow writing process has
been very important.
Among the numerous people who have provided suggestions and data contributing to
enrich the text, I would like to highlight Juan Ignacio Montero, Carmen Giménez, Marisa
Gallardo, Rodney Thompson, Javier Calatrava, Enrique Espí, Tomás Cabello, Julio Gómez,
Isabel Cuadrado, Jan van der Blom and the scientists from Caja Rural of Granada (Ignacio
Escobar) and from Cajamar (Jerónimo Pérez Parra and his team: Juan Carlos López, Juan
José Magán, Esteban Baeza, Juan Carlos Gázquez and Guillermo Zaragoza). The expertise of
Laura García Quesada, with the collaboration of Teresa Soriano, allowed the figures to be
made more intelligible. The contributions of some figures from Juan Ignacio Montero,
Jerónimo Pérez Parra and Joaquín Hernández and of several photographs from Jan van der

xviii Preface to the First Edition (Spanish)

Blom have contributed to improve the comprehension of the text. A special mention must
be dedicated to Maribel Morales, for the tedious task of transcription and compendium,
and to Joaquin Hernandez, for reviewing the whole text. To all of them, I express my most
sincere gratitude.
Finally, a special reference is dedicated to Carmen, my wife, and to Nicolás and Elena,
my son and daughter, who suffered, with great understanding and support for several years,
my partial absence from family life.
The sponsorship received, co-editing this work, from Caja Rural of Granada and
Cajamar, highlights the excellent work with which both cooperative banks are contributing
to the technological development of the agricultural sector.
Nicolás Castilla
Granada (Spain), June 2004
Preface to the Second Edition (Spanish)

The favourable reception, among readers interested in greenhouses, of the first edition of
this book suggests maintaining its structure in this second edition.
Detected misprints have been corrected, some photographs have been substituted, new
pieces of text have been incorporated and some data has been updated, which may contrib-
ute to maintaining the validity and accuracy of the text.
Among the people who have provided suggestions and information for this second
edition I would like to highlight Pilar Lorenzo, Enrique Espí, Juan Ignacio Montero, Ignacio
Escobar, Mari-Cruz Sánchez-Guerrero, Juan Carlos López, Jean Claude Garnaud and Kwen
Woo Park. In addition, Carmen Cid, Tomás Cabello, Julio Gómez, Richard Vollebregt and
Jan van de Blom kindly provided some photographs. To all of them I express my
Moreover, I thank everyone who has honoured us by reading the pages of the first edi-
tion of this work and, very specially, those who favoured us with their comments in Spanish
or foreign magazines and other publications.
Nicolás Castilla
Granada (Spain), June 2007

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The author thanks very much the following people, who provided slides and photographs:
Carmen Cid (Photo 4.1), Richard Vollebrecht (Photos 4.6 and 8.3), Jan van der Bloom
(Photo 13.1, Plates 25 and 26) Tomas Cabello (Photos 13.2 and 13.3) and Julio Gomez
(Photo 13.4). All other slides come from the author’s archives.
Several figures and tables have been adapted, as indicated in each one of them, from
different sources with copyright. Specific permissions were granted from the following
publishers: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), INRA (Institut
National de la Recherche Agronomique, France), Elsevier Science BV (Pergamon Press,
Agricultural Meteorology and Elsevier), World Meteorological Organization (Switzerland),
Wageningen Pers. (The Netherlands), Technique et Documentation (France), CTIFL (Centre
Technique Interprofessionnel des Fruits et Légumes, France), Ediciones Omega (Spain),
Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science (The Netherlands), Cooperative Extension of
NRAES (Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, Ithaca, New York) and
Matias Garcia-Lozano (Spain). The author is grateful to all of them.

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Protected Cultivation

1.1  Introduction The lack of water is the most important

limitation for all agricultural activity. Losses
Protected cultivation is a specialized agri- caused by drought are about equal to those
cultural system in which a certain control of induced by all other climatic factors
the soil–climate ecosystem is exercised together, including excess of water, floods,
modifying its conditions (soil, temperature, cold, hail and wind (Boyer, 1982). Irrigation
solar radiation, wind, humidity and air is, without doubt, the most ancient method
composition). Plants are cultivated by to protect crops (from drought) and has per-
means of these techniques modifying their mitted agricultural activity in arid and
natural environment to prolong the harvest- desert regions that, without irrigation,
ing period, alter the conventional cropping would not be productive. Nowadays pro-
cycles, increase yields, improve product tected cultivation goes far beyond providing
quality, stabilize production and provide irrigation, to include several plant protec-
products when open field cultivation is lim- tion techniques, and has reached an enor-
ited (Wittwer and Castilla, 1995). mous importance during the last century.
The main goal of protected cultivation
is to obtain high value products (vegetables,
fruits, flowers, ornamentals and seedlings). 1.2  Types of Protection
The most relevant determining factor of
horticultural production activity is the cli- All vegetable species have an optimal range
mate. Among the most important limita- for each environmental parameter. Placing a
tions for horticultural production are the screen near the plant modifies the environ-
low solar radiation conditions, the unfa- mental conditions affecting the whole or
vourable temperature and humidity condi- part of the plant.
tions, unfavourable water and nutrient The position of the screen or other sim-
levels, presence of weeds, excessive wind ilar protection, in relation to the plant,
and an inadequate concentration of carbon determines the type of protection (CPA,
dioxide (CO2) in the air. The majority of the 1992). When the screen is placed over the
above-mentioned limitations are climatic soil and under the aerial parts of the plant,
factors or factors directly related to the cli- we call it mulch (Photo 1.1). Lateral screens
mate, which may be altered by means of or forms of protection are referred to as
protected cultivation. windbreaks (Photo 1.2). When the screens

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 1
2 Chapter 1

Photo 1.1.  Black polyethylene mulch in a strawberry crop.

Photo 1.2.  Semi-porous windbreak.

are located over the plants, as a cover, we ­ ithout any kind of a supporting structure
have a third type of protection: greenhouses, (Photo 1.3).
tunnels and floating covers. Low tunnels are tunnels normally up to
In the case of floating covers, also 1 m in height (Photo 1.4). High tunnels or
known as direct covers and floating mul­ macro-tunnels are high enough to allow
ch­es (‘baches’ in the French literature), the workers to walk inside them, and for the
­protection directly rests over the plants, ­cultivation of species of a similar height
Protected Cultivation 3

Photo 1.3.  Mechanized placement of a textile cover.

Photo 1.4.  Low tunnels.

(Photo 1.5). Greenhouses differ from the other 1.3  Objectives of Protected
forms of protection in being more solid and Cultivation
high and wide enough for cultivation of tall
plants, even fruit trees (Photo 1.6). The dis- The general objective of protected culti-
tinction between high tunnels and green- vation is to modify the natural environ-
houses is not always well made and it is not ment, through different techniques, to
uncommon to see high tunnels and green- reach the optimal productivity of the
houses being referred to indiscriminately. crops, increase yields, improve product
4 Chapter 1

Photo 1.5.  High tunnels.

Photo 1.6.  Plastic film multi-span greenhouse.

quality, extend the harvest period and efficient use of soil, water, energy, nutri-
expand the areas of production (Wittwer ents and space, as well as climatic
and Castilla, 1995). In some regions, the resources such as solar radiation, temper-
reduction of solar radiation (shading), or ature, humidity and CO2 in the air
the protection against wind, hail or rain (Wittwer and Castilla, 1995).
are also objectives of protected cultiva- Besides protection of the crops
tion. It is also intended to make a more again­st drought by irrigation, as outlined
Protected Cultivation 5

by Wittwer and Castilla (1995), other to provide plant protection (biological

­objectives of ­protected cultivation are to: control, for instance). It is possible to
fumigate the soil and the atmosphere,
•• Reduce water use. The use of different substitute the soil or use artificial sub-
types of mulching (organic wastes, strates (e.g. growing plants in bags,
gravel, sand, plastic film, etc.) allows rockwool and other sorts of hydropon-
for a decrease in water losses by eva­ ics), as a means to fight against soil-
poration and prevents growth of weeds borne diseases, pests, nematodes and
(which compete for the available water weeds. The use of nets or screens to
in the soil). The use of greenhouses, prevent damage caused by pests is quite
tunnels and other forms of protection, efficient, as is the use of direct covers
which limit solar radiation, allow for a with textile or non-woven materials.
reduction in the water requirement of Using a mulch for solarization (soil dis-
plants and for a more efficient use of infection with solar heat) is an efficient
irrigation water. technique without environmental im­­
•• Protect crops from low temperatures. pact, but it is only feasible in regions
The use of individual forms of protec- that have high solar radiation.
tion for each plant, or plant rows or •• Extend areas of production and grow-
whole plots, by means of individual ing cycles. The use of greenhouses of
‘caps’, tunnels, direct covers or green- varying levels of sophistication, tun-
houses, are typical examples. It is worth nels and mulches have increased yields
mentioning other complementary tech- all over the world enabling horticul-
niques, with this same objective, such as tural production in new areas and
the use of wind machines (to mix the air extending availability of many prod-
layers and prevent the stratification of ucts outside their traditional periods of
cold air close to the earth surface where consumption.
plants are grown), anti-frost sprinkle •• Increase yields, improve product quality
irrigation, smoke generators or the use of and preserve resources. In addition to
burners to heat open field orchards. the increase in yields achieved with pro-
•• Decrease wind velocity. The use of tected cultivation, the use of resources
windbreaks, both hedges and specific (soil, water, solar radiation, energy and
structures made with natural (dried atmospheric CO2) is more efficient than
cane, bamboo) or artificial materials, is with conventional cultivation. Besides,
not the only technique to reduce wind with protection against the wind, rain,
velocity, because other forms of protec- hail, cold and the attack of insects and
tion may also provide a very important other pests protected cultivation also
windbreak effect (i.e. tunnels and results in a better quality harvest.
greenhouses). •• Climate control allows for maximiza-
•• Limit the impact of arid and desert cli- tion of yields and optimization of prod-
mates. In greenhouses located in arid or uct quality. In greenhouses, the
desert regions, the insulation from the management of temperature and ambi-
outside environment allows for the ent humidity, as well as atmospheric
generation of a proper microclimate for CO2 and light, allow for significant
horticultural production. This is the improvements in the yield and quality
case in many areas of the Mediterranean of horticultural products.
Basin, the Middle East and Africa, •• Stabilize the supply of high quality
Australia and America (Mexico, the products to horticultural markets.
USA). Protected cultivation avoids many of
•• Decrease damage caused by pests, dis- the risks of conventional horticulture
eases, nematodes, weeds, birds and and facilitates a regular supply to the
other predators. In an isolated environ- markets, extending the marketing cal-
ment, such as a greenhouse, it is easier endars for many species.
6 Chapter 1

In order to achieve these objectives a greenhouses appeared, initially in England,

higher investment than in conventional cul- The Netherlands, France, Japan and China
tivation is normally required, as well as a (Enoch and Enoch, 1999). They were very
higher use of inputs, which may imply a rudimentary structures made with wood or
higher environmental impact if it is not bamboo, covered with glass or oiled paper
properly managed. Modern greenhouse crop panes, or glass bells to cover hot beds
production is justifiably characterized as a (Wittwer and Castilla, 1995). Later, in the
high investment, high technology, high risk northern hemisphere the first lean-to type
business. greenhouses were built facing south, using a
brick wall on the north side. The first attempts
to use heating took place in such structures.
1.4  History During the night the plants were protected
with straw and/or reed blankets, as insulators.
The first documented attempts at protected Their use was very limited, for instance in
cultivation, as recorded by the historian botanical gardens (Photo 1.7). During the 19th
Columella, date back to the Roman Empire, century, the first gable-frame greenhouses
during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar, appeared and the cultivation of grapes, mel-
when small mobile structures were used ons, peaches and strawberries became com-
for the cultivation of cucumber plants, which mon; by the end of that century tomatoes were
were taken in to the open air if the weather introduced (a fruit vegetable that, years before,
was good or kept under cover when the was considered poisonous).
weather was inclement (Wittwer and Castilla, Soon, the use of greenhouses expanded
1995). Sheets of mica and alabaster were from Europe to America and Asia, appear-
used as enclosure materials. The philosopher ing in areas neighbouring great cities (Enoch
Seneca considered these practices unnatural and Enoch, 1999). In the 20th century, eco-
and condemned their use. These growing nomic development, especially after the
methods disappeared with the decline of Second World War, boosted the construc-
the Roman Empire (Dalrymple, 1973) until tion of glasshouses. By the middle of the
the Renaissance (from the 16th to the 17th century there were more than 5000 ha of
century) when the first precursors of glasshouses in The Netherlands, mostly

Photo 1.7.  Traditional greenhouse (Brussels Botanic Garden).

Protected Cultivation 7

devoted to tomato cultivation (Wittwer and two extreme concepts. The type of green-
Castilla, 1995). house selected mainly depends on: (i) these
However, it was the arrival of plastic two concepts (maximum or minimum cli-
films that facilitated an enormous expan- mate control); (ii) the type of species to be
sion of the greenhouse industries in Asia cultivated; (iii) the locality; and (iv) the pre-
(mainly Japan, Korea and China) and in the vailing socio-economic conditions.
countries around the Mediterranean (with The supply of fresh fruits, vegetables
Spain and Italy leading in terms of total and flowers which consumers are demand-
area). In Europe, the energy crisis and the ing, may be achieved in three ways (Enoch
introduction of plastics contributed to the and Enoch, 1999): (i) growing in green-
partial shifting of greenhouse vegetable houses which are near to centres of con-
production from northern countries (mainly sumption; (ii) storing the products after
The Netherlands) to the Mediterran­ their harvest, to sell them later; and
ean Basin, where low-cost plastic green- (iii)  transporting the products from other
houses allowed for low-cost production of climatic regions, where they are naturally
out-of-season vegetables (Castilla, 1994). produced (in open air), to the consumption
Improvements in logistics facilitated the centres.
distribution of the products in the national Nowadays, these three procedures not
and European markets, where demand was only coexist, but a hybrid method of pro-
increased by economic development. duction has become predominant in which
In parallel, a progressive change produce is grown in greenhouses in mild
occurred in the greenhouse industries of climate areas, such as the Mediterranean,
Northern Europe where the cultivation of and transported to the big European con-
cut flower and ornamental plants, increased sumption centres.
to the detriment of vegetable cultivation.
There are two basic greenhouse concepts
(Enoch, 1986). The first one (typical of 1.5  Importance
Northern Europe) aims at achieving maxi-
mum climate control to maximize product­ Windbreaks were the first type of protection
ivity, requiring the use of sophisticated used in agriculture and, although there are
greenhouses. The second concept pursues no precise statistics about their use, they are
minimum climate control using low technol- still very important all over the world.
ogy greenhouses, making production possi- The availability of plastic films has per-
ble under modified, but non-optimal, mitted the widespread use of mulch on
conditions at a low cost, and it is typical of many crops in some Mediterranean coun-
Mediterranean-type greenhouses. Obviously, tries and, especially, in East Asia (China,
there are different gradations between these Japan and Korea) (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1.  Estimated areas of protected cultivation in the world in 2010 (adapted from Castilla and
Hernández, 1995, 2005, 2007; Ito, 1999; Castilla et al., 2001, 2004; Castilla, 2002; Jouet, 2004; Espi et al.,
2006; Park, K.W., 2006, personal communication; Zhang, 2006; Schnitzler et al., 2007; Kan et al., 2012).

Geographical area (thousands of ha)

Protection Asia Mediterranean Rest of Europea America Others Total

Mulching 9,870 402 65 265 15 10,617

Direct cover 22 16 39 13 15 105
Low tunnel 1,505 133 9 20 5 1,672
Greenhouseb 1,630 201 45 25 4 1,905
Excluding Mediterranean countries.
Includes high tunnels.
8 Chapter 1

Low tunnels allow for a temporary pro- Table 1.2.  Global distribution of greenhouses
tection of crops and have also developed and low tunnels in the Mediterranean area (2006)
mainly in the Mediterranean area and in (adapted from Castilla, 2002; Jouet, 2004;
Eastern Asia (Tables 1.1 and 1.2). Castilla and Hernández, 2005; Schnitzler et al.,
Direct covers, in the absence of a struc- 2007).
ture to support them, are a simple semi-­
Greenhouses Low tunnels
protection technique that is inexpensive and
(ha) (ha)
effective. The area protected by direct cover
is relatively minor being limited to low Spain 53,843 13,055
height crops, but is increasing (Table 1.1). Italy 42,800 30,000
High tunnels, which comprise those Turkey 30,669 17,055
structures in which all crop-related work is France 11,500 15,000
done inside them, are included in the green- Morocco 11,310 3,770
house group, because in fact they are a sim- Egypt 9,437 25,000
Israel 6,650 15,000
plified variant of greenhouses.
Algeria 6,000 200
The greenhouse industry in the Medi­
Former Yugoslavia 5,040 –
terranean area (which includes all the Medi­ Greece 5,000 4,500
terranean coastal countries and Portugal) Syria 4,372 50
covered 65,000 ha in 1987 (Nisen et al., 1988), Lebanon 4,000 700
leading the world, while in 2006 it had Libia 3,000 –
exceeded 200,000 ha (Table 1.2) mainly in Portugal 2,700 100
greenhouses covered with ­plastics (Photo 1.8). Jordan 1,989 718
Plastic greenhouses in countries like Spain Tunisia 1,579 7,316
represent nearly 99% of the total greenhouse Albania 415 –
Cyprus 280 280
area (Photo 1.9), estimated at 53,843 ha in
Malta 55 102
2005 (Table 1.2), which was double the area
Total 200,639 132,846
that existed a decade earlier (Castilla, 1991).

Photo 1.8.  The Mediterranean area; the distribution of greenhouses has increased in this area during
the last few decades.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 1

Frequency (cycles per second)
1024 1022 1020 1018 1016 1014 1012 1012 108 106 104
Cosmic rays
Gamma rays
X-rays Hertz waves
Ultraviolet Infrared
Near Far
Light Television
380 400 500 600 700 760
1 Angstrom

Wavelength (nm)
1 μm

1 cm
1 nm

1 km
10–14 10–12 10–10 10–8 10–6 10–4 10–2 1 102 104
Wavelength (m)


Radiation (MJ m–2 day–1)





Bogota (Colombia) Almeria (Spain)

De Bilt (The Netherlands) Mexico City

Plate 1. The electromagnetic spectrum.

Plate 2. Evolution of the total daily solar radiation in several locations through the months of the year: Almeria
(Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Mexico and De Bilt (The Netherlands).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 2

30 30

25 25
Radiation (MJ m–2 day–1)

20 20

Temperature (°C)
15 15

10 10

5 5

0 0
Radiation Temperature


Time (h)

4–6 ms–1 2–4 ms–1 0–2 ms–1

Plate 3. Evolution of the average values of global solar radiation and outside air temperature throughout the year
Plate 4. Daily distribution of the average wind velocity in Almeria, Spain (Experimental Station of Cajamar
Foundation-Cajamar; from Pérez-Parra, 2002).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 3

Transmissivity to direct radiation (%) according

5 to the angle of incidence



Transmissivity (%)






0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
Angle of incidence

New three-layer film Used three-layer film

New thermal PE film Used thermal PE film

0.2 mm thickness
Global radiation (W m–2)




0 6 12 18 24
Solar time (h)
7 700

Global radiation (W m–2)






0 6 12 18 24
Solar time (h)

Plate 5. The transmissivity to direct radiation, expressed as a percentage of the incident radiation, decreases as
the angle of incidence increases (see Fig. 3.3). The transmissivity varies depending on the characteristics of the
material. The ageing of plastic films, influenced by their use, decreases transmissivity (Montero et al., 2001).
Plate 6. Evolution of solar radiation intensities in the open air and in the greenhouse around the winter
(21 December) and summer (21 June) solstices, on sunny days (coast of Granada, Spain). The daily total
radiation in each case is the area of the surface delimited by each curve and the abscissa axis. Black line, open
air, summer; pink line, greenhouse, summer; green line, open air, winter; blue line, greenhouse, winter.
Plate 7. Evolution of solar radiation intensities in the open air and in the greenhouse on a not completely cloudy
day in spring and another one in winter (coast of Granada). Black line: open air, spring; pink line: greenhouse,
spring; green line: open air, winter; blue line: greenhouse, winter.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 4

RH and air temperature in greenhouse
100 30

Temperature (°C)
RH (%)

20 Temperature 5
0 0
24 6 12 18 24 6 12 18 24 6 12 18

Outside solar radiation

Solar radiation (W m–2)






Greenhouse Greenhouse
30 soil air
Temperature (°C)



Outside air

24 6 12 18 24 6 12 18 24 6 12 18
Time (h)

Plate 8. Evolution of a set of greenhouse and outdoor climate parameters throughout several sunny days at the
end of the winter (Motril-Granada, Spain). Unheated greenhouse.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 5


Transmissivity (%)



Flat roof Symmetrical roof

7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Solar time (h)

East North
West South

Transmissivity (%)




Roof 15° 25° 35° 25° 65°

Circular Gothic Elliptical

Plate 9. Hourly evolution of transmissivity on 21 December in a low-cost, flat-roof greenhouse and in a

greenhouse with a symmetrical roof with a 220 µm cover of thermal PE and a 15° roof angle, oriented east–west.
Plate 10. Transmissivity of different greenhouse roof geometries of single-span greenhouses at the winter solstice
(21 December), at latitude 51°N (Belgium), depending on the orientation (east–west or north–south) (adapted
from Nisen and Deltour, 1986).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 6

Activity (arbitrary units)

400 450 500 550 600 650 700 750 800
Wavelength (nm)

Phototropism Reversion of the red effect

Chlorophyll synthesis Visual sensitivity
Photomorphogenesis (‘red effect’)

Net photosynthesis


Isolated leaf
Leaf within
a canopy

0 Intensity of PAR

Net respiration

Plate 11. Spectral activities of different photo-biological processes (adapted from Whatley and Whatley, 1984).
Plate 12. Net photosynthesis of an isolated leaf, of a leaf within a canopy and of a whole canopy (adapted from
Urban, 1997a).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 7


(a) 200 (b) 1000

160 18°C 800

QS (MJ m–2soil)

QS (MJ m–2soil)
120 600
80 400

40 200
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 0 5 10 15 20
Month T (°C)



ΔT (°C)


0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800

Incident global radiation (W m–2)

Sidewall: 11% Roof: 13%

Sidewall: 22% Sidewall: 11%, roof: 13%

Plate 13. (a) Monthly energy consumption (Q, in MJ m-2) for different temperature set points (Tc) in a low-cost
greenhouse in Almeria. (b) Yearly accumulated energy consumption (Qs, in MJ m-2) for different temperature set
points (Tc). Data refer to an average year using hot-air heating (adapted from López, 2003).
Plate 14. Increases in the air temperature of a greenhouse with respect to the outside air, depending on the inci-
dent global radiation for different ventilation conditions. Key shows location and percentage of ventilation area
(source: J.I. Montero).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 8


(a) 60

Air renewal (volume h–1)





0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Wind velocity (m s

Windward Leeward

(b) 60

Air renewal (volume h–1)





0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Wind velocity (m s–1)

Windward Leeward

Plate15. Air renewal rate as a function of velocity and wind direction in a multi-tunnel greenhouse with hinged-
type vents (with flap) without obstacles (a) and vents implemented with an anti-thrips screen (b) (from Muñoz,
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 9



Plate 16. Ventilation studies of scale models of greenhouses, by means of a flow visualization technique, using
liquids of different colours and densities. The scale model is mounted downwards (source: J.I. Montero).
Plate 17. Scheme of a scalar temperature field of a low-cost greenhouse of five spans, with only roof vent (top) or
combined roof and side ventilation (bottom), which allows for the visualization of the best ventilated zones
(blue colours) and the worst ventilated zones (red colours). Windward wind, 3 ms-1. CFD technique, simulation of
fluid dynamics (data provided by ʻLas Palmerillasʼ Experimental Station, Cajamar Foundation, Almeria, and by
J.I. Montero).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 10


19 20


ΔT (°C)


0 20 40 60
Ventilation rate (volumes h–1)

CO2 concentration (ppm)

Wind velocity


x1 x2 x3 100
Vent opening (%)

Plate 18. The greenhouse that uses a screen as cladding material is known as a screenhouse.
Plate 19. High greenhouse air temperatures (with respect to the exterior temperature) as a function of the
ventilation rate with a well-developed crop, under different conditions. Green, with shading; blue, with shading and
air humidification; red, without shading or air humidification (source: J.I. Montero).
Plate 20. Set point values for carbon enrichment (CO2) depending on the demand of heat (A) and the solar
radiation intensity level (A and B) depending on the vent opening conditions (adapted from Nederhoff, 1995). x1
represents the lower degree of vent opening that determines changes in the CO2 enrichment set point. x2 and x3
represent the vent openings that determine the minimum CO2 enrichment set point when radiation is below a
preset level (x2) or when radiation exceeds a preset level (x3). See explanation in the text (Chapter 9).
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 11



Solid material (RAW + RW)
20 cm

15 cm
10 cm


10 cm 10 cm 20 cm 20 cm
(1) = 2.00 (1) = 2.70 (1) = 2.10 (1) = 2.40
(2) = 4.70 (2) = 3.00 (2) = 4.40 (2) = 3.50
(3) = 2.30 (3) = 1.10 (3) = 2.10 (3) = 1.40
(4) = 1.33 (4) = 1.60 (4) = 1.38 (4) = 1.50

Considered relations:
(1) Total volume of substrate / (Volume of RAW + RW)
(2) Total volume of substrate / Air
(3) (Volume of RAW + RW) / Air
(4) Total volume of substrate / Total water volume

Plate 21. Substrate cultivation has spread widely.

Plate 22. The volumetric relations of the water and air content of a P-2 type perlite (grain size between 0 and 5mm),
depending on the height and width of the container holding it, represented in cross-section (adapted from Caldevilla
and Lozano, 1993). RAW, readily available water; NRAW, not readily available water; RW, reserve water.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:39 Page 12

Solid material
Air (RAW + RW) (NRAW)
10 cm

7.5 cm
10 cm 15 cm 20 cm
(1) = 1.50 (1) = 1.35 (1) = 1.30
(2) = 4.40 (2) = 7.00 (2) = 7.00
(3) = 3.00 (3) = 5.20 (3) = 5.30
(4) = 1.34 (4) = 1.22 (4) = 1.20

Considered relations:
(1) Total volume of substrate / (Volume of RAW + RW)
(2) Total volume of substrate / Air
(3) (Volume of RAW + RW) / Air
(4) Total volume of substrate / Total water volume


Plate 23. The volumetric relations of the water and air content of rockwool, depending on the height and width of
the slab, represented in cross-section (adapted from Caldevilla and Lozano, 1993). RAW, readily available water;
NRAW, not readily available water; RW, reserve water.
Plate 24. Mechanized irrigation in the nursery.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:40 Page 13



Plate 25. Bumblebee (Bombus spp.) pollinating a tomato flower.

Plate 26. Tomato flowers with brown trace (left behind) typical of having been pollinated by bumblebees.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:40 Page 14



Plate 27. The perishable nature of vegetables is a critical factor in their marketing process.
Plate 28. Distribution is the last step in the marketing process, getting the products to the consumers.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:40 Page 15



Plate 29. The improvement in the technological level of Mediterranean-type greenhouses to improve the quality of
the products is an increasingly popular trend among horticulturists.
Plate 30. Cut flowers are another greenhouse product option.
91383 Castilla Plates_Layout 1 22/11/2012 18:40 Page 16



Plate 31. When considering crop options, selection of species with lower thermal requirements (lettuce is shown
in the image) prevail in colder areas or during the cold season.
Plate 32. The location of greenhouses is a key issue, both for its influence on production costs (depending on the cli-
matic conditions) and for its effect on the transport costs to the markets. Image shows the Poniente area (Almeria,
Protected Cultivation 9

Photo 1.9.  Plastic greenhouses in the Poniente area in Almeria; plastic greenhouses in Spain represent
nearly 99% of the total greenhouse area.

In Japan, the leading country in green- (the use of plastic materials in agriculture)
house production in the past, glasshouses was a consequence of the development of
represented only 5% of the total area (Ito, new plastic materials that coincided with a
1999). Similarly, in China the majority of series of circumstances in agriculture (the
greenhouses are those with plastic covers; need to decrease investment costs and to
there has been a spectacular growth in these secure the harvests, and the scarcity of
since 1980 – their surface area in 2010 stood resources such as water).
at 1,496,000 ha, of which over half belonged Since the first plastic greenhouses, a
to the ‘lean-to’ type (see Fig. 7.5 in Chapter 7) simple wooden structure covered with cel-
and the rest to high (2.5–3.0 m ridge height) lophane built in 1948, the appearance of
and middle (1.8–2.5 m ridge height) tun- polyethylene plastic film (a material previ-
nels, while the glasshouse area was minimal ously used only in military applications) in
(Zhibin, 1999; Zhang, 2006; Kan et al., the 1950s in the US market and the assem-
2012). The figures for tunnels can vary as bly in 1962 (in Israel) of the first drip irriga-
they can be erected or dismantled based on tion installation of a significant dimension
production needs from year to year (Kan (10 ha), the expansion of plastic applica-
et al., 2012). tions has been enormous, especially in
Glasshouses were in majority only in ­protected horticulture.
some areas of North America and in Among the advantages provided by
Northern Europe, where they represented plastics worth noting are: (i) its lightness,
90% of the surface in Germany and up to because of its low density (so for instance,
98% in The Netherlands, for a total of less 1  m2 of polyethylene film of 25 mm thick-
than 25,000 ha within the European Union ness covering a greenhouse weighs 100
(Von Elsner et al., 2000a,b). times less than 1 m2 of horticultural glass of
4 mm thickness); (ii) its good mechanical
resistance (e.g. to hail) as compared with
1.6  Plastic Materials glass; (iii) its durability (it resists corrosion
by chemical agents such as fertilizers and
Rather than the result of specific scientific biological agents such as bacteria and fungi);
research work, the birth of ‘plasticulture’ (iv) its safety for plants and animals; (v) its
10 Chapter 1

impermeability to water and gases; and modification of the natural ­environ­­ment

(vi) its transparency to light. of plants, which totally or partially
Its low cost, in particular, has permitted alter the microclimate conditions, with
the displacement of traditional materials the aim of improving their productive
in  some applications (in greenhouses or performance.
mulches) and the generation of new uses that •• Among the protected cultivation tech-
previously did not exist, such as tunnels, niques, it is worth noting windbreaks,
direct covers or drip irrigation, among others. mulches, low tunnels, direct covers, high
A good knowledge of the limitations of tunnels and greenhouses.
the use of plastics (see Chapter 4) will allow •• The main objectives of protected culti-
for better use of them: for instance, under vation are, among others, to: protect the
extreme conditions of temperature (the ther- crops from harmful temperatures, wind,
mal stability of some plastics at low or high rain, hail and snow, as well as from
temperature is not satisfactory). The static pests, diseases and predators, creating
electricity of some formulations, such as a  microclimate that allows for the
ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or plasticized improvement of their productivity and
polyvinyl chloride (PVC), induces the accu- quality, contributing to a better use of
mulation of dust, which decreases transpar- resources.
ency to light. The same effect is caused by •• Protected cultivation has been used
scratches on some materials if they are not for many centuries; references to the
properly protected from the impact of winds use of protection date back to Roman
carrying sand. Other aspects, such as the times.
ageing of plastics (which affects how long •• The development of plastic materials
they can be used) and their behaviour against has contributed to the widespread use
fire, must be considered for optimum use. of greenhouses and other protection
In protected cultivation the solar radia- techniques, from the last third of the
tion transmission properties of the plastic 20th century all over the world.
materials are of key importance for plant •• The estimated protected cultivation
growing (see Chapter 4). area worldwide in 2010 was 1,905,000
ha of greenhouses, 1,672,000 ha of low
tunnels and floating covers and over
ten million ha of mulches. The huge
1.7  Summary increase in area under protected culti-
vation in recent decades was due to the
•• The name ‘protected cultivation’ enormous spread in Asia, mainly in
involves a series of techniques for the China.
The External Climate

2.1  Introduction which determines the Earth’s decline (see

Appendix 1 section A.1.1).
The local climatic conditions, to a large
extent, determine the microclimate inside a
greenhouse and its future management; 2.2.2  The seasons
therefore knowledge of the prevailing cli-
matic conditions is necessary before design- The movement of the Earth around the Sun
ing and building a greenhouse. determines the year’s seasons. When the
The climate of a certain locality is the plane perpendicular to the ecliptic which
result of the radiative exchanges between contains the Earth’s axis passes through the
the Sun and the Earth. In relation to green- centre of the Sun, which happens twice a
houses, the most important elements of the year, the summer and winter solstices occur
climate are: (i) solar radiation; (ii) atmos- (Figs 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4).
pheric temperature and humidity; (iii) wind; Between the two solstices we have the
and (iv) rainfall. spring and autumn equinoxes (Fig. 2.5),
moments in which an imaginary line link-
ing the centre of the Earth to the centre of
the Sun is perpendicular to the Earth’s
2.2  The Earth and the Sun axis. During the equinoxes neither of the
two poles is inclined towards the Sun
2.2.1  Introduction (Fig. 2.5).
The winter solstice in the northern
The Earth’s axis, around which our planet hemisphere (Fig. 2.3) corresponds to the
turns on itself, maintains a fixed inclination summer solstice in the southern hemisphere.
with respect to the plane of the Earth’s orbit At the winter solstice at noon the Sun
around the Sun, called the ecliptic (Fig. 2.1). reaches an apparent elevation (maximum of
The axis also maintains a fixed direction, the day) of around 30° in the south of Spain
that is, the Earth’s axis points continuously (latitude 37°N) and 90° in the Tropic of
to a fixed point in the sky. The 23° 27′ angle Capricorn. On the summer solstice (Fig. 2.4)
formed by the Earth’s axis and the perpen- the apparent maximum Sun elevation is
dicular to the plane of the ecliptic is called around 76° in the latitude 37°N (south of
the obliquity (angle) of the ecliptic (Fig. 2.1), Spain) and 90° in the Tropic of Cancer.

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 11
12 Chapter 2

’s rota
Ear axis
e A
o r th
tic pai
Arc le t hS
C i r Sou rays
66° er
Night anc
o fC
Earth’s orbital 37° ato
plane (ecliptic) Equ
27 °27
23° 23 rn
p ic o
0° Tro cle
Day ic Cir
ta rct
t hP
AB, Illumination line 66° B Sou

Fig. 2.1.  The inclination of the Earth’s axis of rotation with respect to the Earth’s orbital plane.

Spring equinox N
21 March
Summer solstice Winter solstice
21 June 22 December
Sun Day
Day Night


Autumn equinox
S 23 September

Fig. 2.2.  The year’s seasons in the path of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

2.3  Day Length In the equinoxes the duration of the day

equals that of the night for each latitude,
The astronomic duration of the day through- whereas in the solstices the duration of the
out the year is variable, and the degree of vari- day is maximum in the summer and mini-
ability is proportional to the latitude of the mum in the winter.
locality. The astronomic day is the period For medium latitudes, the natural
between sunrise and sunset, sunrise being the light threshold which influences the pho-
moment at which the solar disc appears on toperiodic phenomena is overcome dur-
the horizon and sunset the moment at which ing the ‘civil twilight’, the time after
it disappears. The differences in the duration sunset and before sunrise when the Sun
of the day between different latitudes are is below the horizon but not more than 6°
greater in winter than in summer (Table 2.1). below it (Berninger, 1989). The duration
The External Climate 13

tio n
r t h ’s r
Ea axi
r th Solar
e No N
C pa in 30°HL rays
tic th S
Arc N
66° c e r 43°
n HL
Night f Ca
p ic o
Tro N
37° r
23° rn
aprico HL
pi co

Day tic
t arc
' An
th P

Fig. 2.3.  The incidence of the solar rays on the Earth in the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.
N, Apparent position of the Sun at noon at different latitudes; HL, horizontal line on each latitude.

axi tation
Arctic Circle s
66° No
r th
37° e Solar
23° rays

th S
0° pai
Night n
Tro N
p ic o
fC 76°
23° anc HL
27' er N
Equ Day HL
ato HL
66° N
p ic o
66° ico 43° N

th P
Antarctic Circle

Fig. 2.4.  The incidence of the solar rays on the Earth in the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere.
N, Apparent position of the Sun at noon at different latitudes; HL, horizontal line each latitude.
14 Chapter 2

Earth’s rotation

North Pole Arctic Circle

66º Solar

South Spain N
Night HL
23º27' Tropic of Cancer 67º

0º N
Equator 90º
Day HL
67º N
Tropic of Capricorn

South Pole
Antarctic Circle

Fig. 2.5.  The incidence of the solar rays on the Earth in the equinoxes. N, Apparent position of the Sun at
noon at different latitudes; HL, horizontal line on each latitude.

Table 2.1.  Duration of the astronomic day warmer the body, the greater the amount of
(expressed in hours and tenths of an hour) energy emitted and the shorter the wave-
depending on the latitude. length of emission (Wien’s law, see
Appendix 1 section A.1.4). The Sun, whose
surface temperature is between 5500 and
Latitudea March June September December 6000°C, emits short-wavelength radiation,
among which is the light (visible part of
52°N 11.6 16.4 12.4 7.6 solar ­radiation). The Sun is very similar to a
44°N 11.7 15.2 12.3 8.7
‘black body’, a perfect emitter and receptor
36°N 11.9 14.6 12.3 9.7
of radiation.
Latitudes correspond to The Netherlands (52°N), the Radiation propagates through space
south of France (44°N) and the south of Spain (36°N). as a wave, but it also exists as discrete
energy packages called photons. Each
of the ‘­photoperiodic day’ for medium type of radiation propagates in intervals
latitudes corresponds to 1 astronomic of different wavelength (which is the
day increased by 40 min to 1 h (Berninger, shortest distance between consecutive
1989). waves) and with a determined frequency
(or number of vibrations per second). The
complete set formed by all the wave-
lengths constitutes the electromagnetic
2.4  Solar Radiation spectrum (Plate 1). The wavelength of a
certain radiation and its frequency are
2.4.1  Introduction related, their product being a constant
(see Appendix 1 section A.1.5), thus the
All bodies emit radiation at wavelengths higher the frequency, the lower the wave-
which depend on their temperature. The length and vice versa.
The External Climate 15

All the energy contained in the electro- The Sun’s position at any moment is given
magnetic spectrum travels at the speed of by its coordinates: Sun elevation (h) and
light and it is called radiation. It includes geodesic azimuth (g). The geodesic azimuth
the cosmic rays, gamma rays, X-rays, ultra- is the angle (from 0° to 360°) of a certain
violet (UV), visible light (blue, green, yel- direction in a horizontal plane, measured
low and red), infrared, radar and radio and from the south direction (0°), following the
television waves (Plate 1). movement of the clock hands (south-west–
The solar energy, outside the Earth’s north-east) (Fig. 2.7). The topographical azi-
atmosphere, changes very little and it is muth, used in topographical operations, is
called the solar constant, but when crossing the angle measured from the north direc-
the atmosphere the radiation is partially tion, following the movement of the clock
reflected, absorbed or dispersed and suffers hands. The zenith is the point of the sky
quantitative and qualitative modifications. located in the vertical that passes through
The energy losses depend on the thickness the observer’s head located at a certain
of the atmosphere crossed and its character- point. The zenith angle (q) is formed by the
istics (moisture content and gases, turbidity, vertical at the zenith and the line formed by
cloudiness) (Fig. 2.6). The higher the Sun is the solar rays (Fig. 2.8), so that: (h + q = 90°)
over the horizon, the more energy reaches (Dufie and Beckman, 1980).
the Earth’s surface. The maximum is In mid-latitudes the solar rays impinge
received at noon when the Sun is in the more vertically in summer than in winter,
point of maximum elevation and the sky is implying that the intensity of radiation is
clear (Fig. 2.7). higher in summer (Figs 2.8 and 2.9). Besides,
With clear sky, the amount of solar the days are longer in summer, thus the total
energy which reaches a point of the Earth’s amount of solar radiation received each
surface depends on the Sun position, which day is higher than in winter (Fig. 2.8) as the
varies with latitude, season and time of the Sun  covers a larger apparent trajectory
day, besides the cloudiness and turbidity. (Fig. 2.10).

H 37°N rays

Winter Summer

BAH Measures the maximum solar elevation for

DCH´ the observer located at A and C, respectively

AH: Defines the horizontal (for the observer at A)

CH´: Defines the horizontal (for the observer at C)

Fig. 2.6.  In winter, the solar rays must cross a greater thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere (doing it more
obliquely, stretch AB) than in summer (stretch CD). The figure represents conditions at noon (the moment
at which the thickness of the atmosphere to be crossed is lower).
16 Chapter 2

Sun’s Noon

h South


North West

Fig. 2.7.  The Sun’s position at any moment (M) of the day is given by its coordinates: geodesic azimuth
(g) and solar elevation (h), for an observer located at A (adapted from Wacquant, 2000).

The relative differences of solar radi­ day of the year and time of the day. The cir-
ation received between regions are high if the cumsolar radiation represents the radiation
latitudes are distant, especially in winter coming from the region close to the Sun. The
(Plate 2). diffuse radiation comes from all directions of
For greenhouse crop production, the the whole of the sky, due to reflections, devia-
most important factors are: (i) the total avail- tions and scattering caused by the clouds,
able solar energy; (ii) the duration of the day gases and aerosols present in the atmosphere
and of the night; and (iii) the quality of the (Hanan, 1998). The sum of direct solar radi­
radiation, because of its influence on the ation, circumsolar radiation and diffuse radi­
photosynthesis and in photomorphogenesis ation is called global solar radiation.
(Hanan, 1998). In practice, the circumsolar radiation is
Solar radiation acts on: (i) the plant, considered together with the diffuse solar
affecting photosynthesis (intensity, quality radiation, because the measuring method
and amount of light), phototropism (rele- used integrates both of them (Day and
vant role of the red and the blue light), pho- Bailey, 1999).
tomorphogenesis (photoperiod, i.e. the The cloudiness, turbidity and transpar-
period of time per day that an organism is ency of the atmosphere have a great influ-
exposed to daylight), transpiration (the ence on the proportions of direct and diffuse
opening of the stomata), etc.; and (ii) the radiation, as well as the solar elevation. On
energy balance of the greenhouse, affecting sunny days, with a clear atmosphere the
the soil, water, air and plant temperatures, percentage of direct solar radiation may
and the temperature of other objects absorb- reach a maximum of around 90% of the glo-
ing radiation. bal daily radiation.
In urban or industrial areas, when the
Sun is clear the direct solar radiation pre-
2.4.2  Quality of solar radiation dominates on many occasions only if the
Sun elevation is higher than 50°, due to the
The incident solar radiation is composed of influence of the air’s turbidity, whereas in
direct solar radiation, circumsolar radiation coastal areas this predominance occurs at
and diffuse radiation. Direct radiation comes 30°, and at altitudes of 3000 m it occurs at
directly from the solar disc, travels straight only 6°, due to the great transparency of the
and its direction is determined by the latitude, air (Seeman, 1974).
The External Climate 17






80 21 June
Elevation above the horizontal (h)

70 22 December






4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Solar time

Fig. 2.8.  Evolution of solar elevation (h) through the day in the summer and winter solstices for the south
of Spain (latitude 37°N). q is the zenith angle.

On completely cloudy (covered) days, The light is the radiation that stimu-
the percentage of total direct solar radiation lates the vision sensation in the normal
in relation to the global radiation is almost human eye (photo-optical response). This
negligible. response covers the wavelengths ranging
Like all electromagnetic radiations, solar from 380 to 720 nm, with a peak response
radiation propagates in the form of waves. around 550 nm. The colour, as a chromatic
The quality of solar radiation is character- response of the human eye, ranges from 400
ized by its wavelength, measured in nano- to 500 nm for the blue, 500–600 nm for the
metres (nm). It can also be defined by its green, 600–700 for the red and 700–800 for
frequency (related to the wavelength). Plate 1 the far red (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997).
shows a sketch of the different radiations, by In the limit of the Earth’s atmosphere,
wavelength (or spectral composition). solar radiation ranges from 200 to near
18 Chapter 2

Parallel 37°N

Summer Winter Spring 21 March

21 June 22 December Autumn 23 September

In summer horizontal surface A receives In spring and autumn the

more radiation than in winter situation is intermediate

At the equator radiation is high throughout the year

Fig. 2.9.  The incidence of direct solar radiation at noon in the south of Spain (37°N) in the winter and
summer solstices and in the spring and autumn equinoxes.

Sun trajectory

S N Sun trajectory
O Sunset
Sunrise E

Spring and autumn equinoxes S N

Sun trajectory
Sunrise E
O Sunset

S N Summer solstice

E Sunrise

Fig. 2.10.  Apparent trajectory of the Sun with respect to the horizontal plane in mid-latitudes of the
northern hemisphere, in the winter solstice (top left), in the spring and autumn equinoxes (centre right)
and the summer solstice (bottom left) (adapted from Fuentes, 1999).

5000 nm, with a maximum of emission at The majority of the global solar energy
470 nm (Fig. 2.11). During the crossing of flux at the Earth’s surface level (99%) is
our atmosphere, even with good weather found between 300 and 2500 nm, made up
conditions (clear sky), this radiation is of three categories of radiation as a function
mitigated and modified, due to the pres- of the wavelength intervals they represent
ence of water vapour, nitrous oxides, (spectral composition):
ozone, oxygen and other gases, which
means that a large part of this radiation is •• Ultraviolet radiation (UV), below 380 nm.
scattered. This radiation is scarce when the Sun’s
The External Climate 19

Solar radiation flux (relative scale)



0.5 1.0 1.5

Wavelength (mm)

Fig. 2.11.  Successive processes of reduction of the solar radiation flux when penetrating the Earth’s
atmosphere. A, Extraterrestrial radiation; B, after absorption by the ozone layer; C, after molecular
diffusion; D, after the aerosol’s diffusion; E, after water vapour and oxygen absorption (adapted from
Monteith and Unsworth, 1990).

elevation over the horizon is low and at The name PAR is used to designate the
low altitudes. On the Mediterranean radiation with wavelengths useful for
coast, its role is important in the ageing of plant photosynthesis. It is accepted that the
plastic materials and for plant morpho- PAR radiation ranges from 400 to 700 nm
genesis (Raviv, 1988). It amounts to 2–4% (McCree, 1972), although some authors
of the energy of the global radiation. The ­consider the PAR from 350 to 850 nm.
UV radiation may be subdivided into The composition of the radiation
UV-A (higher than 320 nm) which is the changes with time, as a function of the Sun’s
one that tans the skin, UV-B (from 290 to elevation and the cloudiness. When the
320 nm) responsible of the skin cancer Sun  is low over the horizon, the short
and UV-C (from 200 to 290 nm) poten- ­wavelengths are reduced (less UV and more
tially dangerous but absorbed (Fig. 2.11) red). The clouds reduce the amount of
almost completely by the ozone layer energy, greatly decreasing the NIR. The PAR
(Monteith and Unsworth, 1990). proportion in relation to the global radi­
•• Visible radiation to the human eye, ation increases with scattering (diffusion).
from 380 (violet-blue) to 780 nm (red). It is lower with clear sky and in the summer
This interval includes the PAR (45–48%).
­radiation (photosynthetically active
or ­photoactive radiation; it amounts
to  45–50% of the global radiation; 2.4.3  Quantity of solar radiation
Berninger, 1989).
•• Infrared solar radiation (IR), from 780 The solar constant (solar radiation inten­
to 5000 nm. It amounts almost to 50% sity at the outer regions of the Earth’s
of the energy of the global radiation ­atmosphere) is estimated to range between
(Berninger, 1989). The fraction of 1360 and 1395 W m−2, as an average, meas-
energy in the range from 2500 to 5000 ured in a perpendicular plane of the direc-
nm is very low. Within the IR the NIR tion of the solar radiation flux (Takakura,
(near IR) is the band between 760 and 1989), although some authors estimate it as
2500 nm. slightly lower.
20 Chapter 2

Some authors consider more appropri- as no more than 75% of it, under normal con-
ate the term ‘irradiance’ than that of radi­ ditions (Monteith and Unsworth, 1990). The
ation intensity. Both designate it as the global radiation values are measured, by con-
incident energy flux per unit surface, that is, vention, over a horizontal surface, being
the radiant flux density over a surface. The admitted as a general rule that 48% of the glo-
irradiance or radiation intensity is usually bal radiation is PAR radiation (Hanan, 1998).
measured in watts per square metre (W m−2). The proportions of direct and diffuse
The radiation intensity on a surface solar energy vary with the turbidity and trans-
will depend on the inclination with which parency of the atmosphere, also influenced by
the radiation impacts on such a surface. If it the Sun’s elevation. Through the day, if the
impacts perpendicularly, the surface will sky is clear, the irradiance (radiation inten-
receive the maximum radiation per unit sity) evolves in a very regular way, but if the
area (Fig. 2.12). Lambert’s cosine law dic- sky is cloudy it varies a great deal (Fig. 2.13).
tates (Jones, 1983): The global daily radiation varies
greatly with the latitude, with higher dif-
I = I0 cos i (2.1)
ferences in winter than in summer. It also
where: varies with time throughout the year,
I = Radiation flux density (irradiance or depending on the irradiance (radiation
radiation intensity) impacting on the intensity) and the length of the day, being
surface higher during the summer months than
I0 = Radiation flux density (irradiance or radi- ­during the winter months (Plate 2).
ation intensity) impacting on a surface per- The global solar radiation is quantified
pendicular to the direction of the radiation by its irradiance or solar radiation intensity
i = Angle of incidence between the radi­ (instantaneous energy flux) in watts per
ation direction and the perpendicular to the square metre (W m−2). The quantity of global
surface. If the surface is horizontal, i is the solar radiation received or accumulated
zenith angle (q) (Fig. 2.8). over a period is usually expressed in mega-
At the Earth’s surface, due to the absorp- joules per square metre (MJ m−2).
tion and dispersion of the radiation through The PAR radiation (which ranges from
the atmosphere, the radiation intensity is 400 to 700 nm) can be quantified by its inten-
lower than the solar constant, being ­estimated sity in energy units or photosynthetic irradi-
ance (W m−2) or in photonic units (moles of
photons). Within this range 1 W m−2 of PAR
equals approximately 4.57  mmol m−2 s−1
under clear day conditions (Table 2.2).
The photometric units, adapted to
human vision, do not have a constant equiv-
alence with the energy and photonic units,
I0 so they are now disused.
The unit for the instantaneous light
flux is the lux, which equals a lumen per
square metre; 1 W m−2 of PAR radiation
equals 247 lux, if the source of light is solar
(Table 2.2), whereas it equals 520 lux, if the
I source of light is a low-pressure sodium
vapour lamp (McCree, 1972).
The proportion of solar energy used
in  the synthesis of organic matter or in
Fig. 2.12.  The radiation impacting on a surface is ­morphogenesis is minimal, and negligible
calculated by the Lambert’s cosine law (see text). in energy balance studies (Hanan, 1998). In
The solar radiation values are measured, by greenhouse management it is worth men-
convention, over a horizontal surface. tioning that energy conversion phenomena
The External Climate 21

Sunny day Cloudy day

Direct radiation
Direct radiation

Diffuse radiation

Fig. 2.13.  On a sunny day direct radiation, coming from the Sun, predominates over the diffuse radiation
which comes from the whole of the sky (dispersed by the clouds and the atmospheric gases). When the
Sun’s elevation over the horizon is low, on a sunny day, the proportion of diffuse radiation increases in
relation to the direct radiation. The shadows on a sunny day are clear and well defined, whereas on a
cloudy day they are not well defined.

Table 2.2.  Equivalence of radiation and illumination units within the PAR range (400–700 nm)
(adapted from McCree, 1972).

1 W m−2 (PAR) 1 W m−2 (PAR) 1 mmol m−2 s−1

Light source approximately equals: approximately equals: approximately equals:

Sun and sky 247 lux 4.57 mmol m−2s−1 54 lux

Only clear sky 220 lux 4.24 mmol m−2s−1 52 lux
Incandescent lamp 250 lux 5.00 mmol m−2s−1 50 lux
Sodium vapour lamp 520 lux 4.92 mmol m−2s−1 106 lux
(low pressure)
Sodium vapour lamp 408 lux 4.98 mmol m−2s−1 82 lux
(high pressure)

are much related to the change from liquid 2.4.4  Measurement of solar radiation
water to vapour and vice-versa.
Once the solar radiation reaches the The effects of radiation on plants are deter-
Earth’s surface, part of the radiation is reflected. mined by the quantity and quality (wavelength)
The so called ‘albedo’ is the proportion of the of the radiation impacting on them. Another
incident solar radiation which is reflected relevant factor is the direction of the radiation.
over a certain surface over the whole range of It is assumed that the leaves act as a plane
the spectrum (Monteith and Unsworth, 1990), receptor, located horizontally (Langhams and
although some authors relate it only to visible Tibbitts, 1997). The radiation measurement
light. The albedo, expressed from zero (0) to sensors are constructed with filters which cor-
one (1), ranges from 0.15 to 0.25 for herbal rect the radiation reflection when its incidence
crops (Villalobos et al., 2002). is not perpendicular to the sensor’s surface.
22 Chapter 2

The two most usual types of sensors are which varies throughout the year for each lati-
photoelectric and thermoelectric. The most- tude (Table 2.1) and also depends on local
used photoelectric sensor is a photodiode cloudiness. The insolation or duration of sun
sensor (photovoltaic). When exposed to hours during the months of autumn and winter
radiation within its range of sensitivity, it is, in the absence of reliable data on solar radi­
generates a potential difference propor- ation, used as an estimation of the aptitude
tional to the radiation flux received. index of a given area for protected cultivation
The thermoelectric sensor uses a black (Nisen et al., 1988).
body that absorbs the radiation impacting on Procedures to estimate radiation,
the sensor and measures the resulting heat. when local measurements are not avail­
To avoid temperature alterations due to air able, are described in detail in Appendix 1
convective flows, they are covered with a section A.1.2.
plastic or glass dome, as a filter, whose trans-
mission to different wavelengths limits the
range of radiation to be measured. 2.5  The Earth’s Radiation
There are spherical sensors (net radiom-
eters) which measure the incident radiation Anybody whose temperature is above
(on their upper part) and the reflected radi­ −273°C (i.e. absolute zero, on the Kelvin
ation (albedo) on their lower part. The differ- scale) emits radiation. This radiation will
ence between them is the net radiation. have a wavelength dependent on its tem-
The difficulty in accurately measuring perature (see Chapter 5). The Earth’s sur-
solar radiation, especially in the past, due to face, therefore, emits long-wave radiation
the high cost of the sensors, necessitated the (far IR), which varies according to its tem-
estimation of global radiation by means of perature which in turn is influenced by the
measurement of the number of sun hours, type of soil or vegetation (Fig. 2.14).

Relative scale

10 20 30 40 50
Wavelength (mm)

Fig. 2.14.  The Earth’s radiation emission according to the wavelength at the approximate Earth temperature
(300 K, equivalent to 27°C). The hatched area below the curved line represents the radiation absorbed by the
Earth’s atmosphere and the clear area represents the remainder of the radiation that is lost into outer space
under clear sky conditions. This latter part is known as the ‘atmospheric window’ (adapted from Rose, 1979).
The External Climate 23

In a similar way, the components of the the same solar radiation, it is colder by
atmosphere emit far IR radiation (in all the end of March than by the end of
directions), depending on the state of the September.
atmosphere (i.e. humidity, turbidity, etc.). The measurement of the average tem-
The wavelength of these types of radi­ perature of the outdoor air is performed
ation ranges between 5000 and 100,000 nm, inside a meteorological box under normal-
although the highest emission takes place ized conditions, protected from solar radi­
between 8000 and 13,000 nm, as the temper- ation and with circulating air, located
ature of the emitting bodies normally range between 1.5 and 2 m above the ground. It
between 0 and 30°C (equal to 273 and 303 K), ranges between a minimum (normally at
an interval called the ‘atmospheric window’ dawn) and a maximum (usually 1 or 2 h
(Rose, 1979) (Fig. 2.14), because within this after noon).
interval, and if the sky is clear, the atmos- The temperature is normally meas-
phere is very permeable to radiation. The IR ured in degrees centigrade or Celsius (°C).
band between 2500 and 25,000 nm is usually In the Kelvin scale, the temperature is
designated as medium IR (MIR). expressed in Kelvin (K). In the Kelvin scale
The balance of the Earth’s radiation, T(°C) = T(K) −273°C. The Fahrenheit scale,
which some authors call also atmospheric which is much less used, expresses the
radiation, is always negative at night (i.e. the temp­erature in Fahrenheit degrees (°F).
ascendant radiation surpasses the descend- The conversion is:
ant radiation) and it is generally negative
also during the daytime, if only the far IR T (°F) = 9 T (°C) + 32 (2.2)
radiation is considered (Berninger, 1989).
T (°C) = 5 [T (°F) − 32] (2.3)
The measurement of the outside air
2.6  Net Radiation temperature in greenhouses is sometimes
performed over the cover (at several metres
The net radiation is the difference between height) which alters how representative it is
the radiation flux received over a surface compared with normalized measurements.
and the radiation flux emitted from the The altitude implies a decrease of the aver-
Earth’s surface. age temperatures of around 0.6°C per 100 m
It involves the energy available to all of elevation.
physical and biological processes. The glo- The ‘actinothermal index’ indicates
bal solar radiation flux is always positive the night temperature by means of a ther-
during the daytime and zero during the mometer exposed horizontally in open air
night, whereas the net radiation flux is neg- (Berninger, 1989). This situation permits
ative at night (Rosenberg et al., 1983). radiative exchange without any limita-
tions. With dry weather conditions and
clear sky, without wind, the actinothermal
index during the night reaches a lower
2.7  Temperature value than the ambient air temperature.
This index is more representative of the
2.7.1  Air temperature plant temperature than the air temperature
during the night.
For each location, the air temperature var-
ies with the evolution of solar radiation,
in 24 h cycles and with changes caused
by  the seasons of the year. The average 2.7.2  Soil temperature
temperature follows, with a certain delay,
the evolution of solar radiation (Plate 3). The soil temperature determines the tem-
For instance, during the equinoxes, with perature of the subsoil organs. The surface
24 Chapter 2

layers of the soil act as thermal and seasonal The wind velocity and direction pat-
heat sink, heating and cooling itself much terns are more or less predictable for a
more slowly than the surrounding air. ­certain location. For instance, in the coast
Oscillations in soil temperature of Almeria, the highest wind velocity val-
throughout the year decrease with depth. At ues range between 10:00 and 17:00 (solar
several metres deep, the temperature of the time) for the months from March to July
soil remains almost constant throughout the (Plate 4), it being usual to have winds above
year. 2 m s−1 during the daytime (Pérez-Parra,
Low soil temperature (below 14°C) 2002). The dominant directions (Fig. 2.16)
may limit the growth of some crops are from the west (west–south-west) and
(Berninger, 1989). In greenhouses the soil the east.
temperature is, obviously, higher than in
open air.
2.9  Composition of the Atmosphere

2.7.3  The relationship between solar 2.9.1  Water vapour content

radiation and air temperature
From a crop production point of view, water
The average values of global radiation and vapour is one of the most important param-
air temperature vary from month to month. eters of the atmosphere. The water phase
The values follow sinusoidal curves, with a changes (solid, liquid or vapour) involve
delay in the temperature curve with respect the transport of large amounts of energy,
to the radiation curve (Plate 3). which affects the crop and its surrounding
If radiation and temperature are repre- air temperatures.
sented in a xy graph, the sequence of The atmospheric humidity and the
monthly values generates a climate diagram availability of water, together with other
with an elliptic shape (Fig. 2.15). The daily factors, determine the rate at which plants
differences in radiation and temperature transpire. The atmospheric air is never com-
are large, especially between cloudy and pletely dry, containing some amount of
clear days. water in the form of vapour. The water
vapour content of air can be expressed in
several ways:
2.8  Wind 1.  By its concentration. This is the air abso-
lute humidity (AH) which is expressed in
Wind is the, mainly horizontal, displace- kilograms of water vapour per kilogram of
ment of air. It is characterized by its direc- dry air.
tion and velocity. If measured at different 2.  By the water vapour pressure (ea)
(standardized) heights, its velocity can expressed in units of pressure. From a free
be  calculated at intermediate heights water surface in contact with the atmos-
(Hellman’s equation, see Appendix 1 sec- phere part of the water molecules evapo-
tion A.1.6). The direction is measured with rate and others return to liquid, so that
a vane, and is expressed as the angle between when those evaporating equal those return-
north and the direction of the origin of the ing to liquid we say that the atmosphere is
wind (in a clockwise direction). saturated, a moment in which the partial
The wind force is a basic consideration water vapour pressure has reached its sat-
in the design of a greenhouse structure. Its uration value (es). The es value can be cal-
direction and frequency are important when culated (see Appendix 1 section A.1.7).
considering static (passive) ventilation. Its The es value increases with temperature
velocity is related to air renewal, even when (Fig. 2.17).
the greenhouse is closed, and to the energy 3.  By the relative humidity (RH) of the air,
losses. expressed as a percentage of the partial
The External Climate 25

water vapour pressure under certain given 4.  By the vapour pressure deficit (VPD) or
conditions, with respect to the saturation saturation deficit. This expresses the amount
water vapour pressure (es). RH = 100(ea/es). of water that the air, at a certain temperature,
It changes with temperature. can still absorb before reaching saturation.

(a) Almeria (Spain)

30 Jun Jul
Apr Aug
15 Sep
10 Oct
5 Dec

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

Tenerife (Spain)
30 Jun Jul
Radiation (MJ m–2 day –1)

25 Aug
20 Mar
15 Feb
10 Jan

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

30 De Bilt (The Netherlands)

20 May
15 Apr Aug

10 Mar Sep
5 Oct
Dec Nov
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Temperature (°C)

Fig. 2.15.  Global radiation and average outside air temperature for an average year in (a) Almeria and
Tenerife (Spain) and De Bilt (The Netherlands) (data from FAO; Kamp and Timmerman, 1996;
Experimental Station ‘Las Palmerillas’, Almeria, Spain); (b) at Mexican locations of different altitudes:
Culiacán (84 m), Ensenada (13 m) and Guanajuato (2050 m) (data from FAO).
26 Chapter 2

(b) 30 Culiacán (Mexico)

May Jun
20 Apr
Mar Aug Jul
15 Feb Sep
Jan Nov

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

Ensenada (Mexico)
30 Jul
May Jun
Radiation (MJ m–2 day –1)

25 Apr Aug
20 Sep
15 Oct
Jan Nov
10 Dec

0 5 10 15 20 25 30

30 Guanajuato (Mexico)

25 Mar Apr
20 Feb
Jan Jul Jun
Oct Sep
15 Nov
10 Dec

0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Temperature (°C)

Fig. 2.15.  Continued.

The expression VPD is the one that is used Dew point is the temperature at which
most often from a biological point of view. It is the air water vapour starts to condense, due
expressed in vapour pressure units and quan- to reaching saturation. In greenhouses, this
tifies the ‘drying power of the air’. The VPD nota- condensation starts on the coldest objects,
bly influences transpiration and evaporation. initially on the greenhouse roof cover and
VPD = es − ea (2.4) The evapotranspiration (ET) inte-
The atmosphere is normally sub-saturated, i.e. grates the water evaporated from the soil
the ea is usually lower at ambient temperature and that transpired by the vegetation. It
than its corresponding saturation value (es). will vary with the climate conditions
The External Climate 27

345° 000° 015° 2.9.2  CO2 content

330° 6% 030°
315° 5% 045° The CO2 concentration in the air changed
considerably during the last half of the 20th
3% century, from 300 to 350 ppm (Allen, 1990);
285° 2% 075° today, it increases about 1 ppm year−1
1% (Berninger, 1989). At the beginning of the
270° 0% 090° 21st century the standard CO2 level in the
air was already 360 ppm. Its increase influ-
255° 105°
ences the atmospheric greenhouse effect, at
120° a planetary level.
The most usual units to measure CO2
225° 135° are vpm (volumes per million) or ppm (parts
210° 150° per million), although it can also be defined
195° 165°
180° as the partial pressure of CO2 in the air, or
the percentage of CO2 in the air (e.g. 360
Fig. 2.16.  Compass in Almeria (Spain) showing ppm equals 36 kPa, or 0.036% of CO2; see
the predominant direction of the wind for the period
Appendix 1 section A.7.1).
1996–2001 (Experimental Station of Cajamar
Foundation-Cajamar; from Pérez-Parra, 2002).

2.9.3  Atmospheric pollution

10 Atmospheric pollution caused by the pres-

ence of harmful gases (sulfur dioxide (SO2),
9 nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone) affects the
industrial parts and periphery of cities. It
results in the corrosion of structures as well as
Saturation vapour pressure (kPa)

7 having harmful effects on crops. Pollution

increases the proportion of diffuse solar
6 radiation.

2.10  Rainfall

The rain does not affect protected cultiva-
tion, except in special cases (e.g. green­houses
2 with perforated covers or screenhouses). It
influences the design of the slopes, ­gutters,
1 evacuation ducts and rainfall water storage
0 Snow and hail are other phenomena to
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 consider, due to the load they may exert
Temperature (°C) and the resultant possible damage caused
to the greenhouse structure and covering
Fig. 2.17.  The saturation water vapour pressure is
dependent on temperature.

(radiation, air humidity, wind, CO2) and

with the water available in the soil or 2.11  Altitude and Topography
substrate. The ET contributes primarily
to  the water content of the greenhouse The altitude influences the barometric pres-
atmosphere. sure, which decreases as altitude increases.
28 Chapter 2

Temperature also decreases with altitude, velocity and direction, and on the thermal
around 0.6°C for each 100 m of elevation regime (Fig. 2.18).
(Jones, 1983). Solar radiation increases
with altitude, decreasing the proportion of
­diffuse radiation on clear days (Seeman, 2.12  Summary
1974). In general, rainfall is higher at higher
altitudes. •• The local climate is a determinant
The topography plays a relevant role for  the greenhouse microclimate and
in the local microclimate mainly due to its its future management; therefore it
influence on the wind, the rainfall, radiation must be evaluated, with the aim of
and temperature (Photo 2.1). Of special choosing the right location for siting
importance are also the effects of the local the greenhouse.
topography on radiation, because of the •• In the context of a greenhouse, the avail-
shadows that may be produced, on wind able solar radiation and its qualitative

Photo 2.1.  On the coast of Granada (Spain), greenhouses are located on the slopes and oriented to the
south to benefit from better conditions of radiation in autumn and winter.

Solar rays

Soil profile
Sunny area Shaded area Shadow
Horizontal line

Fig. 2.18.  In the northern hemisphere, the slopes oriented to the south receive much more radiation than
those oriented to the north, especially in winter when the solar elevation is lower. If the slopes are very
inclined, the shadows can also be important.
The External Climate 29

characteristics, as well as the duration a certain delay, the evolution of solar

of the day and night are primary ele- radiation.
ments of the climate. •• Soil temperature follows, with smaller
•• The qualitative characteristics of solar differences, the evolution of the air
radiation, especially the proportions of temperature. The daily oscillations of
diffuse and direct radiation, are impor- soil temperature decrease as the depth
tant for greenhouses. increases.
•• Solar radiation or global solar radiation, •• Wind conditions are very important for
is basically composed of: (i) UV radia- greenhouses. The wind force is a basic
tion, which accounts for 2–4% of the consideration in the design of green-
total of the solar energy; (ii) PAR radia- house structure while the wind direc-
tion (photoactive radiation) which tion and velocity are important for
accounts for 45–50% of the total solar ventilation and the energy balance.
energy and is indispensable for photo- •• The composition of the atmosphere is
synthesis; and (iii) IR radiation which very important particularly regarding
accounts for the remaining 50% of solar water vapour content and CO2 content.
energy. •• The water vapour content of the atmos-
•• The solar constant is the global radi­ phere is usually represented by the RH
ation intensity outside the Earth’s of the air, but it is more precise to quan-
atmosphere and has a value between tify it by the water vapour pressure of
1360 and 1395 W m−2. At the Earth’s the air or its VPD.
surface, the intensity of radiation is •• The CO2 concentration in the air has
only in the order of 75% of the solar risen in the last half century from 300
constant, due to absorption, dispersion to 360 ppm.
and reflection of the solar radiation in •• Rainfall influences the design of green-
the Earth’s atmospheric layer. houses as it affects the collection, evac-
•• Solar radiation varies greatly with lati- uation and storage devices of rainfall
tude; throughout the year, it varies water.
depending on the season, being minimum •• Altitude affects the quality of the solar
in winter and maximum in summer. radiation (affecting the proportions of
•• The Earth emits long-wavelength radi­ direct and diffuse radiation).
ation (far IR), known as the ‘Earth’s •• Topography may affect solar radiation
radiation’. because of the shadows that may be
•• Air temperature varies in 24 h cycles. produced, but it also affects the wind
The average temperature follows, with and thermal regimes.
The Greenhouse Climate

3.1  Introduction effect’ (convective effect), derived from the

decrease in the air exchanges with the out-
Inside the greenhouse, the radiation, temper- side environment, and which is perceptible
ature and composition of the atmosphere are even in greenhouses that are very permeable
modified, and this results in a different micro- to the air; and (ii) an effect caused by the
climate from the one outside. The modifica- existence of a cover with low transparency
tions depend essentially on the nature and to far IR radiation emitted by the soil, the
properties of the cladding material, the air plants and all the inner elements of the
renewal conditions, the shape, dimensions greenhouse exposed to sunlight (visible and
and orientation of the greenhouse, but also on short IR radiation, to which this cover is
the plant canopy and the possibilities for eva- very transparent; Fig. 3.1). This second
potranspiration (Berninger, 1989). effect is sometimes referred to as the ‘radia-
This microclimate is not uniform and tive greenhouse effect’ or ‘heat trap’.
varies from the centre to the borders of the According to Wien’s law, the product of
greenhouse, from the ground to the roof and the temperature of a radiant surface (in K)
from the limits of the canopy to its interior. by the dominant wavelength of the emitted
The so called ‘spontaneous climate’ is rays (in microns) is constant and equal to
the one generated without important human 2897 (K mm).
or energetic intervention, especially without The average temperature of the Sun’s
heating, forced ventilation or water spraying. surface, assimilated to a black body, is
A greenhouse, normally, has a crop 5800  K. The Sun emits radiation (ranging
which is irrigated and its soil is wet. An from 0.3 to 2.5 mm), with a dominant wave-
empty and dry greenhouse is only of theo- length of 2897/5800 = 0.5 mm (i.e. in the
retical interest, as it is not representative of margin between green-blue and yellow of
real conditions. the visible range).
The materials that cover greenhouses
are transparent to solar radiation, transmit-
ting most of it but the plants and the soil
3.2  The Greenhouse Effect absorb a large amount of it, of all
The ‘greenhouse effect’ is the result of two During the daytime, the majority of the
different effects: (i) a ‘shelter or confinement solar radiation passes through the cover of a

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

30 2nd edition (N. Castilla)
The Greenhouse Climate 31


5800 K

Far IR

Far IR

300 K

Fig. 3.1.  The greenhouse effect. It is complemented by the shelter or confinement effect of the air inside
the enclosure (see text). 1. The plastic lets a large part of the solar radiation pass through it (it transmits).
2. The greenhouse surfaces and the plants absorb the solar energy and re-emit (far IR) energy. 3. The green­
house cover absorbs the energy (far IR) and re-emits it from its two sides, inwards and outwards.

greenhouse and is absorbed by the plants At night, the temperature gradient with
and soil. The plants and the soil are heated the outside is the result of a complex bal-
and re-emit energy, mostly with wavelengths ance influenced, mostly, by the sky temper-
of 10 mm but ranging from 2.5 to 25 mm (far ature and the temperature under the cover
IR range), according to Wien’s law (because and the air exchanges between the green-
the temperature is about 300 K). This energy house and the outside.
re-emitted by the plants and the soil is inter- In an unheated greenhouse ‘thermal
cepted by the covering material (as the mate- inversion’ may occur under certain condi-
rials used are usually opaque to IR radiation), tions, depending on the cover type. For
which is reheated and re-emits energy in example, on nights when the sky is clear the
turn outwards and inwards in similar pro- energy losses in IR radiation to the atmos-
portions (Fig. 3.1). The greenhouse air is phere are very high (see Fig. 2.14). If the cov-
then heated, as it is confined and it is not ering material is permeable to such radiation
renewed with outside fresh air. (as is the case with standard polyethylene
These phenomena generate a tempera- (PE) films), on nights with no wind it may
ture increase that is very evident during the happen that the immobility of the air inside
daytime, in relation to the outside. This effect the greenhouse can cause a higher decrease
will vary depending on the specific condi- in temperature than outside, resulting in
tions of transmission and absorption of the thermal inversion. In other words, although
cover to radiation and depending on the ven- a similar cooling process may occur outside,
tilation and airtightness of the greenhouse. the free air movement and mixing with
32 Chapter 3

Table 3.1.  Brief description of the behaviour of the main microclimate parameters of the greenhouse in
winter, depending on the weather conditions (adapted from Berninger, 1989).


Type of sky Outside Day Night

Clear sky Large difference between day High solar radiation (direct Possible heating to
and night temperatures. High and diffuse). High maintain temperature.
solar radiation (especially ventilation to limit tempera- High RH (without
direct radiation). Low RH, ture rise and avoid CO2 heating)
especially if it is windy. At night, depletion. High thermal
cold air, ‘cold’ sky storage. High evaporation
Cloudy sky Stable temperatures. Weak solar Weak solar radiation, diffuse. Limited heating or may
radiation, diffuse. High RH. Ventilation to limit the be unnecessary,
‘Warm’ sky confinement (high RH, lack except where there is
of CO2). Scarce thermal a high plant disease
storage. Low evaporation risk associated with
high RH

descending warmer air masses partially and in its photomorphogenic effects (Baille,
compensates for this cooling, resulting in a 1999), but also the insects and microorgan-
higher outside temperature at ground level. isms in the greenhouse.
In the past, the ‘radiative greenhouse On single-span greenhouses and on the
effect’ was considered responsible for the greenhouse sidewalls of multi-span green-
greenhouse microclimate, but nowadays the houses, an important part of the penetrating
importance of the convective effect has gained light is lost through the sidewalls. Therefore,
prominence, due to the air confinement, so the use of reflecting surfaces on the north
the use of the expression ‘greenhouse effect’ sides of greenhouses (in the northern hemi-
must refer to both processes, radiative and sphere) contributes to an increase in the
convective (Papadakis et al., 2000). available light (Day and Bailey, 1999).
Table 3.1 summarizes the behaviour of Equally, the use of reflecting surfaces
the main microclimate parameters of the over the soil, to reflect the light not inter-
greenhouse in winter. cepted by the crop, allows for an increase in
the light available for the crop.

3.3  Solar Radiation in Greenhouses

3.3.2  Transmissivity to radiation
3.3.1  Introduction
The fraction of global solar radiation trans-
The solar radiation conditions in the green- mitted inside the greenhouse is designated as
house are very important from the point of ‘greenhouse global transmissivity’ (Zabeltitz,
view of production, not just quantitatively 1999). The limitations to productivity caused
but also qualitatively. The first alteration by low levels of radiation inside the green-
which the greenhouse causes on the micro- house in autumn and winter in Mediterranean
climate parameters is a decrease in available coastal areas on vegetable crops, which are
solar radiation (Fig. 3.2). The radiometric highly light demanding, have been well doc-
characteristics of the greenhouse cover may umented (Castilla et al., 1999; Gonzalez-Real
also significantly modify the quality of the et al., 2003). Maximizing the radiation inside
radiation (distribution spectrum or propor- the greenhouse is in fact a desirable objective
tion of diffuse radiation) affecting the crops, in all latitudes, especially during the autumn
mainly in the efficiency of use of radiation and winter seasons.
The Greenhouse Climate 33

2 +9 2



4 5

1 Solar radiation 6 Heat flux to the air

2 Reflection 7 Ventilation and heat exchange

3 Absorption 8 Soil radiation

4 Heat flux to the soil 9 Cover radiation

5 Horizontal heat flux 10 Evapotranspiration

Fig. 3.2.  Radiation and energy balance in a greenhouse (adapted from Seeman, 1974).

At latitudes higher than 30°, from the material (radiometric characteristics,

equator, the natural decrease of solar radia- cleanliness, water condensation on its
tion is the most important uncontrolled lim- inner surface); and (vi) the structural ele-
iting factor for crop growth inside ments and equipment inside the green-
greenhouses, and thus it becomes impera- house which limit, due to shadowing, the
tive under such conditions to strive for the available radiation inside (Bot, 1983;
maximum possible intensity, duration and Zabeltitz, 1999; Soriano et al., 2004b). The
uniformity of radiation (Giacomelli and transmissivity to direct solar radiation
Ting, 1999). will vary depending on the angle of inci-
The above-mentioned transmissivity dence (formed by the solar ray and the
is a function, among other factors, of: perpendicular to the greenhouse cover;
(i)  the climate conditions (cloudiness, Fig. 3.3), such transmissivity being higher,
mainly, which determines the proportions the smaller the angle is (i.e. when the
of direct and diffuse radiation); (ii) the radiation impinges on the greenhouse
position of the Sun in the sky (which will cover with high perpendicularity; Plate 5).
depend on the date and time of day and The transmissivity to diffuse radiation,
the latitude); (iii) the geometry of the coming from every possible direction of
greenhouse cover; (iv) its orientation the sky is scarcely influenced by the geo­
(east–west, north–south); (v) the covering metry of the greenhouse cover.
34 Chapter 3

It is important to highlight the notorious

­differences that exist, from the point of
Perpendicular Reflected view of radiation transmissivity, between
single-span and multi-span greenhouses
i (even when spans have the same roof geom-
etry) because of the shadows between spans
Solar radiation (Fig. 3.4); consequently, transmissivity esti-
mates obtained in single-span greenhouses
ed Tra cannot be extrapolated to multi-span types.
sorb nsm
Ab d
c film
sti 3.3.3  Orientation and transmissivity

Fig. 3.3.  The solar radiation which impinges on the The greenhouse orientation, which is desig-
plastic film is partly transmitted (crossing the film), nated by the direction of the ridge line (longi-
reflected or absorbed by the film. The proportion of tudinal axis of the span), at medium latitudes,
radiation transmitted (in relation to the incident) is clearly influences transmissivity, in autumn
known as transmissivity (or transmission) and and in winter, under clear sky conditions
varies depending on the physical and chemical (when direct radiation predominates). At lati-
characteristics of the film and on the wavelength
tudes higher than 30°, the north–south orien-
of the radiation. When the radiation is direct it also
depends on the angle of incidence (i ).
tation results in less radiation being transmitted
in winter than the east–west orientation, but
in higher uniformity (Giacomelli and Ting,
On clear days, when direct radiation 1999); as the elevation of the Sun increases
predominates, the average global transmis- in spring, these differences notably decrease
sivity (fraction of global exterior radiation (Fig. 3.5). In greenhouses with roofs with a
that penetrates inside the greenhouse) must very low pitch (Fig. 3.5), the differences in
be integrated as an average value for the transmissivity between the east–west and the
whole greenhouse. This is because of the north–south orientations are much smaller.
variability of radiation at different points The uniformity of radiation in east–west
throughout the greenhouse caused by differ- oriented greenhouses (symmetrical with a
ential shadowing of the structural elements roof pitch of around 30°) is less (on clear
of the greenhouse and of various pieces of days) than in north–south oriented green-
installed equipment (Bot, 1983). houses, but their transmissivity in autumn–
On completely cloudy days, when all winter is higher, with differences of more
the solar radiation is diffuse (i.e. when there than 10% of the outdoors daily global radia-
are no defined shadows) the distribution of tion around the winter solstice. However,
radiation is more homogeneous inside a these differences in uniformity between
greenhouse (Baille, 1999). The average multi-span greenhouses oriented east–west
instantaneous transmissivity of a certain and north–south are attenuated by: (i) the
greenhouse varies throughout the day, greater the height of the greenhouse (3.5–4.0
according to the position of the Sun in the m at the gutters); (ii) the lower the span
sky and the characteristics of the radiation; width; and (iii) the radiation diffusion char-
normally, on a sunny day, it slightly increases acteristics of plastic films used nowadays.
from dawn until noon, and decreases later Summarizing, at medium latitudes with a
until dusk (Plates 6 and 7). When talking predominance of clear days in autumn and
about global greenhouse transmissivity, it is winter, such as in Mediterranean coastal areas,
normally understood as the daily average the east–west orientation is preferable to the
transmissivity (proportion of daily accumu- north–south orientation, in greenhouses with
lated radiation which penetrates inside the roofs with a pitch of greater than 30°, whereas
greenhouse with respect to the outside), to if the angle is low (e.g. low-tech greenhouses,
distinguish it from the instantaneous values. with around 10° roof angle) the north–south
The Greenhouse Climate 35

Area shaded by the gutter

Fig. 3.4.  The shadows of one span on the adjacent span have relevance in multi-span greenhouses
(especially those that are east–west oriented). Shadows are caused by structural elements of the
greenhouse, for instance gutters as well as roofs with a steep pitch.

orientation may be preferable (Castilla, 2001). because normally they range between 55%
In any case, if the priority in a greenhouse is to (winter) and  70% (summer), whereas in double-
achieve the maximum uniformity of radiation ­cover greenhouses they range between 50 and
(for instance, in a nursery) the north–south 60% (Baille, 1999). The average reflectivity
orientation would be preferable. (see Chapter 5) of a greenhouse ranges between
Another important aspect to consider 20 and 25%, and the absorptivity (see Chapter
when orienting the greenhouse is the direc- 5) for both the cover and the structure ranges
tion of the predominant winds, which may from 15% with a simple cover to 25% with a
become a primary consideration in choos- double cover (Baille, 1999).
ing one or other orientation. The wind has a At canopy level, the ‘radiation satura-
strong influence on the structure as a result tion level’ has been defined as the value
of its mechanical effects, and because it has above which the radiation increments do
an indirect influence on the greenhouse not involve parallel increases of photosyn-
indoor microclimate and energy balance thesis (see Chapter 6). This situation (widely
(see Chapters 7 and 8). The wind increases studied in laboratory growth chambers) may
the heat losses and the air infiltration leak- occur in greenhouses during the high radia-
age. Therefore, orientating the ridge parallel tion months at midday, but only on the
to the direction of the prevailing winds can, leaves located on the upper strata of the
in certain cases, be advisable, but a reduc- crop, exposed to higher radiation, whereas
tion of ventilation must be expected. the leaves of the lower strata (shadowed by
The characteristics of the building plot the upper leaves) receive much less radia-
(shape, slope, obstacles that generate shad- tion, and are far from the saturation level.
ows) may also limit the greenhouse orienta- Therefore, considering the plant as a whole,
tion options. it is not usual to achieve radiation satura-
tion in species of edible vegetables, even
under Mediterranean conditions (see
3.3.4  Optimization of the transmissivity Chapter 6), and normally it does not seem
justified to decrease the radiation in the
Daily transmissivity values above 70% in sim- greenhouse for this reason. It might be nec-
ple cover greenhouses are very ­infrequent, essary, however, to limit radiation for other
36 Chapter 3

80 Symmetrical 10°

Transmissivity (%) 75



55 N–S

21 Dec 21 Feb 21 Apr 21 Jun

80 Symmetrical 30°

Transmissivity (%)



55 N–S

21 Dec 21 Feb 21 Apr 21 Jun

Fig. 3.5.  Daily average global radiation transmissivity differences in a greenhouse with a symmetrical
roof with a pitch of 10° (up), or 30° (down), depending on their east–west (E–W) or north–south (N–S)
orientation on 21 December, 21 February, 21 April and 21 June. Data obtained by simulation, for a
latitude of 37°N, for a low-tech parral-type greenhouse, with a new three-layer PE film cover, assuming
only direct radiation (a hypothetical situation).

reasons (e.g. to limit temperature in insuffi- selection of the plastic film, allow for a bet-
ciently ventilated greenhouses, for fruit ter availability of radiation inside the green-
quality considerations, to improve the col- house (Montero et al., 1985; Morales et al.,
our of the product, or to reduce water 2000). Other measures, such as limiting the
stress). shadows of the super-structure and of the
The anti-dripping effect of the inner installed equipment (thermal screens, ven-
side of a multilayer plastic film (once tilator’s screens) and the outside wind-
located over the greenhouse) prevents the breaks, are quite advisable.
formation of thick drops (when water The quality of radiation is affected by
vapour condenses on the film), reducing the soil particles deposited on the green-
transmissivity (Jaffrin and Urban, 1990; house cover, limiting the PAR even more
Zabeltitz, 1999) and later contributing to than the IR radiation (Takakura, 1989).
water dripping on the crop, with negative We must also consider those crop man-
effects on plant health (see Chapter 4). agement techniques which optimize the use
Washing the plastic film covers and of radiation (intercepting it) inside the
restricting greenhouse whitewashing as greenhouse: (i) north–south orientation of
much as possible, together with a good the crop rows; (ii) plant density; (iii) plant
The Greenhouse Climate 37

training; (iv) pruning; and (v) use of There are temperature differences inside
mulching (Castilla, 1994). It is interesting a greenhouse, the east, west and north bor-
to experiment with novel growing tech- ders usually being colder (in the northern
niques, prior to their general adoption. In hemisphere), which can be minimized with
this respect, it is important to highlight double cladding (Berninger, 1989).
the potentially negative influence in pro- The thermal inversions in unheated
ductivity of the use of white mulching in greenhouses may occur on calm nights,
autumn–winter to increase the radiation with a clear sky, when the radiation losses
intercepted by the crop, in unheated towards the atmosphere are larger in the
greenhouses under certain conditions, interval known as ‘atmospheric window’
because of concomitant significant reduc- (Rose, 1979; Fig. 2.14), if the greenhouse
tions in root temperature, both in crops covering material is permeable to radiation
grown in the soil or in artificial substrates in that interval (Day and Bailey, 1999).
(Lorenzo et al., 1999, 2005; Hernández
et al., 2001).

3.4.2  Plant temperature

3.4  Temperature
A thermometer located (without protec-
tion) inside a greenhouse during the night
In an unheated greenhouse the main source
may provide a reading different to the
of heat during the daytime is solar radiation,
actual air temperature. By approximation,
part of which is stored in the soil. During the
we call it the ‘radiative temperature’ or
night, the energy comes mainly from the
‘actinothermal index’ (see Chapter 2). These
soil, in the form of far IR radiation.
differences are larger with a normal PE
cover than with a glass cover. This ‘radi­
ative temperature’ better represents the
3.4.1  Air temperature plant temperature than the air temperature,
during the night.
The air temperature inside the greenhouse During the daytime, there are large dif-
is the result of the energy balance of the pro- ferences in plant temperature, with respect
tection (Fig. 3.2). The greenhouse effect gen- to the air and also between parts of the plant,
erally has two consequences: depending on the radiation intercepted, the
water evaporation and the air movement,
1.  At night, due to the limitation of IR radi-
among other factors. The temperature of the
ation losses, the minimum temperatures are
flowers and the fruits depends greatly on
similar or slightly higher (1–3°C higher,
their colour, which influences the absorp-
depending on the covering material) than
tion of radiation. For instance, green fruit is
the outside (Plate 8). Nevertheless, on clear
usually colder than red fruit.
nights without wind, ‘thermal inversions’
Plant temperature has traditionally
may occur.
been assessed on the basis of the air tem-
2.  During the daytime, due to the ‘heat trap’
perature, corrected with the temperature of
effect and the reduction in the convective
the greenhouse walls and the ground sur-
exchanges (as the air is confined), the air
face, and on the rate of evapotranspiration
temperature is higher indoors than out-
(Berninger, 1989). However, now technol-
doors, being possibly excessive when the
ogy is available for the direct measurement
radiation is high and the greenhouse is not
of plant temperature and the theory/philos-
efficiently ventilated (Plate 8).
ophy of the ‘speaking plant’ in greenhouse
The measurement of the air tempera- crop management is widely accepted
ture must be performed in a representative (Takakura, 1989; Challa and Bakker, 1995).
location of the greenhouse, protected from The recommended values for the green-
direct sunlight and below a flow of air. house air temperature, for the majority of the
38 Chapter 3

species, range between 10 and 30°C, with Within the range of horticultural
daytime values higher than the night values. s­ pecies, we may distinguish three types
It is preferable (for economic reasons) to of  thermal requirements: (i) low demand,
maintain lower temperatures at night, not such as for lettuce, strawberry, endive,
only because the largest greenhouse energy ­carnation, whose day/night thermal levels
losses happen at night (around 75%), but are around 10–25°C during the day/7–10°C
also because the lower temperature will also during the night; (ii) medium demand, such
reduce respiration losses (Hanan, 1998). as for tomato, beans, pepper, aubergine,
In crops such as tomato, a night tem- courgette, with day/night thermal levels
perature around 15°C limits the losses by around 16–30°C during the day/13–18°C
respiration and may be considered optimal. during the night; and (iii)  high demand,
However, when the night temperature is which require values of 20–35°C during
much lower than 15°C, as the case may be the day/18–24°C ­during the night, such as
when the greenhouse is located in low alti- cucurbitaceous crops (melon, watermelon,
tude subtropical latitudes, it becomes a lim- cucumber) and some ornamentals.
iting factor (Jensen and Malter, 1995).
The optimal temperatures usually
decrease with the age of the plant, being 3.4.3  Soil temperature
higher during germination and the first stages
of development. Different parts of the plant
Close to the surface, the soil temperature
might have different temperature optima: for
follows a very similar pattern of develop-
example the tomato plant growing point (at
ment to the air temperature (i.e. sinusoidal
the top) would benefit from a higher temper-
shape and slightly delayed in relation to the
ature whereas the fruit (below) would rather
air; Plate 8). The extreme values are buff-
be at a lower temperature. When the avail­
ered with the depth of the soil.
able radiation or the air CO2 content increase,
The type of irrigation system used
the optimal temperature, from a photosyn-
influences the soil temperature; on the one
thetic point of view, also increases. Other
hand by the water temperature itself and
physiological processes may have different
on the other hand by its effect on water
optimal temperature values, such as, for
evaporation from the soil and plants, and,
instance, the distribution of assimilates.
therefore, the energy balance (Berninger,
When temperatures are lower than opti-
mal, normally, the quality of the product
decreases, which may occur in winter in
unheated greenhouses.
The capacity of most horticultural spe- 3.4.4  Thermal inertia in the greenhouse
cies to integrate the temperature on 24 h
periods, or longer, within a range of 10–25°C, The soil, as well as the substrate in soilless
means that if the average temperature of the crops, or the pots in ornamentals, are the
period is maintained (24 h) the growth heat sink of the greenhouse, that is they are
won’t change (Hanan, 1998), which allows centres of thermal inertia. The crop has lit-
for flexible heating management to reduce tle importance with regard to thermal iner-
costs. tia compared with the soil. A 10 cm soil
The concept of the thermal integral, layer has five to eight times more thermal
applied to longer periods, allows for the capacity than the mass of a normal crop
prediction of the crop’s phenology with the (Berninger, 1989).
aim of scheduling the harvest (Mauromicale During the night the soil returns part of
et al., 1988). The thermal integral is based the energy it has stored during the day back
on the hypothesis that the lower the tem- to the greenhouse. Use of white mulch, used
perature the slower the growth rate and to reflect radiation, limits the daytime heat-
development of the plants will be (see ing of the soil and, thus, reduces the ther-
Appendix 1 section A.2.1). mal inertia of the soil.
The Greenhouse Climate 39

Mulching with organic matter, which ­ olumes h−1 (i.e. volumes of greenhouse per
limits the surface water evaporation and hour) must be achieved (see Chapter 8).
contributes CO2 when decomposing, modi- Normally, the static ventilation is not suffi-
fies the thermal inertia function of the soil cient, except with large vents and constant
in a similar way. wind.

3.5  The Wind Inside the Greenhouse 3.6.2  Air humidity

Cladding the roof and sidewalls of the The most important contribution to the
greenhouse with a film cover results in an water vapour exchanges in a greenhouse
enormous decrease of wind velocity with comes from crop transpiration, although
respect to the outside (Day and Bailey, water evaporation from the humid soil also
1999). This wind reduction has a great effect contributes, as well as condensation of
on crop physiology (see Chapters 6 and 9) water vapour on the different greenhouse
and on the greenhouse microclimate, due to surfaces when they get cold (Day and
air being confined inside the structure (part Bailey, 1999).
of the greenhouse effect). During the daytime, the RH decreases
When greenhouse ventilation is limited in the greenhouse when temperature
and/or when stratification of the indoor air increases (Plate 8), although the absolute
layers occurs, it becomes imperative to humidity has increased due to transpira-
move the air with destratification fans (see tion. When ventilating, the outside air
Chapter 9). (colder and dryer) which enters the green-
house decreases the RH, because this out-
side air gains heat faster than moisture. As a
3.6  The Greenhouse Atmosphere general rule, VPD values larger than 1.1 kPa
in the winter, or 2.7 kPa in the spring,
A closed greenhouse is not completely air- should be avoided (Berninger, 1989).
tight, because complete tightness is never At night, as the greenhouse gets colder,
technically achieved. The air exchanges the RH increases and may reach saturation
with the outside depend greatly on the out- (Plate 8), and then condensation occurs
side wind. The hourly exchange rate (R) is over the greenhouse surfaces, starting at the
defined as the quotient between the outside colder ones, such as the cover. If the green-
incoming volume of air in 1 h and the total house has enough slope in the roof, the
volume of the greenhouse (see Chapter 8), condensate will slide down, being collected
or, the average air volume exchanged per in proper gutters, if available. With a low
ground unit surface in 1 h (cubic metres of roof slope the water will drip over the
air per square metre of ground surface per crop.
hour; m3 m−2 h−1). If the greenhouse has a double cover,
the inner cover will be warmer (than with a
simple cover) and it will take longer for the
water vapour to condense.
3.6.1  Greenhouse ventilation The water transpiration by the crop
has  a great effect on air humidity. A well-­
Greenhouse ventilation is justified for three developed crop evaporates water actively,
main reasons: (i) to avoid excessive heating shades the soil and limits the warming of
during the daytime: (ii) to ensure adequate the greenhouse during the daytime. A green-
levels of CO2; and (iii) to control the house without a crop and without irrigation
humidity. will be much warmer on a sunny day and
In large greenhouses, an hourly renewal the day/night variations of temperature and
rate (R), during the summer, of 30–60 RH will be larger.
40 Chapter 3

3.6.3  CO2 content the ­normal consumption is 1.5–2 g CO2

m−2 h−1 increasing in spring to average val-
The ventilation, photosynthesis and respi- ues of 3 g CO2 m−2 h−1 in the Mediterranean
ration of the plants and the CO2 generation area (Berninger, 1989).
in the soil (by root respiration and decom-
position of organic matter), influence the
CO2 content of the greenhouse air. 3.6.4  Pollutant gases
At night, the accumulation of CO2 due
to plant respiration increases the green- In greenhouses, pollutant gases (besides
house concentration above the values out- those that originate from plant protection
side (Fig. 3.6). During the daytime, due to treatments) are the result of using inappro-
photosynthesis, the CO2 content decreases priate fuels (with excess impurities) or
with respect to the outside value (Fig. 3.6). defective burning, when the combustion
In a closed greenhouse, on a sunny day, the gases are injected inside the greenhouse.
CO2 content may decrease below 200 ppm, Combustion defects mainly generate carbon
it being a limiting factor for crop production monoxide (CO), ethylene (C2H4) and nitro-
(Lorenzo et al., 1997a, b). gen oxides (NOx). The most usual impuri-
The goal of ventilation is to avoid CO2 ties (presence of sulfur) generate sulfur
depletions of more than 30 ppm, with dioxide (SO2) (see Chapter 7).
respect to the normal atmospheric content The plastizicers present in some mate-
(360 ppm). The ventilation required to rials (e.g. silicone) may also be toxic to the
decrease the temperature, which ranges, plants, but their concentration in normal
at least, from 20–30 renewals h−1, is usu- greenhouses does not generate problems,
ally sufficient to maintain appropriate which may occur otherwise in small growth
CO2 levels (Fig. 3.6). In winter, at noon, chambers (Langhams and Tibbits, 1997).
CO2 concentration (ppm)

Night Day Night
400 concentration

Ventilation (%)
100 100%

Solar radiation (W m–2)

Ventilation (%)

300 Medium wind, No wind,
200 cold temperature mild temperature

0 4 8 12 16 20 0 4 8 12 16
Time (h)

Fig. 3.6.  Evolution of air CO2 concentrations through two autumn days in a greenhouse, without CO2
enrichment and a tomato crop, as influenced by ventilation and outside global radiation (adapted from
Wacquant, 2000).
The Greenhouse Climate 41

3.7  Summary ­ ifferences in transmissivity due to

­orientation (north–south or east–west)
•• Inside a greenhouse, radiation, temper- are small.
ature and atmospheric composition •• There is less uniformity of radiation
are  modified generating a different inside a greenhouse that is east–west
microclimate. oriented than inside a north–south ori-
•• The ‘greenhouse effect’ is a conse- ented greenhouse. However, these dif-
quence of two different phenomena: ferences in uniformity between
(i)  a confinement effect (convective multi-span greenhouses oriented east–
effect), due to the reduction in the air west and north–south are attenuated
exchanges with the outside atmos- by: (i) the greater the height of the
phere; and (ii) a radiative greenhouse greenhouse; (ii) the lower the span
effect, caused by the existence of the width; and (iii) the radiation diffusion
greenhouse cover, which is a screen characteristics of plastic films used
that is transparent to the Sun’s rays nowadays.
but has low transparency to far IR radi- •• Transmissivity to solar radiation must
ation (emitted by the soil, the vegeta- be maximized in the greenhouse,
tion and the inner elements of the because an increase in solar radiation
greenhouse). involves a parallel increase in yield.
•• The first modification which a green- This requires careful consideration
house generates in the climate parame- when choosing the type of greenhouse,
ters is a decrease of solar radiation, due the covering material, and the crop
to the presence of the greenhouse management technique (crop rows ori-
cover. entation, plants density, pruning, train-
•• The transmissivity of a greenhouse is ing, etc.) that will be used.
the fraction of solar radiation which •• The air temperature in the greenhouse
penetrates inside the greenhouse. It is is, normally, higher during the day than
usually expressed as a percentage. the outside air temperature and similar
•• The transmissivity of the greenhouse or slightly higher during the night than
depends, among other factors, on: the outside air temperature. However,
(i) the cloudiness; (ii) the position of the in unheated greenhouses, during clear
Sun in the sky; (iii) the geometry of nights (without clouds) with no wind,
the greenhouse cover; (iv) its orienta- ‘thermal inversion’ may occur (the tem-
tion; (v) the covering material; and perature of the air in the greenhouse
(vi) the structural elements of the being lower than outside).
greenhouse. •• The plant temperature varies greatly
•• When direct radiation conditions pre- during the day (with respect to the air
vail, on sunny days, the geometry of the temperature and between different
cover (shape and pitch of the roof) and parts of the plant) depending on the
the orientation greatly influence the intercepted radiation, transpiration and
greenhouse transmissivity. When dif- the air movements, among other factors.
fuse radiation prevails (cloudy days) •• The soil has great thermal inertia and
they have little influence. during the night it returns part of the
•• In the climatic conditions of the energy it has stored during the day back
Mediterranean coast, with an abun- to the greenhouse. The crop, due to its
dance of sunny days, the east–west low mass, has little importance in
greenhouse orientation transmits more greenhouse thermal inertia.
radiation in autumn–winter, than the •• The wind is very limited inside the
north–south orientation, on gabled greenhouse, in relation to the outside.
greenhouses with a certain roof pitch Therefore, it may be convenient to
(around 30° roof angle). If the roof pitch move the inside air, because the lack
is lower (around 10° roof angle) the of  air movement negatively affects
42 Chapter 3

­ hotosynthesis and, as a consequence,

p •• Transpiration by the crop has a great
the yield. effect on air humidity and the decrease
•• Greenhouse ventilation is necessary to of temperatures.
avoid excessive warming during the •• The air CO2 content during the daytime,
daytime, to maintain minimum accept- if there is no renewal of the inside air,
able CO2 levels and to avoid excessive may decrease to values of the order of
air humidity. 200 ppm, negatively affecting the yield.
•• At night, as the greenhouse gets colder, During the night, CO2 levels are higher
the RH increases and may reach satura- than in the outside air, due to the CO2
tion, and then condensation occurs supplies from plant respiration and
over the greenhouse surfaces. from the soil.
The Plastic Greenhouse

4.1  Introduction caused by the cladding material in

exchanges between the soil, the substrate
The development of plastic materials has and the canopy with the surroundings
been one of the most decisive factors in the (Villele, 1983).
great expansion of greenhouse industries The new regulation UNE-EN-13031-1
around the world. During the second half of (Greenhouses: design and construction; the
the 20th century, the lower cost of plastic- Spanish version of the European regulation
covered greenhouses in relation to tradi- EN-13031-1) defines the greenhouse as a
tional glasshouses, promoted their use structure used for growing and/or to pro-
without heating in many mild climate areas, vide plant and yield protection, optimizing
but advanced designs also became common- the solar radiation transmission under con-
place in northern colder countries, because trolled conditions, to improve the crop
of the significant savings in energy use. environment and whose dimensions allow
The light weight of plastic materials people to work inside.
compared with glass have allowed for a
notable reduction in the supporting struc-
tures for the cladding materials and, as a 4.2  Evolution of the Greenhouse
consequence, of the building cost. Concept
It is difficult to define the distinction
between high tunnels and greenhouses, but In greenhouses, the main function of increas-
in this book high tunnels (i.e. those struc- ing the temperatures in relation to the open
tures that are high enough to allow workers field, as a consequence of the ‘greenhouse
to walk inside them and work on the crop) effect’, was previously the main considera-
are included within the term ‘greenhouse’. tion. However, this is not always the main
However, facilities which do not use sun- consideration now, although it remains the
light as the main source of radiation (e.g. most important factor during short periods
growth chambers, phytotrons, etc.) are not of low outside temperatures, as is the case in
included in the term. many Mediterranean greenhouses. Indeed,
A greenhouse is a structure which in some regions what is more important is
allows for the delimitation of a crop com- the ‘shading effect’ in the season of high
partment, in which the climate differs radiation, or the ‘windbreak effect’, at least
from that outdoors, due to modifications during some periods of the year.

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 43
44 Chapter 4

The covering of greenhouses with a In tropical and subtropical regions of

screen (net) instead of with a plastic film, high rainfall, the ‘umbrella effect’ predomi-
is a recent introduction at low latitudes. It nates in greenhouses (Photo 4.2), because
limits the radiation and the outside wind the primary purpose of their use is to avoid
without increasing the temperature. In the harmful effects of frequent and heavy
very arid or desert areas, the insulation rains over the crops. Here the greenhouse
that the greenhouse provides in relation effect is normally undesirable, as the natu-
to the outside environment (which is very ral thermal conditions are sufficient, or even
dry and hot) represents a different con- excessive, for the development of the crops
cept to that of conventional protected (Garnaud, 1987).
­cultivation, as it provides for an increase
in the ambient humidity and a reduction
in the temperature, provided the crop is 4.3  Geographical Production Areas
well irrigated. This has prompted talk
about the ‘oasis effect’ (Sirjacobs, 1988; In the past, greenhouses were located near
Photo 4.1). cities, were the produce was destined for
In a greenhouse, the reduction of the sale. Until the middle of the 20th century,
radiation with respect to the open air means transport difficulties confined the use of
there is a decrease in the irrigation require- greenhouses to the areas adjacent to the cen-
ments (as evapotranspiration decreases), tres of consumption.
which together with a significant increase Nowadays, the location of the produc-
in yield results in a much more efficient use tion areas is influenced, mainly, by climate
of the irrigation water (Stanghellini, 1992). conditions and by the type of species to be
This is relevant in regions with scarce water cultivated, which determine the costs and
resources. quality of the yield, as well as the transport
costs to the consuming markets. Other tech-
nical factors (e.g. availability and quality of
irrigation water, soil characteristics) and
socio-economic factors (e.g. commercial
channels, levels of technology in the area,
financing possibilities, communication and
electricity infrastructures, farm size, availa-
bility of inputs for horticultural production)
also have an influence at a time marked by
the internationalization of trade and, in gen-
eral, the globalization of the economy.
The displacement of greenhouse pro-
duction areas that occurred during the
last decades of the 20th century are a good
example of this. In Europe, greenhouse
­vegetable production has moved from the
north to the Mediterranean area (Photo 4.3),
where the better climate conditions in
autumn and winter enable production at
notably lower costs, without using heating
(Tognoni and Serra, 1988, 1989). Similar
movements occurred in the USA when car-
nation cultivation partly moved to
California and Florida (with a better cli-
Photo 4.1.  A banana crop grown in a greenhouse. mate) from the ­traditional production areas
In very arid or desert areas, the greenhouse (East Coast) and from Colorado, where an
generates a certain ‘oasis effect’. important sector had emerged due to its
The Plastic Greenhouse 45

Photo 4.2.  In tropical and subtropical regions of high rainfall, the protection against the rain becomes, in
many cases, the main purpose of using greenhouses.

Photo 4.3.  The vicinity of the sea provides good temperature conditions for greenhouse cultivation in
Mediterranean coastal areas.

good light conditions which induced a costs to the North American markets. The
product of better quality (Nelson, 1985; displacement of the production areas to
Wittwer and Castilla, 1995). Afterwards, regions with milder climate has enabled
Colombia partially displaced some carna- the use of less sophisticated greenhouses
tion growers, due to its lower growing costs and therefore, those of cheaper construc-
and their good quality (due to the climate tion which enabled production at more
conditions), despite the high transport competitive costs (Castilla et al., 2004).
46 Chapter 4

However, it must be pointed out that Given the need for export, and the great
the most technologically advanced and importance that the external market has in
most productive greenhouse industries are countries with a well-developed horticul-
centred in northern colder countries (e.g. tural sector, it is expected that in the future
The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Japan). international competition will increase and
The main reason for the survival of the will become an even greater challenge.
greenhouse industries of the north in an
increasingly competitive world market is
that, despite the high heating costs, and
contrary to public misconception, it is
4.4  Climatic Suitability for
cheaper to heat a space than to cool it and Greenhouse Vegetable Production
this offers better opportunities for year-
round production in the north than in the 4.4.1  Introduction
south. In reality, it is not possible to con-
trol the greenhouse air temperature within Today, technology allows greenhouse culti-
acceptable levels during the summer vation of any horticultural species in any
months in hot climates with present green- region of the world, provided that the green-
house cooling systems. In turn, the good house is properly climatized, but a profit­
prospects for year-round production (and able cultivation of the target crop requires a
much higher yields, of stable product qual- much more strict selection of the region,
ity) allow for investment in more expen- depending on its climatic conditions and
sive (and more sophisticated) greenhouses the requirements of the selected horticul-
in the north. tural crop.
Pot plants are more limited in where Solar radiation is the first climate
their production areas can be located due parameter to be considered when evaluat-
to their high transport costs. In a similar ing the climate suitability of a region for
way, species such as roses, which need protected cultivation. The length of the day
strict climate control to obtain high qual- and the global solar radiation intercepted by
ity flowers, must be cultivated in green- a horizontal surface through the daytime
houses with a good level of technological hours (see Chapters 2 and 3) determine the
equipment. Sometimes the commercial total daily radiation (global solar radiation
aspect, such as when produce is sold integral in that period). The ambient tem-
directly to the final consumer, may dic- perature is another basic climate parameter
tate the construction of the greenhouse in to consider.
specific locations, such as peri-urban The stability of both values (radiation
areas. and temperature) through the different
The trend to suppress political and months of the year enables the representa-
geographical borders, and the consequent tion of their average monthly values
restriction on barriers for export (agree- (obtained by averaging data sets for several
ments of the World Trade Organization, years) for a given location, in a climate dia-
WTO), will have implications in the long gram with an elliptic shape, which repre-
term with regard to the prevalence of hor- sents the location’s climate (Fig. 2.15).
ticultural areas with higher production Other climate parameters, such as soil
efficiency, which are able to adapt them- temperature (which is linked to the air
selves to the requirements of the market. ­temperature), wind, rainfall and air compo-
The phytosanitary barriers (limits placed sition (humidity and CO2), should also be
on the export of produce due to pesticide considered, although their influence is not
residues, or the possibility of introducing as  important, when evaluating climate
pests or pathogens from the exporting suitability.
country) are expected to become even Depending on the climate characteris-
more relevant than they are today in this tics of a region and the requirements of the
sector (Castilla et al., 2004). crops to be grown it will be necessary to
The Plastic Greenhouse 47

choose a certain type of greenhouse. For tool for the management of greenhouse
instance, in a region with a tropical humid crops (see Chapter 7, section 7.4.6).
climate, where the defence from the rain is The minimum daily requirements of
the main objective of the greenhouse (preva- radiation of these species are estimated at
lence of the umbrella effect), it will be neces- around 8.5 MJ m−2 day−1 (equivalent to
sary to choose a different type of construction 2.34  kWh m−2 day−1) in the three shortest
from that used in a region of semi-desert or months of the year (November, December
with a Mediterranean climate. and January in the northern hemisphere;
May, June and July in the southern hemi-
sphere). This means around 6 h of light day−1,
which translates to a minimum of 500–550 h
4.4.2  Climate requirements of of light in these three months (Nisen et al.,
vegetables 1988). The duration of the day and the night
is influenced by the geographical latitude
The most usual cultivated species in green- together with the time of the year. The pho-
houses are vegetables with medium to toperiodic requirements of some crops are
slightly high thermal requirements (tomato, linked to the duration of the night.
pepper, cucumber, melon, watermelon, Other desirable climate parameters for
marrow, green bean, aubergine) with the these species would be a soil temperature
aim of extending the production season above 14°C and an ambient relative humid-
beyond the conventional growing season. ity of 70–90% (Nisen et al., 1988).
Nowadays, in cases of very high product
prices, greenhouse production in geograph-
ical areas that do not have perfectly suitable
climate conditions force a notable and 4.4.3  Obtaining the required
expensive artificial intervention over the climate conditions
climate parameters. In any case, the eco-
nomic results will determine where green- The lack of possibilities to practically
houses are located. increase, at a reasonable cost, the natural
The cited horticultural crops are, radiation conditions (except in very sophis-
essentially, warm season species, adapted ticated greenhouses and with high value
to average ambient temperatures ranging crops), has made it necessary to design and
from 17 to 28°C, and whose limits we can locate greenhouses with the aim of maxi-
establish as between average temperatures mizing the interception of solar radiation
of 12°C (minimum) and 32°C (maximum) during the months of autumn and winter.
(Nisen et al., 1988). They are sensitive to Therefore, the natural radiation availability
the cold, and suffer irreversible damage is a critical limiting factor when consider-
with frosts. The persistence of tempera- ing the establishment of greenhouses.
tures below 10–12°C for several days, as Due to the interdependence between
well as temperatures above 30°C, in the air and soil temperatures (even with less
case of dry air, or higher than 30–35°C in oscillation inside a greenhouse than out-
cases of high air humidity, affect their side), achieving a suitable air temperature
productivity (Nisen et  al., 1988). In the involves proper soil temperature values as
past, it was accepted that a daily variation well.
between day and night average tempera- According to the methodology pro-
tures (thermal periodicity, between 5 and posed by the FAO (Nisen et al., 1988),
7°C) was necessary for proper physiologi- ­protected cultivation in greenhouses or high
cal functioning (Nisen et al., 1988). tunnels enables daytime thermal increases
Currently, it has been stated (Challa and in relation to the outside air, mainly depend-
Bakker, 1995; Erwin and Heins, 1995) that ing on: (i) the characteristics of the clad-
this day/night temperature difference, ding material; (ii) the outside wind
known as DIF, is not a requirement but a velocity; (iii) the incident solar radiation;
48 Chapter 4

and (iv) the transpiration of the crop that attainable in practice without mechanical
is  grown inside the greenhouse, possibly ventilation or evaporative cooling.
reaching very high values (Fig. 4.1). By
­contrast, night temperatures are only slightly
increased in relation to the outside (2–4°C, 4.4.4  Climate suitability
at most) and, in some cases, are lower (ther-
mal inversion). The fundamental requirements of the ther-
The maximum thermal increases vary mophilic horticultural species previously
with the latitude and, for each specific loca- cited as candidates for out-of-season culti-
tion, with the time of the year, as the solar vation (e.g. tomato, pepper, melon, water-
radiation changes (Fig. 4.2). melon) would be:
To increase the low temperatures the
1.  A minimum global radiation of 8.5 MJ m−2
most usual solution is to heat the green-
day−1 (equivalent to 2.34 kWh m−2 day−1).
house, which is not always profitable. In
2.  Average ambient temperatures between
some cases, a highly isolating system can
17 and 27°C in coastal areas, and 17–22°C
avoid the temperature decrease during the
in inland areas far from the sea. This dis-
night, as is done in the ‘lean-to greenhouse’
tinction is based on the higher daily thermal
type in China, where a special curtain of
oscillations observed in continental cli-
canes and wood materials is manually
mates (around 20°C) than in marine-type
placed over the greenhouse cover at sunset,
climatic regions (10°C), and by setting the
and removed at sunrise, to avoid relevant
upper threshold of air temperature at 32°C
temperature decreases at night, a highly
(Nisen et al., 1988).
labour-intensive activity.
To limit thermal excesses, the renewal Considering the usual unacceptably
of the interior air by means of ventilation is high cost of active intervention (e.g. heating
the classic and most economic tool (see systems) on the microclimate in the case of
Chapter 8). unsophisticated greenhouses, the minimum
The hourly air renewal rate needed to greenhouse temperatures are usually simi-
limit the temperature gradient to an accept- lar to those of the open air. The maximum
able value, depending on the maximum temperatures, with passive normal ventila-
predictable solar radiation (Table 4.1), can tion would be in some cases around 10°C
be very high (Fig. 4.3), and this may not be higher than outside. This would involve an

∆T (°C)


U = 0 m s–1

U = 10 m s–1

0 Rs
150 450 750 kcal m–2 h–1
175 525 875 W m–2

Fig. 4.1.  Example of the temperature increase (DT ) in a closed greenhouse, well irrigated, as a function
of the solar radiation intensity (Rs) and wind velocity (U ) (adapted from Nisen et al., 1988).
The Plastic Greenhouse 49

DT max (°C)



35 N 40 N 45 N
Latitude (°)

Fig. 4.2.  Example of the maximum amplitude of the temperature increase (DT max) in a closed
greenhouse, well irrigated, at different times of the year and at different latitudes (adapted from Nisen
et al., 1988).

Table 4.1.  Values of maximum global solar radiation intensity (W m−2) predictable as a function of
latitude, at noon (northern hemisphere). (Source: Nisen et al., 1988.)

Latitude December March June September

32°N 550 915 1050 855

38°N 455 845 1025 780
44°N 355 770 995 685

∆T = 2.5°C
R (volumes h–1)

50 ∆T = 5°C

∆T = 10°C
0 Rs
300 600 900 kcal m–2 h–1

350 700 1.050 W m–2

Fig. 4.3.  Estimation of the hourly air exchange rate R in a well-irrigated greenhouse, to maintain ambient
warming to a given air temperature (DT ) value with respect to the outside air as a function of solar
radiation (Rs) (adapted from Nisen et al., 1988).

increase of the average temperatures of of average temperatures in coastal areas

around 5°C. and 12–17°C in inland areas. Outside these
In view of these predictions, the limits, pro­­tected cultivation would require
­thermal climate limits for protected culti­ active climatization systems: ­heating and
vation, without active climate control mechanical ventilation or misting for
equipment, would be between 12 and 22°C cooling.
50 Chapter 4

Figure 4.4 represents the climate dia- create a greenhouse effect and cause a shad-
gram for Almeria. The solar radiation in ing effect and a windbreak effect, is an option
December is at the minimum limit. The tem- for protected cultivation which is being used
peratures are slightly lower than 12°C (mini- in low rainfall areas with mild winter tem-
mum threshold) in the month of January, peratures (e.g. the Canary Islands or tropical
which denotes that it would be necessary to American areas) or during the summer sea-
heat the greenhouse during this month. son in the uplands of medium latitudes (i.e.
Except for the summer months (June, July, the province of Granada, Spain).
August and September), the remaining
months have thermal conditions which are
suitable for protected cultivation (between
12 and 22°C), with efficient ventilation. In 4.5  The Plastics
summer, it is necessary to limit the thermal
excesses to cultivate inside greenhouses. 4.5.1  Introduction
Obviously, this method constitutes only
a primary approach to evaluate the climate The name ‘plastics’ comes from the main
suitability of a region for the cultivation of characteristic of these types of material
thermophilic vegetable species. In a similar which is their plasticity, or capacity to be
way, we can evaluate the climate suitability moulded or shaped. The plastics are com-
of a certain location for greenhouse cultiva- posed of macromolecules (polymers), made
tion of other less thermally demanding spe- by the union of other smaller molecules
cies (e.g. lettuce, Chinese cabbage). (monomers), obtained in the industrial
The use of screens instead of plastic process of polymerization, and various
films as a covering material, which do not additives. If the polymer is made of just one

j j
Almeria a
Solar radiation (MJ m–2 d–1)

(Spain) a
15 f

Radiation o
10 threshold j
8.46 n
d D
2 7 12 17 22 27
Mean monthly air temperature (°C)

A. Heating required
B. Protected cultivation possible without heating but with natural ventilation (passive)
C. Open air cultivation possible (inland areas)
D. Open air cultivation possible (coastal areas)
E. Need to use techniques to decrease temperatures
F. Excessive temperatures

Fig. 4.4.  Estimation of the climate suitability of Almeria (Spain, 37°N) for the cultivation of thermophilic
vegetable species in greenhouses, from the monthly average values of air temperature and solar
radiation (adapted from Nisen et al., 1988).
The Plastic Greenhouse 51

monomer it is called a homopolymer, and tain properties or improve their character-

when it is made from two or more polymers istics, without altering the molecular
it is called a copolymer (Díaz et al., 2001). structure of the polymer. They can be
Almost all the monomers used in the plas- processing additives (that ease the fabrica-
tics industry come from petroleum. tion process) or functional additives (that
give certain qualities to the plastic), reach-
ing up to 10% of the final weight of the
4.5.2  Plastic materials commonly product (Díaz et al., 2001).
used in agriculture The most important functional addi-
tives are: (i) the photostabilizers; (ii) the
anti-acids; (iii) the long and short-wave IR
The plastics have a great variety of uses in
radiation blockers; (iv) additives that mod-
agriculture, not just as films but in many
ify the surface tension; and (v) the lumines-
other forms (tubes, boxes, threads).
cence additives (Díaz et al., 2001).
The plastic films have a low weight, as
Photostabilizers prolong the life of the
compared with glass. For instance, 1 m2 of
material by delaying ageing of the material;
polyethylene (PE) film, 0.2 mm thick,
ageing being precipitated by polymer degra-
weighs a bit less than 200 g, while 1 m2 of
dation due to UV light of the Sun’s rays.
glass, 2.7 mm thick, weighs 6.5 kg. This
Common photostabilizers are the nickel
characteristic has favoured the use of PE as
quenchers and diverse organic compounds,
greenhouse cladding material.
such as the ‘HALS’ (hindered amine light
The most common plastic materials
stabilizers) (Díaz et al., 2001). The latest
used as agricultural films (Table 4.2) are the
generation of ‘HALS’ are known as the ‘nor-
low density polyethylene (LDPE, with a
HALS’. The latter are more stable than the
density less than 0.93 kg m−3), the copoly-
conventional HALS, in the presence of pes-
mer of ethylene and vinyl-acetate (EVA) and
ticides and other aggressive acid conditions,
the plasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
and are being used for long-life films and in
The more common materials, used as rigid
those greenhouses where sulfur is com-
panels, are polycarbonate (PC), polymethyl
monly applied (e.g. rose culture).
methacrylate (PMMA), rigid PVC and poly-
The nickel quenchers give a yellowish-
ester reinforced with fibreglass.
green colour to the films and their use is
diminishing, due to their residues. The
HALS additives are non-coloured.
4.5.3  Plastic additives The anti-acid additives improve the
resistance of the HALS, increasing their
Additives are incorporated in the process useful life. Zinc oxide, used as anti-acid,
of plastic making in order to provide cer- gives the films a light-diffusing effect.

Table 4.2.  Materials commonly used for greenhouse cladding.


Glass Rigid panels Flexible filmsa Screens

Fibreglass reinforced polyester Low density polyethylene (LDPE)

Polycarbonate (PC) Conventional
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Long life or UV
Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) Thermal or IR
Ethylene vinyl-acetate copolymer (EVA)
Others: Polyvinyl fluoride (PVF) (Tedlar), Mylar,
May be used as multilayer films.
52 Chapter 4

The IR radiation blockers have allowed The additives that block UV solar
the fabrication of thermal PE films. These r­ adiation affect the behaviour of some
additives can be mineral products of very insects, limiting their vision capacity, and
diverse type: natural or synthetic silicates, the development of some fungal diseases.
aluminium or magnesium hydroxides (Díaz
et al., 2001).
The additives that modify the surface 4.5.4  Properties of plastic films
tension can be of two types: (i) the anti-
static ones, that have an anti-dust effect, When considering greenhouses, the most
avoiding the electrostatic attraction of dust important properties of plastic films are the
on the outside of the film; and (ii) the anti- radiometric and mechanical characteristics
drip ones, that avoid the generation of water as well as their durability and their behav-
droplets in the inner side of the film (increas- iour when water vapour condenses on the
ing the surface tension of the film) in such a film.
way that water vapour is condensed as a
water film (Díaz et al., 2001). Radiometric properties
The anti-static additives reduce the
static electricity, avoiding the attraction of For greenhouse use, the relevant radiomet-
dust particles. However, they induce the ric properties of plastic films are their trans-
film surface to become sticky, and dust that missivity to solar radiation, in the different
does settle by gravity or brought on the wind wavelengths (UV, PAR, NIR and to long IR
cannot easily be washed away by rainfall. wavelengths). In addition, the reflection
Therefore, these additives are not practi- and adsorption characteristics are relevant
cally useful. (see Chapter 5) (Fig. 4.5).
The IR radiation blockers known as A material which lets a great propor-
NIR (i.e. near IR, with wavelengths between tion of the radiation pass through it is called
760 and 2500 mm) reduce the heat load of transparent, whereas a material which pre-
greenhouses covered with films with these vents radiation from passing through it is
additives. They are used in tropical areas to called opaque. When crossing a translucent
limit the greenhouse effect (Verlodt and material, radiation is dispersed (scattered)
Verchaeren, 2000). in all directions and this dispersed (diffuse)
The luminescence additives (fluores- radiation generates shadows that are less
cent or phosphorescent) can alter the defined and less sharp than those generated
‘quality’ of the light transmitted by films outside.
that contain them. These additives absorb The perfect covering material, besides
wavelengths of less interest for plant having good insulating properties should
growth and transform them in other wave- allow 100% transmission in the PAR range
lengths more effective for photosynthesis. (Papadakis et al., 2000), which is unattain-
Normally, this effect is reached converting able. Normally, a good covering material
UV radiation (that is absorbed) in visible must be transparent to NIR solar radiation
radiation or converting green radiation and be as opaque as possible to long-wave
into red radiation that is more efficient IR, to have a good greenhouse effect. In
in  the photosynthesis process (Yanagi addition, a good covering material must be
et al., 1996). diffusive (Fig. 4.6), and have good insula-
Other interesting additives for green- tion characteristics and behave well with
house plastic films are those that alter the regard to condensation.
red/far red (R/FR) ratio. These can have a The transmission characteristics to
great influence in plant photomorphogene- PAR radiation change depending on the
sis, through the plant pigment ‘phytocrome’ type of radiation, direct or diffuse, and it is
(see Chapter 6). Some luminescence and IR important to avoid the confusion between
radiation-blocking additives also have this transmissivity to diffuse radiation of a film
R/FR-altering effect. and the proportion of direct radiation
The Plastic Greenhouse 53



Percentage (%)




0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90
Angle of incidence


Used PE thermal film

New PE thermal film

Used PE three-layer film

New PE three-layer film

0 20 40 60 80
0.2 mm thickness Transmissivity (%)

Fig. 4.5.  (a) Influence of the angle of incidence of direct radiation on the transmission, reflection and
absorption of a greenhouse covering material. (b) Transmissivity of diffuse solar radiation of different
greenhouse covering materials (Montero et al., 2001).

that  is  converted into diffuse radiation ­radiation (Baille et al., 2003; see Appendix
when passing through a film (Papadakis 1 section A.3.1).
et al., 2000). On sunny days, with a diffu- The transmission characteristics are
sive film (Fig. 4.6), the diffuse radiation altered by the presence of condensation
inside a greenhouse can be three or four and water vapour on the film, depending
times higher than the outside diffuse on the shape that the condensed vapour
54 Chapter 4

house and for withstanding strong winds.

Direct solar radiation
The resistance to tearing of the plastic is
important to avoid tears due to accidental
cuts of the film, which are not unusual in
the low-cost ‘parral’-type greenhouses. The
resistance to impact is needed so that the
Diffuse radiation
film can withstand hail and strong winds.
Fig. 4.6.  Some greenhouse-covering plastic films
have the power to diffuse solar radiation,
increasing the proportion of diffuse radiation inside
the greenhouse. Therefore, on a sunny day, inside The durability of an agricultural film is
a greenhouse covered with this type of film the defined as the shelf life during which the
shadows are less defined and sharp than outside.
film retains, at least, 50% of its initial
mechanical properties (Díaz et al., 2001).
acquires (droplets or water film). The The degradation of the film in the green-
condensation on the inner face of the house occurs mainly by the action of UV
plastic film can notably reduce the trans- radiation from the sun, which degrades the
missivity to solar radiation, depending on polymer (photodegradation). In addition,
the shape of the droplets (Fig. 4.7). Indeed, durability is also influenced by other fac-
condensation reduces the transmission to tors, for example: (i) climate conditions
long-wave IR. The dust and dirt accumu- (temperature and radiation mainly); (ii) the
lated over the film decrease its light trans- additives used; (iii) the thickness of the film;
missivity, in the same way as the ageing and (iv) the management of the greenhouse
of the material which specifically limits (pesticides used, assembly of the film)
the radiation (Matallana and Montero, among others (Briassoulis et al., 1997a,  b).
1989; Montero and Antón, 2000b; Both halogenated and sulfurated pesticides
Papadakis et al., 2000). attack the photostabilizers (HALS and nickel
When evaluating the transmissivity of quenchers), shortening the shelf life of the
new materials it is important to relate the films (Barahona and Gómez-Vázquez, 1985;
results to the prevailing light during the test Gugumus, 2000).
(light quality) (Kittas and Baille, 1998; Kittas The artificial ageing of films in the lab-
et al., 1999). oratory using special lamps, which repro-
duce similar conditions (but more intense)
Mechanical properties to the natural solar radiation, allow for a
quick estimate of the longevity characteris-
The mechanical characteristics of the tics of a film.
film depend both on the intrinsic factors
of the material (i.e. type of raw material) Behaviour with regards to condensation
as well as on the conditions during their
transformation into a film (homogeneity Anti-dripping additives increase the surface
in the distribution of additives, proper tension in the film, so that the water vapour
and uniform thickness). The degrading condenses in the shape of a film without
action of solar radiation also affects these producing droplets, so compared with the
properties, mainly depending on the same film without anti-dripping additives
exposure time. there is an increase of light transmission
From the point of view of the grower, due to the reduced reflection of light
the most relevant mechanical properties are (Pearson et al., 1995; Von Elsner et al.,
resistance to traction, tearing and impact 2000a). However, the durability of the effect
(Briassoulis et al., 1997b; Marco, 2001). The is normally shorter than the shelf life of the
resistance to traction, which evaluates the film (Papadakis et al., 2000).
capacity of the film in the greenhouse to When anti-dripping additives are used
withstand tensile forces, is important dur- in monolayer films, the external surface of
ing the assembly of the film in the green- the film (once it is fixed on the greenhouse)
The Plastic Greenhouse 55

Covering film

Droplet a

Covering film

Droplet a

Covering film


Fig. 4.7.  The optical behaviour of the light rays when crossing a water droplet condensed on the inner
surface of a greenhouse covering film depends on the angle (a) of contact of the droplet with the covering
material; T is the tangent to the droplet at the contact point (adapted from Díaz et al., 2001).

has a great adhesion for dust, which is additives usually lasts less than the lifespan
avoided by using these additives only on of the film.
the internal surface of multilayer films The condensation of water on the plas-
(Salmerón et al., 2001). The effect of these tic film improves the insulation ­conditions,
56 Chapter 4

decreasing the global heat transfer coeffi- weights (less than 200 g m−2) minimizing
cient (Table 5.2). However, condensation in the loads on the greenhouse structure. Their
the form of droplets is harmful, resulting in mechanical properties are good, withstand-
burn on the leaves as each droplet acts as a ing hail better than glass, although they sof-
lens (magnifier) to solar radiation and as the ten at high temperatures and are fragile at
droplets fall over the crop this favours the very low temperatures. Under normal cli-
development of cryptogamic diseases mate conditions they are stable. Due to
(Papadakis et al., 2000). The size of the static electricity they accumulate dust on
droplet depends on the contact angle their surface, especially EVA and PVC,
(Fig.  4.7), decreasing the transmissivity if which is usually countered by adding anti-
the angle is less than 40° and reaching a dust additives. Their chemical resistance is
higher reduction with contact angles of 90°, generally good, but the use of some pesti-
which is the case for PE-composed films cides ­(containing sulfur or halogens) may
(Papadakis et al., 2000; Díaz et al., 2001). decrease their lifespan (affecting the HALS
The condensation of water vapour on additives).
the inner surface of the plastic film needs a The thermal dilatation coefficient of
minimum angle of the roof of 20–25° for the plastic materials is higher than in metals,
droplets to slide and not fall over the crop which must be considered during the assem-
(Von Elsner et al., 2000a). The snow slides bly of the greenhouse.
over the roof if the angle is equal to or greater The ageing of plastic films involves a
than 26.5°; equivalent to a 1:2 slope (Von decrease of their mechanical and radiomet-
Elsner et al., 2000b). ric properties, as they degrade with time.
The polyethylene used in greenhouses
is of the low density type (LDPE), obtained
4.5.5  Plastic films most commonly by radical polymerization in high pressure
used in greenhouses processes. Its transmission of solar radia-
tion is good, although decreases with time
Normal films as the film gets dirty and old, but its thermal
behaviour is mediocre, due to its transpar-
The plastic films most commonly used in ency to long-wave IR when there is no con-
greenhouses are LDPE, EVA and their deriv- densation on the film (Table 4.3). The
atives, frequently incorporating several lay- incorporation of thermal additives solves
ers of different materials in multilayer films this problem.
(Robledo and Martin, 1981). The plasticized To improve their shelf life, additives
PVC films are seldom used, except in east- are incorporated which protect the
ern Asian. Equally, polyester and polyvinyl degrading action of the UV rays, calling
fluoride (PVF) films are seldom used. them long duration or long-life polyethyl-
All these films can be manufactured in ene (LD-PE) or ultraviolet polyethylene
small thicknesses and this allows for low (UV-PE).

Table 4.3.  Characteristics of several flexible materials for greenhouse covers (adapted from CPA, 1992
and Tesi, 2001).


Thickness (mm) 0.10 0.18 0.18 0.18 0.18

Weight (g m−2) 92 165 173 179 230
Direct PAR transmissivity (%) 91 88–90 85–86 90 90
Diffuse PAR transmissivity (%) 90 86 86 76 89
Long-wave IR transmissivity (%) 68 63–65 ≤25 18–27 10–15
Durability under non-aggressive climate 1 3 or more 3 3 2
(cropping seasons) (years)
The Plastic Greenhouse 57

EVA copolymer is a copolymer obtained thermal films. To improve the transmissivity

by the same polymerization system as the to long-wave IR the standard PE films are
LDPE. Its optical properties are slightly dif- enriched with additives that block the long-
ferent from those of PE having in general a wave IR, resulting in thermal PE or infrared
higher PAR transmission and a lower tur- polyethylene (IR-PE) that prevents thermal
bidity but thermal properties are better inversion in the greenhouse, in relation to
(Table 4.3). These thermal performances standard PE (Fig. 4.8). These additives
(transmissivity to long-wave IR) depend on slightly decrease the PAR transmissivity
the content of vinyl acetate, being 12–14% (Table 4.3).
in most cases. Its main disadvantage is its Nowadays, additives are being used
higher tendency to fluency when cold (new thermal loads) which can vary the dif-
(‘creep’), which is quite inadequate for fusing power of light (Salmerón et al.,
windy areas (the film stretches but does not 2001).
recover well to the initial shape). As it gets Another way of increasing the opacity
dirty easily, it is usually incorporated in to long-wave IR in the EVA films is to
multilayer films. The EVA films can be very increase the proportion of vinyl acetate.
transparent to light (crystal variant) or if it is A film can be considered as thermal
of the opaline type (translucent) it has great when its transmissivity to long-wave IR
diffusing power. (7–14 mm) is lower than 25% for 200 mm
PVC film has similar optical properties thickness films (European regulation
to EVA, but better thermal properties EN-13206).
(Table 4.3). It attracts dust, as does EVA. Its
widths are limited (6.5 m with extrusion anti-dripping films.
The anti-dripping films
and 2 m with calendering) and it has very are hardly used as monolayer films, but as a
little resistance to tears which is solved by part of multilayer films, being usually
incorporating a fabric, preventing it from placed on the inner surface. There are also
tearing and breaking. After its use it is dif- products which, when applied to the plastic
ficult to dispose of and for this reason, and film as a spray, provide an anti-dripping
its cost (which is higher than PE), its use is effect.
limited in the Mediterranean area.
PVF film has excellent optical and multilayer films.With the aim of incorporat-
mechanical properties and is very durable, ing in a single film the best characteristics
lasting for a long time, but its price is really of several types, the multilayer films were
high, so it is seldom used. Polyethylene created, consisting of two or more plastic
terephthalate (PET) also has excellent opti- films (layers) welded by coextrusion (a
cal properties but is very expensive. Both manufacturing process).
are difficult to fix to the structure. Nowadays the use of the three-layer
type is increasing. One of the most com-
Special films monly used has an EVA film in the middle
of two PE films, the external film containing
long duration films.  The incorporation of UV additives (for longer durability) and the
photostabilizing additives (see section 4.5.3) internal film containing anti-dripping addi-
is a common practice in the manufacture of tives. In addition, it may contain other spe-
films to extend their lifespan. LD-PE (long cific additives.
duration PE), also called UV-PE, may last The multilayer films have displaced
three growing seasons, in high annual radia- the use of anti-dust monolayer films.
tion areas. In areas of lower radiation it will
last longer. The guarantee usually given for photoselective films.Initially, photoselective
the durability of these films is on the condi- films were based on the ‘waterfall’ effect (flu-
tion that there will be no abusive use of pes- orescence) by means of luminescence addi-
ticides, quantified as a maximum permissible tives which converted UV radiation in blue
content of chloride and sulfur on the film. light and green into red (see section 4.5.3),
58 Chapter 4


Standard PE (150 µm)

IR transmissivity (%)

Thermal PE (200 µm)


7 8 9 10 12
Wavelength (µm)

Fig. 4.8.  Transmissivity of standard and thermal PE films in the range of long-wave IR (adapted from
Castilla et al., 1977).

but nowadays there are photoselective films are high, they would filter the NIR radiation
that filter the radiation selectively (Papadakis limiting the warming of the greenhouse,
et al., 2000). whereas during the winter they would let it
There are very different types of pho- enter the greenhouse contributing to its
toselective films. The antithermal films or warming.
static thermal shields filter the NIR radia- Fluorescent films alter the proportion
tion (near infrared) of the solar spectrum, of R/FR light (red/far red) affecting morpho-
therefore limiting the input of energy genesis but they have a transmissivity to
inside the greenhouse, and decreasing the PAR lower than the standard PE as the pro­
temperature (Verlodt and Verchaeren, cess of fluorescence is not very efficient
2000). They have application in warm cli- (Pearson et al., 1995). Their application to
mate areas or during the summer, but their agriculture is not yet very clear (Kittas and
use has been limited because of the effect Baille, 1998).
they have on decreasing daytime tempera- Anti-pest films are photoselective mate-
tures (2°C, on the average) and because of rials that block part of the UV solar radia-
their high cost. tion reducing the development of pests or
A variant of these thermal shields are diseases caused by fungi or viruses that are
the thermocromic films or dynamic thermal transmitted by insects, which are sensitive
shields that are now under development, to the decrease or absence of this type of
which filter the NIR radiation depending on radiation (Salmerón et al., 2001).
the temperature (Díaz et al., 2001). Therefore, The best known example of this is
during the summer, when the temperatures the  reduction of Botrytis, when blocking
The Plastic Greenhouse 59

the radiation in the range from 300–400 mm Regulation UNE-EN-13206 covers three

(Jarvis, 1997). In a similar way, the suppres- types of films: (i) standard; (ii) clear ther-
sion of UV radiation around 340 mm limits mal; and (iii) diffuse thermal.
the sporulation of Sclerotinia and Alternaria Previously, regulation UNE-53328 (now
(Jarvis, 1997). superseded) defined the durability, in agri-
White fly (Bemisia tabaci), vector of the cultural years, taking solar radiation in
tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), and Almeria as a point of reference, whose
thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), vector of annual value was estimated at 148 kLy (kilo
tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), are exam- Langley) year−1; 1 kLy = 41.84 kJ m−2).
ples of insects which need UV light for their At the time of writing, the existing reg-
visual organs. The lack of UV light limits ulation (UNE-EN-13206) defines three cli-
their mobility and decreases their presence, mate areas as a function of the solar
reducing the incidence of disease caused by radiation expressed in kilo Langleys per
these viruses (González et al., 2003; Monci year: (i) between 70 and 100; (ii) between
et al., 2004). 100 and 130; and (iii) between 130 and
The normal behaviour of pollinating 160. The anticipated durability of the film
insects, bumblebees and bees, used in green- under real conditions is estimated by
houses is slightly affected by the use of means of accelerated artificial ageing,
these anti-pest films, partially affecting their establishing a correlation between artificial
vision. However, the use of these films is and natural ageing, depending on the
compatible with pollination by these bees annual solar radiation of each site (Tables
(Salmerón et al., 2001). Further studies are 4.4 and 4.5). Therefore, a film that lasts 2
being conducted in this area. years in a climate area with 130–160 kLy
All these variants of photoselective year−1 of solar radiation could last 4 years
films are usually used as part of a multi- in a less sunny climate area of between 70
layer, with the aim of incorporating other and 100 kLy year−1.
interesting properties into the film. Regulation UNE-EN-13206 defines,
among other properties, the characteristics
other films. The diffusing effect of a film is and tolerances with regard to: (i) resistance
induced by specific additives or with addi- to traction, tearing and impact; (ii) the ther-
tives used for other aims. These diffusive micity (transmissivity to long-wave IR radi-
films increase the proportion of diffuse light ation, which is emitted by the Earth’s
inside the greenhouse. They have a whitish surface); and (iii) the transmissivity to visi-
appearance, are opaline and their diffusive ble light (regulated by European regulation
power is quantified by their turbidity EN-2155-5).
(European regulation EN-13206). Regulation UNE-EN-13206 is applica-
Other types of films incorporate fab- ble to LDPE, to linear LDPE and the mix of
rics inside them or are interlaced with both, to EVA and to the ethylene and butyl
­fabric to improve their mechanical proper- acrylate copolymers, as well as to their mix-
ties, such as in those used in retractable tures with LDPE.
roof greenhouses. The designation of a film or covering
film, according to this regulation, must
Normalization of plastic films used as include: (i) the type (standard, clear thermal
greenhouse covers and diffuse thermal); (ii) the polymer used
in its manufacture; (iii) a reference to the
The Spanish regulation UNE-EN-13206 regulation; (iv) the width and thickness;
(Thermoplastic films for covers used in agri- and (v) the accelerated artificial ageing data.
culture and horticulture; the Spanish ver- For instance, the designation of a LDPE
sion of European regulation EN-13206) has film, of 5000 mm width, 105 mm thickness
replaced Spanish regulation UNE-53328 with an accelerated artificial durability of
(Polyethylene films used as greenhouse 1700 h would be: COVER WITH STANDARD
covers). FILM EN-13206…5000 105 A.
60 Chapter 4

Table 4.4.  Greenhouse covering films: them fluted or corrugated shapes, by

classification based on their longevity estimated by incorporating a fibreglass armour (fibre-
means of accelerated artificial ageing (regulation glass reinforced polyester).
UNE-EN-13206). Their resistance to impact is much
Film typea Durability (h) greater than that of glass, being able to with-
stand hail (especially PC).
N ≥400 On the other hand, their resistance to
A ≥1700 abrasion is worse than that of glass, so it is
B ≥3200 important to avoid scratching. As their ther-
C ≥4600 mal dilatation coefficient is high (higher
D ≥6000
than glass) dilatations must be prevented by
E ≥7300
using oval fixation holes and fixing only
Film classifications. For example a film classified as C one side of the sheets to allow it to slide in
means that it will last 4600 h or more (in the artificial tracks (Wacquant, 2000).
ageing test) and this number can be correlated with the
expected commercial life use, as detailed in Table 4.5.
The rigid panels vary as to how flam-
mable they are (Table 4.6); flammability
must be considered during their assembly
Table 4.5.  Correlation between artificial and and use.
natural ageing (regulation UNE-EN-13206). The global heat transfer coefficients
Artificial ageing (h) for an
(see Chapter 5) are similar to those of glass
Annual anticipated shelf life of: for simple walls and they are much more
radiation insulating in double or triple walls. PMMA
(kLy) 1 year 2 years 3 years 4 years and PC are permeable to water vapour,
which must be taken into account when
70–100 1700 3500 5300 7100
they are used in double or triple panels
100–130 2800 5600 8400 –
130–160 3900 7800 – –
The optical properties are similar to
those of glass but their durability is lower.
In addition, films must be marked at As they age their transmissivity is altered,
the ends of the films (and on rolls of the the amount of change depending on the
film) with the manufacturing date, together assembly conditions and the local climate.
with other data about the brand and com- Frequently, plastic rigid panels are used
mercial name. for the sidewalls and front walls of green-
houses (covered with flexible film) because
they last longer and are versatile to use as
4.5.6  Rigid plastic materials they can be curved, cut or perforated.

Rigid plastic materials, also known as More commonly used rigid panels
organic glass, can be presented in the form
of rigid or semi-rigid simple panels (PVC, Polyester reinforced with fibreglass that is
polyester, PC) or double- or triple-wall alve- used in greenhouses is known as ‘horticul-
olar or cellular sheets (PC and PMMA). tural quality’ and has higher transmissivity
to global solar radiation (80% instead of
Physical and mechanical properties 60–65%) than the one used in the building
industry. It retains its optical properties for
The dimensions of the panels are larger 10 years, with losses below 20% (Wacquant,
than those of glass, being limited by their 2000). A surface coating on the external face
resistance to flexion (which is equal or protects it and prevents ageing from UV
greater than that of glass). They are lighter rays. In order to provide rigidity to the
than glass and less rigid (Table 4.6), sheets, they are corrugated or reinforced.
which allows them to adapt to curved Its light transmission, which is lower
shapes. Their rigidity is improved giving than that of glass, is good, having a great
The Plastic Greenhouse 61

Table 4.6.  Characteristics of several rigid materials used as greenhouse covers (adapted from CPA,

Horticultural Reinforced Bioriented Double Double

glass polyester PVC PMMA PC

Thickness (mm) 4 1 0.9 16 6

Weight (kg m−2) 10 1.5 1.45 5.0 1.4
Inflammability No Easy No Medium Medium
PAR transmissivity (%) 90 80–85 79–85 82 75–80
Long-wave IR transmissivity (%) 1 4 1–2 2 5
Durability (years) ≥ 20 10 10 20 10

light diffusive power. The transmissivity to and the thermal dilatations limit its use in
short-wave IR is low (which is an advantage commercial greenhouse; besides, it is eas-
during the summer). Although it is a good ily combustable.
insulator, the shape of the sheets increases
the exchange surface. Its resistance to
impact is slightly higher than that of
PMMA. 4.6  Greenhouse Construction
Its main advantages are the light weight,
the ease of handling, its high diffusion 4.6.1  Introduction
of  light and its high resistance to impact.
Its  main disadvantage is its lower trans­ The prime aim in constructing a greenhouse
missivity to diffuse radiation and its must be obtaining higher profitability.
combustibility. Therefore, the best design must be the result
Bioriented PVC is made as corrugated of a compromise between technical require-
sheets and is protected against UV light. Its ments, some of which conflict with one
light transmission is similar to that of poly- another, while obtaining the highest
ester, although it varies depending on the profitability.
spectra. It is a better insulator than glass. It Obviously, the type of greenhouse that is
withstands hail well, but withstands very constructed will vary depending on the main
high temperatures poorly. purpose of the greenhouse. A greenhouse
Polycarbonate (PC) is less transparent that must protect crops from the rain (rain-
than glass, but has a great resistance to shelter), as is the case in some tropical areas,
impact. It is used in alveolar sheets, mainly will be conceived in a different way from a
of double-wall types but also as simple conventional greenhouse in an area with a
sheets. Its light transmission decreases Mediterranean climate, or to one in the north-
when ageing. A surface coating protects it ern latitudes or in semi-desert climates.
against UV rays ensuring after 10 years, Besides, the local climate of each
minimum transmission and resistance val- region, the specific type of greenhouse
ues (Wacquant, 2000). It is used when there selected will depend on the bioclimate
is serious danger of hail, and in passages, requirements of the species to be grown (the
doors or as separating walls. type of greenhouse required for vegetable
Methyl polymethacrylate (PMMA) is production will be different from that
presented as alveolar panels of double or required for growing ornamental species as
triple walls in thicknesses of 8–16 mm they have different light and heat require-
(known as Plexiglass, Altuglass). It ments). The socio-economic conditions will
behaves in a similar way to glass and also affect the type of greenhouse to be cho-
retains its properties well with time. Its sen. For instance, limits on the initial invest-
permeability to water vapour requires ment in many cases restricts options
some precautions in its use. Its high price available for the type of greenhouse.
62 Chapter 4

The availability of labour will deter- (a)

mine the level of mechanization and auto-
mation. Whether the crop is sedentary
(species whose cycle is set in the same
place) or mobile (pot plants) is another
aspect to consider, especially with regard to
optimizing the use of the space. (b)

4.6.2  Greenhouse types

There are different classifications of the (c)

greenhouse types. According to their archi-
tectural shape we can distinguish two basic
types: (i) a single-module or monospan
greenhouse, consisting of a greenhouse iso-
lated from other structures; and (ii) a multi-
module or multi-span greenhouse, formed
by a series of gutter-connected greenhouses.
The multi-span types allow for better use of
the soil, are cheaper to construct and to
heat, and having a lower ratio between the
cladding surface and the soil surface.
With regards to roof geometry there are
many variants (Fig. 4.9). Curved roofs may
adopt a semi-circular, semi-elliptic or ogival
(Gothic arch) shape, among others. The dif-
ficulty to mount glass on curved structures
has limited its use until the appearance of
semi-rigid plastic panels or flexible films.
The use of wood in the structures has also Fig. 4.9.  Some common types of curved-roof
restricted the use of curved geometries, due greenhouses: semi-circular (a), semi-elliptic (b),
to the difficulty for its construction. Gothic arch or ogive (c), asymmetric (d), attached
(lean-to) single-span (e), and single tunnel (f).
In the case of gable-roof greenhouses
(Fig. 4.10), the roof may be symmetrical or
asymmetrical, with great diversity of position by air pressure, notably reducing
angules, depending on the latitude and local the structural elements. Fans must supply,
conditions. The flat-roof greenhouse, ini- continuously, the necessary pressure to
tially used in the parral-type greenhouse keep the plastic in position. This idea
(typical of the south of Spain), is less and induced the use on conventional green-
less used. The sidewalls, in single-span or house structures double clad with inflated
multi-span greenhouses, can be vertical or plastic films, by means of air pressure. The
slightly inclined, the latter being more double cover decreases the heating costs
advantageous for their higher light trans- and better withstands the wind than the sin-
missivity; its importance decreases as the gle layer, but limits the transmissivity to
greenhouse width increases. However, the radiation in relation to the simple film.
disadvantage is that they limit the cultiva- Other variants of structures have very
tion of vertically trained species by the side- little commercial interest. Greenhouses made
wall, as the useful height is reduced. with hanging structures to decrease the
Other types of greenhouses that are sel- weight of the roof have problems of resist-
dom used are inflatable greenhouses, in ance against strong winds, and as a conse-
which the cladding plastic film is kept in quence, their use has expanded very little.
The Plastic Greenhouse 63

(a) years ago was of this type, the northern wall

providing thermal inertia. This type (passive
solar collection) has also been used in recent
decades as useful complementary equipment
for solar heating of buildings.
(b) Greenhouses that are buried or semi-
buried in the ground allow for natural ther-
mal regulation with much lower oscillations
than in conventional greenhouses. Their
use has been limited to the cultivation of
(c) (d) ornamental species that need high tempera-
tures and humidity, or to greenhouses for
plant propagation. The areas where they are
built must not have a shallow water table or
Fig. 4.10.  Some common types of gable-roof be prone to flooding.
greenhouses: symmetric multi-span (a), Depending on the cladding material we
asymmetric multi-span (b), simple single span (c), may distinguish the following greenhouse
and attached (lean-to) single span (d). types:
•• Glass
Although greenhouses are usually
•• Plastic:
located on flat terrain, in some cases (south
coast of Spain, for instance) they are built in ° Flexible film
south-oriented slopes (in the northern hemi- ° Rigid panel:
■ Simple
sphere), profiting from more favourable win-
■ Alveolar
ter radiation conditions than if they were
built on flat terrain. Although this location ° Screens
limits the possibilities of mechanization, the Although today it is not a commonly
roof and sidewall surfaces exposed to the used form of classification, greenhouses can
north are lower, with the subsequent advan- be classified according to the minimum
tage from the thermal point of view during temperature level that they can maintain,
the winter. In a similar way, the soil surface so we can distinguish: (i) ‘cold green-
(or soil and terrace wall, if the greenhouse is houses’ (5–8°C); (ii) ‘temperate greenhouses’
terraced) is higher with a positive incidence (12–15°C); and (iii) ‘warm greenhouses’
on the greenhouse thermal inertia. In addi- (20–25°C).
tion, the ratio of plastic cladding area:soil
area is reduced, limiting the thermal losses.
The disadvantages of this type of green-
house, besides the already mentioned diffi- 4.6.3  Structure materials
culty for mechanization, are the observed
temperature stratification, both during the The rigidity characteristics of the cladding
daytime (which requires the proper location materials determine, to a great extent, the
of ventilators) and during the night, due to shape of the greenhouse and the materials
the higher weight of the cold air, which from which it is made. The rigidity of glass
stratifies on the lower parts. limits its use on curved-roof structures, so it
Another type of greenhouse, common in is normally used on straight-roof structures,
home gardens and as commercial green- such as gable roofs. Panels, depending on the
houses in China (solar greenhouse), is the type, only permit small curvatures, so their
‘lean-to’ greenhouse where the greenhouse use on curved-roof greenhouses is rare.
leans against a wall. In the northern hemi- In a conventional greenhouse, a func-
sphere, the greenhouse is oriented towards tional structure that complies with the ­primary
the south and the wall is on the northern side purpose of holding the cladding material and
(Fig. 7.5). The first greenhouse ­constructed the predictable loads (snow, wind, trained
64 Chapter 4

crops and attached facilities) must, prima- To hold the cladding material, in glass-
rily, avoid shadows and be as cheap as pos- houses or in greenhouses with semi-rigid
sible, in terms of building and maintenance panels, aluminium has the advantage of
costs, and be consistent with the agronomic being able to be used to create difficult pro-
requirements. files, but it is expensive. In plastic green-
In general, the cheaper cladding materi- houses, such as the low-cost parral-type
als (flexible films) have a short lifespan, so greenhouse, wire (steel or galvanized)
they must be replaced more frequently than ­fulfils this role well.
the long-life materials (semi-rigid panels, The use of wood, nowadays, is lim-
glass) which are more expensive and heav- ited to straight-roof structures (Photo 4.4),
ier, requiring, therefore, more expensive due to the difficulty and high cost associ-
structures. As indicative figures, for the ated with its use on curved sections.
Spanish Mediterranean coast conditions, a Metal, on the contrary, adapts well to
glasshouse would need a metallic structure, curved structures, and due to its better
which weighs 15 kg m−2, whereas a struc- resistance characteristics, bears strong
ture for a semi-rigid panel would weigh forces. Today, wood is used almost only
around 12 kg m−2 and for a PE film around for plastic-film greenhouses, or artisan
7  kg m−2. From the grower’s point of view, construction.
the main aspect to consider when choosing In plastic-film greenhouses, the choice
between the different types of greenhouses of structural materials is linked to: (i) their
is the annual cost per unit greenhouse sur- availability and cost; (ii) their technical
face (amortization plus the maintenance characteristics depending on the green-
costs) depending on the performance of the house to be built (use of wood, steel); (iii) the
greenhouse. The cost and availability of performance required by the greenhouse
labour also notably influence the periodic depending on the crops to be grown;
replacement of the plastic film. (iv)  the local climate; and (v) the local
The greenhouse structure includes the conditions in terms of experience and cre-
foundations and the elements to hold the ativity (the parral greenhouse originated
cladding material and support the structure when a plastic film was adapted to cover a
itself. table-grape growing structure, ‘pergolato’).

Photo 4.4.  Wood has frequently been used in greenhouse structures in many areas.
The Plastic Greenhouse 65

In  general, cheap greenhouses originate 4.6.4  Covering materials

from the use of affordable and available
materials within the local context. Types of covering materials
In the tunnel greenhouses of the
Mediterranean area, the use of galvanized Until the introduction of plastic materials,
steel prevails, normally with tubes of circle glass was the only greenhouse cladding
or oval sections, for widths of up to 10 m used. The rigidity of glass limited the use of
and heights of up to 4 m. curved shapes in greenhouses so the pre-
For multi-tunnel greenhouses, metal- dominant roof geometry was that of gable-
lic structures prevail (a predominance of roof greenhouses.
galvanized steel, due to the high cost of The availability of flexible films or
aluminium; Photo 4.5) or a mixture of semi-rigid panels broadened the range of
materials (wood–wire, steel–wire, steel– possibilities in terms of greenhouse design
wood, steel–concrete) are used over choices and notably decreased the carrying
wooden structures. weights (1 m2 of 4 mm thickness glass
Steel structures, which are normally weighs approximately 10 kg, whereas 1 m2
more expensive than wooden structures, of PE of 0.2 mm thickness weighs 0.2 kg).
allow for a reduction in the number of The lower construction costs of plastic
­interior pillars (relative to wood), easing greenhouses, especially those covered with
the  interior manoeuvrability (passage of flexible film, allowed for an extension of
machinery, implementation of thermal greenhouse cultivation to many regions of
screens) and creating fewer shadows than the world.
wood, increasing the available light. In A usual classification of greenhouse
addition, steel structures are easier to cladding materials is that indicated on
assemble than wood, have more accessible Table 4.2. Glass was, as already mentioned,
roof ventilation mechanisms and are more the first material used to cover commercial
airtight, although the higher heat conduc- greenhouses. Glass, as a greenhouse cover,
tion of metal weakens these advantages. is a material of excellent optical and ther-
Reinforced concrete structures are not mal characteristics (Table 4.6). It bears age-
common. ing and pollution well and it is not

Photo 4.5.  The steel structure is used in multi-span greenhouses.

66 Chapter 4

flammable. Its main disadvantage is its low Therefore, the choice of the covering
resistance to impacts (sensitive to hail). In material of a greenhouse must combine an
addition, it is heavy and expensive. Among economic price (which does not always
its variants we can find horticultural glass, mean the cheapest) with longevity accord-
cathedral glass (of greater light diffusive ing to its characteristics and price. Table 4.7
power) and glasses of low emissivity (which summarizes the costs of several materials.
improves the insulation). All of them are A good covering material must have maxi-
very expensive and require sophisticated mum transparency to global solar radiation,
greenhouse structures. especially within the PAR range, and be as
Plastic materials in the form of rigid opaque as possible to long-wave IR radi­
panels have a long durability (more than ation. It must have a global heat transfer
10  years) with a low reduction of light coefficient (K) as low as possible, to achieve
transmission. They have good thermal char- a good greenhouse effect and avoid the
acteristics and weigh less than glass, so ‘night thermal inversion’.
they  require lighter structures than glass To avoid limiting their transparency,
(Table 4.6). See section 4.5.6. the covering material must not retain dust
The most commonly used rigid panel is (by electrostatic attraction), limiting solar
polyester reinforced with fibreglass, whose light, and it must be easily cleaned by wash-
durability improves with external coatings of ing. In addition, the material must avoid
PVF film. The simple PC and polyester sheets condensation in the shape of large droplets
have been the most used, because the PVC (the formation of continuous condensed
sheets deform at high temperatures. In general, water films being preferable) and have a
their use has been preferred for high value good resistance to abrasion, especially in
crops, and same as glass, when a great durabil- arid and desert areas (where strong winds
ity of the greenhouse cover is required. carrying sand are frequent), as the scratch-
The alveolar panels, composed of two ing of the film will increase reflection, lim-
layers of rigid material, cross-linked at regu- iting its transmissivity.
lar intervals for higher strength, are an
excellent solution for avoiding thermal
losses, but reduce the light transmission
and their cost is high. PMMA and PC have Table 4.7.  Average cost of different cladding
been used mostly for alveolar sheets. Simple materials, according to Muñoz et al. (1998).
semi-rigid panels PVC (bioriented), PMMA Euros Relative
and PC have had limited spread. Material m−2 costa
In summary, the great expansion of
greenhouses during the last quarter of the Rigid:
20th century has been based on the use of Glass (4 mm) 18.0 60.0
flexible plastic films, the use of PE prevail- Corrugated PC (0.8 mm) 15.0 50.0
ing clearly in the Mediterranean area. Alveolar PC (6 mm) 19.2 64.0
Polyester (1.2 mm) 14.4 48.0
The use of standard PE films was pro-
PVC (0.8 mm) 9.0 30.0
gressively substituted by the use of long-life Flexible:
PE and thermal PE (see section 4.5.5) ini- Standard PE (0.1 mm) 0.30    1.0 (base)
tially and more recently by multilayer Long-life (UV) PE 0.36 1.2
­plastic films.   (0. 18 mm)
In the use of cladding materials it is Thermal (IR) PE (0.2 mm) 0.42 1.4
common to distinguish between roof and EVA (0.2 mm) 0.50 1.7
sidewalls, because in the roof the criteria of Three layers (0.2 mm) 0.54 1.8
maximizing the transparency to solar radi­ PVC (0.2 mm) 0.48 1.6
ation must prevail. In the sidewalls (espe- Reinforced PVC 1.50 5.0
  (0.3–0.5 mm)
cially in those oriented to the north, in the
northern hemisphere) the insulation func- a
The relative cost indicates the relation with the cheapest
tion must prevail. (standard PE).
The Plastic Greenhouse 67

The development of quality regulations crop and to improve the yield and quality,
adapted to the regional or national condi- has been recommended (Oren-Shamir et al.,
tions of use is necessary for an appropriate 2001). In coloured screens, the spectral
transparency (in this case in the economic manipulation is aimed at specifically pro-
sense) of the market. moting desired photomorphogenic/physio-
The use of double layers to reduce the logical responses, while light scattering
thermal losses is not limited to alveolar improves light penetration into the inner
panels, because the idea is also used in the canopy (Shahak et al., 2009). In order to
case of glass (double glass) and flexible limit the visual environmental impact of
films, using a double layer (which plays the screenhouses, the colour of the material
role of thermal screen) in some cases or, in should be chosen carefully (Castellano
others, as an inflated double layer (by means et al., 2008a).
of air pressure, coming from a fan). Net or screens are characterized, among
It is worth highlighting the recent others, by their porosity (which influences
expansion of screens (nets) as cladding their shading effect) and their permeability
material of greenhouse structures (Montero to the air (Castellano et al., 2008b). Porosity
et al, 2009), when temperature increases is determined by the diameter and physical
are not the goal, but rather protection characteristics of the thread and the density
against wind or shading or improving the of the screen (number of threads per centi-
ambient humidity. The structural require- metre), which also affects its durability,
ments of these greenhouses are lower than overall weight, strength and elasticity
for those of film, as the screens offer less (Castellano et al., 2006). The most common
resistance to the wind and are permeable prime raw material used for making agricul-
to water. tural screening is high density polyethylene
The so called ‘screenhouses’ are effec- (HDPE). In Europe, screens are character-
tive and economical structures for shading ized by the number of threads per centime-
crops, protecting them from wind and hail, tre in each direction (e.g. a 10 × 20 screen
improving the temperature and humidity has ten threads in one direction and 20 in
regimes, saving irrigation water and exclud- the other) (Teitel, 2006). See Chapter 8 (sec-
ing insects and birds (Tanny et al., 2006). tions 8.4.6 and 8.4.7).
There is a relationship between the
porosity of a screen and its transmission of Assembly of the cover
solar radiation, but other parameters also
influence diffusion effects on the incident In the case of flexible films, the mechanical
radiation and, consequently, on shading characteristics of the film and its assembly
and transmission levels (Sica and Picudo, determine the life of the film and the degree
2008). Screens contribute to increasing the to which the greenhouse performs properly
diffuse fraction of the transmitted solar (how airtight it is, thermal losses, etc.).
radiation through them at different levels, The form in which the film is assem-
depending on the structure, texture and col- bled depends on the dimensions and the
our of the screens (Abdel-Ghany and characteristics of the ventilation system
Al-Helal, 2010; Moller et al., 2010). (roof, side, mixed) and is limited in princi-
Dust deposition on the screen can ple by the width of the film. It must be
widely alter its light transmission (Santos assembled at high temperatures (which will
et al., 2006). Screenhouses can save around allow the plastic to expand) so the film
30% of the annual irrigation water required remains as taut as possible (Fig. 4.11). The
for outdoor conditions, without any loss of fixing must avoid, if possible, nailing or
yield and even improving quality (Tanny drilling the film (which is sometimes very
et al, 2006). difficult in artisan greenhouses such as the
The use of coloured screens, instead of parral), because these drillings are the
the conventional white or black screens, to point of entrance for rainfall water which
manipulate the vegetative growth of the will directly drip over the crops, and also
68 Chapter 4



Aluminium Plastic

Fig. 4.11.  Different systems of how to fix the plastic film in greenhouse structures.

the drillings may rip the film. The metallic the use of screens has allowed for an
surfaces of the structure exposed to the sun improvement of the climate control in
will degrade the film as they warm up; sophisticated greenhouses.
therefore, it is advisable to protect the film Nowadays, the different types of screens
in those contact areas with painting that must be integrated in the greenhouses struc-
reflects the sun rays. tures, minimizing the light losses.
The ageing of films depends, besides
their intrinsic characteristics, on the condi-
Reasons for the use of screens
tions of use, particularly the climatic
­conditions such as solar radiation (inten- Basically, screens are used to obscure, to shade,
sity, length and degree of exposure to the to decrease energy losses and for ­climate con-
weather). With ageing, the mechanical trol. A new application is the use of insect-
­characteristics deteriorate and the optical proof screens which prevent insects entering
­characteristics are altered (transmission the greenhouse (Chap­ter 8).
reduction) loosing quality from the point of Darkening screens are mobile and are
view of their agronomical use. used to limit the length of the day. They
must have a minimum light transmission
(<0.1%) to achieve the short-day treatments
4.6.5  Greenhouse screens in crops sensitive to photoperiod (see
Chapter 9).
Introduction Shading screens are used to decrease
the light intensity and to limit direct radia-
Screens have been traditionally used to tion, with the aim of restricting thermal
shade or obscure greenhouses. Later, fol- excesses, improving the quality of the pro-
lowing the energy crisis of the last third of duce or avoiding water stress. They can be
the 20th century, their use was expanded to used inside or outside the greenhouse.
reduce energy costs (thermal screens), espe- Whitewash, usual in hot climates, is a type
cially in heated greenhouses. More recently, of low-cost fixed shading.
The Plastic Greenhouse 69

Energy-saving screens, if used only humidity and chemical agents. Additives

during the night, do not need to be trans- are usually incorporated into the plastic
missive to PAR radiation. But if they are materials used as screens in order to pre-
also used during the day it is necessary to vent dust particles sticking to the screens
have a good PAR transmission, besides and to increase their shelf life.
their insulating and anti-condensation The screen materials must have dimen-
properties. sional stability, and not to be prone to
Climate control screens are a combina- stretching beyond 2% (Bakker and Van
tion of shading and energy-saving screens. Holsteijn, 1995). They must allow for an
easy deployment and retraction.
Screen assembly Nowadays, screens are made using PE,
polyester or acrylic materials as the raw
Depending on their mobility, screens can be materials because other materials such as
fixed, semi-fixed or mobile. polypropylene, polyamide and cellulose
The fixed energy-saving screens have limited use mainly due to their lower
decrease the light transmission permanently durability (Bakker et al., 1995).
and increase the humidity of the air. The Regarding texture, the screens adopt the
most common are perforated films of high shape of plastic films, of woven or braided
transmissivity to light, to palliate these fabric, and canvas or aluminized sheets,
defects, and their use is limited to short associating aluminium sheets with other
periods in the winter. materials in one or both surfaces (Urban,
Semi-fixed screens decrease the prob- 1997a). There are non-woven screens too,
lems of fixed screens but do not avoid them, such as agro-textiles, which are bonded
so the use of mobile screens has expanded, plastic filaments spun together as a fabric.
with different systems employed to move The PE sheet screens usually only last
the screens (rolling, sliding, folded sheets) for two cropping seasons, with the proper
(Fig. 8.16). thicknesses and additives (UV). The screens
Mobile screens are usually extended built with polyester or acrylic materials may
horizontally, although sometimes the shad- last for more than 5 years.
ing ones are implemented parallel to the Darkening screens are usually built of
roof cover. When folded they must keep black PE film and black woven tissues,
shading to the minimum. If the folded which absorb condensation. These materi-
screen adopts a north–south orientation it als may be coated with aluminium, on their
will distribute the shadows more uniformly inner face, to fulfil a complementary func-
than in the other direction. The insect exclu- tion of energy saving (Bakker et al., 1995).
sion screens are usually extended vertically Shading screens may incorporate white
or inclined, covering the vents. or aluminium sheets joined to the base
Nowadays, there are several automatic material, in an open structure (with drill-
mechanisms to deploy and retract the screens ings), to allow the passage of air. If little
(traction wires, displacement bars, rolling shading is desired, aluminium sheets are
tubes) which allow for different implementa- not used. If the screens are of the closed
tion options, depending on the greenhouse type (no drillings), that do not allow the
structure. In windy areas, an anchorage sys- passage of the air, they may be used to save
tem in the upper part of external screens energy. To allow for ventilation with these
must be provided to avoid the wind lifting screens, they are not completely deployed
them and possibly destroying them. so that there are small open sections.
The energy-saving screens used at night
Materials for the screens must be made of PE film, coated with alu-
minium, a material that has no transmis­
All types of screens must be hard wearing sivity and great reflectivity (see Chapter 5),
and resistant to scratching, as well as to or  canvas, either woven with aluminium
­ageing by UV radiation, temperature, sheets or not.
70 Chapter 4

To avoid high humidity levels and be ease of maintenance; (iv) the energy econ-
able to remove water vapour, up to 0.25% of omy, if heating must be used; and (v) the
the surface of PE films can be perforated price.
(Bakker et al., 1995). The modern woven Limiting ourselves to the most common
materials allow for the absorption of a cer- types, the choice is between the artisan and
tain amount of condensed water droplets, the industrial greenhouses. Artisan green-
avoiding them dripping over the crop. houses use flexible plastic films and are of
If energy-saving screens are to be used low cost. Of the industrial greenhouses, the
during daylight hours, it will be necessary most common are the Venlo greenhouses, of
that they have good PAR transmission. Dutch origin, which use glass as cladding,
The climate control screens are prefer­ and the multi-span greenhouses, with a
ably of woven or joined materials, based on curved-roof shape which are very popular
PE or polyester, depending on their intended in regions with a mild climate and which
use. They can be used with aluminium sheets normally use a flexible film as cladding,
to achieve different degrees of shading and although they may use rigid panels in the
energy saving, with white translucent sheets cover (Figs 4.12–4.16).
to decrease the direct radiation and increase The artisan greenhouse covered with
the diffuse component of radiation, or col- flexible film and little equipment consti-
oured sheets to alter the light spectrum in the tutes the low cost and lower agronomic per-
greenhouse (Bakker et al., 1995). formance option, whereas the sophisticated
glasshouse is at the other extreme. Between
these two extremes there are a number of
4.7  The Selection of the intermediate options. Chapter 14 summa-
Greenhouse: Options rizes the information on costs of greenhouse
When choosing a greenhouse the main The choice of a greenhouse of the
aspects to consider must be: (i) the trans- appropriate technological level must be the
mission to PAR radiation which determines result of a compromise between the techni-
the productivity potential; (ii) the solidity cal and economic requirements, in order to
and durability; (iii) the functionality and achieve sustainable production.

Fig. 4.12.  Curved-roof tunnel greenhouse, common in the Mediterranean area. A, Opening separating
the plastic film; B, vent.
The Plastic Greenhouse 71



or wood

3.3 m

5–7 m

Fig. 4.13.  Wooden-structure greenhouse, common in Italy.


Sticks of 3.5 m

Sticks of 2.5 m, inclined



Fig. 4.14.  Parral-type greenhouse structure, common in Spain.

4.5 m
3.5 m

7.0 m 2.5 m

Fig. 4.15.  Multi-span greenhouse structure with a curved roof.

72 Chapter 4

4.8–5.5 m

4.0–4.5 m

3.2–4.0 m

Fig. 4.16.  Glasshouse structure, Venlo type.

4.8  Greenhouse Site Selection •• Protection from cold winds (usually

from the north in the northern hemi-
The specific selection of the location of the sphere), using windbreaks or taking
greenhouse must take into account aspects advantage of the topography. If snow is
such as: to be expected, the greenhouse must be
far away from trees to avoid snow
•• Topography. In principle, the place accumulation.
must be flat in the width direction, with •• Supply of irrigation water, in sufficient
a slope along the main axis between 0 amounts and with the required quality,
and 0.5% (never more than 1–2%, for the crop to be cultivated.
which would involve it being terraced). •• Good drainage conditions of the selected
In some cases, however, an inclined plot. This aspect is especially important
plot oriented towards the south (in the in regions of high rainfall. Places with a
northern hemisphere) may be of inter- high water table must be avoided.
est, if the greenhouse type chosen •• Good soil characteristics for horticul-
adapts well to the plot, although it tural cultivation, either if plants are
would be difficult to use mechaniza- going to be cultivated directly in the
tion in such a situation (such as with soil or if the soil is going to be used to
low-cost parral greenhouses on coastal fill pots or containers.
slopes of the south coast of Spain). •• In the case of greenhouses located near
Normally, on steep terrains, it would be to cities, it is important to evaluate the
preferable to build several separate air pollution, not just by its incidence
greenhouses with their axes parallel to on the plants but also by residues that
the contour lines. The evacuation of may be deposited over the greenhouse,
rainfall water must be considered, limiting solar radiation (dust from fac-
avoiding it collecting in hollows. tories) or that may be harmful for the
•• Microclimate of the selected site. There greenhouse cladding material.
should be proper drainage of cold air for •• Space for future expansion or auxiliary
calm nights, and areas that frequently facilities (e.g. a water reservoir for col-
experience fog should be avoided. The lection of rainfall water or storage of
site should be well illuminated and with- irrigation water) and buildings (e.g. for
out shadows (from hills or buildings). handling or as stores or offices).
The Plastic Greenhouse 73

•• Availability of labour. greenhouse is not appropriate complemen-

•• Closeness to transport networks (roads, tary facilities and equipment for climate
railways), communication (telephone) control will have to be considered.
and energy (gas, electricity).
•• The orientation, besides avoiding shad-
ows from hills or neighbouring build- 4.9.2  Criteria for the design of plastic-
ings, must be considered in relation to film greenhouses
the dominant winds, depending on the
shape and slope of the greenhouse roof.
Greenhouse design is very much influenced,
Normally the orientation would be
in practice, by the local climate and the
selected that captures the maximum
­latitude of the site (Von Elsner et al., 2000a),
amount of light in the greenhouse (see
and in many cases is limited by the availa-
Chapter 3).
bility of materials for the construction.
No design is perfect, thus it is necessary
to prioritize in each case, the criteria to fol-
low, these being: (i) the maximization of the
4.9  Criteria for the Design and
light (the main goal to be achieved; Bailey
Construction of Greenhouses and Richardson, 1990; Giacomelli and Ting,
1999; Swinkels et al., 2001); (ii) minimizing,
4.9.1  Introduction if possible, the structural elements to avoid
shadows (Briassoulis et al., 1997a); (iii) ensur-
Depending on the local climate and the bio- ing good insulation which decrease the heat
climatic requirements of the species to be losses (Swinkels et al., 2001); and (iv) afford-
cultivated, once the proper site has been able costs (Bailey and  Richardson, 1990).
selected, it will be necessary to choose the Greenhouses with retractable roofs were con-
cladding material, the type of structure and ceived to maximize light (Photo 4.6).
the architectonic shape of the greenhouse. If The physical and mechanical proper-
the predictable climate generated by the ties of the covering materials and their

Photo 4.6.  Retractable roof greenhouse (Cravo type) that permits the complete retraction of the plastic
cover to maximize the solar radiation.
74 Chapter 4

a­ vailability limit the options when building irrigation, is not only of interest in areas of
a greenhouse (Briassoulis et al., 1997a), so low rainfall, but also because the excellent
there is a certain trend among growers to quality of rain water makes it especially
build traditional greenhouses (Von Elsner valuable for soiless cultivation, a technique
et al., 2000b). for fast growth. The gutter must be 4 cm
Relative to plastic-film greenhouses, larger than the diameter of the drainpipe
the most important aspects to achieve are and must have a slope of 1% to avoid over-
those detailed in the following paragraphs flows (the minimum slope must be higher
(Zabeltitz, 1990, 1999; Von Elsner et al., than 0.2% in any case). The drainpipes
2000a, b). must have a cross-section of 7 cm2 for each
Besides the proper structural resistance 10 m2 of cover area that is to be drained,
to the wind, but also to other predictable which caters for rainfall intensities of up to
loads (snow, crops which are trained to 75 mm h−1 (Aldrich and Bartok, 1994).
hang, auxiliary equipment), the greenhouse To avoid water dripping over the crops
must be built in such a way that the plastic from condensation on the inner surface of the
film will remain well fastened, airtight, and cover, it is important to build the greenhouse
without wrinkles, to avoid breaks caused by with roof angles greater than 26° (such angles
the wind. It must, as well, be easy to change also allow snow to run off the cover), and
the film. For this, the fastening system must have an appropriate collection system, or to
be simple and efficient. The increasing costs use anti-dripping plastic film. In unheated
of mounting the film and the plastic materi- greenhouses, where climate control is quite
als have favoured the use of special films limited, the slope of the roof becomes rele-
with several years’ durability. For longer vant to avoiding condensed water dripping
durability, if possible, the structural ele- from the roof cover; roofs with ogive shape
ments susceptible to heating up by solar might be of interest (Fig. 4.9).
radiation which are in contact with the Likewise, as a general rule, the green-
plastic film must be insulated, because house must maximize solar radiation trans-
excess temperatures contribute to shorten- mission, at least in winter (when it is lower),
ing the shelf life of the plastic film. for which proper roof geometry and orienta-
When arcs or metal frames are used, the tion are fundamental.
separation between them will depend on
the predictable loads (wind, snow), nor-
mally does not exceed 3 m.
The greenhouse must be airtight, to pre- 4.9.3  Design criteria in areas
vent night cooling in those climates in with a Mediterranean climate
which low night temperatures are expected,
as well as to prevent undesirable leakage of The most limiting climate conditions for
CO2. A proper ventilation system is needed, greenhouse cultivation in Mediterranean
with airtight vents. The entrance of water climates are: (i) low night temperatures
from rainfall must be avoided. in  winter; (ii) high daytime temperatures;
Its volume must be large enough, not (iii) high ambient humidity at night and
only to obtain a higher thermal inertia, but low values during the day; and (iv) CO2
also to allow for crops that are trained to depletion during the day (Zabeltitz, 1999;
grow up high supports, and proper move- Von Elsner et al., 2000a, b).
ment of the inside air necessary for natural Therefore, it is especially necessary to
ventilation. The unitary volume of the achieve efficient ventilation, which allows
greenhouse is the quotient between the for alleviation of the thermal excesses and
greenhouse inner volume (m3) and the area extreme humidities, and prevents CO2 defi-
that it covers (m2), being equivalent to the cits. Depending on the type of greenhouse
average height. and climate conditions it is advisable that
Collection of rainfall water by means the ventilation area is up to 30% of the ground
of  gutters, for its later storage and use for area of the greenhouse. The increasing use of
The Plastic Greenhouse 75

insect-proof screens in the vents, to avoid or throughout the year, and the solar ­radiation
limit the entrance of insects, decreases the (which may be excessive in some cases), are
efficiency of ventilation. Collection of rainfall the most outstanding characteristics of
water must also be a priority. In the low-cost humid tropical climates (Loveless, 1983;
type greenhouses, the general problem of Zabeltitz, 1999; Von Elsner et al., 2000a, b).
condensed water dripping is aggravated in As a consequence, in these greenhouses
flat-roof greenhouses, inducing serious plant protection against the rainfall must prevail
protection problems as it facilitates the devel- (the greenhouse umbrella effect) and there
opment of diseases. should be efficient permanent ventilation
Thermal losses must be limited by (with vents frequently equipped with
choosing a suitable cladding material and screens to prevent the entrance of insects),
making it as airtight as possible. Night as well as a good height and ­sufficient
heating may be necessary for the crop, dur- ­resistance to withstand strong hurricane
ing the critical winter months but its eco- winds which are  usual in such climates.
nomic profitability is questionable in many Figure 4.17 shows some of the solutions for
cases. humid tropi­cal climates. Achieving a com-
promise between these requirements, at a
low cost, is not easy.
4.9.4  Design criteria in
humid tropical climates
4.9.5  Greenhouses for other
The high rainfall during the whole year or climate conditions
during the rainfall season (which induces
high RH), the stability of the temperatures In dry desert climates, the extreme temper-
(high during both the day and the night) ature values are more acute than those

(a) (b) (c)

(d) (e)



Fig. 4.17.  Greenhouse structures used in tropical regions (adapted from Zabeltitz and Baudoin, 1999).
76 Chapter 4

experienced in Mediterranean climates, 4.10  Maximizing the Radiation

and the ambient humidity is notably lower, Inside the Greenhouse
the winds being frequently loaded with
sand and with a very low water content 4.10.1  Introduction
(Zabeltitz, 1990, 1999; Von Elsner et al.,
2000a, b).
In principle, except for some special cases
In these conditions, high ventilation
(such as for crops with low light require-
capacity and efficiency is a priority (with
ments), the objective of maximizing solar
the possibility of tightly closing the vents),
radiation inside the greenhouse must be
and there is possibly a need for humidifica-
pursued, especially during the months in
tion systems (if the evapotranspiration of
which radiation is a limiting factor for
water is insufficient) to decrease the tem-
­production, as long as the costs do not
perature and increase the RH (oasis effect).
hinder the primary goal of achieving good
Preventing thermal losses at night is neces-
­profitability for the farm. The increasingly
sary (so choice of a proper cladding material
clear and well-documented relationship
and enough sealing are important) to avoid
between radiation and yield makes it a pri-
the need for night heating. The structural
ority to maximize solar radiation. Artificial
resistance to the wind is fundamental and
lighting is seldom used because it is of lit-
the collection of rainfall water for irrigation
tle economic interest (although recently
is normally desirable.
this is changing in very sophisticated
Under cold climate conditions, the
greenhouses) except for crops of high
greenhouse effect must be enhanced and,
added value, or when it is used to modify
normally, the maximum solar energy collec-
the photoperiod.
tion (interception) should be reached with
proper roof geometry and cladding material
as well as optimized greenhouse orienta-
tion. Limiting thermal losses is always 4.10.2  Factors determining
desirable (using proper cladding material, the available solar radiation
thermal screens and being as airtight as
possible; see Chapter 7). There are several factors that determine the
Frequently, the insulation measures to quantity of available solar radiation. The
reduce thermal losses imply a decrease in sun’s position in the sky in the different sea-
available solar radiation (the double wall sons of the year, the location of the green-
decreases the transmission, the thermal house and the cloudiness influence the
screens generate shadows even when amount of available solar energy.
folded) so it is not easy to obtain a compro- The latitude and time of year determine
mise solution which must be based on prof- the angle of incidence of the solar rays over
itability criteria in each specific case. In the Earth’s surface as well as the daily
these cold climates, the obvious choice number of sunlight hours. The angle influ-
between multi-span and single-span green- ences the amount of radiation, reaching a
houses is clearly for the first type. Heating is maximum at the summer’s solstice (21 June
a must, not just during the winter months, in the northern hemisphere) and a mini-
and ventilation is necessary during the sea- mum during the winter’s solstice (21
son of high radiation. December). When the sun is very low in
In some cases, greenhouse cladding winter less energy impacts on the Earth’s
with a screen (permeable to air and water) surface, because the Sun’s rays have to cross
aims at achieving a windbreak effect, a a thicker atmospheric layer, and therefore,
shading effect, or plant protection (limiting the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs a higher
the access of pests), when the natural ther- proportion of energy.
mal conditions are adequate for crop Altitude and local climate conditions
growth and, therefore, a greenhouse effect also modify the amount of solar radiation
is not pursued. available for the plants.
The Plastic Greenhouse 77

The Sun’s position in the horizon Direct radiation

­ aries through each day, from sunrise to
v 100
­sunset, reaching a maximum value at noon,
or shortly afterwards. In addition, the qual- 80

Transmissivity (%)
ity of the light varies through the day. As
the atmosphere absorbs more of the UV 60
and short blue wavelengths than IR and
long red wavelengths, and the atmospheric 40
layers crossed by the solar light are smaller
at noon than at dawn or dusk, the light dur-
ing the initial and final hours of the day
have a higher proportion of red and IR trans. mat. global trans. trans. str.
radiation. 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
In the absence of clouds, during most Solar time (h)
of the day, the higher proportion of solar
radiation corresponds to direct radiation Fig. 4.18.  Evolution of global transmissivity on
(directly from the Sun) whereas during 21 December in a low-cost greenhouse (thermal
the first and last hours of the day diffuse PE), with a symmetrical gable roof, with a 30°
radiation (of a non-directional nature) roof angle, oriented east–west, on a clear day.
prevails over direct radiation. During the The global transmissivity is the product of the
transmissivity of the material (trans. mat.)
winter, when there are normally more
without the structure and the transmissivity of
clouds, the proportion of diffuse radiation the structure (trans. str.) without the material.
is much higher.
In this sense, the ratio ‘cladding area
(roof plus sidewalls):greenhouse soil area’
4.10.3  Solar radiation inside notably influences the heat losses and, as a
the greenhouse consequence, the temperature level and the
heating costs, thus influencing the eco-
nomic viability.
The main factors affecting the radiation
In addition, as it is necessary to mini-
transmitted inside a greenhouse are:
mize the shadows caused by the structural
(i) the type of structure; (ii) the shape and
elements, the geometry of the roof must also
slope of the greenhouse roof; (iii) its
be considered accordingly.
­orientation with respect to the Sun;
(iv) the location of the greenhouse equip-
ment (due to the shadows they generate);
and (v) the characteristics of the clad- 4.10.4  Greenhouse orientation
ding material (glass, plastic film, rigid
panel). See Chapter 3 and Fig. 4.18 and The orientation of a greenhouse (direction
Plate 9. of its longitudinal axis) is of great influence
The transmission of solar radiation on the transmission of radiation inside the
through the plastic or glass of a greenhouse greenhouse during the winter months, when
will depend on the angle of incidence radiation is lower. When diffuse radiation
(Figs  3.3 and 3.4). The architectonical prevails over direct radiation (cloudy days)
shapes of the roof (see Chapter 3) must orientation has less impact on transmission.
tend to optimize the angle of incidence The orientation is dependent on the geom-
(Fig. 4.19), without losing sight of other etry and slope of the roof, the latitude and
­relevant aspects of the design (cladding the season of the year. In practice, the
surface and its influence on the energy bal- shape and topography of the plot, as well
ance, resistance to the wind, volume and as the direction of the dominant winds,
greenhouse dimensions, ventilation area) determine the orientation of the greenhouse
which may limit its economic viability. (see Chapter 3).
78 Chapter 4

θ – Minimum zenith angle (noon)

v – Vertical line
approx. 60°
p – Line perpendicular to cover
SR – Solar rays i – Angle of incidence

q p
q i North
SR v

i = 49° i = 15°

Fig. 4.19.  Angle of incidence (i ) of direct solar radiation in greenhouses oriented east–west, of low and
high roof slopes, in the south of Spain (latitude 37°N) in the winter solstice at noon.

The objective is to capture the maxi- An important aspect to consider in sin-

mum solar radiation in winter, in the case gle-span greenhouses, once the orientation
of the single-span greenhouse, for lati- has been chosen, is the separation between
tudes above 30°N (in the northern hemi- them to avoid shadows (Fig. 4.23). In lati-
sphere), as long as the roof slope is tudes of the Mediterranean Basin a mini-
sufficient. It will be desirable, as a general mum separation of up to 8 m is advisable (if
rule, to orient the greenhouse east–west, built at the same elevation).
to maximize the capture of light in winter Nowadays, solar radiation transmissiv-
(Fig. 4.20 and Plate 10). The north–south ity models have been developed for different
orientation ­produces a more uniform dis- types of design of greenhouse structure in
tribution of radiation at different points in the Mediterranean, and these are an efficient
the greenhouse, than the east–west orien- tool for the designer (Soriano et al., 2004b).
tation (Fig.  4.21), especially if the roof Summarizing, to maximize radiation,
slope is low, and in a more marked way if losses due to structural elements and equip-
direct radiation prevails over the diffuse ment must be minimized. The site selec-
(see Chapter 3). tion, orientation, shape and slope of the
When analysing multi-span green- roof and cladding material used are primary
houses the problem is more complex, due to aspects to capture the maximum possible
the shadows that each span projects over radiation inside the greenhouse, bearing in
the adjacent one (Fig. 4.22). mind that the best technical solution
It is desirable, for each case to study the (Fig. 4.24) is not always the most economi-
specific problem before installing the green- cally suitable (Fig. 4.25).
house and to consider this to­­gether with To maintain high transmission proper
other aspects, as previously indicated management of the greenhouse is required.
(shape of the roof, slopes, priority growing Some of the measures that may help to
season), because the design is usually more achieve the goal of maximizing the solar
important than the orientation. radiation available for the crop in the green-
Small deviations from the optimal ori- house are: (i) cleaning the cover; (ii) limit-
entation (of the order of 15°) have very little ing condensation on the inner surface of the
influence on the transmissivity, but if they cover (as it reduces transmissivity) by means
reach 30° they start to be significant. of good climate control (which limits high
The Plastic Greenhouse 79

(a) Autumn–winter
Transmission of direct radiation N


Incident Incident

Transmitted Transmitted

(b) Spring–summer

Transmission of direct radiation



Reflected Reflected


Fig. 4.20.  Transmission and reflection of direct solar radiation in greenhouses with low and high roof
slopes, in the south of Spain (37°N) in autumn–winter (a) and spring–summer (b).

humidity in the air) or using drip irrigation (Greenhouses: design and construction.
and/or mulching (which reduces water Part 1: Greenhouses for commercial culti-
evaporation from the soil); (iii) orienting the vation). This regulation specifies the
crop rows north–south; and (iv) painting ­general principles and requirements of
the structural elements in white and using mechanical resistance and stability, state
white mulch to reflect the radiation. of use and durability for the design
and  construction of commercial green-
house structures (including the founda-
4.11  Normalization of tions) for the cultivation of plants and
Greenhouse Structures crops.
Regulation UNE-EN-1303212 has
Regulation UNE-EN-13031 is the Spanish replaced the experimental regulation UNE-
version of European regulation EN-13031-1 76208.
80 Chapter 4

S-2, 10 a.m.
S-3, 2 p.m. 12 a.m.

S-4, 4 p.m. S-1, 8 a.m.

West East

12 a.m.

S-2 and S-3,10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

S-1 and S-4, 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

B' A'
South North

Fig. 4.21.  Distribution of shadows created by the gutter (C) through the day in two greenhouses with
east–west orientation (bottom, A’B’) and north–south (top, AB). The sun’s elevation is shown between
8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (solar time) on the 21 December (latitude 37°N). The shadows are distributed more
uniformly in the north–south oriented greenhouse.


a a a North


Fig. 4.22.  In a multi-span greenhouse oriented east–west, if the roof angle of the north side (a) is greater
than the angle of the elevation of the Sun (h) shadows are produced (shown as grey shading) as one
span casts a shadow over the adjacent span. In a single-span greenhouse these shadows are not
produced. SR, Solar rays.
The Plastic Greenhouse 81



h = 76.5° 21 June
h = 29.5° 21 December
H North


Fig. 4.23.  Shadows created by an object (a tree) at noon during the summer and winter solstices. D,
Length of the shadow; H, height of the tree; h, elevation angle of the Sun (see Fig. 2.8). Latitude: 37°N.
(D = H cotangent h).



45° 27° 45° 27° 45° 27°

Fig. 4.24.  A greenhouse prototype with an asymmetric roof, oriented east–west, with angles of 45° on
the south side of the roof and 27° on the north side, does not generate shadows between spans at noon
in the south of Spain (37°N), in the winter solstice. This is because the elevation angle of the Sun (h) is
approximately 29.5°. The higher angle of the south-facing roof (45°), where most of the radiation is captured
on these dates, induces a high transmissivity (see Fig. 4.19). SR, Solar rays (Castilla et al., 2001).

27° 27° 27° 27° 27° 27°

5.0 m
3.5 m N

6.0 m

Fig. 4.25.  An efficient solution to achieve a good transmissivity in autumn–winter, at an affordable cost,
in low-cost multi-span greenhouses for the south of Spain is to build symmetrical spans, with roof slopes
1:2 (equivalent to angles of approximately 27°), oriented east–west. Although this greenhouse is less
transmissive in the winter solstice than the greenhouse with an asymmetric 45°/27° roof shown in
Fig. 4.24, it is easier to build, cheaper and offers less resistance to the wind (Soriano et al., 2004a, b).
82 Chapter 4

4.12  Summary sun are responsible for ageing plastic

•• Nowadays, the previously considered •• Rigid plastic materials are used in the
main function of a greenhouse (increase form of simple or alveolar panels
of the temperature in relation to the and  normally need a more expensive
open field, as a consequence of the structure than that used with flexible
‘greenhouse effect’) in some cases films. The most commonly used rigid
remains secondary, while the ‘shading materials are polyester, PC, PVC and
effect’ or the ‘windbreak effect’ of the PMMA.
greenhouse under specific climate con- •• The rigidity characteristics of the cov-
ditions are considered of equal or even ering materials determine, to a great
greater importance. extent, the shape of the greenhouse and
•• The suitability of a location for green- the covering materials. Conventionally,
house cultivation is determined by its glass panels have not been used in
climatic conditions (mainly tempera- curved roofs, but recently curved glass
ture and radiation) as well as other fac- panels have become available on the
tors of a socio-economic nature. market.
•• In the last few decades flexible plastic •• The main aspects to consider in the
films, with their low weight in rela- choice of a greenhouse must be:
tion to the materials previously used (i)  transmission to PAR, which deter-
in greenhouses (glass), have resulted mines the production potential; (ii) the
in a considerable reduction in sup- solidity and longevity; (iii) the func-
porting structures and their cost, and tionality and ease of maintenance;
have allowed for a massive expansion and  (iv) the economics of the energy
in the use of greenhouses all over the required and price.
world. •• The most common greenhouse types
•• The most common plastic materials are the artisan greenhouse and the
used in the form of flexible films as industrial greenhouse. Artisan green-
greenhouse covering materials are houses use plastic films and are cheap.
LDPEs (in their normal, long-life and In Spain, the most common type is the
thermal variants), EVA copolymer and artisan low-cost parral greenhouse.
plasticized PVC, although this last Among the industrial greenhouses, the
material is not used very extensively most common are the Venlo type, which
except in Asia. uses glass as cladding, and multi-span
•• Incorporation of different additives greenhouses, which usually have a
improves the characteristics of plastic curved-roof shape or are multi-tunnel
films. The multilayer films (formed by greenhouses with flexible plastic-film
coextrusion of several layers of differ- covering although they also allow for
ent materials) enable several desirable the use of semi-rigid panels.
characteristics to be combined in a sin- •• Among the criteria that should be con-
gle film, which is not possible with a sidered for the design and construc-
single material. tion of plastic-film greenhouses
•• A good plastic film must have high (which are heavily influenced by the
transmission to solar radiation, a climate and latitude of the location)
limited transmission to long-wave IR the maximization of the light is the
radiation (Earth’s radiation), as well most important, as well as providing
as durability in line with its thick- proper insulation and sufficient venti-
ness, formulation and cost. The lon- lation. In addition, such greenhouses
gevity of a plastic film will depend should be structurally sound (against
on the type of solar radiation wind, snow, etc.) and the film should
received, as UV rays coming from the be easy to assemble so that it remains
The Plastic Greenhouse 83

tight and well fixed. They should have •• The greenhouse equipment (heating,
a large inner air volume, be reasonably humidification, ventilation) will depend
airtight, have systems for the collec- on local conditions.
tion of rain water, and should mini- •• The greenhouse orientation and the
mize the amount of water that drips roof geometry are fundamental to maxi-
over the crop from condensation on mize the radiation inside the green-
the inner surface of the cover. house, especially in autumn and winter
Prioritization of these criteria will in Mediterranean latitudes, when sunny
vary in each case. days are predominant.
Greenhouse Heat Exchanges

5.1  Heat Transfer surface and its deep layers, and the thermal
losses through the greenhouse structure.
Two bodies at different temperatures See Appendix section A.4.1.
exchange energy in the form of heat, which
flows from the hotter body to the colder
body. There are three main modes of heat 5.1.2  Convection
exchange: (i) conduction; (ii) radiation; and
(iii) convection (with or without change of Convection without phase change
The air renewal of the greenhouse Convection is the energy transport by a fluid
involves a mass transfer, notoriously affect- in the same direction as the flow or between
ing the greenhouse energy balance. a static surface and a fluid. The thermal
exchanges by convection involve the dis-
placement of matter. They take place mainly
in fluids and induce their movement.
5.1.1  Conduction Convection is of the ‘forced’ type when
it is provoked by an external mechanical
Conduction is the energy transport from action (e.g. air fan). ‘Natural’ convection is
molecule to molecule inside a body, solid or driven by density differences, derived from
fluid. By conduction the energy is trans- temperature differences, which generate the
ported through a media at rest, which is not fluid movement (for instance, the warm air
flowing in the direction of the energy trans- weighs less than the cold air and rises up).
port (Fig. 5.1). Convection exchanges have great
Conduction is the only mode of heat importance in the greenhouse. The air in
propagation inside a solid, or between two contact with the heating pipes is heated by
solids in physical contact, at different tem- conduction and, once heated, moves by
peratures. The energy flows from the higher convection, heating the rest of the green-
to the lower temperature. The rate of tem- house air. This warm air contacts the plants
perature change along the distance (d) is and then heats the plants by conduction.
called the thermal gradient. When it is windy, the greenhouse cover
The main heat changes by conduction loses a lot of heat because of active (forced)
in a greenhouse take place between the soil convection. See Appendix section A.4.2.

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

84 2nd edition (N. Castilla)
Greenhouse Heat Exchanges 85

Convection with phase change If there is no change of state (from

l­ iquid to vapour) the heat required to
evaporation. Water evaporation consumes a increase the temperature of water by 1°C
lot of energy. Evaporation involves a change (specific heat of water) is relatively low,
of phase, from liquid to gas. The energy 4.2 kJ kg−1 of water.
required to make water pass from the liquid Transpiration is a specific form of evap-
state to the gas state is called the ‘latent heat oration that happens in plants. As the tran-
of vaporization’, and for water it is 2445 kJ spiration consumes energy, it allows for the
kg−1, at 20°C. The partial water vapour pres- cooling of the transpiring organs, and it is
sure rises, and so does its energy content, the main mechanism by which the plants
that is, its enthalpy increases. Evaporation decrease their temperature. Water fogging or
is only possible when the water vapour misting enables the greenhouse to be cooled
pressure is lower than the saturation vapour (Photo 5.1; see Chapter 8).
pressure at a given temperature.
condensation. Condensation is the inverse
phenomenon to evaporation. Water passes
from the gaseous state (water vapour) to the
liquid state, releasing energy. It involves a
S S decrease of the partial pressure of the water
vapour in the air, and an increase in the
DIREC. temperature of the surfaces where water
Condensation happens only when the
T2 T1 air water vapour partial pressure reaches or
exceeds the saturation vapour pressure
d point at a given temperature. The dew point
is the temperature below which condensa-
Fig. 5.1.  Heat transfer by conduction between two tion takes place.
plane, parallel surfaces in a direction perpendicular From the phytosanitary point of view,
to both surfaces (DIREC) (see text). condensation is of great importance as the

Photo 5.1.  Water fogging or misting and proper ventilation enable the greenhouse to be cooled.
86 Chapter 5

presence of water over the leaves favours inside, it decreases their global heat transfer
the development of many fungal diseases coefficient (section 5.4).
(e.g. Botrytis). Besides, the formation of con- The ‘anti-dripping’ plastic films do not
densation droplets on the internal surface of avoid condensation, but avoid the forma-
the plastic films cladding the greenhouse tion of droplets. A proper roof slope and a
involves important reductions in light trans- corresponding system of collection chan-
mission, and eventually dripping over the nels at the greenhouse gutter allows for the
crops with harmful effects on their health effective removal of the condensation water
(Photo 5.2). (see Chapter 4).

Effects of condensation on transmissivity

and the thermal balance
5.1.3  Radiation
In plastic greenhouses, when the water
condenses in the form of water drops, All bodies with temperatures above − 273°C
there is a decrease in the radiation trans- (0 K) emit energy through their surface,
missivity, as the droplets reflect part of in  the form of electromagnetic radiation
the radiation. However, if the condensa- ­following the Stefan–Bolzman law (see
tion occurs in a continuous film, not only Appendix 1 section A.4.4). This radiant
is there no reduction in transmissivity, energy is transformed into thermal energy
but in the case of special plastic films if it finds a body to absorb it.
treated with special surfactants there The characteristics of the radiation
can  even be an increase (Fahnrich et al., (wavelength) which a warm surface
1989). emits depend on its temperature, follow-
Moreover, water condensation on the ing Wien’s law (see Appendix 1, section
plastic cover improves the thermal balance A.1.4). The amount of energy of a certain
of plastic greenhouses, and by avoiding radiation decreases as the wavelength
long-wave radiation escaping from the increases.

Photo 5.2.  Condensation of water vapour on the internal face of the greenhouse cover is of great
importance (see text).
Greenhouse Heat Exchanges 87

When two bodies are at different tem- i­ ncidence of the radiation over the materi-
peratures, separated by a permeable al’s surface (see Chapter 4). The absorptivity
medium, there is a net heat transfer from the is less dependent on such an angle and is
warm body to the cold body in the form of more linked to the type of material and its
radiation (Fig. 5.2). The energy received by thickness (Seeman, 1974).
the surface of the cold body is divided in When the angle of incidence is not
three parts: (i) a fraction is reflected; (ii) a known and we talk, generically, of these
second part is transmitted (crosses the body coefficients, the data usually refer to trans-
without heating it); and (iii) a third fraction missivity and reflectivity for zero angle of
is absorbed by the body and increases its incidence (rays perpendicular to the sur-
temperature (Fig. 3.3). face), which correspond to the maximum
Bodies have reflection, transmission transmissivity and minimum reflectivity
and absorption properties for radiation (Figs 3.3 and Plate 5).
which vary with the received wavelength. When the radiation is diffuse, it does
For each material the reflection coefficient not have an angle of incidence as it comes
or reflectivity (r), the transmission coeffi- from all possible directions and this trans-
cient or transmissivity (t) and the absorp- missivity of diffuse radiation is different
tion coefficient or absorptivity (a) can be from the transmissivity of direct radiation.
defined. Emissivity is the proportion (per unit)
For a certain wavelength the sum of the of the total radiation emitted by a body at a
three coefficients is equal to 1, or 100%, given temperature with respect to the one
depending on how the coefficients are emitted by a black body of the same surface
expressed (per unit or as a percentage), due under the same conditions (see Appendix 1
to the energy conservation principle. section A.4.4). The absorption coefficient of
A grey body is any body in which the a material to radiation of a certain wave-
absorption coefficient is independent of the length is equal to its emissivity in this same
wavelength of the incoming radiation. In wavelength, according to Kirchoff’s law
practice many materials can be treated as (Rosenberg et al., 1983).
grey bodies. A black body is any surface in The emissivity and the absorptivity, in
which the absorption coefficient is 1, what- the same range of wavelength, have equal
ever the wavelength (Rosenberg et al., 1983); values, but if a body receives solar radiation
it is an ideal body. and emits radiation in the IR band the
The transmissivity and the reflectivity, absorptivity for the solar radiation is differ-
are quite dependent on the angle of ent from the emissivity for the IR radiation
(Table 5.1).
For non-metallic bodies, such as plant
leaves and white paint, the emissivity is
high (from 0.7 to 1) at normal crop tempera-
T2 tures, whereas for metals, especially if they
have been polished, it is low (0.05–0.3) (Bot
and Van de Braak, 1995).
It is essential to know the spectral dis-
tribution characteristics of transmissivity of
a covering material if the plants which are
grown in the greenhouse have colours gen-
erated by anthocyanins (pigment with col-
ourations between red and violet), because
if the material is not transmissive within a
certain range of UV (290–360 nm) it may
Fig. 5.2.  Heat transmission by radiation between prevent such colouration (Takakura, 1989),
two bodies at different temperatures (T1 > T2) as may happen in aubergine. Indeed the
(see text). lack of UV radiation, to which the eyes of
88 Chapter 5

Table 5.1.  Characteristics of absorptivity to solar c­ alculating the capacity of the heating sys-
radiation and emissivity of several surfaces (at tem to be installed.
13°C), both expressed per unit (adapted from To analyse the energy balance of the
Aldrich and Bartok, 1994). ‘greenhouse complex’ it is possible to divide
Absorptivity to Emissivity
it into different subsets, for instance: the
Surface solar radiation (at 13°C) soil, the crop, the interior air volume and
the cover. Then the energy balances of each
Concrete 0.60 0.88 one of them can be analysed independently,
Red brick 0.55 0.92 which is easier, integrating them later.
Glass 0.03 0.90 In practice, simplifications are used
White paint 0.35 0.95 which do not consider some elements of the
Dry soil 0.78 0.90
energy balances that have less influence
Wet soil 0.90 0.95
overall; this allows for sufficient approxi-
Commercial 0.32 0.10 mation of the energy balance.
Painted in white 0.20 0.91 The soil surface absorbs part of the solar
Painted in black 0.96 0.88 energy, exchanges energy by IR radiation
Galvanized steel with the crop canopy, with the heating pipes
Commercial 0.80 0.28 and with the walls, cover and other ele-
Painted in white 0.34 0.90 ments of the greenhouse, and by convection
with the greenhouse air. The soil surface is
cooled by water evaporation and by exchang-
bees and bumblebees are sensitive, may
ing energy with the deeper layers of the soil,
induce problems in their mobility, affecting
cooling or heating itself depending on the
flower pollination (see Chapter 4).
The heat exchanges by radiation are
The vegetation absorbs an important
essential in greenhouses. The surfaces of a
part of the solar energy that it receives and
greenhouse exchange heat by radiation
exchanges energy by IR radiation with the
between them. The greenhouses are heated
soil surface, with the heating pipes, with
absorbing an important part of solar radia-
the wall, cover and other elements of the
tion and get cooler radiating energy towards
greenhouse, and by convection, with the
the sky.
greenhouse air. The vegetation, in addition,
The heating pipes, besides heating the
loses energy by transpiration and may, even-
plants directly by convection, also do it
tually, gain energy by condensation.
directly by radiation.
The heating pipes absorb some solar
energy and, if the boiler is on, they may
receive energy from the hot water. The pipes
5.2  Heat Exchanges by Air Renewal exchange heat mainly by convection with
in the Greenhouse the air and by radiation with the vegetation,
the soil and the cover.
The interior air of the greenhouse is usu- The interior air exchanges energy
ally warmer and more humid than the mostly by convection with all the green-
outside air. The renewal of the interior house surfaces: soil, plants, heating pipes
air  with external air involves a decrease and cover. The renewal of the interior air by
of its energy content (enthalpy; see external air, normally drier and cooler, pro-
Appendix 1). duces a decrease in its enthalpy (energy
The cover absorbs a small amount of
5.3  Heat Exchanges in the the received solar radiation, exchanging
Greenhouse and Energy Balance energy by IR radiation towards the interior
of the greenhouse and towards the exterior.
The calculation of the energy balance of In addition, it exchanges energy by convec-
a  greenhouse is useful, especially when tion with the external air, through its
Greenhouse Heat Exchanges 89

e­ xternal surface, and with the interior air, Table 5.2.  ‘Global heat transfer coefficient’ (K in
through its internal surface. It may collect W m−2 °C−1) for some greenhouse covering
energy when water vapour condenses on materials, measured under normalized conditions
the cover and will cool when the condensed (temperatures: exterior: −10°C, interior: +20°C,
wind: 4 m s−1). (Source: Nisen and Deltour, 1986.)
water evaporates.
A relevant fact to consider is the ther- Clear Overcast
mal inertia of the greenhouse, which will Cover sky sky
depend on what its components are made
of. Therefore, the relationship between the Single PE 8.8–9.0 7.1–7.2
thermal capacities of the air/cover/plants/ EVA 7.8 6.6
PVC 7.6 6.4
and soil (up to a depth of 20 cm) of the
Polyester 7.2 6.2
greenhouse is of the order of 1/3/10/100
Glass (4 mm) 6.1 5.5
(Day and Bailey, 1999), which means that Double PE + PE 6.4 4.2
the air thermal inertia of the greenhouse is PC (6 mm) 3.5 3.2
minimal and therefore its temperature Glass + glass 3.1 2.8
responds quickly to energy balance changes
(as the air is heated), whereas the response
(for calculations on air renewal see
of the soil temperature is slow, since its
Appendix 1 section A.4.5)
thermal inertia is much larger.
For the approximate calculation of the
heating in the night when the requirements
are higher, the following simplified energy
balance equation can be applied (solar radi-
5.4  Simplified Greenhouse ation being nil) (Montero et al., 1998):
Energy Balances
Heating = O
 verall losses + Air renewals
If we consider all the greenhouse heat (see Appendix 1)
exchanges overall, by radiation, conduc- Qc = K(Ti − Te) Sc + m Cp (Ti − Te) (5.2)
tion and convection, through the cladding,
we may quantify their amounts (per time Where:
unit) as: Qc = Heating requirements (W)
m = Air mass renewed per unit time (kg s−1)
Q = K(Ti − Te) Sc (5.1) Cp = Air specific heat (J kg−1 °C−1)
Some authors estimate the heating
Ti = Interior temperature (°C)
requirements under conditions of closed
Te = External temperature (°C)
ventilators (i.e. when air renewals are only
Q = Amount of heat exchanged between the
by infiltration, and this renewal represents
interior and the exterior (W)
only 10% of the heating requirement)
Sc = Cladding surface (m2)
(Boodley, 1996), as follows:
K = Global heat transfer coefficient of a
greenhouse covering material, characteristic Qc = 1.1 K(Ti − Te) Sc (5.3)
of each covering material (W m−2 °C−1) (see
Table 5.2 and Appendix 1 section A.4.9).
To simplify, it could be assumed that 5.5  Summary
the solar energy penetrating the greenhouse
is responsible for heating the greenhouse
•• There are three fundamental modes of
and for evapotranspiration, neglecting the
energy exchange in the form of heat:
energy used for photosynthesis, among other
(i)  conduction; (ii) radiation; and
simplifications, the instantaneous energy
(iii) convection (with or without change
balance would be approximately:
of state).
Solar radiation − Evapotranspiration •• Energy is transported through a medium
  + Heating = Overall losses at rest by means of conduction. In
  + Air renewal greenhouses the heat exchanges by
90 Chapter 5

c­ onduction between the soil surface •• Water transpiration by the plants is a

and its deep layers are important. particular form of evaporation, which
•• We call convection the energy transport allows plants to cool down and decrease
by a fluid in the direction of flow, or their temperature.
between a static surface and a fluid. It is •• Water condensation in a greenhouse
of crucial importance in a greenhouse. starts at the colder spots, normally on
The air in contact with the heating the greenhouse cover. Condensation
pipes is heated by conduction and, in the internal surface of the cover
once heated, moves by convection, affects the light transmission and
heating the rest of the greenhouse air. improves the insulation conditions of
This warm air contacts the plants and the cover.
then heats the plants by conduction. •• All bodies with temperatures above
When it is windy, the greenhouse cover −273°C emit energy from their surface
loses a lot of heat because of active in the form of electromagnetic radia-
(forced) convection. tion. This radiant energy is transformed
•• Water evaporation consumes a lot of into thermal energy if it impacts a body
energy, as water goes from the liquid state that absorbs it.
to a gas. We call the latent heat of vapouri- •• The radiation received by a body can be
zation the energy needed to evaporate reflected, absorbed or transmitted
1 kg of water, at 20°C, and its value is 2445 through it. The greenhouse covering
kJ kg−1 of evaporated water. If there is no materials must be transmissive to solar
change of state (from liquid to vapour) the radiation.
heat required to increase its temperature •• The heat exchanges by air renewal in
by 1°C (specific heat of water) is low, of the greenhouse are very important for
the order of 4.2 kJ kg−1 of water. the energy balance. The humid air con-
•• The condensation of the air water vapour tains more energy than dry air at the
is the inverse phenomenon to evapora- same temperature, as it incorporates
tion and releases a large amount of the energy used for the evaporation of
energy. Condensation only occurs if the the water. The renewal of the internal
partial pressure of water vapour reaches air, which is usually warmer and more
a value known as ‘saturation pressure’. humid, by external air (cooler and drier)
•• The dew point is the temperature below involves a great loss of energy from the
which condensation occurs. greenhouse.
Crop Physiology: Photosynthesis,
Growth, Development
and Productivity

6.1  Introduction c­ ompounds are moved and consumed.

The roots are a source of water and mineral
The relationship between the different elements, whereas the leaves are a source of
organs of a plant are represented schemati- carbohydrates. The main ‘sinks’ are the
cally in Fig. 6.1. The leaves receive solar growing parts (young leaves, flower buds,
energy for its conversion into biomass fruits) and the reserve storage organs (tubers,
(vege­table matter) by means of photosyn- bulbs). To operate appropriately the plant
thesis. The required gas exchange for pho- requires a balance between ‘sources’ and
tosynthesis takes place through the stomata ‘sinks’.
of the leaves, as does transpiration (trans- Physiologists distinguish between two
fer of water from the leaves to the sur- aspects of the vegetative activity of the
rounding air). The roots, besides anchoring plant: (i) growth; and (ii) development. Both
the plant to the soil or the substrate, absorb are conditioned, directly or indirectly, by
water and mineral elements and may also environmental factors. Growth is a quantita-
serve as reserve storage organs. The stem tive notion corresponding to the variation
and the branches, besides accomplishing a in size and weight of the different plant
support function, contain the vessels organs (Berninger, 1989). Development is a
through which the ascending and descend- qualitative notion related to the changes of
ing sap flows between the different organs stage: (i) germination; (ii) leaves and inter-
of the plant. The apical meristems are nodes succession; (iii) bud differentiation;
responsible, as their cells multiply, for the and (iv) flowering.
formation of new organs. Other meristems The yield, in a broad sense, includes
are responsible for branching and for other not only the quantitative aspects of produc-
growth functions. The meristems are cen- tion but also the qualitative ones. These are
tres of intense biochemical activity, espe- more complex to measure, due to the diffi-
cially in the ­synthesis of hormones which culties in evaluating quality, whose impact
regulate the harmonic growth of the plant on the economic return of high added value
(Berninger, 1989). vegetables for fresh consumption is large.
The plant can be conceived as a set of Good product quality is determined,
‘sources’ providing compounds necessary normally, by proper crop growth and devel-
for the activities of its parts and a set opment conditions. The amount produced,
of  ‘sinks’ or destinations where these quantified in vegetables by the weight of

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 91
92 Chapter 6

Solar radiation Sources of: Sinks of:

Apex Hormones water

Young leaves Hormones water

Adult leaves Carbohydrates
Water vapour assimilates

Stems and roots (Reserves) (Reserves)

CO2 Water, hormones,

Roots Assimilates
O2 mineral elements

Fig. 6.1.  Schematic representation of the organization and relationship between the various organs in a
plant (adapted from Berninger, 1989).

the product in different grades and refer- and nutrient supply which cover the crop
enced to the surface unit, relies on the effi- requirements, performed with proper
cient use of incident solar radiation by the periodicity.
crop, which in itself, requires appropriate When water and mineral supply is
plant density and properly arranged and achieved by drip irrigation, the root system
managed leaf canopies to achieve an opti- develops less than in the case of surface irri-
mal economic profit. gation, and therefore the aerial part:root
ratio is higher. Consequently, drip-irrigated
plants can allocate more assimilates to the
6.2  Physiological Functions upper organs which are the parts of interest
and Growth in the common vegetable crops, but these
plants are more sensitive to an accidental
The main physiological functions involved water deficit.
in the growth of a plant are: (i) water and Transpiration is the evaporation of
mineral element absorption by the roots; water by the plant, mainly through the sto-
(ii)  water vapour transpiration through the mata of the leaves. The energy required to
leaves; (iii) photosynthesis; and (iv) respira- evaporate the water basically comes from
tion (Berninger, 1989). the solar radiation; therefore, transpiration
Water absorption is influenced by cli- is directly related to solar radiation. In
mate conditions (radiation, temperature), heated greenhouses, the energy supplied
plant conditions (water stress) and soil may also contribute to transpiration. In
conditions (water availability, aeration). Mediterranean greenhouses, the irrigation
To optimize water and mineral element water requirements to cover the demand of
absorption it will be necessary to have: the vegetables crops range from 0.5–1 mm
(i)  an appropriate soil or substrate (well day−1 in winter to 4.0–5.0 mm day−1 in
drained, able to store the required amounts unshaded greenhouses in the summer
of water and oxygen to ensure a sufficient (Castilla, 1995). With intermittent surface
availability between two consecutive irrigation (when a single irrigation could
­irrigation episodes); (ii) a balanced soil apply more than 10 mm of water), the use of
solution (with an appropriate concentra- cold water must be avoided, as it may
tion of  nutrients for the crop, and ade- induce undesirable cooling of the rhizo-
quate salinity and pH); and (iii) water sphere (Berninger, 1989).
Crop Physiology 93

Photosynthesis allows plants to convert which they feed. Therefore, the primary
different inorganic compounds into veget­ source of all the metabolized energy used
able organic matter (or biomass), using on our planet is the Sun and photosynthesis
energy from the Sun. Respiration supplies is fundamental to the preservation of living
the plants with the energy required for them beings.
to function, consuming part of the biomass Fossil fuels (coal, oil) are decomposi-
generated in the photosynthesis. When pho- tion products of animals and land and sea
tosynthesis is greater than respiration, the plants and the energy that they store was
surplus biomass is used by the plant to ‘fuel’ captured by living organisms millions of
its growth and development. The climate years ago, coming initially from the Sun’s
control in the greenhouse is aimed at opti- radiation.
mizing this balance (photosynthesis/respi- In photosynthesis, the most important
ration), to achieve the desired growth and step, chemically, is the conversion of carbon
productivity. dioxide (CO2) and water into carbohydrates
Of the whole fresh weight of the green- and oxygen. The reaction, schematically, is:
house plants, approximately 90% is usually
water and the remaining 10% is organic 6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2 + Energy
matter (Levanon et al., 1986). In order for (6.1)
the plant to grow, the difference between
photosynthesis (carbon absorption in the Photosynthesis may be described as the
form of CO2 to be converted into biomass) process in which solar energy is converted
and respiration (energy and CO2 release) into chemical energy by plant tissues in the
must be positive; in other words, the ‘car- presence of chlorophyll. This chemical
bon balance’ (or, otherwise, the net photo- energy is stored in the form of different
synthesis) must be positive. compounds (carbohydrates, mainly, ATP
The productive process is complex, and NADPH). By means of this process car-
with short- and long-term responses. The bon is fixed into carbohydrate molecules,
short-term responses (minutes, hours) are and oxygen (O2) along with highly energetic
the water and assimilate status, processes compounds (ATP and NADPH) are released
that supply energy, construction materials to be later used by the plant in the synthesis
and water for tissue growth, whereas in the of amino acids, organic acids and other
long term the productive process may be more complex organic compounds. All
characterized by the accumulation of dry these compounds are transported to the
matter and the development and distribu- growing parts, to become part of the plant’s
tion of such dry matter, not to forget the structures, contributing to the generation of
quality of the product (Challa et al., 1995). biomass.
The majority of plants cultivated in
greenhouses are of the C3 type (metabolism
in C3), so called because of the type of
6.3  Photosynthesis chemical reactions in their photosynthetic
process. Other plants, called C4, are less
6.3.1  Introduction responsive to atmospheric CO2 content;
they are usually plants from tropical areas.
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, From the cultivated species, C4 plants are
using the Sun’s energy, synthesize organic species such as sugarcane, maize, millet
compounds from inorganic substances. and sorghum. A third type of photosynthe-
Every existing living being needs energy sis is CAM metabolism, undertaken by suc-
for its growth and conservation. In the vege­ culent plants, which are characterized by
table kingdom the energy used comes from their ability to pre-fix CO2 in the dark, dur-
the Sun, whereas animals, being unable to ing the night. Therefore, the stomata do not
directly use the Sun’s energy, use energy have to open during the day, avoiding the
stored in plants or in other animals on loss of precious water supplies.
94 Chapter 6

Photosynthesis depends on a series of Nevertheless, there is certain short-

external and internal factors. The internal lived compensation between climatic
factors are the characteristics of the leaf ­factors at certain developmental stages, as
(structure, chlorophyll content), the accu- is the case with light and temperature
mulation of products assimilated in the (Berninger, 1989), so that poor light condi-
chloroplasts of the leaves, the availability tions may be compensated for by select
of water, mineral nutrients and enzymes, thermal conditions and vice versa.
among others (Hall and Rao, 1977). The
most relevant external factors are the
radiation incident on the leaves (quantity 6.3.2  The stomata
and quality), temperature, the ambient
humidity and the concentration of CO2 The surface of vascular plants has some
and oxygen in the surrounding air (Hall openings, called stomata, through which
and Rao, 1977). the gas exchanges between the plant and the
Liebig’s ‘law of minimums’ and environment take place. The stomata are
Blackman’s ‘principle of the limiting fac- located in the under surface of the leaves.
tors’ explain the interactions between the By opening the stomata the plants take CO2
several factors that simultaneously influ- from the air, but lose water vapour to the
ence photosynthesis and the speed of the exterior, which induces cooling of the leaf
photosynthetic process (Mastalerz, 1977). as the water evaporates as well as a water
The Blackman principle enunciates: flux towards the leaves which allows for the
‘when a process is conditioned by differ- transport of water and nutrients from the
ent factors, the velocity of the process is roots to the foliage.
limited by the velocity of the slowest Every stoma is surrounded by two
­factor’ (i.e. ‘the limiting factor imposes a guard (occlusive) cells and may have other
limit which prevents the effect of other associated auxiliary cells. The guard cells
factors beyond this limit’) (Mastalerz, control the size of the opening (or pore
1977). When the limiting factor ceases to called the ostiole) of the stoma (Fig. 6.2).
be, the remaining factors may express Depending on the turgor of the guard cells,
their corresponding effect beyond the pre- which is determined by their water content,
vious limit. the size of the opening is regulated.

(a) (b)

cells Pore
(called an ostiole)

Surface of
CO2 O2 Guard cell
the leaf

Fig. 6.2.  A stoma, in closed (a) and open (b) positions. (c) Cross-section through a stoma.
Crop Physiology 95

The turgor changes come as a response affect water vapour, CO2 and O2 fluxes,
to different external stimuli, such as light, influencing photosynthesis as well as tran-
CO2 content, presence of potassium ions spiration and respiration.
(K ) and water supply. Under normal condi- All the factors which induce stomatal
tions of water supply, most of the higher closure decrease photosynthesis. Lack of air
plants open their stomata during the day, as movement also reduces photosynthesis as
a response to light, and close them at night. the thickness of the boundary layer
If the water conditions are less favourable, increases, and the resistance to the diffu-
which affects their turgor, the stomata may sion of CO2 molecules increases (Nobel,
close partially or totally. The CO2 content in 1974a, b) (Fig. 6.3). The boundary layer is
the intercellular spaces also affects the the layer of motionless air that surrounds
stoma opening. The temperature also affects the leaves where gaseous exchange takes
the movement of the stomata, influencing place by molecular diffusion. In the green-
the speed of response, which is slower at house, the absence of wind compared with
lower temperatures. open field cultivation generates thick
Regulating the opening, the stomata boundary layers. The resistance to gaseous
maintain a balance between photosynthesis diffusion of the boundary layer of the leaves
and water transpiration, to achieve the may be notably higher than that of stomata
higher levels of photosynthetic assimilation when air movements are very weak, such is
while avoiding desiccation. the case in closed greenhouses (Urban,
In plants with CAM metabolism, the 1997a). In practice, the grower must main-
stomata open at night and close during tain a certain air movement in the green-
the day, to preserve precious water supplies house for efficient photosynthesis and
in extremely dry climates. proper production.
The accumulation of photosyntheti-
cally assimilated products in the leaves may
6.3.3  Internal factors affecting have a depressant effect on their own photo-
photosynthesis synthesis. These assimilates must be trans-
ported to other organs of the plant. This
To access the chloroplasts of the leaf tissues transport process is regulated by several fac-
(where photosynthesis takes place) the CO2 tors. For instance, high temperature, as well
must diffuse from the external air to the sto- as the presence of nitrates, favours this
matal cavity (Fig. 6.2). Access to the stomata translocation of assimilates. The lack of
by CO2 is hindered by the stability of the air nitrogen involves accumulation of starch in
layers, which surround the leaf (boundary the leaves, decreasing photosynthesis
layer) and the stomatal cavity. The CO2 must (Acock et al., 1990).
overcome these two barriers, which are The availability of proteins is funda-
quantified by their resistance: (i) the bound- mental in photosynthesis. A reduction of
ary layer resistance; and (ii) the stomatal nitrogen involves a decrease in the rate of
resistance (Gijzen, 1995a). Both barriers photosynthesis (Urban, 1997a).


Boundary layer

Fig. 6.3.  The leaf and its boundary layer (layer of motionless air which surrounds the leaf).
96 Chapter 6

Photosynthesis per unit leaf area The absorption spectrum of the photo-
reaches a maximum approximately when synthetic pigments shows that green light is
the leaves reach their maximum size and less efficient, the main absorption peaks
decreases as the leaves age, as they lose (intervals of higher efficiency) being in the
functionality from a photosynthetic point of red and the blue areas, due to the light absorp-
view. tion by the carotenoids that accompany the
chlorophyll in the chloroplast membranes
(Plate 11) (Whatley and Whatley, 1984). The
6.3.4  External factors influencing red light is more efficient than the blue light
photosynthesis for photosynthesis (McCree, 1972). Within a
canopy, the lower layers receive radiation
Radiation with a higher proportion of green light than
the higher levels, which filter the light.
The quantity of photosynthesis carried out There is a curvilinear response of pho-
by a plant is influenced by three properties tosynthesis of individual leaves to the
of the light: (i) the ‘quality’ of the light; absorbed PAR, if other factors such as CO2
(ii) its intensity; and (iii) its duration. and temperature are not limiting (Fig. 6.4)
Only a fraction of the global solar radia- (Urban, 1997a). At low radiation, the photo-
tion is used in photosynthesis. This fraction synthesis may be lower than the respiration
is known as photosynthetically active radia- losses. Gains and losses become equal at
tion (PAR). Within the PAR range (400– the radiation compensation point (Fig. 6.4).
700  nm) not all the photons of different A plant cannot subsist for a long time below
wavelengths have the same photosynthetic the compensation point. With high ­radiation
efficiency. Within the range of 500–600 nm the increase in photosynthesis reaches a
(green colour) the radiation is not well maximum and is no longer proportional to
absorbed by the chlorophyll (reflecting part the increase in radiation; this point is the
of it), giving the plants their typical green light saturation point (Fig. 6.4). When the
colour (Monteith and Unsworth, 1990). radiation is very low artificial light is more

Net Radiation
photosynthesis saturation


0 Intensity of PAR


Fig. 6.4.  Response of net photosynthesis to photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). A, Radiation
compensation point (adapted from Hall and Rao, 1977).
Crop Physiology 97

efficient in increasing photosynthesis than making the foliage chlorotic and eventually
when the radiation is high (Fig. 6.4). reducing the photosynthetic productivity of
In general, if the photoperiod is reduced the plants.
or extended and the radiation intensity is Radiation controls photosynthesis not
varied in such a way that the accumulated only by its intensity (Fig. 6.5), but also
radiation is the same, the growth rates will through the available wavelengths and its
be similar (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997). duration. The proper radiation level to satu-
It must be expected that the longer the rate the photosynthetic system of many
duration of the light period, the more photo- plants (C3 type) is around 400 mmol m−2 s−1,
synthesis will take place. But it may be that, when supplied for 16 h day−1, whereas other
due to incapacity to store all the starch (pro- plants (C4 type) require levels of 500 mmol
duced by photosynthesis) the leaf stops its m−2 s−1 or higher to maximize their growth
assimilating activity. (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997). By contrast,
In practice, at the level of an isolated leaf some ornamental plants develop well with
it is possible to reach this saturation point, levels ranging from 10 to 50 mmol m−2 s−1 for
but in a fully developed leaf canopy (where a period of 8 h (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997).
the lower leaves receive little radiation as We distinguish between shadow plants and
they are shaded) it is nearly impossible to plants with high light requirements, depend-
reach saturation to radiation by a commercial ing on their response to radiation. In shadow
greenhouse crop (Plate 12) (Hanan, 1998). plants, the saturation point is reached with
Within closed canopies it is very low radiation levels, which is not the case for
unlikely that saturation radiation levels can radiation-demanding plants, in which the
be reached with global radiation intensities compensation point is higher. The edible
below 1000 W m−2 (Bakker, 1995). A well- horticultural species usually have high com-
developed crop (high leaf area index, LAI) pensation points (Urban, 1997a).
obviously will photosynthesize more than In the majority of the plants low levels
another one with lower LAI (Fig. 6.5). of radiation intensity induce smaller leaves
This radiation saturation level also (with higher length:width ratio), longer
depends on other factors, for example tem-
perature and of the CO2 content of the air
(Fig. 6.6) (Urban, 1997a). The excess of radi- photosynthesis
ation may damage the photosynthetic com-
plex, for example destroying chlorophyll,
CO2 absorbed or generated

High Net
radiation photosynthesis

Net photosynthesis


Very low
radiation Respiration

0 0
0 LAI 0 Temperature

Fig. 6.5.  Net photosynthesis as a function of the Fig. 6.6.  Effect of temperature on respiration and
leaf area index (LAI) and the radiation intensity gross and net photosynthesis of a C3 plant
(adapted from Urban, 1997a). (adapted from Urban, 1997a).
98 Chapter 6

internodes, lower chlorophyll concentra- months, because in the winter the rain usu-
tion and lower dry weight. High radiation ally washes the plastic cover. In low-cost
levels induce the stimulation of branching, parral-type greenhouses, increasing the
the proliferation of growing points, possible slope of the south side of each span, with
photodestruction of chlorophyll (known as east–west orientation, allows increases in
bleaching), and, in extreme cases, gener­ transmissivity of up to 73% at the winter
ation of symptoms of stress attributable to solstice (Castilla et al., 2001).
radiation excesses in some ranges of the
spectrum, as the increase in the production Temperature
of anthocyanins (Langhams and Tibbitts,
1997). High radiation levels may also Photosynthetic activity has a clear response
induce, due to their higher energy supply, to temperature; it is at a minimum at about
heating of the leaves increasing water use, 5°C, reaching an optimum at temperatures
and causing desiccation in extreme cases. from 25 to 35°C in the majority of horticul-
In nature, under low light conditions, tural species and it decreases at higher tem-
in an adaptation process of the plants that peratures (Urban, 1997a).
involves a long-term mechanism of natural The optimum temperature increases
selection, the leaves tend to place them- with the radiation and CO2 levels (Acock
selves horizontally, to intercept the maxi- et al., 1990). In practice, it is of no interest
mum radiation. When the light intensity is to maintain high temperatures with low
high, the leaves tend to adopt a more verti- radiation (not much heating on days with
cal position. little light). Under high temperatures, crops
The efficiency in the use of radiation by grow better with high radiation; therefore,
photosynthesis (CO2 fixed in relation to shadows must be avoided in usual horticul-
absorbed PAR) varies little among C3 plant tural crops (which are radiation demanding).
species (Ehleringer and Pearcy, 1983), but
varies more if we refer to incident radiation CO2
rather than to absorbed radiation.
At low latitudes the predictable maxi- At relatively low CO2 levels in the air, if
mum values of global radiation are slightly radiation and temperature are high enough
higher than 1000 W m−2, in open field, ele- not to become limiting factors, the photo-
vated locations, with a semi-arid climate synthetic rate is almost proportional to the
and low air turbidity (Hanan, 1998), whereas air CO2 content (Urban, 1997a) (Fig. 6.7).
at sea level the maximum global radiation is The critical CO2 threshold below which the
of the order of 900 W m−2 (Salisbury, 1985). carbon balance is negative (respiration is
On the Spanish Mediterranean coast, the higher than photosynthesis) is, normally,
maximum values of global radiation inten- lower than 200 ppm (Gijzen, 1995a).
sity are close to 1000 W m−2 at the summer Higher CO2 contents induce a higher
solstice. The average daily transmissivity, value of the CO2:O2 ratio, increasing the
in low-cost type commercial greenhouses activity of the enzymes which favour photo-
with a shallow roof slope, oscillates during synthesis (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate car-
this season around 61.5% as an average boxylase/oxygenase, commonly known by
value (Morales et al., 1998), which is very the shorter name RuBisCO) and limiting
influenced by the dirtiness of the plastic photorespiration, improving the carbon bal-
cover, since washing the plastic results in ance (Urban, 1997a).
an increase of transmissivity of about 14% The CO2 levels in the air have increased
(Montero et al., 1985; Morales et al., 1998). during the last century, from values of
At the winter solstice, in low-roof-slope 280 ppm (Nederhoff, 1995) to levels of 360–
commercial greenhouses, the average 370 ppm. It is forecasted that this increase
­transmissivity ranges from 57% for north– will continue during the next years, due to
south orientation, to 63% for east–west ori- human activity.
entation (Morales et al., 2000), with less The atmospheric CO2 values that max-
­influence from dirt than during the summer imize leaf photosynthesis are around
Crop Physiology 99


High radiation

Medium radiation

Low radiation

CO2 content
of the air

Fig. 6.7.  Net photosynthesis as a function of the content of CO2 in the air, for different radiation
intensities. The graph portrays the ‘limiting factors principle’ applied to radiation (adapted from Urban,
1997a). P, Line of potential net photosynthesis.

1000  ppm (Kimball, 1986; Hicklenton, water supply (non-limiting irrigation) and
1988). But this response at the leaf level in the absence of salinity problems, photo-
does not guarantee a corresponding increase synthesis is not affected by a low environ-
at a whole plant level in biomass produc- mental humidity (Urban, 1997a). However,
tion (Urban, 1997a). Besides, when plants if plants are under a very high evaporative
are under high CO2 levels for long periods, demand caused by low humidity or if there
they become adapted to these levels and are difficulties in the water supply from the
limit their response (Woodward, 1987). roots, photosynthesis may be limited,
On a practical level, values above because of stomatal closure due to the low
750  ppm have been recommended for water status of the leaves (Gijzen, 1995a, b).
tomato and cucumber crops, in Northern In fact, the positive effect of high humidities
European countries (Urban, 1997a). The dif- on photosynthesis is only observed when
ficulty arises when ventilation is necessary water absorption by the roots is limiting
due to excess temperature, which involves (Grange and Hand, 1987).
losing CO2 to the atmosphere and higher Therefore, under non-limiting irrigation
costs. Therefore under Mediterranean con- conditions and in the absence of salinity
ditions, where higher temperatures require problems, humidification of the atmosphere
frequent ventilation, the CO2 fertilization is not justified to improve photosynthesis.
strategy is different and it is recommended
to maintain levels of 360 ppm of CO2 in the Inhibition of photosynthesis
internal air, while the vents are open, and
600–700 ppm when the vents are closed When carbohydrate demand is lower than
(Lorenzo et al., 1997c, 2005). the supply, for instance after the harvesting
of fruit (sinks), there is an increase in the
Ambient humidity carbohydrate content (starch) in the leaves
which may induce a photosynthesis reduc-
The ambient humidity does not directly tion as a ‘feedback’ effect (Stitt, 1991).
interfere with photosynthesis. Its role is The presence of highly polluting gases
indirect through its influence on stomatal (SO2, CO, NOx) may also reduce photosyn-
­opening. Under appropriate conditions of thesis if high levels are reached.
100 Chapter 6

6.4  Photomorphogenesis may adopt different forms depending on the

type of radiation received.
6.4.1  Introduction Under the influence of red light (650 nm),
phytochrome (P) adopts the form (PFR),
whereas if it is illuminated with far red light
Plants use solar radiation as a supply of
(725 nm), it adopts the form (PR) (Whatley
energy and as a source of information (Hart,
and Whatley, 1984) (Fig. 6.8).
1988). Photomorphogenesis is the effect of
The quantity of phytochrome present
radiation on plant development. The mere
in the plant in the form of PFR is expressed
presence of light, above a certain minimum,
by the relation PFR/PTOTAL. To produce a cer-
generates several responses in flowering,
tain morphogenic or biochemical effect a
germination or phototropism.
certain value of PFR/PTOTAL must be achieved.
The majority of photomorphogenic
The PFR coefficient with respect to the total
reactions are induced by wavelengths
amount of phytochrome (PTOTAL) ranges
within the blue region (400–500 nm) or in
between 0.1 when far red (FR) radiation pre-
the red or far red region (600–700 nm and
vails and 0.75–0.89 when red (R) radiation
700–800 nm, respectively) and controlled
prevails (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997).
by the pigment ‘phytochrome’ (Challa et al.,
The ratio of red/far red radiation (R/FR)
1995). The most relevant wavelengths are
is altered as the light is filtered by the leaves
around 660 nm (in the red region) and
in the upper levels of a canopy. Therefore,
725 nm (in the far red).
different levels of the canopy receive light
There are three main pigment groups
with different values of the R/FR ratio, alter-
associated with the relevant photo-responses
ing its phytochrome. This will result in a
of plants (Whatley and Whatley, 1984):
different biochemical or morphogenic
(i)  chlorophylls, involved in photosynthe-
sis; (ii) phytochrome, involved in some
The quality of the light (distribution of
morphogenic changes, in the perception of
its spectrum) is, therefore, relevant in its
light duration and in the daily rhythms
action on phytochrome. Normally low light
which affect some movements of the plants;
intensity is sufficient to obtain a response
and (iii) b-carotene or flavins, related to
induced by phytochrome.
phototropism (Plate 11).
The phytochrome system may detect
the duration of daily illumination (an envi-
ronmental parameter that is constant for
6.4.2  Vegetable pigments each location) which is relevant in such
latitudes where there are large variations in
Phytochrome daily illumination throughout the year.
The radiation intensity required for
Phytochrome is located in the non-green some photomorphogenic responses is only
(and etiolated) parts of the plants. at the full moon level (0.01 mmol m−2 s−1),
Phytochrome seems to be involved with but the majority of the responses are con-
many different types of responses of plants. trolled by higher levels: 0.1–1.5 mmol m−2 s−1
It is a very big and complex molecule that (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997).

Dark reversion

Red light
P 650–660 nm
Far red light Biological
725–730 nm responses

Fig. 6.8.  Mode of action of phytochrome (according to Whatley and Whatley, 1984).
Crop Physiology 101

Other pigments If there is an excess of light in the blue

wavelength range the length of the inter-
Not all plant movements are primarily nodes is reduced. On the contrary, the inter-
controlled by phytochrome. In phototro- nodes elongate in excess of far red. Therefore,
pism, the curvature of the stem of a plant equilibrium is necessary between blue and
towards the light due to lateral illumina- far red in the radiation spectrum for the nor-
tion, b-carotene or flavins are mainly mal development of some plants.
responsible, although phytochrome also has Other daily cycles in plants are the
some influence (Whatley and Whatley, absorption of ions by the roots (influenced
1984). The phototropic curvature is induced by transpiration), cell division, respiration
by blue and not red light. and gutation or water expelled by glands in
The duration of the illumination to the edges of the leaves (Whatley and
induce a response is low, at around 5 min Whatley, 1984).
(Whatley and Whatley, 1984). The relevance
of the phototropic response is the fact that
developing leaves search for the best illumi- 6.4.4  Photoperiodism
nated position.
There are other photoreceptors (crypto- Photoperiodism is the control mechanism
chrome) but their effects are less known of plant development in response to a
(Mohr, 1984). change in the period of illumination (pho-
toperiod) to which plants are exposed each
day (i.e. the duration of the day and the
6.4.3  Periodic rhythms in plants night in 24 h cycles). In this way, there are
short-day plants that generally flower when
In some plants phytochrome also regulates the duration of the day is shorter than its
movements of the leaves from a horizontal critical photoperiod, normally less than
position, in the morning, to a vertical 12  h, whereas the long-day plants flower
(‘sleep’) position at night, following a cer- when the duration of the day is longer than
tain daily rhythm. This regulation is its critical photoperiod, usually more than
achieved through the alteration in turgor 12.5 h (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997). These
(derived from their water content, influ- photoperiod thresholds are not exact, being
enced by the re-distribution of K ions) of influenced by other factors such as the age
certain special cells in the petiole of the of the plant or the climate conditions (tem-
leaves (Whatley and Whatley, 1984). perature and radiation intensity). Those
The daily opening of some flowers is plants whose flowering is not dependent
also regulated by light. The opening of the on the duration of the photoperiod are
stomata starts at dawn, as the guard cells called day-neutral plants (Vince-Prue,
become turgid, due to the absorption of 1986). The majority of vegetables grown in
potassium which induces osmotic absorp- greenhouse are day neutral. These 24 h
tion of water (Fig. 6.2). rhythms are known as circadian rhythms
If the night darkness is interrupted, and have similarities to those existing in
with artificial light, the stomata start to open animals, among them man (Vince-Prue,
but close when illumination ceases. The 1986). Many of the daily activities of plants
light, obviously, regulates the photosynthe- are controlled by this endogenous circadian
sis phase (during the day) and the corres­ rhythm, with which light interacts in dif-
ponding translocation of assimilates from ferent ways (Hart, 1988).
the leaves to the reserve organs (e.g. fruits The existing luminosity (with photomor-
and roots) during the night. phogenic response) before dawn and after
Some photo-nastic movements are ini- dusk, plus moments of appearance and disap-
tiated by radiation, such as opening and pearance of the Sun in relation to the horizon,
closing of flowers, movements of the leaves means that the duration of the photoperiodic
and stem turn. day, in our latitudes, corresponds to the
102 Chapter 6

­ uration of the astronomic day increased by a

d ­ roduction sites (sources) to the places in
period of 40–60 min (Berninger, 1989). which they are used (sinks).
The seeds of some species require radi- Normally the harvestable product of a
ation to germinate, which they get if their crop is only a part of the total produced bio-
seeds are on or near to the soil surface (less mass. A good agronomic management must
than 5 mm deep) and receive red radiation ensure that the distribution of assimilates is
(Langhams and Tibbits, 1997). mainly destined for the harvestable organs
The seasonal control of plant develop- of the plant.
ment by means of photoperiodism allows The mineral elements are mainly trans-
them to be in synchrony with the climate ported through the xylem. The organic ele-
conditions and other organisms (Hart, 1988). ments are transported through the phloem.
In many horticultural species the most
important differences in harvest between
6.5  Respiration cultivars are a result of the differences
in  the distribution of assimilates (Challa
et al., 1995).
Respiration is the essential process of energy
This distribution of assimilates is regu-
release, which is necessary for the processes
lated, mainly, by the ‘sink strength’ of indi-
of life. It involves absorption of O2 and the
vidual organs, which is the capacity of a
release of CO2, with consumption of carbo-
sink to accumulate assimilates and is
hydrates in a reaction that we may consider
related to its growing potential (Marcelis
as the reverse of photosynthesis.
and De Koning, 1995). Climate factors influ-
Respiration consumes carbohydrates
ence the distribution of assimilates in the
produced by photosynthesis. It has two basic
short term, affecting the sink strength of
components: (i) maintenance respiration,
different organs and, in the long term, alter-
which is proportional to the dry weight of
ing their number (Marcelis, 1989; Marcelis
the plant or of its active organs (excluding
and De Koning, 1995).
reserves); and (ii) growth respiration, which
is proportional to the products of photosyn-
thesis. There is a third form of respiration, 6.6.2  Distribution of assimilates
photorespiration, relevant in C3 plants, between organs
which only exists in the presence of light,
which fulfils a defence function against the
Different organs compete for assimilates but
toxic effect of some ions (Berninger, 1989).
this is regulated by hormones (Russel, 1977).
Growth respiration is less sensitive to
A short supply of water and nutrients
temperature than maintenance respiration,
increases the distribution of assimilates to
which doubles for every 7–10°C increase in
the root, to favour its growth, and in this way,
temperature. Therefore it is desirable to
reduce these deficiencies (Brouwer, 1981).
limit high temperatures, especially at night,
Generally assimilates produced in a
to improve the overall carbon balance.
certain point are transported to the closest
Growth respiration consumes, approxi-
sink (Wardlaw, 1968). To maximize photo-
mately 20–30% of the photosynthesized
synthesis, it is necessary for the sinks to
carbohydrates (Berninger, 1989).
have enough capacity to consume the avail-
able assimilates, otherwise they would
induce a reduction in photosynthesis,
6.6  Distribution of Assimilates and which would re-adjust to the actual assimi-
Sink–Source Relations late demand (Giménez, 1992); or, the assim-
ilate distribution to other organs would be
6.6.1  Introduction prioritized, such as in crops of undeter-
mined growth, when the scarcity of fruits
The translocation or distribution of assimi- (due to pruning or harvest) induces a higher
lates is the transport of these from the vegetative growth (stem and leaves).
Crop Physiology 103

During the initial stage of vegetative In plants of undetermined growth, the

growth, roots, stems and leaves compete pattern of distribution of assimilates
for the assimilates produced by the leaves. between fruits and vegetative organs is not
The young leaves initially need to import constant through the cycle (Marcelis and De
assimilates until they are self-sufficient, Koning, 1995). Low temperatures, in gen-
normally before reaching their final size eral, limit translocation. At the end of a day
(Giménez, 1992). in which the rate of photosynthesis has
From the time of flowering, the fruits been high, the assimilates accumulate in
are the main sinks, attracting the available the leaves and they can, if they are not
assimilates and limiting the translocation ­transported, limit the photosynthesis of the
to the vegetative organs. Then, if the crop following day. For this reason, it is recom-
is of determined growth, the growth of mended to maintain a greenhouse night
stems and leaves slows down until it stops. temperature that is high enough to transport
But if the crop is of undetermined growth, these assimilates from the leaves to other
there is a coexistence of growth of fruits organs. By contrast, at the end of a day in
and vegetative organs, whose balance must which the rate of photosynthesis has been
be controlled by cultural practices (removal low (for instance, a day with low radiation)
of stems, leaves or fruit; but, also, appro- it is not necessary to transport so many
priate nutritional and environmental assimilates, so the night temperature does
control). not have to be as high (Calvert and Slack,
During the senescence of the leaves, 1974). Other environmental factors, such as
and when the demand for assimilates by the light and CO2, have only an indirect influ-
sinks is not satisfied by production in the ence in the distribution of assimilates by
active sources, the remobilization of carbo- affecting the rate of photosynthesis and, as a
hydrates, nitrogen compounds and other consequence, the availability of assimilates
mobile compounds from the senescent (Marcelis and De Koning, 1995).
leaves to other active sinks of the plant Temperature can alter the distribution
offers another option (Giménez, 1992). In a of assimilates by creating new sinks. In gen-
similar way, remobilization occurs if the eral, high temperature enlarges the inter-
plant has reserve organs (e.g. tubers). nodes and decreases branching (Challa
et al., 1995).
Humidity affects the size of the leaves.
6.6.3  Management of the assimilate For instance, high humidities induce larger
distribution leaves in cucumber, which does not occur
in tomato (Bakker, 1991).
In fruit vegetables (horticultural crops that High CO2 levels increase the aerial
are grown for their fruit), it is essential to part:root ratio, inducing thicker leaves and
achieve rapid leaf development, to ensure favouring lateral branching, decreasing the
optimal development of the future sources apical dominance (Enoch, 1990).
of assimilates (leaves) that will meet the The priority in the demand for translo-
future high demand for assimilates by the cation of assimilates towards a particular
fruits. So it is wise to maintain high tem- sink organ depends on: (i) the nature of the
peratures at the beginning of the cropping sink; (ii) its stage of development; (iii) its
cycle, as well as pruning the first fruits to age; and (iv) its position within the plant.
avoid competition with leaf development. Normally, sink organs located in lower posi-
Later, with a developed crop, the quantity tions promote the translocation of assimi-
of fruit is regulated by means of pruning lates towards them, with respect to ones in
(and the harvest itself if they are staggered), higher locations (Urban, 1997a), at least
adapting it according to plant density. The when the distance is not excessive.
vegetative growth adapts to the fruit load Competition between organs which act
by means of pruning and elimination of as sinks, obviously, influences the growth
stems. and development of the plant and, ­therefore,
104 Chapter 6

its yield. The management of pruning, of

the nitrogen supply, of the carbonic fertili-
zation and temperature allow translocation
of assimilates to be manipulated to the ben-
efit of the organs desired by the grower
(Urban, 1997a).

In young plants, the aim of controlling
the climate must be to get rapid formation of
leaf area to increase the potential for radia-
tion interception. In plants of determined
growth, the aim of climate control must be
to get the maximum amount of assimilates
going to the harvestable organs, whereas in 0 Time
plants of undetermined growth climate con-
trol must aim for a balance in the distribu- Fig. 6.9.  Growth of a plant’s organ (sigmoid curve).
tion of assimilates between harvestable
organs and the rest of the plant (Marcelis In the short term (at hour scale), plant
and De Koning, 1995). growth mainly depends on photosynthesis
and respiration (carbon balance) and on the
water status of the plant. In the long term,
the productive process is determined by the
6.7  Growth
accumulation of dry matter, by the develop-
ment stage of the plant, by the distribution
6.7.1  Introduction of this dry matter to the harvestable organs
and by the quality of the produce (Challa
There are several ways of measuring growth: et al., 1995).
at an elementary level by variation in the
dimensions of a leaf or of an internode; or at
a more complex level by measuring a stem
or whole plant, as well as measurements 6.7.2  Influence of the microclimate
taken over different time scales. on growth
Measurements of weight usually con-
sider dry matter (which does not have the All the climate factors interact with the
level of variability of fresh matter) requiring crop. The greatest effect of radiation is on
the destruction of the samples. So, repre- photosynthesis. The influence of temper-
sentative samplings must be taken, with the ature depends on the age of the plant; in
aim of having accurate and comparable young plants, its influence on leaf expan-
measurements. sion, necessary to maximize the inter­
Crop growth, in general, follows the ception of radiation, is essential. For this
pattern of a sigmoid curve (Fig. 6.9). Initially, reason, in the first stages of development
when plants are young and the limiting fac- it is necessary to optimize the temp­
tor is the interception of radiation (low leaf erature, to achieve rapid leaf develop-
area), growth is exponential. When leaf area ment. Later, with well-developed crops
increases, the interception of radiation is the main role of temperature is on
less dependent on the leaf area, and growth respiration.
is approximately linear. Finally, as senes- The positive effect of CO2 on growth
cence approaches, growth slows down. has been widely documented in C3 type
In complex organs, such as a stem com- plants (Kimball, 1986) with an average
posed of many internodes, each internode increase in yield of 30% at 1000 ppm of
has its own kinetic, but the sum of the ele- CO2; levels of CO2 supplementation greater
mental growth keeps the sigmoid pattern than 1000 ppm is not recommended
(Berninger, 1989). because of cost considerations but also
Crop Physiology 105

to  avoid the incidence of polluting gases Other indicators used to characterize
(Hand, 1990). growth are the growth rate of the main stem
The ambient humidity has little effect and the leaf appearance rate. In unheated
on crop growth and development if certain Mediterranean greenhouses, in autumn–
values of VPD are not exceeded. In condi- winter cycles leaf appearance rates of 0.22
tions in Northern Europe this level is 1 kPa and 0.4 leaves day−1, for tomato and cucum-
(Grange and Hand, 1987), whereas in ber, respectively, have been measured
Mediterranean conditions the VPD may (Castilla and Fereres, 1990; Castilla et al.,
reach 3 kPa as there is a certain adaptation 1991), lower than those obtained under
to unfavourable conditions (Lorenzo et al., optimal conditions. In a similar way, the
1997b). High humidity values favour leaf growth rate of the main stem reaches aver-
expansion, but may induce a deficit of cal- age values of 4.5 cm day−1 in a trained
cium in the leaf. In addition, it may promote cucumber crop, for an autumn–winter cycle,
the development of diseases; if water con- without heating, a value lower than 7.4 cm
denses, fungal spores may germinate in the day−1 reported for optimal conditions
water droplets formed. The large influence (Castilla et al., 1991).
of humidity on transpiration allows for the Another index widely used to charac-
manipulation of transpiration to avoid defi- terize growth is the LAI (leaf area index)
cits in nutrients, when transpiration is low that quantifies the surface of leaves per unit
(Challa et al., 1995). ground area (Photo 6.1).
Other growth indexes are detailed in
Appendix 1.

6.7.3  Growth analysis

The dry weight (or biomass) of a plant or of

a particular organ of a plant (and its evolu-
tion over time) is the parameter commonly
used to quantify growth.
The crop growth rate (CGR, expressed
in g m−2 s−1) or net CGR or the accumula-
tion of dry matter quantifies biomass pro-
duction per ground area in a given unit of
time. Sometimes, it is called the dry
­matter or biomass accumulation rate. In
unheated Mediterranean greenhouses,
average ­values of dry matter accumulation
of 6.5 g m−2 s−1 in tomato, which may be as
high as 9.5 g m−2 s−1 (values close to those
obtained in climatized greenhouses) when
climate conditions are favourable, have
been documented (Castilla and Fereres,
1990). In cucumber production without
heating, in an autumn–winter cycle, the
biomass accumulation rates are of the
order of 5.0 g m−2 s−1, whereas values
obtained in greenhouses with climate
­control in the spring cycle are around
9.9 g m−2 s−1 (Castilla et al., 1991). In a win-
ter melon crop without heating average Photo 6.1.  A good leaf development allows for a
values of 9.7 g m−2 s−1 have been obtained, better interception of solar radiation. The plant
in a late cycle (Castilla et al., 1996). density must be adapted for this objective.
106 Chapter 6

6.8  Development temperature is considered, such responses

being independent of the thermal regime
6.8.1  Introduction (day/night temperature), within certain
limits. This capacity of integrating the
thermal fluctuations in time (responding
Development is a qualitative notion of the
to the average thermal values) is not lim-
stage of the plant. It is the ordered change
ited to periods of 24 h (being possibly
towards a higher or more complex stage of
higher), but is observed only in developed
the plant (Challa et al., 1995). The time
crops with closed canopies, which com-
intervals between different developmen-
pletely cover the ground (Challa et al.,
tal stages constitute the development
1995). This can optimize short- and long-
phases. The development of a crop fol-
term responses: for instance, using the
lows a basic pattern according to its
daytime temperature to optimize photo-
genetic make-up, which may be modified,
synthesis and managing the night temper-
although not changed, by the environment
ature to obtain the desired average thermal
(Challa et al., 1995).
values (Challa et al., 1995).
Flower differentiation is a development
phase and takes place when a series of con-
ditions are met. Some of these conditions
are internal, for instance, that the plant 6.8.2  Development stages in
reaches a certain maturity (corresponding to greenhouse crops
an age or a certain number of leaves) that
allows the meristems to differentiate from The most important development stages in
vegetative to flowering. Other conditions greenhouse crops are: (i) the germination
are external, for instance, the existence of and sprouting (of bulbs and corms); (ii) flow-
certain conditions of photoperiod or tem- ering; and (iii) the formation of reserve
perature. One of the most used development organs.
indicators, at the whole plant level, is the The essential factors for good germina-
number of leaves. tion are humidity and temperature, although
When the photoperiod and nutrition some seeds need a pre-treatment that inter-
conditions are favourable, the rate of rupts their latency. After germination the
development depends primarily on tem- seedlings need light to expand their first
perature, its response being linear from leaves.
the lower thermal threshold (known as Many species don’t need flower induc-
vegetative zero, characteristic of each spe- tion, as they flower when they reach adult
cies, below which there is no growth) to stage: such is the case with the majority of
the top limit (characteristic of each spe- vegetables. Other species need exogenous
cies) from which the development rate signals to flower under natural environmen-
decreases. The vegetative zero of the tal conditions, such as photoperiodic signals,
majority of the horticultural species ranges alone or associated with temperature or radi-
from 0 to 6°C. ation. The direct control of temperature on
The thermal integral received from a flower induction occurs, for instance, in
certain moment determines, in many cases, Chinese cabbage whose flowers are induced
the beginning of a certain developmental by low temperatures, commercially depreci-
stage. In a similar way, the photo-thermal ating the product (Hernández, 1996).
integral (thermal integral corrected accord- In the first stages of development, many
ing to the received radiation) determines, plants do not flower, even if they receive the
when reaching a certain value, the begin- right stimuli. However, with greenhouse
ning of a developmental stage, for instance vegetables such as tomato and pepper, trans-
flowering (Berninger, 1989). planting takes place at an advanced devel-
When considering how a crop responds opmental stage with flowers clearly
to temperature, in terms of growth, devel- developed, to maximize the utilization of
opment and production, the daily average expensive production inputs.
Crop Physiology 107

The formation of reserve organs is influ- known as the ‘harvest index’ (HI) (Coombs
enced by growth regulators. This is of no et al., 1985).
interest to the usual greenhouse vegetables, Improvement in the productivity of the
although it is important in ornamental crops can be achieved by minimizing the
horticulture. respiration losses and maximizing the PAR,
The shape and size of the product (fruit, the efficiency in light interception (ei) and
leaf) are very important from a qualitative the efficiency in biomass conversion (eb).
point of view. Although the effects of radia- In practice, the improvement in the
tion on tomato fruit size are due to the avail- productivity of many crops has been
ability of assimilates (Cockshull, 1992), achieved by a better light interception,
other aspects of radiation, such as its qual- derived from suitable fertilization and
ity, influence morphogenesis which affects proper cultural practices (Coombs et al.,
the size and shape of leaves, flowers and 1985). The improvement in the efficiency of
fruits (Challa et al., 1995). the conversion of light into biomass in
greenhouses is feasible, mainly by means of
CO2 enrichment, which also decreases pho-
torespiration (Coombs et al., 1985) and by
6.9  Bioproductivity avoiding suboptimal climate conditions.
In  plastic greenhouses, the use of light-­
6.9.1  Bioproductivity and diffusing covering materials improves the
harvest index (HI) efficiency of radiation conversion (eb), as
the proportion of diffuse radiation increases
In any crop there are four factors which (Baille, 1995), and its use is positive if it
determine its net productivity (Pn): (i) the does not significantly reduce the PAR
amount of incident PAR; (ii) the efficiency transmissivity.
of interception of this radiation by the green The improvement in the HI has been
organs of the plant (ei); (iii) the efficiency in possible by breeding, as well as improving
photosynthetic conversion of the PAR into the cultural practices (fertilization, protec-
biomass (eb); and (iv) the biomass losses due tion against pests).
to respiration (R). Such factors are related In vegetables, the HI (referred to as dry
(Coombs et al., 1985): weight) varies depending on the cultural
practices and the cultivar used. In
Pn = PAR × (ei × eb) − R (6.2)
Mediterranean greenhouses, HIs expressed
Pn = Net productivity or net gain of biomass as a decimal per unit or a percentage, have
(g m−2) or net photosynthesis, result of been estimated at 0.3 for tomato grown in a
deducting the respiration losses from the winter cycle (Castilla and Fereres, 1990),
gross photosynthesis very influenced by the suboptimal climate
ei = Efficiency of light interception (PAR) by conditions and the low dry matter content
the crop, expressed per unit in the fruit. In pepper, values of HI from
eb = Efficiency of light (PAR) conversion 0.36 to 0.46 are usual in unheated green-
into biomass (g MJ−1) houses (Martínez-Raya and Castilla, 1993),
PAR = accumulated PAR (MJ m−2) whereas in cucumber grown in an autumn
R = Biomass losses due to respiration cycle it reaches a value of 0.59 (Castilla
The product (ei × eb) is called the effi- et al., 1991). The climate conditions notably
ciency in the use of radiation (light) by the affect the HI values. For instance, in melon
crop (Baille, 1995). cultivated in an unheated greenhouse in an
The economic performance of a crop early cycle (colder), the HI is higher than in
is the amount of this productivity (Pn) a later cycle due to the lower vegetative
which is destined to the harvestable organs growth with suboptimal thermal conditions
(the fruit in the case of tomato or pepper, (Castilla et al., 1996). Also, a notable influ-
or the leaves in the case of lettuce). The ence on the HI values has been the length of
proportion of the total biomass represented the cycle as well as the pruning and
by the harvestable organs of the crop is ­elimination of stems, which must be done
108 Chapter 6

correctly and on time (suppressing newly

formed shoots, without allowing their 4
growth). In sophisticated greenhouses,
therefore, HI values are expected to be 3

higher than those obtained in unheated
greenhouses during the cold season (see
Table 6.2 in Appendix 1 section A.5.4).

6.9.2  Interception of radiation 0 50 100

by the crop Days after sowing

Fig. 6.10.  Evolution of the leaf area index (LAI)

Leaf area index (LAI) and crop growth rate
of a cucumber crop, along its cropping cycle
The interception of solar radiation by the (autumn–winter), in an unheated plastic
greenhouse (Mediterranean area).
leaves is essential to convert the solar energy
into vegetable matter (biomass). At the
beginning of a crop growing cycle, when the ­ ensities for herbaceous crops (Giménez,
plants are small, a large part of the radiation 1992). Crops with more vertical leaves ­(garlic,
is not intercepted, impinging on the ground onion, gladiolus, cereals) may reach higher
and not being profited by the crop. values with LAI of 5–10 for maximum inter-
The basic parameter that relates the ception. In greenhouses, as the crops are
radiation intercepted by a crop and the inci- grown in rows (in paired lines in many occa-
dent solar radiation is the LAI (Watson, sions) the situation is more complex. Some
1958). This quantifies the surface of leaves authors (Baille, 1995) estimate, as an approx-
of a crop per unit soil ground area: imation, that interception is 100% (ei = 1, in
LAI = leaves’ surface (m2)/soil surface (m2). Eqn 6.2) if the LAI is equal or higher than 3.
At the beginning of the crop growing Until the plant does reach a LAI of 4, photo-
cycle, leaf development is slow and the LAI synthesis rates increase in parallel to the LAI
increases slowly. At this stage, a large part (Challa and Schapendok, 1984).
of the radiation is not intercepted by the The ‘critical LAI’ (Broughman, 1956) is
crop. Later, the LAI increases exponentially the value above which there are no more
if there are no limiting factors for growth increases in the crop’s growth rate, which
(lack of water, inappropriate temperatures) usually corresponds to an interception of
until it reaches its maximum values 95% (Giménez, 1992), that is, ei = 0.95.
(Fig. 6.10). Later changes in LAI depend of Later increases in LAI, when the inter-
the type of growth of the crop. In plants of ception is virtually total, there may be a
determined growth, after reaching the maxi- decrease in the growth rate in some cases,
mum values of LAI, this parameter decreases when the photosynthesis rate of the shad-
when senescence starts. In crops of undeter- owed leaves does not compensate for the
mined growth, high values of LAI will be respiration losses. In other cases, an accli-
maintained during a great part of the cycle, mation of the shadowed lower leaves occurs,
as the senescent leaf area is compensated adapting their respiration rates to the photo-
for by the production of new leaves. synthesis rates, without changing their
Temperature has a great influence on growth rate (Giménez, 1992).
the growth and development of the leaves; The influence of cultural practices
so, temperature needs to be managed accord- (manual defoliation, plant density, training,
ingly to achieve the maximum LAI in the etc.) on the LAI is relevant. In Mediterranean
minimum possible time. greenhouses, values of LAI of 3.5 for cucum-
A LAI index between 3 and 4 is consid- ber in autumn–winter have been estab-
ered necessary, so that radiation interception lished, whereas for undetermined growth
reaches 95%, with the usual planting green-bean values of 6.2 have been recorded
Crop Physiology 109

(Castilla and Lopez-Galvez, 1994). In pep-

per, a high plant density allows for the 100
achievement of LAI values of 5.0, versus an
index of 3.2 with low plant density (Lorenzo
and Castilla, 1995). In the same way, under 80

Radiation penetration (%)

good temperature conditions, the LAI is
higher. For a greenhouse melon crop, the
value established for an early cycle (colder) 60
was 2.5, versus 4.6 for a late cycle (Castilla
et al., 1996). Erect
The radiation absorbed by a crop, and 40
which is used for photosynthesis, is much
more difficult to calculate than the inter-
cepted radiation (see Appendix 1 sections
A.5.1 and A.5.2). leaves
Light penetration in the crop 0 2 4 6 8 10
A fraction of the radiation incident on top
of a canopy penetrates into the vegetation, Fig. 6.11.  Penetration of solar radiation in a canopy
depending on the amount of leaves (that as a function of the leaf area index (LAI) for two
is,  the LAI) and their disposition in the types of crops: one with erect leaves and one with
canopy. horizontal leaves (according to Giménez, 1992).
The extinction coefficient (see
Appendix 1 section A.5.1) represents the CAM plants, C3 legume plants, C3 non-­
efficiency of the canopy to intercept radia- legume plants (Varlet-Grancher et al., 1982).
tion in its different layers (Giménez, 1992). C4 plants are less efficient converters of
A crop with horizontal leaves requires light into biomass than C3 plants, but their
less leaf area to intercept the same propor- C4 mechanism allows them to limit pho-
tion of radiation than another crop with torespiration losses (in relation to C3 plants),
more erect leaves (which let more light pass so they are more productive (Whatley and
to the lowers layers) (Fig. 6.11). Whatley, 1984).
Diffuse radiation, being non-­directional, In the absence of other limiting factors,
has greater penetration in the vegetation as for an adult horticultural crop which covers
it is more efficient than direct radiation the ground well, and under normal condi-
which causes more shadows in the crop’s tions, the average efficiency of conversion
lower layers. (in grams of biomass per megajoule of glo-
bal radiation) is of the order of 1 g MJ−1
(Baille, 1995). The maximum value of the
6.9.3  Efficiency in the use of efficiency of conversion of radiation into
solar radiation dry matter is of the order of 2.5 g MJ−1 of
accumulated global radiation or 5.0 g MJ−1
There is a linear relationship between the of accumulated PAR (Russell et al., 1989).
accumulation of biomass (dry matter) dur- The efficiency of the conversion will
ing a certain period and the accumulated depend on the radiation conditions. If all
PAR during that period, which was inter- radiation is diffuse, the efficiency will be
cepted by the crop (section 6.9.1), provided higher than if direct radiation prevails, with
there are no other limiting factors present. values ranging between 0.8 and 1.4 g MJ−1
The efficiency in the conversion of the (Challa et al., 1995). For this reason, light-
intercepted radiation into dry matter, under diffusing plastics are so interesting in green-
non-limiting crop growth conditions, house production, provided they do not
depends on the type of the plant: C4 plants, limit transmissivity. With CO2 enrichment,
110 Chapter 6

these indices may be increased by up to 6.9.4  Strategies to maximize

20% (Baille, 1995) or 30% (Challa et al., the use of radiation
1995) if a concentration of 1000 ppm of CO2
is maintained. It has been reported that a Crop management must pursue optimiza-
reduction of 1% of radiation caused a tion of the photosynthetic process, to maxi-
decrease of 1% in the yield of cucumber mize the yield and the quality. Early sowings,
and tomato (De Visser and Vesseur, 1982; when the climate conditions are good for
Cockshull et al., 1992). plant growth or planting with sufficiently
On a fresh weight basis, assuming a HI developed transplants, allow for a good and
of 0.7 in tomato, a dry matter content in the early interception of radiation. Achieving a
fruit of 5%, and, an efficiency in the use of fast leaf development by the use of cultivars
radiation of 1 g of dry matter MJ−1 of global adapted to the local climate conditions allow
radiation, the tomato productivity would be for an improvement of radiation intercep-
14 g of fresh fruit MJ−1 for a developed crop tion and photosynthesis. Cultural practices,
without other limiting factors under normal such as optimum management of fertiliza-
conditions (Baille, 1995). tion and irrigation, also affect the final yield,
The potential greenhouse production as photosynthesis is improved.
may be roughly estimated for average mete- The management of plant density is
orological conditions and depending on the one of the ways used to achieve efficient
greenhouse characteristics (Challa and interception of radiation (Giménez, 1992;
Bakker, 1999). In practice, it is estimated Papadopoulos and Pararajasinghma, 1997).
that the proportion of absorbed PAR, which However, in fruit vegetables, besides adapt-
is used for dry matter production, ranges ing the plant density to the climate condi-
from 4% to a maximum of 10%, in the best tions (radiation, mainly), it must be taken
conditions (Baille, 1999). into account that a high density may affect
The use of radiation in a greenhouse is the fruit size (Castilla, 1995). For a certain
one of the most efficient of all agricultural density, pruning and training of the plants
ecosystems, although radiation is reduced must pursue the optimization of photosyn-
compared with that of an open field. thesis and promote the distribution of
However, in terms of total energy use, mod- assimilate towards the plant organs which
ern heated greenhouses are the most inten- are required (Papadopoulos and Ormrod,
sive of all the agricultural ecosystems 1988, 1991).
(Baille, 1999) (Fig. 6.12; see Appendix 1 Diffuse radiation represents an impor-
section A.5.2). tant fraction of solar radiation entering


PAR t,r PAR t

Fig. 6.12.  The different components of the PAR for the calculation of the radiation absorbed by a crop.
PARi, PAR incident on the crop; PARr, PAR reflected by the crop or albedo; PARt, PAR transmitted at ground
level; PARt,r, PAR reflected from the ground (see Appendix 1 section A.5.2, adapted from Baille, 1999).
Crop Physiology 111

greenhouses (Baille and Tchamitchian, We may distinguish between external

1993). Increasing the relative fraction of dif- quality, which includes those visible attributes
fuse radiation in greenhouses contributes to (shape, colour) and internal quality (flavour,
higher radiation uniformity within the shelf life) which cannot be evaluated at a
greenhouse (Kurata, 1992) and to yield glance (Kader, 2000). Several aspects of qual-
increase, due to higher radiation efficiency ity are measurable (analytical quality) whereas
(Baille, 1999). The increasing use of highly some others are subjective (emotional qual-
diffusing cover materials (mainly PE films) ity). This emotional quality is, sometimes,
in the Mediterranean area contributes to related to the mode of production, such as
less direct solar radiation inside the green- integrated or organic production (Vonk-
house, and thus more diffuse radiation Noordegraaf and Welles, 1995).
(Cabrera et al., 2009); this increase in dif- Sometimes, in tomato, a certain decrease
fuse radiation usually results in higher yield in production may be compensated for by an
(Magán et al., 2011). increase in the organoleptic quality of the
Crops such as fruit vegetables with a product (Adams and Ho, 1995; Schnitzler
high plant canopy utilize diffuse radiation and Gruda, 2003), maintaining or even
better than direct radiation, as diffuse radi­ increasing the economic return.
ation penetrates the middle and lower lay- For the consumer, the appearance is the
ers of a high-canopy crop and results in a most important qualitative criterion when
better horizontal radiation distribution in buying (at least, until the product is con-
the greenhouse (Hemming et al., 2008). For sumed), so the size, the shape and the uni-
this reason, as stated by Cabrera et al. (2009), formity, the colour and the absence of visible
starting with the pioneering work of Deltour defects are the aspects most usually consid-
and Nissen (1970), laboratory studies aimed ered as qualitative elements when choosing
at characterizing the diffusive properties of the product (Urban, 1997a). Although fre-
greenhouse cladding materials have become quently their contribution to the decision-
of paramount interest (Pearson et al., 1995; making power in the distribution chain is
Wang and Deltour, 1999; Montero et al., limited, at least in the short term, in relation
2001; Pollet et al., 2005). to other agents of the chain, such as the pur-
chasing managers.
For more information about quality see
Chapters 15 and 16.
6.10  Production Quality

6.10.1  Introduction 6.10.2  Effects of climate factors

on quality
Besides the fresh weight of the harvestable
products, their quality determines the yield A high rate of photosynthesis affects the
of greenhouse vegetables. Quality is a combi- production of sugars and acids, which are
nation of attributes, properties or character- very important compounds in the flavour of
istics which give each product a value, fruit vegetables (Vonk-Noordegraaf and
depending on its use (Kader, 2000). Quality Welles, 1995). High radiation favours the
may be defined as the group of characteris- sugar content and decreases the acid con-
tics by which the product and the produc- tent (Janse, 1984) while it limits the harm-
tion mode satisfy the demand of the buyers, ful accumulation of nitrates in leafy
traders and distributors, and the expecta- vegetables.
tions of the consumers (Vonk-Noordegraaf The external quality is also affected by
and Welles, 1995). The quality criteria, obvi- the light, at first through photosynthesis,
ously, are not the same throughout the distri- since with higher photosynthesis levels
bution chain, from the grower to the (under proper conditions of competition
consumer, varying depending on the product between organs) larger fruit sizes are
and the way it is consumed (Kader, 2000). expected (Cockshull et al., 1992). In addition,
112 Chapter 6

in crops like cucumber, low radiation c­ ontent in the tissues, affecting the quality
­levels give rise to fruit of light green col- of the fruits. A high CO2 level improves the
our that soon turn yellowish, something quality and quantity of the produce indi-
that is associated with low quality (Vonk- rectly, as photosynthesis is increased.
Noordegraaf and Welles, 1995). Excessive In general, climate factors which favour
radiation impinging on cucumber fruit photosynthesis and, as a consequence, the
induces a green colour that is too intense synthesis of sugars, improve the organolep-
and a skin that is too thick. In tomato, in tic quality of the fruits, because the flavour,
order to achieve a proper colour, growers in fruit vegetables, depends primarily on
prune leaves to favour the penetration of the sugar and volatiles content, as well as
light to the fruits, in low radiation peri- on the acidity (Hobson, 1988). In melon, for
ods, or provide various forms of shading instance, flavour improves with an increase
to protect the fruit from intense radiation in the dry matter content (sugars). In tomato,
and overheating. On the other hand, an increase in radiation favours the content
greenhouse light-diffusing covering mat­ of sugars and acids (Urban, 1997a).
erials limit intense direct radiation on
the  fruits, contributing to improve their
Unfavourable climatic conditions for 6.10.3  Other factors affecting quality
fruit set affect fruit quality. Low tempera­
tures limit fruit set of several fruit vegetables. Fruit size is very influenced by the quality
In tomato, for instance, low temperatures of the fruit set, there being a linear relation-
induce the formation of irregular fruits, ship between fruit size and number of seeds,
with bad colour and that are slow to ripen so an improvement in fruit set will induce
(Castilla, 1995). Low night temperatures an increase in fruit size (Castilla, 1995). The
increase the number of malformed fruits in vibration of the flowers or the use of bum-
pepper. blebees or bees to improve pollination and
With high radiation, the temperature of fruit set is very beneficial.
fruits exposed to the Sun’s rays may exceed The distribution of assimilates, obvi-
the temperature of the air by up to 10°C, as ously, is of primary importance in the size
fruits have very low transpiration, and of the fruit. Therefore, cultural practices
exposed fruits may be sunburned. Therefore, must limit the competition for assimilates:
in fruits like tomato it might be necessary to for instance, pruning the tomato trusses to
shade them during periods of high radiation. allow a certain number of fruit which may
The firmness of the fruit decreases achieve proper size or eliminating axillary
when radiation is low, ambient humidity is shoots that compete with the fruits.
limited and temperatures are extreme: lower The distribution of assimilates also
than 13°C or higher than 25°C (Zuang, affects the shape and uniformity of cucum-
1984). These extreme temperatures, same as ber fruit, because an excess of fruit induces
excessive day–night thermal differences a higher number of malformed fruit (Urban,
(greater than 10°C) negatively influence the 1997a).
colour of tomato fruits (Zuang, 1984). An issue of increasing public interest
It must be remembered that colour and during recent years is the absence of phy-
firmness are frequently antagonistic. tosanitaries and heavy metals in the com-
Harvesting before full colouration in tomato, mercial product, because the consumer is
with good firmness but with lower sugar demanding safe, healthy and high quality
content, imposed by the need to send the food (Viaene et al., 2000).
product to faraway markets involves subop- Water and nutrient supply under proper
timal organoleptic characteristics for the salinity conditions must be optimized to
consumer (Kader, 1996). achieve a good quality, as they determine
A high ambient humidity limits tran- the quality of the harvestable product
spiration, which decreases the calcium together with the genetic characteristics, the
Crop Physiology 113

climate conditions and the crop manage- by means of cultural practices and
ment practices. proper agronomic management (prun-
The postharvest storage conditions are ing, thinning, fertilization, climate
more linked to the genetic characteristics of control). Of all the climate factors,
the cultivar and to the mineral nutrition temperature is the main tool to mani­
than to the climatic conditions during the pulate the distribution of biomass.
crop cycle (Urban, 1997a). Good posthar- Light and CO2 do not have direct
vest management in all the links of the dis- effects in the partition of biomass,
tribution chain is of utmost importance to although their  availability influences
ensure that the product has the proper qual- photosynthesis.
ity when it gets to the consumer. •• Radiation is the main factor determin-
ing bioproductivity, together with the
radiation intercepted by the canopy,
6.11  Summary the efficiency in the conversion of inter-
cepted radiation into biomass and res-
•• Growth is a consequence of a positive piration losses.
carbon balance. That is, when the net •• The crop characteristics (arrangement
photosynthesis (difference between of the plants and the plant rows, leaf
gross photosynthesis and respiration) is area) and of the greenhouse (transmis-
positive. sivity to radiation, radiation diffusion)
•• Gross photosynthesis is determined by affect the amount of intercepted radia-
the PAR, which is the main limiting tion and its efficiency of use.
factor of the productive process. The •• In the short term, growth mainly
CO2 concentration in the air is the main depends on photosynthesis and respi-
factor to optimize the efficiency in the ration (carbon balance) and the water
use of the intercepted PAR. The influ- status of the plant.
ence of temperature in photosynthesis •• In the long term, the productive process
is limited, except when it reaches is determined by the accumulation of
extreme values. dry matter and by plant development,
•• The boundary layer (static air layer sur- by the distribution of dry matter to the
rounding the leaf) is very thick inside a organs which are going to be harvested
greenhouse due to the absence of wind, and by the quality of the product.
and may have a notable effect limiting •• The greatest effect of radiation on growth
photosynthesis, if there is not a minimum is through photosynthesis. Temperature
air movement inside the greenhouse. affects leaf growth, primordial develop-
•• Suboptimal conditions for photosyn- ment in young crops, and respiration,
thesis involve irreparable losses of basic for the carbon balance.
potential yield. •• The positive effect of CO2 on growth is
•• Photomorphogenesis is the effect of radia- important. The effect of ambient humid-
tion on plant development. The majority ity is limited, except when extreme
of morphogenic responses are controlled ­values occur.
by the pigment phytochrome. Among •• Given conditions of an appropriate pho-
these responses is photoperiodism. toperiod, water supply and nutrition,
•• Respiration is quantitatively important the development rate depends mainly
in the carbon balance. Primarily it on temperature. The thermal integral
depends on temperature, increasing received from a certain moment deter-
with it, so its control is fundamental to mines, in many cases, the beginning of a
optimize the net photosynthesis (car- certain stage of development.
bon balance). •• The capacity of the plants to integrate
•• The distribution of assimilates must be temperature fluctuations in periods larger
oriented towards the maximization of than 1 day (24 h) may allow for more effi-
the biomass in the harvestable organs, cient management: for instance, using
114 Chapter 6

the day temperature to optimize photo- •• The genetic characteristics, the climatic
synthesis and the night temperature to conditions, crop management, the water
achieve the desired average values. and nutrient supply and the absence of
•• The quality criteria of a product are not residues are the main determinants of
the same throughout the distribution quality, as well as the postharvest stor-
chain between grower and consumer, age and management conditions.
varying depending on the product and •• In essence, the production process must
its final use. be dependent on the economic objec-
•• Appearance is the most important qual- tives of the grower: producing the qual-
itative criterion for the consumer, at ity required by the market at competitive
least until the product is consumed. prices.
Facilities and Active and Passive Climate
Control Equipment: Low Temperature
Management – Heating

7.1  Introduction heat exchange surfaces with the exterior of

the greenhouse, building compact green-
The greenhouse temperature depends on houses, so that the proportion of sidewalls
the energy balance. In order to avoid low is reduced to a minimum (area of sidewalls
temperatures heat losses must be reduced versus greenhouse covered area) (Fig. 7.1).
and heat supplies provided, taking into Greenhouses with a high roof slope
account that when one of the energy bal- have a larger roof area than those with a low
ance components is altered, other compo- slope, which in turn involves a larger
nents, which should not be modified, may exchange area resulting in greater heat
be also altered. losses through the cover (Fig. 7.1). In a simi-
When the natural energy supply (for lar way, corrugated covering materials (for
temperature increase) is not enough, we instance, rigid polyester panels) increase
must resort to artificial supply, by means of the exchange surface in relation to covering
heating. materials that are flat.

7.2.2  Reduction of heat losses

7.2  Reduction of Heat Losses
per unit surface

This aspect must be considered when build-

Besides limiting the exchange surfaces,
ing the greenhouse. The reduction of heat
losses per unit of these surfaces must be
losses is achieved, mainly, by reducing the
reduced as well. Radiation losses could be
heat exchange surfaces and the heat losses
limited using proper covering materials
per unit surface, using insulation materials
(low transmission to far IR radiation, such
and windbreaks.
as thermal PE, for instance). Besides, radia-
tive losses can be decreased using thermal
screens deployed during the night. In cases
7.2.1  Reduction of the exchange where there is a heating system, a manage-
surfaces ment regime that lowers the temperature of
the cover will decrease radiation losses
The reduction of greenhouse heat losses is (because these losses increase with the tem-
achieved, in the first place, by limiting the perature of the cover).

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 115
116 Chapter 7

Fig. 7.1.  Compact greenhouses have a lower proportion of sidewalls with respect to the greenhouse
ground area, limiting thermal losses. Square-shaped greenhouses have less perimeter and less sidewall
area than rectangular greenhouses of equal ground cover area. Equally, greenhouses with a high roof
slope have a larger exchange surface and greater losses of heat through the cover.

Conduction and convection losses 10% of the total losses in the absence of
decrease by minimizing the effects of the wind, and with wind velocities of 4 m s−1
exterior wind, for example protecting with they are more than 30% of the total losses
windbreaks, and locating and orienting the (López, 2003).
greenhouse properly (Fig. 7.2). A reduction
in the ‘thermal bridges’ (points through
which heat, by conduction, escapes to the 7.2.3  Total heat losses
exterior of the greenhouse through the struc-
tural elements which are good heat conduc- Heat losses depend on the temperature dif-
tors) also limit the heat losses from the ferences between the greenhouse and the
structural elements to the exterior, but above exterior. Radiation losses are predominant
all the most efficient means are the use of a in unheated greenhouses. Conduction and
double cover and thermal screens. For more convection losses are, proportionally, higher
related details, see section 7.3. in heated greenhouses.
Losses due to air renewal are another With the aim of integrating the set of
type of heat losses. They can be limited by losses through the walls, by conduction,
means of good insulation of walls and vents, convection and radiation, the ‘global heat
to improve how airtight the greenhouse can transfer coefficient’ (K) is used (Table 5.2),
be, and by minimizing the effects of the which is evaluated under standard condi-
external wind. When a greenhouse is closed, tions of temperature, wind and cloudiness.
it is not possible for it to be perfectly airtight The amount of heat exchange between
as there is air infiltration through holes and the greenhouse and the exterior (Q, excluding
slits. The amount of infiltration depends on the heat lost by air renewal, due to night leak-
the type of greenhouse and of the external age) is detailed in Chapter 5 (section 5.4).
wind (Table 7.1). Some authors increase the value of Q in
Night heat losses due to leakage in a case of strong winds (Aldrich and Bartok,
closed low-cost greenhouse in Almeria are 1994), whereas others consider that the
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 117


D A North
Green house

D: Two to three times the height of the windbreak

A: 2–3 m

Fig. 7.2.  The wind affects heat losses and leakage. Distances from windbreaks to the greenhouse
(northern hemisphere, medium latitude) to avoid shadows (adapted from Urban, 1997a).

Table 7.1.  Air infiltration in closed greenhouses mobile thermal screens (especially in heated
(in greenhouse volumes per hour). The lowest values greenhouses); and (iii) the use of permanent
correspond to conditions with no wind. (Source: double covers, which may be either inflat­
ASAE, 1984; Nelson, 1985; López et al., 2001.) able (when flexible films are used) or cellu-
lar in the case of rigid panels.
Greenhouse type Air volumes h−1
Other measures are: (i) the use of wind-
PE: double layer 0.5–1.0 breaks; (ii) specifically located insulation
PE: multi-tunnel 1.0–1.5 (e.g. the north wall, in the northern hemi-
PE: low-cost parral-type 1.3–6.0 sphere); and (iii) providing double protec-
Glass, new 0.75–1.5 tion as a temporary measure.
Glass, old, good maintenance 1.0–2.0
Glass, old, bad maintenance 2.0–4.0

7.3.1  Inflated double cover

value of Q reported here is sufficient or even
high (Hanan, 1998). For more details, see The inflated double cover may reduce the
Chapter 5 (energy balances discussed in energy losses in heated greenhouses by
sections 5.3 and 5.4). approximately 30%. Maintaining an insu-
lating air chamber of several centimetres
thickness, between two plastic films,
7.3  Insulation Devices improves the insulation properties of the
cover, reducing the global heat transfer coef-
The main measures to decrease heat losses ficient (Table 5.2). The disadvantage is an
are shown in Fig. 7.3. They are: (i) the dou- associated reduction in light. This reduc-
bling the external sidewalls; (ii) the use of tion will depend on the transmissivity
118 Chapter 7

c­ haracteristics of the plastic film used. Its case, a potentially additional 5–10% light
implementation requires the use of special available inside a glass-covered green-
fixing systems and the ventilation system house, as compared with the double-
must be consequently adapted (Photo 7.1). inflated plastic house, would be of little
To maintain the inflating pressure, low practical benefit. However, the reduced
power turbines are used (250 W for 1000 light availability and the more diffuse
m2) to maintain a pressure in excess of nature of the transmitted light in a
40–60 Pa. Care must be taken to avoid inter- ­double-inflated plastic house, in the sum-
nal condensation in the insulating air cham- mer months, has resulted in a cooler
ber, which may limit the light transmission and  more gentle greenhouse environment
even more, so it is advisable to take the air for crops (especially suitable for sensitive
for inflation from the outside. crops such as cucumber) with significant
It must be clarified that the reduced benefits to producers who are interested in
light transmittance of the double-inflated long-season cropping.
plastic greenhouse might not be necessarily
a disadvantage. For example, it might very
well be impossible to grow a crop in the 7.3.2  Mobile thermal screens
winter time with the low amount of avail­
able ambient light even if all the light was The function of mobile thermal screens is
transmitted by the greenhouse cover. In this threefold: (i) they limit the volume to be

Double wall Screen Double cover

Fig. 7.3.  Greenhouse insulation devices: double external walls, thermal screen and double roof cover.

Photo 7.1.  Greenhouses made of inflated double plastic film improve the insulation conditions but
require special fixing systems.
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 119

heated; (ii) decrease the radiation losses once they are folded shadows are mini-
from the canopy and its surroundings; and mized, because they limit light by at least
(iii) limit the energy losses due to air leak- 4% (Hanan, 1998).
age and convection, provided they are The management of screens consists
properly installed and they are not perme- of extending them at dusk and folding
able, so that the enclosure is fairly them back at dawn. Folding must be pro-
airtight. gressive to avoid the sudden fall of the
Thermal screens are used at night, in cold air mass (accumulated over the
winter and in cold areas. The energy sav- screen) over the plants. If they reduce
ings range from 5% with calm weather radiation (due to being folded back late or
and overcast sky, to more than 60% with extended early) they will limit photosyn-
strong winds and clear sky (Urban, 1997a). thesis, negatively affecting the yield.
The main problem they pose is the Their extension and retraction can be
increase of the air humidity, if they are automated so that these occur at a pre-
not permeable. fixed time or when radiation reaches a
The screens can be made of linen or certain threshold.
similar material, that may be woven, or
plastic films, and aluminium strips are often
present to improve efficiency (Photo 7.2).
The strips have low emissivity of radiation, 7.3.3  External double sidewalls
are highly reflective and do not transmit
radiation. If they are used only at night, they The insulation of the external sidewalls
do not need to be transmissive to solar radi- around the perimeter of the greenhouse is
ation. Linens have very variable optical an efficient measure to limit heat losses.
properties. The plastic films are very air- The thermal behaviour is similar to that of
tight. It is of fundamental importance to inflated walls. It is simple and cheap, result-
assemble screens properly in order to ing in little light reduction. The most com-
achieve maximum efficiency (for details see monly used material is a plastic film with
Chapter 4). They must be installed so that air pockets.

Photo 7.2.  Thermal screen.

120 Chapter 7

7.3.4  Windbreaks over the greenhouse cover to decrease the

heat losses, removing them during the day-
Windbreaks reduce the wind pressure and time (Fig. 7.5), requiring a considerable
the risk of damage to the greenhouse. In amount of labour.
addition, they limit heat losses by air leak- Among other peculiar insulation meth-
age and by convection. ods, it is worth mentioning the double-wall
Windbreaks must be taller than the green- greenhouse prototype, whose air chamber
house and of a semi-permeable nature. Imper­ is filled at night with a solid insulation mat­
meable windbreaks generate turbulence and erial, which is removed during the day. This
the protected distance is shorter (Fig. 7.4). is very efficient from an insulation viewpoint
The distance protected by semi-­ but it has not been used to any great extent
permeable windbreaks (Fig. 7.4) ranges from due to its cost (Short and Shoh, 1981).
15 to 20 times their height (Van Eimern et al., Similarly, new technology has
1984). The orientation must be perpendicu- recently been developed and tested in
lar to the dominant winds and the ­distance Canada where the cavity inside the two
to the greenhouse must be from two to three layers of the ­double-inflated PE green-
times its height, in the east, west and south house was filled with foam. This had sig-
sides (in the northern hemisphere) to avoid nificant heat energy savings in the winter
shadows (Fig. 7.2). On the north side, it is and provided greenhouse shading/cool-
enough to place them at  a distance of 2 or ing on demand in the summer months
3 m (northern hemisphere). (Aberkani et al.., 2011).
Temporary double protection is a usual
technique in Spanish greenhouses. The use
7.3.5  Other insulation devices of small tunnels or floating ­covers, inside
the greenhouse, during the early stages of
In cold areas in China, the external north- crop development of low crops (melon,
oriented wall (in the northern hemisphere) watermelon) allows for higher temperatures
of greenhouses is insulated to limit the heat and RH to be achieved. Contact between
losses (Fig. 7.5). plants and the plastic must be avoided, to
In China it is also common to use some prevent scalds in case of high temperatures
kind of mats, which are extended at night of the plastic.

(a) Wind

Protected area: 6–8 times H

(b) Wind

Protected area: 15–20 times H

Fig. 7.4.  Protection provided by windbreaks: (a) impermeable windbreak; (b) permeable windbreak.
H, Height.
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 121


3.8 m R



Fig. 7.5.  A ‘lean-to’ solar greenhouse (improved version) built against a wall (on the north side) that is
often used in cold areas of China. Rolling mats (E) on the upper part can be unrolled at night to decrease
heat losses. R, Reflecting surface; PE, double PE plastic film.

When designing a greenhouse, placing grower’s objectives, to the aerial part of the
the main transport corridor adjacent to the crop, or to the roots, or to both.
(colder) north wall of the greenhouse may In the heating of the aerial organs the
result in better use of energy. heat is transmitted by convection or radia-
Double doors, or similar devices, are of tion, whereas in heating the soil or substrate
great interest both from a thermal insulation the heat is transmitted by conduction. What
point of view as well as to limit the entrance really matters is the temperature of the
of insects. The limitation of ‘thermal bridges’ plants and not that of the air surrounding
in greenhouse structures, by means of perti- them.
nent insulation, is a usual measure in cold The temperature of the plant surface
areas. results from heat exchanges such as convec-
The partitioning of the greenhouse by tion from the air and radiation from all the
means of interior partitions, that may be surrounding surfaces, to which latent heat
fixed or mobile, allows for zones with inde- exchanges by transpiration must be incor-
pendent microclimates to be created. They porated, mainly during the day, and some-
can separate different crops or different times those of water vapour condensation
varieties, with different climatic require- in the form of droplets over the leaves.
ments. Obviously, the partitions must be
transparent to avoid light reduction. The
ability to control the microclimate of each 7.4.1  Convective heating
compartment independently in greenhouses
with climate control must be planned in
The three usual air heating systems (Fig. 7.6)
are: (i) fan coils; (ii) hot air generator; and
(iii) heat pumps (water/air or air/air).
Fan coils transmit heat from a hot body
7.4  Heating to the air. Water fan coils are the most com-
mon. Hot water circulates through the metal
Heat inputs to raise the greenhouse temper- pipes, which exchange heat with the air by
ature can be applied, depending on the convection. The contact surface is increased
122 Chapter 7

(a) Fan Fresh



Hot water

Hot air

(b) Chimney

Hot air Combustion Hot air

Heat exchanger

Fresh Fan air

(c) Injector Combustion head


Fresh Mix of
Fan Hot
air gas and air

Pressurized fuel

Fig. 7.6.  Air heating systems: fan coil (a); hot air generator using indirect combustion (b) and direct
combustion (c).

with fins and a fan improves the exchanges. the ­combustion are sent to the greenhouse,
Electric fan coils are expensive due to their so the fuel must be clean, with less than
power consumption. 0.03% sulfur content (Urban, 1997a). As
Hot air generators burn fuel, normally a they may generate other gases such as ethyl-
gas, which heats the air that is forced to ene (Hanan, 1998), direct systems are nor-
­circulate inside the greenhouse. They can mally used only as a defence against
use direct or indirect combustion. In those exceptionally low temperatures (of short
using direct combustion, the products of duration) and as a support.
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 123

Indirect combustion hot air genera- the plants of 2–3°C (Urban, 1997a). The
tors expel the combustion gases to the advantage is that the convective ­systems are
exterior. The heat distribution improves cheap to install and respond quickly, but
notably if the hot air is delivered through they have low thermal inertia. Their use is
perforated flexible plastic pipes (located common in low-cost greenhouses, as a
over the floor to avoid shadows) (Photo defence mechanism against very low tem-
7.3). It is recommended that tubes are peratures. In this case, the set point temper-
designed that allow a flow from a third to ature is usually maintained at around 5–7°C,
a fourth of the volume of the greenhouse to start running the system under extremely
min−1, with an air velocity at the start of cool conditions (Urban, 1997a).
the tube of 5–6 m s−1. The total perforated
area in the pipe must be, in total, from 150
to 200% of the section of the tube (ASAE, 7.4.2  Radiative-convective heating
2002). The length of the tube must not sur-
pass 50 m; it being preferable to limit it to Hot water
30 m. The plant temperature is usually
lower than the air, which involves the risk In classic radiative heating systems using
of water condensing on the plant surfaces hot water at high temperature, the heating
and, as radiation heat is not supplied, the element is a tube or radiating surface which
soil is not heated during the cold season dissipates the heat by radiation and con-
(Bordes, 1992). vection with the air (Bordes, 1992). Heat
Heat pumps absorb heat from a cold to transmission by conduction only takes
warm source (water or external air) and place inside the tube. The plant surface
blow it inside the greenhouse (see section temperature is higher than that of the sur-
7.4.4), but they are not very common. rounding air, which limits water condensa-
Convective heating systems are not effi- tion over the plants and its influence in the
cient. Besides, the warm air weighs less development of diseases. These systems are
than the cold air and tends to rise, away more expensive than convective ones, but
from the plants. There may be temperature are more efficient and have higher thermal
differences between the base and the top of inertia.

Photo 7.3.  Indirect combustion hot air generator and flexible plastic air distribution pipes.
124 Chapter 7

These systems are also known as heating these losses. The most commonly used pipes
facilities by ‘thermosyphon’ (a method of are circular in cross-section although there
passive heat exchange based on natural con- are other types, and they may suspended by
vection which circulates liquid without the chains above the crop so that they can be
necessity of a mechanical pump) because moved vertically as the crop grows (C in
originally the water circulated naturally (pro- Fig. 7.8 and Fig. 7.9). They are usually built of
pelled by the hot water being in a high posi- steel but, also, of aluminium, or even plastic.
tion in a circuit and return of cold water in a Nowadays, the use of heating pipes in pairs is
low position). Nowadays, all systems are run widespread; they are used as rails to transport
by means of pumps which force the circula- trolleys and mechanized elements (Photo 7.4).
tion. This improves their efficiency and To avoid condensation of water over the crop,
allows for the use of smaller diameter pipes sometimes additional pipes may be installed
than the original natural circulation systems. in the canopy (and managed at low tempera-
In conventional systems, water circulates ture) (Kamp and Timmermen, 1996).
at high temperature (50–80°C), at about The use of water vapour as the fluid for
0.3–1.0 m above the ground (Fig. 7.7). Their distributing heat (still in use in very cold
thermal efficiency is not good, as they lose climates) has not received wide acceptance
50% of the heat by radiation towards the in Europe and is being displaced (in the few
cover (Urban, 1997a). They must be used in existing facilities) by hot-water heating
association with thermal screens that limit systems.

Fig. 7.7.  Traditional location of water heating pipes (high temperature) in greenhouses, in narrow single-
span greenhouses (top left), wide ones (top right) or multi-span (bottom).


Fig. 7.8.  Distribution scheme of the different elements for greenhouse heat distribution. A, Side radiant
pipe; B, radiant pipe over the soil; C, aerial radiant pipe; D, radiant pipe over the soil for table cultivation;
E, radiant pipe under the growing table; F, heating elements integrated in the growing table; G, heating
elements over the growing table; H, PE hoses over the soil; I, fan coil with vertical discharge; J, aerial PE
hoses; K, low hot air generator (adapted from Hernández, 2002).
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 125

Heating pipe suspended

at adjustable height

Metallic heating
pipes that can be
used as rails

Fig. 7.9.  Scheme of a water heating system (high temperature) with metallic pipes that are adjustable at
different heights (top) and with metallic pipes, which can be used at the same time as rails for the
movement of trolleys and machinery.

Photo 7.4.  Metallic heating pipes that are also used as rails for the movement of trolleys and
mechanized elements.
126 Chapter 7

Heating with water at low temperature i­ nvestment, easy to install and manage
is a particular case (e.g. used is association (Photo 7.5). It saves up to 30% of energy, in
with geothermal energy). It uses water at relation to the traditional system (Urban,
temperatures of 40–50°C. It is a localized 1997a). Its main disadvantages are that its
heating system based on mobile or fixed response is slow, and that its power limited,
pipes combined with the use of radiant due to the lower water temperatures. Its
sheets (radiant mulching) (Fig. 7.10). It is installation may require a large amount of
used as a base heating, or associated with a pipes, which may be an obstacle. In fact, in
soil or substrate heating system, or as a sup- order to maintain an air temperature of
port heating (Fig. 7.8). 20°C, it would be necessary to use four
The low-temperature heating system, times more pipes, if the water circulates at
as implemented with plastic materials 40°C, than if the water circulates at 80°C, to
in  mild winter environments, is a cheap supply the same heat (Ellis, 1990). In cold

(a) (b)

Heating pipe

Insulating plate

Fig. 7.10.  Common hot-water heating systems (low temperature) of (a) soil or substrate and (b) soil–air.
A soilless culture system is shown.

Photo 7.5.  Heat distribution pipes of a low-temperature heating system.

Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 127

areas it is recommended that the system is By IR radiation

used in association with thermal screens
and with a complementary heating system In these systems, tubes heated to high tem-
(hot air) which has a fast response. peratures (250–375°C) emit IR radiation
The heat transfer from the heating pipes which heats the plants (Van de Braak, 1995).
will depend on the type of pipe used (mat­ The source of energy is usually propane or
erial and characteristics, such as diameter, natural gas, for economic reasons, because
with or without fins, etc.) and the ­temperature electricity is very expensive. This system
difference between the pipe and the green- has a low thermal inertia and is not homo-
house air. Table 7.2 summarizes some data geneous, because the leaves that receive the
in this respect. radiation are much warmer than those in
Sometimes, low-temperature water heat- the shadows not exposed to this radiation,
ing systems are used to warm up the roots, thus water condensates on these leaves
besides heating the aerial part of the crop, in (Hanan, 1998). Nowadays they are seldom
which case they heat by convection, radia- used in greenhouses.
tion and conduction. The pipes may be made
of PE or corrugated polypropylene. The
water temperature is regulated by mixing hot 7.4.3  Soil or substrate heating
water (from the boiler) with cold water
(return) by means of three-way valves. The heating of the roots is achieved by
Low-temperature water heating systems means of hoses or pipes buried in the soil,
are able to maintain higher values of soil or packed into concrete slabs or in contact
substrate temperature than hot-air heating with the crop substrate (Figs 7.8 and 7.10).
systems (due to their location near the soil) Heat is transferred by conduction.
if the same set temperatures of the green- They require a conductive soil, which
house air are used (Lorenzo et al., 1997a). requires it to be wet. Insulation may be imple-
This may be attributed to the higher thermal mented at a certain depth to limit the losses.
inertia of water heating systems that involves The water temperature must not exceed
slightly higher energy consumption. 45–50°C, to avoid drying of the roots and of
The response time of heating is of the the soil (Urban, 1997a), because dry soil is a
order of 40–60 min in an efficient hot water bad heat conductor (Fig. 7.11). Polypropylene
system, whereas it decreases to 10 min in a pipes of 20 mm diameter are commonly used,
hot air system (Day and Bailey, 1999). with water velocities of 0.6–0.9 m s−1, provid-
ing up to 50 W m−2, with pipes separated by
30–40 cm and avoiding tube lengths longer
Table 7.2.  Heat transfer, in watts per linear metre
than 120 m (ASAE, 2002).
of heating pipe, for several temperature differences
between the pipe and the surrounding greenhouse
Heating pads are used in nurseries. They
air (adapted from Van de Braak, 1995). are composed of pads with a circulating
water or electricity heating system. Careful
Steel pipe Plastic pipe irrigation must be performed, because the
diameter diameter pads desiccate quickly, so it is necessary to
(mm) (mm) install sprinklers or thin fogging.
In soilless growing systems it is fre-
difference (°C) 51 33.2 26.4 25
quent to heat the roots simply by locating
10 15 10 8 6 the pipes of a conventional heating system
20 34 23 18 14 near the substrate. Sometimes, a pipe is
30 55 38 31 24 placed inside or below the substrate (with
40 77 53 44 35 insulation below) (Fig. 7.10). Growing tables
50 101 71 58 46 and crop benches may also be heated by
60 128 90 73 –
radiant pipes or integrated heating elements
70 156 108 90 –
(Fig. 7.8). These are used in nurseries and
80 185 129 107 –
for cultivation of ornamental crops.
128 Chapter 7

Soil surface
20°C 20°C

50 cm 22°C 22°C

25°C 25°C
30° C 30°C

Heating pipe

80 cm

Fig. 7.11.  Thermal profiles of a soil heated with pipes.

7.4.4  Heat production The boilers

Boilers are composed (Bordes, 1992) of: (i) a

Energy sources
combustion chamber with a furnace (if
When choosing the type of energy for heat- solid fuels are used) or a burner (if the fuels
ing it is necessary to know the main techni- are liquid, or powder or gases); (ii) a heat
cal characteristics of the fuel, what is its exchanger, where the combustion gases at
state (solid, liquid or gas) at the usual condi- high temperature transfer their heat to the
tions of temperature and pressure (an essen- fluid of the heating circuit (which can be
tial aspect for their use), its heating power water) through the conducting walls that
and its content of impurities, mainly sulfur separate the fluid and the air; (iii) a chim-
(Bordes, 1992). ney to evacuate the smoke efficiently, pas-
Coal is cheap, but it is very polluting. It sively with a good draught or actively with
usually contains sulfur and its gases are a fan; and (iv) safety devices and automatic
­corrosive. Coal boilers are more complex equipment needed for their operation.
and expensive. It is normal to recover the water vapour
Wood and vegetable waste are quite from the smoke to decrease the thermal
voluminous. Their transport and storage losses (in the form of water vapour latent
is  very expensive. They are also quite heat) and improve the performance of the
polluting. boiler. The combustion must be done in the
Diesel is expensive. Fuel oil is cheaper presence of an excess of air to achieve com-
and of lower performance. Natural gas is a plete combustion and to optimize the per-
fuel obtained from the purification of meth- formance of the boiler.
ane deposits. The disadvantage of natural
gas is its high price, but its advantages are: Heat distribution
(i) it contains no sulfur; (ii) it produces very
little pollution; (iii) it is easy to use; and (iv) When these systems were initially con-
CO2 can be recovered from its combustion ceived circulation of hot water was sponta-
gases. neous by ‘thermosyphon’. The weight/
The liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs) pressure differences, due to water tempera-
butane and propane are used. They have the ture differences, generated a circulation of
same advantages as ­natural gas. water. Therefore, this type of heating was
Gas boilers may use natural gas or usually called ‘thermosyphon’ (Bordes,
LPG. Nowadays, the recovery of CO2 1992). Nowadays these systems are pro-
from  the combustion gases for carbon vided with a circulation pump, to improve
enrichment in these boilers is becoming their efficiency and to distribute the heat
widespread. without restrictions.
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 129

The distribution circuit’s pumps must Losses by conduction/convection

be insulated in the parts where heat trans-
mission is not required. Losses by conduction/convection are higher,
In greenhouses of up to 9 m wide, the the greater the temperature difference between
pipes fixed to the sidewalls may be all that inside and outside the greenhouse. They also
are needed (Fig. 7.7), but in wider green- increase with wind velocity. Therefore, the
houses it will be necessary to install heating use of windbreaks may be of interest.
pipes at one or more locations across the How airtight the greenhouse is, is fun-
span (ASAE, 2002). damental. A very airtight greenhouse has a
When the natural circulation of the air limited leakage rate (see Table 7.1). Junctions
is not sufficient to achieve good uniformity must be sealed. The ‘thermal bridges’ must
of air temperature, it will be necessary to be eliminated.
install fans to improve such air circulation On the other hand, if the greenhouse is
(see Chapter 9). too airtight this may generate an excess of
environmental contaminants and humidity
and CO2 depletion (if there is no CO2
Energy economies
In Europe, heating expenses represent from
15 to 35% of the expenses of greenhouse cul- Alternative sources of energy
tivation with a notable increase during the
last decades (Chaux and Foury, 1994b). To In the context of energy costs (year 2004),
decrease heating expenses without ­lowering the majority of the alternative sources of
the temperature, cheaper sources of energy energy are not economically competitive.
are used. Also consumption is decreased
while improving the efficiency and reducing Heat pumps
the losses by radiation, convection, conduc-
tion and air leakage (Urban, 1997a). Heat pumps extract heat from a low tem-
During recent years, the efficiency of perature source (cold source) to supply that
boilers has been greatly improved. Energy heat to a heating circuit. In efficient heat
storage (as hot water) is used extensively in pumps, temperatures above 55°C must not
the CO2 and heating supply systems, when be expected (Bordes, 1992).
the demands of both are not coincidental, as it Heat pumps can be used to dehumidify
is very cost effective (Van de Braak, 1995). the greenhouse environment but their use is
Radiation losses
Geothermal and industrial hot waters
The greenhouse cover exchanges heat by
radiation with the sky (for calculations it is The geothermal gradient is approximately
accepted that the temperature of the night 1°C for every 30 m. Therefore, 1000–2000 m
sky is around 15°C lower than the outdoors must be perforated to obtain waters of
air). The clouds act as a screen, decreasing 40–70°C (Urban, 1997a). These waters usu-
radiation losses. In the south of France, with ally have a high concentration of salts and
clear winter skies, radiation losses may rep- are corrosive, being unavoidable-to-use heat
resent 60% of the total losses in an airtight exchangers.
greenhouse (Urban, 1997a). The facilities are expensive, although
the thermal energy is free, and the deprecia-
Losses by air leakage tion costs are high.

These are more important the higher the Cogeneration

humidity and temperature differences
between the internal and the external air The cogeneration of heat and electricity is
and the less airtight the greenhouse is. The becoming popular, when the greenhouse
wind increases heat losses by air leakage. electricity consumption is high, because
130 Chapter 7

cogeneration usually supplies heat and of 16°C (ASAE, 2002) covers the require-
electricity in a proportion of two to one (Van ments of most plants and the external tem-
de Braak, 1995). It is also popular when it is perature (Te) is the average of the minimum
possible to sell the electricity produced at temperatures of the coldest month.
attractive prices, as has happened in Europe
in recent years.
7.4.6  Heating and temperature
Solar energy management

Solar energy is free, available, excessive in In general, the optimum temperatures

summer but insufficient in winter, and decrease with the age of the plant and vary
requires high investments for its capture, depending on the process that we want to
and above all, its storage (Photo 7.6). optimize (translocation, gross photosynthe-
sis, root growth, harvest) (Hanan, 1998).
Biogas With a higher temperature, of the order of
22–23°C, vegetative growth is activated in
Biogas has not been developed due to the
vegetables such as tomato, whereas lower
low costs of conventional energy. The high
values (18–19°C) favour fruit development
proportion of CO2 in biogas causes poor
(Kamp and Timmerman, 1996). The opti-
flame performance.
mum temperature also depends on the radi-
ation and CO2 concentration in the air (see
Chapter 6).
7.4.5  Sizing of the heating systems Although plants have a great capacity
to integrate the temperatures in periods
See Chapter 5 Section 5.4 (‘Simplified larger than 24 h, it is necessary not to over-
Greenhouse Energy Balances’). come certain thermal limits, which usually
For the purpose of calculating the max- range between 10 and 25°C for horticultural
imum heating requirements it is estimated species. In general, if the temperatures are
that an internal greenhouse temperature (Ti) lower than the optimum there will be less

Photo 7.6.  Low-cost solar panels for greenhouse heating (Experimental Station ‘Las Palmerillas’, Almeria).
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 131

high-quality yield (Hanan, 1998). It must The difference between day and night
not be forgotten that the economic objective temperatures, which is known as DIF, influ-
must dictate the selection of the set point ences different aspects of growth such as
temperatures, if heating is used. the elongation of the internodes and stem
The thermal integral allows for quanti- growth (Erwin and Heins, 1995). When DIF
fication of the accumulated effects of tem- is positive (T during day higher than T dur-
perature on the development processes of ing night) the internodes are longer and, on
the plants; thus, the duration of one devel- the contrary, when DIF is negative, plants
opment stage depends, under normal condi- are more compact, as internodes are shorter
tions, on the thermal integral (see Chapter 3), (Challa et al., 1995). This DIF mechanism is
even when the day and night temperatures related to phytochrome (Moe et al., 1992)
are different (Slack and Hand, 1983). and is of particular interest in ornamental
In heated greenhouses, it has been rec- horticulture.
ommended to adapt the night temperatures to In daily management, the minimum
the solar radiation of the previous day, to limit temperature thresholds during the day must
the heating costs without affecting growth be from 6 to 11°C higher than those of the
(Gary, 1989). So, in a low radiation day higher night on sunny days; a difference that must
night temperatures, as those required after a range from 3 to 6°C on cloudy days (ASAE,
high radiation day, are not required, for a 2002). Other authors (Berninger, 1989) rec-
proper redistribution of the assimilates of the ommend limiting these differences in win-
previous day. In a similar way, the use of ter, maintaining the day temperature from 3
decreasing temperatures throughout the night, to 4°C higher than the night temperature on
in the form of cascade (split night tempera- cloudy days and from 6 to 8°C higher on
ture) will save costs without negatively affect- sunny days (Fig. 7.12).
ing growth (Toki et al., 1978). Relevant energy The majority of horticultural species
savings can be achieved adapting the heating cultivated in greenhouses in the
conditions to the external environment, main- Mediterranean Basin experience a great
taining lower set point temperatures in the reduction of their metabolic activity below
absence of wind (Spanomitsios, 2001). 10–12°C (Nisen et al., 1988), their optimum


Dawn Dusk 24
Time (h)

Fig. 7.12.  Scheme of the set point temperatures for heating and ventilation management in a climatized
greenhouse over 24 h. A, Starting point of the set point increase; B, sunrise (final point of the set point
increase); C, starting point of the set point decrease (near sunset); D, final point of the set point decrease;
dotted lines, possible high temperatures during daylight hours. The set points for heating and ventilation
are calculated with regard to sunrise and sunset, when solar radiation begins and finishes, respectively
(adapted from Bakker et al., 1995).
132 Chapter 7

temperatures varying over intervals from When using air heating in low-cost
15  to 20°C during the night and between greenhouses that are not very airtight
22  and 28°C during the day (Tesi, 2001). (Table 7.1), some authors recommend estab-
Table 7.3 summarizes optimum temperature lishing a low set point temperature for heat-
intervals for the air and the substrate in dif- ing. For instance, in a cucumber or green
ferent horticultural crops. bean crop set points between 12 and 14°C
In sophisticated greenhouses, for opti- are recommended, to limit fuel consump-
mum fruit quality, with well-developed tion (propane) below 5 kg m−2 (from
crops, it is recommended, as a general rule, November until the middle of March) (López
that the day/night temperature thresholds et al., 2000). Obviously, for each specific
for heating, should be 19°C/17°C for tomato, case, the economic conditions must deter-
22°C/18°C for pepper, 21°C/19°C for cucum- mine the management of the heating sys-
ber and aubergine, whereas on less demand- tem, with the aim of maintaining heating
ing crops, such as lettuce, temperatures expenses which can lead to profitable
should be limited to 12°C/6°C (Urban, results (Plate 13); energy consumption esti-
1997a). These values can be slightly mates in Mediterranean greenhouses grow
decreased under low radiation conditions exponentially with the set temperature
(Kamp and Timmerman, 1996). In any case, (López, 2003; López et al., 2003a, b).
economic criteria must prevail when defin- The combined use of heating and CO2
ing these thresholds for each specific case. In enrichment enhances the effect of both,
low technology greenhouses these tempera- allowing for yield increases (López et al.,
ture thresholds are usually lower, as the 2000; Sánchez-Guerrero et al., 2001), the
equipment and insulation levels are simpler. profitability of which depends on the spe-
During the winter, the management of cific conditions of use.
set temperatures in Mediterranean green- When using heating in Mediterranean
houses at 22°C (day)/18°C (night) in the low-cost greenhouses (parral-type), it seems
beginning of the cycle, to continue at necessary to improve how airtight they are,
20°C/16°C during the vegetative growth in order to limit the thermal losses (López
stage, and later at 18°C/14°C during the pro- et  al., 2000), with the subsequent increase
ductive stage (Lorenzo et al., 1997a) of a of the CO2 fertilization efficiency.
cucumber or a green bean crop induces high In Mediterranean low technology
energy use, adversely affecting the eco- greenhouses, the use of heating is usually
nomic viability of heating. limited to the winter months, in crops
whose price is higher at this time of year,
Table 7.3.  Optimum air and substrate thermal such as cucumber or green bean. Table 7.4
levels for different horticultural crops. (Source: summarizes the results of a study of air
Tesi, 2001.) heating in a climbing bean crop and dem-
Air (°C) onstrates the interest, from an economic
point of view, of maintaining low tempera-
Crop Day Night Substrate (°C) ture set points when they do not limit the
Tomato 22–26 13–16 15–20
Cucumber 24–28 18–20 20–21
The use of fixed energy-saving screens
Melon 24–30 18–21 20–22 allows for an increase in night temperatures
Green bean 21–28 16–18 15–20 but they decrease radiation so their use is of
Pepper 22–28 16–18 15–20 no interest (Castilla, 1994; López et al.,
Aubergine 22–26 15–18 15–20 2003a, b). However, some growers do use
Lettuce 15–18 10–12 10–12 them, in order to limit the fall of water drop-
Strawberry 18–22 10–13 12–15 lets (from condensed water vapour or from
Carnation 18–21 10–12 10–15 the rain in artisan low-cost greenhouses)
Rose 20–25 14–16 15–18 over the crop. Mobile thermal screens
Gerbera 20–24 13–15 18–20
improve the yield and adapt well to multi-
Gladiolus 16–20 10–12 10–15
tunnel greenhouses, being of more interest
Facilities and Climate Control Equipment 133

Table 7.4.  Yield results (early and total, in g m−2) •• The reduction of greenhouse heat losses
of a 126 day-cycle climbing bean crop, sown at the is achieved, mainly, by decreasing the
beginning of November, for different temperature heat exchange surfaces (roof cover and
set points (using hot air heating with propane, sidewalls) with the exterior and the
direct combustion). (Source: López et al., 2003b.)
losses per unit area, using proper cover-
Yield (g m−2)b Estimated ing materials and insulation devices
energy use (thermal screens, double covers) and
Treatmenta Early Total (MJ m−2) windbreaks.
•• Greenhouse heating can be directed to
T-14/T-12 1074a 2869a 180 the aerial part of the crop, to the roots
T-14 954a 2863a 250
(soil or substrate) or to both.
T 14-12 795a 2767a 180
•• Hot air heating is usually performed by
T-12 231b 1952b 120
Control (no 58b 1123c – means of fan coils or using hot air gen-
heating erators with direct or indirect combus-
at all) tion. The heat distribution takes place
by convection. They have low thermal
Treatments: T-12, minimum set point 12°C air tempera- inertia and mainly heat the aerial parts
ture; T-14, minimum set point 14°C; T-14/T-12, set point
of the crop.
14°C/12°C, during the vegetative productive stages of the
cycle; T 14-12 (split), set point 14°C during first half of the •• Hot-water heating systems distribute
night, 12°C during the second half. the heat through pipes by radiation and
Numbers in the same column followed by a different convection. They have more thermal
letter (a, b, c) indicate significant differences (P = 0.95). inertia than hot air systems; they heat
the air and also the soil or substrate.
in heated greenhouses than in unheated The systems that use water at high tem-
ones (Meca et al., 2003). In low-cost parral- perature (50–80°C) are more expensive
type greenhouses, their implementation is than the low temperature systems
difficult, due to the large number of internal (40–50°C).
supports, and so their efficiency is lower. In •• Soil or substrate heating transmits the
this case, again consideration of profitabil- heat by conduction and it normally
ity will determine whether their use is uses hot water (at low temperature) or
worthwhile. electrical resistances.
It is necessary to generate information •• The ideal fuel is natural gas, followed by
on the set point values that optimize climate LPG (butane and propane) and diesel,
control (heating, CO2, humidity), from the but their prices are high. Other fuels (fuel
economic point of view in the different crop oil, coal, wood, vegetable waste) may be
growing conditions. of interest, for economic reasons.
•• Temperature management, when heating
is applied, must be done using economic
criteria, because usually the optimum
7.5  Summary temperatures for the plant’s growth do
not coincide with those at which the
•• To limit energy losses in the green- highest profitability for the grower is
house, heat losses must be reduced and achieved. Therefore, temperature man-
natural inputs favoured, and if the lat- agement must be adapted to the specific
ter are insufficient use heating. growing conditions of each area.
Management of High Temperatures:

8.1  Introduction Air cooling by conventional methods

(refrigerator circuit) is not economical,
The battle against high temperatures inside under normal conditions.
the greenhouse is focused on decreas­ At plant level, the first measure to limit
ing the energy inputs and eliminating their high temperatures is to irrigate properly, so
excesses. If heating is used, the artificial that the plants can transpire to the maximum
energy input (by the heating system) is and decrease their temperature, complemen­
eliminated by turning it off. In low thermal ted by efficient air renewal through ventilation.
inertia systems (air heating) the response is
immediate, whereas in those with high
inertia (water heating) there is a delay in 8.2  Function of Ventilation
the response.
The decrease in natural inputs is Aeration, or ventilation, is the air exchange
focused, in practice, on limiting solar radi­ between the greenhouse and the exterior.
ation, by means of shading, inside or out­ This air exchange takes place through
side the greenhouse. the greenhouse openings (vents and slits)
The increase in energy losses is (Photo 8.1). The air renewal allows the
achieved with ventilation, natural (or static) evacuation of the excess heat and a decrease
and forced (or mechanical), as a first step. in the air temperature, modifying the atmos­
Every ventilation system can only decrease pheric humidity (exchanging the interior air
the interior air temperature to the value of with high water vapour due to plant tran­
the outside air if the renewed air has the spiration), and modifying the gas composi­
same humidity. This decrease of the interior tion of the atmosphere (especially the CO2).
air temperature by ventilation is, in many If the air leaving the greenhouse is dry,
cases, enough to achieve acceptable thermal the energy evacuated is very limited due to
levels inside the greenhouse when the exter­ the low specific heat of dry air (1 kJ kg−1 °C−1,
nal air temperature is not excessive (i.e. at 20°C). If the outgoing air is humid, the
ventilation counteracts the greenhouse temperature decrease will be much higher,
effect). If the interior temperature must be as the energy evacuated with the humid
further decreased, active cooling methods greenhouse air is much bigger (the energy
will have to be used; most commonly, by to evaporate 1 kg of water, or the latent
evaporating water. heat  of water evaporation is 2445 kJ kg−1).

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

134 2nd edition (N. Castilla)
Management of High Temperatures 135

Photo 8.1.  The vents must be mechanized to facilitate their automatic opening and closing.

Therefore, the humidity difference between

the interior and exterior is more important
than the temperature difference, for green­
house cooling purposes (Fig. 8.1).
The air renewal rate (R) is expressed as:

volume of air exchanged Ti Te

greenhouse volume × hour

= (8.1)
m3 × h
Water spraying
It may also be expressed based on the green­ nozzle
house ground area. The ratio ventilation per
square metre of ground (V) will be:

volume of air exchaged

V = Ti Te
greenhouse ground area × hour
= (8.2)
m2 × h
Fig. 8.1.  Idealized scheme of natural ventilation in a
The relationship between both ratios is: greenhouse. (a) In a greenhouse with dry soil, with no
irri­gation or crop, the heat removal, as the air is renewed,
V = R × H (8.3) is very inefficient because the dry air carries very little
where H = average greenhouse height (m) heat. (b) In a greenhouse with water fogging, the heat
removal potential is high because water absorbs a lot
The air exchanges between the interior
of heat as it changes into vapour and then is removed
and the exterior take place by leakage from the greenhouse with ventilation. A greenhouse
through slits and through the vents due to with a crop is also easier to cool because the trans­
pressure differences between the interior pired water absorbs heat as it changes phase from
and the exterior air. The wind and differ­ liquid to gas and then is removed through the vents.
ences in air density between inside and Ti, Interior air temperature; Te, external air temperature.
136 Chapter 8

­ utside the greenhouse generate these pres­

o The efficiency of ventilation, quanti­
sure gradients. The air densities are affected fied by the air exchange rate (R), depends on
by the temperature and, to a lesser extent, by the climate conditions: (i) external wind
the air composition (the humidity especially). velocity and direction; and (ii) temperature
As ventilation affects the conditions of difference between inside and outside the
the confined air, essential in the ‘green­ greenhouse. These two effects, the wind
house effect’, the knowledge of the ventila­ effect and the thermal (buoyancy) effect,
tion flux is fundamental in the management generate pressure differences which force
of the greenhouse climate (Bot and Van de the air to move (natural convection), from a
Braak, 1995). high pressure area to a low pressure area.
The ventilation efficiency also depends on
the characteristics of the openings (area and
8.3  How Airtight is the Greenhouse? position) and of the canopy (arrangement of
the crop rows in relation to the sidewall
A greenhouse is not an airtight construc­ vents).
tion, suffering minor or major leakage losses.
The importance of the exchange due to leak­
ages depends on the quality of the construc­ 8.4.1  The thermal effect
tion and varies a lot with the wind velocity
(see Table 7.1). When the wind is weak, the The existence of temperature gradients pow­
difference between the internal and the ers the convective movements, as the warm
external temperature is the main influence. air rises and the cold air descends. When
The losses increase with wind velocity. there is no wind, the air exchange rate depends
How airtight a greenhouse is may be on temperature difference alone between the
measured by calculating the air renewal interior and the exterior (Fig. 8.2).
coefficient with the help of a tracer gas or by A roof opening favours ventilation
creating a pressure differential between the (chimney effect) (Fig. 8.2). The efficiency of
inside of the greenhouse and the outside the roof ventilation depends on the green­
(i.e. lower or higher pressure inside the house height. Due to the chimney effect the
greenhouse compared with outside). It can taller greenhouses ventilate better, so it is
also be quantified by means of the thermal advisable to build them at least 3 m high
balance. (Urban, 1997a).
The advantages of an airtight green­ The effect of the temperature gradient
house are: (i) a decrease in the thermal losses on ventilation is important with weak winds,
(and therefore an increase in the amount of high radiation and limited openings.
energy saved); and (ii) a decrease in the CO2 In Mediterranean greenhouses, the ther­
leakages, if carbon enrichment is practised. mal (buoyancy) effect is of little importance
The disadvantages of a greenhouse being in ventilation if the wind velocity exceeds
too airtight are the build-up of air humid­ 1–2 m s−1 (Muñoz, 1998; Pérez-Parra, 2002),
ity and the higher risk of ­toxicity in the
case of pollution or pesticide application.

8.4  Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation allows for the renewal

of the interior hot air by external fresh air. It
is achieved by means of permanent or tem­
porary openings in the roof, in the sidewalls Fig. 8.2.  Greenhouse ventilation fluxes when the
or in the front walls. It is the cheapest and wind velocity is zero and there is only a thermal
most commonly used system. effect.
Management of High Temperatures 137

values normally exceeded in the Medi­ of the air volume of the greenhouse is pro­
terranean coastal area during daylight hours. portional to the velocity, varying with:
However, with the use of low porosity anti- (i)  the number of spans of the greenhouse
insect screens (nets), ventilation by the (Kozai and Sase, 1978); (ii) the dimension
buoyancy effect is gaining importance. of the spans (dynamic pressure coefficient,
In areas where the density of green­ Fig. 8.3); and (iii) the wind direction.
houses is high, so the structures are very The wind loads on the greenhouse
close, the wind effect is very restricted (see structure depend on the dynamic pressure
more details in the Appendix 1). of the wind, which varies depending on
the effective height of the greenhouse and
the cladding surface affected, mainly (see
8.4.2  The wind effect Appendix 1).
The pressures generated by the wind
With low wind velocities (less than 2 m s−1), (Fig. 8.3) are positive on the side exposed to
ventilation depends mainly of the tempera­ the wind (windward) and negative over the
ture differences between the greenhouse roof and in the side protected from the
and the exterior. With wind velocities wind (leeward). This pressure distribution
greater than 2 m s−1, the number of exchanges is altered when opening the vents.

Wind +0.4 –0.6 –0.6 –0.4 +0.4 –0.4

+0.7 –0.4 +0.7 –0.4

Wind +0.4 –0.6 –0.4 –0.4 –0.4 –0.4 –0.4

+0.4 –0.4

Wind –0.7 –0.5 –0.2 –0.3

–0.2 –0.5
+0.5 –0.5 +0.6 –0.3


Plastic film



Fig. 8.3.  (a) Wind pressure coefficients over several types of structure. A positive wind pressure
coefficient shows high pressure, whereas a negative value shows suction (adapted from Zabeltitz, 1999).
(b) Scheme of the effects of a perpendicular wind to the ridge on a tunnel covered with a plastic film,
showing the effects of suction on the plastic film, which may break it.
138 Chapter 8

The orientation of the vents which suction created by the external wind forces
open facing the wind (windward) favour the air out of the greenhouse, while it is
ventilation in relation to the vents which quite risky to open the vent facing the wind
open towards the side sheltered from the (Wacquant, 2000). If there are strong winds,
wind (leeward) (Fig. 8.4), especially if they all the greenhouse vents must be closed to
are of the flap type (Montero and Antón, avoid them breaking.
2000a, b). The wind effect is very small if vents on
When the wind grows in intensity, the the roof are not complemented with side­
roof vent that must be more open is the one wall openings (Montero and Antón, 2000a)
opposite to the wind direction (Fig. 8.5); the (see Fig. 8.6).

(a) Windward ventilation

(b) Leeward ventilation

Fig. 8.4.  Diagrams resulting from a ventilation study using flow visualization techniques, depending on
the wind direction: (a) windward (facing the wind) and (b) leeward (side sheltered from the wind). The size
of the arrows indicates the intensity of ventilation. Low-cost greenhouse, five spans, with hinged flapping-
type vents and wind velocity of 4 m s−1 (data from ‘Las Palmerillas’ Experimental Station, Cajamar
Foundation, Almeria, Spain).

Low pressure area

Wind sucks out the
direction interior air

Air rises by convection

and suction

Fig. 8.5.  The suction created by the wind on the leeward vent (protected from the wind) contributes to
the extraction of the greenhouse air, if the wind is strong. If there are sidewall vents (for air entrance) the
efficiency of ventilation is improved.
Management of High Temperatures 139

Fig. 8.6.  Roof vents of the ‘small hat’ type are of low efficiency when used alone (bottom). Therefore,
they must be associated with sidewall vents (top) to improve their performance. The size of the arrows
indicates the intensity of ventilation. (Source: J.I. Montero and E. Baeza.)
140 Chapter 8

Nowadays, ventilation can be auto­ In median latitudes, the vents are usu­
mated. It is necessary to monitor condi­ ally continuous, along the greenhouse,
tions with an anemometer, vane and rain preferably on the ridge, with a recom­
detector to close the vents in case of exces­ mended opening area index of 15–25%
sive winds (depending on their direction) (ASAE, 1988) under high radiation condi­
or in case of rain (For more details, see tions. The most efficient and versatile ven­
Appendix 1). tilation systems have vents on both sides of
the ridge and in the sidewalls. When the
vents have screens these open area ratios
8.4.3  Characteristics of the openings must be increased.
To maximize ventilation it is essential
The openings can be characterized by the that the arrangement of the vents comple­
opening area and by their positions. The ments the convective movements inside the
opening area, in the case of hinged vents, is greenhouse with the pressure differences in
at most that of the frame (hole) (Fig. 8.7). the walls generated by the wind.
In the case of a long vent of continuous The sidewall ventilation is very impor­
shutter, the maximum opening is achieved tant in small greenhouses, contributing
with an angle of 60° (Wacquent, 2000). equally or even more than the roof vents to
The opening area index, which relates the air exchange, but in wide greenhouses
the total ventilator opening area to the (width over 35 m) roof ventilation predomi­
ground area of the greenhouse, expressed nates (Pérez-Parra et al., 2003b).
as  a percentage allows for a comparison In single- or double-span tunnels, the
between different greenhouses. most efficient ventilation is achieved com­
The air exchange rate increases with bining ridge vents with sidewall vents (in
the opening area ratio. There is an opti­ the proportion 1.5 to 1.0). The chimney
mum value for this ratio, above which a effect, using sidewall and roof openings, is
complementary opening is less efficient of special interest if the wind is less than
(Fig. 8.8 and Plate 14). This optimum 1 m s−1, multiplying by three the efficiency
opening area ratio, in unscreened vents, of a single opening (Fig. 8.8).With medium
ranges between 15 and 20% for tunnels or strong wind, the roof ventilation is
(with well positioned vents) and between sufficient.
25 and 33% for multi-span greenhouses In multi-span greenhouses of large area
(Wacquant, 2000). the roof vents located in both sides of each


Fig. 8.7.  The useful ventilation area is, at its maximum, the frame of the vent (ABCD in the figure). A small
opening angle (a) limits the useful ventilation area. In the figure, the useful area is that formed by the
rectangle EFCD plus the triangles AED and BFC, as long as the area of the frame of the vent is not
exceeded (ABCD) (adapted from Wacquant, 2000).
Management of High Temperatures 141

CFD simulations have also demonstrated

that the greenhouse roof slope has a signifi­
Air exchange (volumes h–1)

50 cant effect on ventilation rate; therefore, in

Roof and sidewall the south of Spain, traditional horizontal
40 roof greenhouses are being replaced with
symmetrical or asymmetrical greenhouses
Sidewall with a near 30° roof angle (Castilla and
20 Montero, 2008). No further increase in ven­
tilation has been identified for roofs with
roof angles greater than 30° (Baeza, 2007).
The combination of side and roof vents
0 10 20 30 40 is more efficient than the use of a single
Opening area ratio (%) type of vents, of equal opening areas
(Vent area/Greenhouse soil area)
(Montero and Antón, 2000a). The roof vents
Fig. 8.8.  In a tunnel greenhouse, with weak wind, located by the ridge are more efficient than
when sidewall and roof vents are used, the increase those located by the gutter (Muñoz et al.,
in the vent opening area (beyond a certain threshold 1999; Montero and Antón, 2000a, b). The
value) does not increase the air exchange. The hinged vents (with a flap) oriented wind­
sidewall ventilation alone is less efficient than the ward are more efficient than the leeward
combination of roof and sidewall vents. In a multi- vents (on the side protected from the wind)
tunnel greenhouse the opening area ratio must be
(Plate 15), improving the air exchange rate
higher than in a simple tunnel with roof and side
ventilation, to achieve the same air exchange effects.
from 35 to 60%, when the wind ranges from
2 to 7 m s−1 (Pérez-Parra, 2002), whereas in
rolling vents the air exchange rates do not
span facilitate alternate use depending on depend on the wind direction, at least in
the wind direction (Wacquant, 2000): low slope multi-span greenhouses.
In each case, specific locations of the
1.  With zero or weak wind – open vents of
vents are used. For instance, if there are
both sides of each span.
regular winds (land or sea breezes, in coastal
2.  With moderate wind – preferably open
areas) the greenhouse may be oriented with
the vent protected from the wind (leeward),
its openings facing windward and leeward,
in a first phase to profit from the suction
such is the case of the Mediterranean coastal
effect. The opening of the vent facing the
area greenhouses (Wacquant, 2000).
wind (windward) is delayed until the venti­
In tropical regions, the tunnels are ven­
lation requirements are higher.
tilated best by orienting them in the direc­
3.  With strong wind – the vent facing the
tion of the trade winds with the front walls
wind opens even less, or even closes if
open, due to their small length.
the wind is very strong. In the case of extre­me
In the case when sidewall vents are
winds, both sides close, to avoid breaks.
available, wind flows that are too cold or
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD; too dry which impinge directly on the plants
see section 8.4.5) analysis indicates that must be avoided, by avoiding too large an
windward ventilation is more efficient than opening.
leeward ventilation, especially in green­ For protection from insect damage, and
houses with limited total width. Therefore mostly, from the virus diseases transmitted
new greenhouse constructions should have by them, the air can be filtered at the ­openings
larger openings oriented towards the pre­ by means of low porosity screens to avoid
vailing winds. In existing designs, outside their entrance. These screens reduce the air
air may enter and leave the greenhouse flowing through the vent, notably decreasing
without mixing with the internal air. To ventilation (Plate 15), so the opening area
avoid this problem, the use of deflectors to ratio must be increased or a device with a
conduct the entering air through the crop higher screen surface than that of the vent
area is strongly recommended (Baeza, 2007). itself must be adopted (see section 8.4.6).
142 Chapter 8

The discharge coefficient of the vents, where it is heated and its humidity increased
which measures the reduction of the air (Wacquant, 2000). The hottest spot is located
flow when passing through a vent, has been on the side exposed to the wind (Fig. 8.9).
studied in Mediterranean greenhouses
(Muñoz, 1998; Pérez-Parra, 2002).
The variability in the wind conditions, 8.4.5  Measuring the ventilation of
the greenhouse types, the vents (shape, greenhouses
location, presence or not of screens) induced
a simplification of the joint incidence of
The most commonly used method to meas­
these effects under a global wind effect coef­
ure the natural ventilation in greenhouses is
ficient (see Appendix 1).
the use of a tracer gas, which uses an inert
and non-reactive gas (Goedhart et al., 1984).
This gas (which is usually nitrous oxide) is
8.4.4  The crop and air movements homogeneously distributed inside the green­
house and the evolution of its concentration
The presence of plants affects the air exchange in the air over a period of time, in the exist­
rate and the convective movements, depend­ ing ventilation conditions, quantified. The
ing on the density of the vegetation and the ventilation rate is proportional to the decay
arrangement of the crop rows. rate of the tracer gas content in the air.
Plants, when transpiring, cool the air and Recently, the use of models has facili­
modify its density. High ventilation with a LAI tated the study of ventilation. The flow
above 2 limits the temperature gradient and ­visualization techniques using scale models
modifies the chimney effect. The vegetation (Montero and Antón, 2000a) have been used
forms a screen that limits the air movement. with satisfactory results, at a low cost
Therefore, the location of the crop rows in the (Plate 16). Recent work with scale models,
same direction as the dominant winds facili­ in a wind tunnel, has permitted the study of
tates the air circulation and the ventilation. ventilation in low-cost parral-type green­
In tall greenhouses, in which there is a houses (Pérez-Parra, 2002).
large air chamber between the crop and the Another method of studying ventilation
cover, the crop has little influence on the air is the use of fluid dynamics simulation pro­
movements if it does not block the sidewall grams known as CFD (Computational Fluid
vents. Dynamics), illustrated in Plate 17. In recent
When the greenhouse is closed, the years increasing attention is being paid to
wind also affects the internal air movements. this CFD tool in greenhouse technology stud­
At the top, the circulation is parallel and in ies (De Pascale et al., 2008; Dorais, 2011).
the same direction with that of the outside Several models have tried to relate
wind, returning through the lower part the  ventilation rate with the area of open



High pressure Suction

T: +1–1.5°C higher than temperature on other side of greenhouse

RH: +5–15% higher than other side of greenhouse

Fig. 8.9.  The effect of the external wind on the air movement inside a closed greenhouse (adapted from
Wacquant, 2000).
Management of High Temperatures 143

vents. The most simple models establish diameter (Cabrera, F.J., 2008, personal
relationships between the opening angle communication).
and the air exchange rate, depending on the The porosity of the screen is the rela­
wind conditions and the temperature differ­ tionship (per unit or percentage) between
ences. Normally, their use involves previous the holes area and the total area. The poros­
adaptation to the local conditions (green­ ity depends on the diameter of the thread
house characteristics, orientation, etc.). and the number of threads per unit area and
determines the decrease in ventilation rate
when the screen is placed in the vents (see
8.4.6  Anti-insect screens Appendix 1 section A.6.4).
When covering a vent with a screen,
the useful ventilation area of the vent is
Anti-insect screens are made of uniform
restricted to the area free of threads (net
threads which form the screen. The type
hole area of the screen), which must be
of screen to be used will depend in each
taken into account when calculating the
case on the size of the insect to be excluded
useful vent area, correcting it as a func­
(Table 8.1). It may be that some biotypes
tion of the screen’s porosity. In some
of insects have different sizes: for exam­
cases, screens are used that are larger in
ple the white fly biotype found in Almeria,
total area than the vent they cover, so the
is smaller than the American one, as it
area free of screen (net hole area of the
only measures 240 mm (Cabrera, F.J., 2008,
screen) equals or exceeds the ventilator
personal communication). The nomencla­
ture of the screens in the ‘mesh’ scale des­
When forced ventilation is used, and
ignates the number of threads per inch in
screens are also present, then it may be
each direction (Aldrich and Bartok, 1994).
necessary to increase the performance of
In this way a 64-mesh screen has 64
the fans.
threads per inch (2.54 cm) in each perpen­
The holes of the screens tend to get
dicular direction. To evaluate the size of
dirty and may be blocked very easily due to
the hole the diameter of the threads must
their small size, so a periodical cleaning
be known.
must be done to avoid ventilation being lim­
The common nomenclature used in
ited even more.
Spain to designate the screens is imprecise,
Although in Mediterranean green­
as it does not express their exact character­
houses a ventilation area (roof plus sidewall
istics. For instance, a 20 × 10 screen indi­
vents) of 15–20% of the greenhouse area
cates that the screen has 20 threads per
has been described as sufficient for a well-
centimetre in one direction and 10 threads
developed and irrigated crop (Montero and
per centimetre in the perpendicular direc­
Antón, 2000b; Pérez-Parra et al., 2003b), the
tion, but this does not specify the thickness
use of anti-insect screens in the vents makes
of the thread, which is usually around
this value insufficient.
0.27 mm, although the most commonly used
Anti-insect screens placed in the roof
types range between 0.23 and 0.29 mm
vents decrease the ventilation rate by 20
and 33%, for flap or rolling vents, respec­
Table 8.1.  Selection criteria for anti-insect screens tively, for a 39% porosity screen in a
as a function of insect size and hole size in the ­low-cost greenhouse (Pérez-Parra, 2002)
screen (Aldrich and Bartok, 1994).
(Plate 15).
Insect to be Insect size Hole size Screens decrease the ventilation rate by
excluded (mm) (mm) around 40% in the case of anti-bug screens,
and 70–80% in the case of anti-thrips
Leaf miner 640 266 × 818 screens (Muñoz, 1998; Montero and Antón,
Melon bug 340 266 × 818 2000a), although this decrease can be higher
White fly 462 266 × 818
if the wind velocity is very low (see
Thrips 192 150 × 150
Appendix 1 section A.6.4).
144 Chapter 8

8.4.7  Screenhouses ­ rovide large flows at low pressures

(Wacquant, 2000). These fans are built to
Recently, greenhouses covered with a screen work at low rotation velocities, because if
as cladding material are being used their velocity is high they are quite noisy
(Plate 18). They are known as screenhouses. and use a lot of electrical power.
Inside them, the greenhouse effect does not Air velocities greater than 1 m s−1 (which
occur and the windbreak and shading effects may affect the plants) must be avoided, so
prevail, besides their restriction to the large-diameter fans must be used. They can
entrance of insects (depending on the size work blowing air in or sucking air out of the
of holes in the screen and the installation greenhouse, with a pressure differential less
conditions). In fact, they are a variant of the than 30 Pa. The air circulation is usually
shade houses (see Chapter 4 section 4.6.4). horizontal.
In screenhouses, ventilation is perma­ The distance between two fans on
nently ensured. Rainfall water penetrates the same wall must be less than 8–10 m and
inside them, through the screen, which the distance between fans and vents must
restricts their use in areas where the average be less than 30–40 m, avoiding obstacles in
rainfall is high. the direction of air movement at a distance
More sophisticated variants of screen­ shorter than 1.5 times the diameter of the fan
houses are greenhouses that have inter­ (ASAE, 2002). The vents must close auto­
changeable roofs, in which the film cover matically, when the fan stops.
can be substituted by a screen cover The total flow capacity of the fans
(Photo  8.2), and the retractable roof green­ must be calculated to ensure 20–30 air
houses (Photo 8.3). renewals h−1, in autumn and spring, and
40–80 air renewals h−1 in summer
(Wacquant, 2000).
8.5  Mechanical or Forced Ventilation The system generates certain heteroge­
neity in the temperatures inside the green­
In order to inject or extract air from the house, and the energy consumption during
greenhouse helical fans are used, that the summer is high.

Photo 8.2.  Rolling roof greenhouse (plastic film and screen) that allows the cover material to be selected
depending on the climate conditions. (Source: J.I. Montero.)
Management of High Temperatures 145

Photo 8.3.  The retractable roof greenhouse can provide maximum ventilation.

Greenhouses that are imperme­a ble

to insects require forced ventilation. In 8.6  Cooling by Water Evaporation
this case ventilation occurs prefer­a bly
by drawing air in from outside, to increase 8.6.1  Pad and fan
the air pressure inside the building
­r elative to outside. The air inlets In a greenhouse with a ‘pad and fan’ cooling
must  avoid allowing access of insects system, one of the sidewalls is equipped
(Photo 8.4). with air extraction fans, and the other has
It is preferable to use several small porous pads, which are kept wet. The exter­
fans instead of a large one, for the sake of nal air is drawn through these pads, evapo­
better uniformity. For plastic greenhouses, rating the water in the pads and being cooled,
the practical rule is to use a maximum fan and penetrates inside the greenhouse cooler
flow of 2.1–3.0 m3 m−2 of greenhouse and more humid than before (Fig. 8.10). This
ground area (Boodley, 1996). With the aim technique allows for ­temperature decreases
of optimizing the management under dif­ of 3–6°C under Mediterranean conditions
ferent climate conditions, it is very useful (Urban, 1997a). Its efficiency depends on the
if the fans have different rotation speeds dryness of the external air. With very low
that can generate different rates of air humid­ity (RH < 20%) the temperature can be
renewal, and which in turn may also limit decreased by up to 10°C (Hanan, 1998).
the energy use. The distance to be travelled by the air
The efficiency of a mechanical venti­ (between fans and pads) is a limiting factor,
lation system is of the order of 80%. In 40 m maximum, to avoid excessive tempera­
the calculation of ventilation the height ture and humidity differences between differ­
above sea level must be considered, espe­ ent greenhouse zones (Urban, 1997a). A good
cially at very high altitude locations, water quality is also advisable, because other­
because the air density decreases with wise the salts in the water will soon block the
height, reducing the efficiency of ventila­ pads, which then will have to be replaced, at
tion. As a correction factor the barometric significant cost. The water, if recycled, must
pressures quotient obtained for the spe­ be filtered and treated with biocide for control
cific place and at sea level can be used of algae. A recommended air renewal rate is
(Langhams, 1990). 60 volumes h−1 (ASAE, 1988).
146 Chapter 8

Photo 8.4.  The injection ventilation fans must avoid the introduction of insects, by covering the air inlets,
where external air is drawn inside, with proper screens.


External dry air
Internal air,
humid and cool

Porous pad
Vent flaps
in open
Water recovery

Fig. 8.10.  Scheme of a mechanical ventilation system with water evaporation in pads (pad and fan).

8.6.2  Fogging and misting The droplets must also be produced at a

certain height above the canopy, so that as
The aim of fog-mist systems is to generate a they fall very slowly they will evaporate before
fog or mist to cool the interior of the green­ reaching the plants, absorbing energy and
house (Photo 8.5). decreasing the air temperature. This system
Water droplets must be small enough so may allow for a decrease of up to 6°C under
they do not wet the plants, to avoid the Mediterranean conditions (Urban, 1997a),
development of diseases and the deposit of while under very dry conditions the tempera­
salts contained in the water, when the water ture reduction can reach up to 7–10°C
evaporates from the surface of the leaves (Conellan, 2002). Under high radiation condi­
between two fogging episodes. In fogging tions, both fog systems and shading can be
systems, the optimum range of water drop­ complemented (Plate 19).
let sizes is between 0.5 and 50 mm, for maxi­ In the misting systems the droplets are
mum efficiency (ASAE, 2002). higher and they fall rapidly and wet the
Management of High Temperatures 147

Photo 8.5.  Greenhouse water fogging.

canopy surface, requiring that this excess of  1 mm; and (ii) the needle type which
water be carefully managed to prevent dis­ ­ roduces droplets smaller than 10 mm. The
eases and crop damage (Conellan, 2002). ­latter is the most commonly used in sophis­
The first effect of water fogging or mist­ ticated greenhouses.
ing is the cooling of the air by evaporation, The flow of these diffusers is around
as 2.45 × 103 J g−1 of heat energy are extracted. 7 l h−1, with a density of 0.06–0.1 diffusers
The cooled air (more dense) falls down and in a square metre, and the water use can be
induces a convective movement. If the fog­ as high as 2.5–4.2 l m−2 day−1, for an average
ging system is properly regulated, the water of 6 h of daily operation (Urban, 1997a). Fog
will not reach the plants. Furthermore, fog­ system consumption may be as high as half
ging provides additional relief to plants of the water used for irrigation during the
from too high temperatures because it cre­ summer.
ates some degree of shading. The water must be of very good quality
A negative effect of fine fogging is that with a pre-filtering from 50 to 100 mm, fol­
it decreases PAR radiation (Urban and lowed by a filtering from 0.5 to 5 mm. In
Langelez, 1992), but the decrease is to a far waters with bicarbonates, acid must be
less extent than that caused by whitewash injected to decrease the pH to 6.6–6.8. If the
or other types of shading. salt content in the water is high (more than
There are three main fog-mist systems: 0.7 dS m−1) it will have to be desalinated, for
(i) water at high pressure (fogging); (ii) water which reverse osmosis is the usual system
at low pressure (misting); and (iii) air/water (Urban, 1997a). In practice, using rainfall
systems. water is the most functional, to avoid block­
ages. Desalinated water contains bicarbo­
High pressure systems (fogging) nates and its buffer capacity is drastically
reduced and when the droplets come in
Their working pressure is higher than contact the air, they absorb CO2, decreasing
7 MPa. The pipes must be of copper or steel. the pH below 5, and could potentially
There are two types of diffusers (nozzles): become corrosive (Urban, 1997a).
(i) the type with a turbulence chamber Any obstructions in the water flow in­­
which provides a droplet size in the order duce an increase in the size of the droplets,
148 Chapter 8

so it is necessary to keep the nozzles clean 8.6.3  Cooling by evapotranspiration

(e.g. by submerging them in an acid
solution). The simplest method to evaporate water is
to do it through the plants by their transpi­
Low pressure systems (misting) ration, which involves a non-restrictive
water supply and a good air exchange to
Their working pressure is lower than evacuate the exceeding heat. Under
0.5  MPa. The nozzles generate droplets Mediterranean conditions at least 20 vol­
whose size ranges from 20 to 100 mm, with umes h−1 must be achieved (R, the air
flows from 10 to 120 l h−1. With a density of exchange rate) for external radiation values
0.025–0.01 nozzles per square metre, and of 700 W m−2 (Fuchs, 1990).
6 h of daily operation, they involve a water
use of 0.6–18 l m−2 day−1 (Urban, 1997a).
This system is cheaper and has fewer
blockage problems although it may wet the 8.7  Shading
plants, leaving deposits over the leaves, and
dripping at the beginning and at the end of The limitation of solar radiation, as a means
each fogging episode. to avoid high temperatures in the green­
house, is that it involves a concomitant
Air/water systems decrease in photosynthesis, which in turn
involves a yield decrease.
In these systems, there are two circuits: (i) a The use of ‘cooling’ films, which limit
low pressure circuit for the water (with an the input of IR radiation from the Sun
operation pressure between 0.2 and 0.6 MPa) inside the greenhouse without affecting the
and another one for compressed air (between PAR range, could be a solution when their
0.2 and 0.35 MPa). efficiency in limiting the IR radiation is
The water and the air are canalized to the improved and their use is economical (see
interior of an atomizer which spreads the Chapter 4).
flow into small droplets. The size of the drop­ The shading devices can be outside or
lets and the flow of the nozzles is a result of inside the greenhouse. External shading
the pressure differences between the air and screens are preferable from the energy point
water flows. The air pressure must necessar­ of view, as they avoid the heat input in the
ily be, at least, equal to that of the water to greenhouse (Photo 8.6), but they must resist
achieve water drops smaller than 10 mm (fog­ atmospheric agents (wind, degradation,
ging). If the air pressure is lower, the water loads such as dust or dirt, hail or snow car­
droplet size is greater than 50 mm (diameter), ried in the air).
with flows of up to 50 l h−1. The placement of wood sheets, reeds or
The best results are obtained with similar materials over the cover, which
pressures of 0.2–0.25 MPa for the water could be rolled back and forth as required,
and 0.3–0.35 MPa for the air, the consump­ was used decades ago and this technique is
tion being similar to those of the high pres­ still popular in some countries like China
sure systems (6–7 l h−1), with densities of (see Fig. 7.5). However, due to their sensi­
0.06–0.1 nozzles per square metre (Urban, tivity to the wind and difficulty of manage­
1997a). ment, in most countries nowadays they
This system has fewer blockage prob­ have usually been replaced with shading
lems and it is easier to install but it is screens that have good mechanical resist­
more expensive to install than the high ance and that are fixed using a large range of
pressure system because it needs a com­ fixing systems (Fig. 8.11).
pressor. It must be well regulated, drops The whitening of the cover with differ­
fall at the beginning and at the end of each ent products that reflect the radiation is a
fogging episode and it uses quite a lot of usual practice during high radiation periods.
energy. The duration depends on the characteristics
Management of High Temperatures 149

Photo 8.6.  External shading device located over the greenhouse. The vents have anti-insect screens.

Support thread


Mobile roller

Fixed roller

Support tube

Fig. 8.11.  Different systems for fixing and moving the screens (adapted from Urban, 1997a).

of the solution used (additives) and of the woven into the screen or use of aluminized
rain, which may wash them off. plastic film, allows for the reflection of the
Internal screens do not have to be as solar radiation. So, in the case of alumin­
resistant as the external ones and there is a ium-based shading screens, they must be
wide range of them on the market (see placed with the aluminium side on the
Chapter 4). The internal shading screens upper face, whereas in the case of energy-
must be permeable to the air to facilitate saving screens the aluminium must be in
ventilation. The use of aluminium sheets the inner (downwards) face.
150 Chapter 8

The distinction between a thermal and 8.9  Ventilation and Climate

a shading screen is not well determined, Management
because all screens act against all the radia­
tive losses and inputs, and growers prefer to 8.9.1  Temperature management
use a single polyvalent screen, so it is often
necessary to achieve a compromise in the
The efficiency of ventilation to decrease the
performance of the screen to make it useful
temperature depends on the amount of heat
for both purposes (see Chapter 4).
to be removed (which in turn depends on
the solar radiation input), on the air exchange
rate and the state of the vegetation.
8.8  Other Cooling Methods To achieve inside greenhouse tempera­
tures that are close to the external values,
Soil and substrate cooling consists of circu­ air exchange rates of 20 volumes h−1 in
lating cold water through a pipe or over a winter, 40 during the spring and 80 or more
carpet in contact with the soil or the sub­ during the summer are needed, provided
strate. The water is cooled with a water/ there is a crop that is transpiring normally
water heat pump. It is an expensive system (Wacquant, 2000). The threshold tempera­
and it is only used in very sophisticated ture to begin operating natural ventilation
greenhouses. is usually set between 23 and 26°C, depend­
During the summer months, circulating ing on the climate conditions and the
a water film over the greenhouse cover cools crops. In winter, the threshold temperature
it and limits solar radiation, which is par­ to begin ventilation must be higher, 4–6°C
tially absorbed, decreasing the greenhouse higher than the heating threshold tempera­
temperature by up to 3°C (Breuer and Knies, ture, with the aim of avoiding simultane­
1995). The water use can be important in ous heating and ventilation (ASAE, 2002),
warm climate areas. This technique, which although this might also be acceptable in
is usual in sophisticated greenhouses, has certain situations. When the external air is
not been used in Mediterranean greenhouses, very cold (<5°C) the air must be introduced
where it could be of interest (Photo 8.7). in such a way that, before reaching the

Photo 8.7.  The ‘irrigation’ of the cover to cool the greenhouse has not been used in the Mediterranean.
Management of High Temperatures 151

plants, it must mix well with the internal ­ entilation can be limited, tolerating a
air (warmer) to avoid a sudden change in small thermal increase.
the plant temperature. The recommended management of
In summer, under Mediterranean condi­ ventilation under Mediterranean condi­
tions, when the maximum global external tions (Sánchez-Guerrero et al., 1998)
radiation intensity varies between 900 and establishes a set point of 25°C (or higher,
1000 W m−2 during the hours in the middle if there is CO2 enrichment) and RH set
of the day, the heat flux to be evacuated from points of 75% (daytime) and 85% (at
inside the greenhouse is close to 700 W m−2. night).
The crop uses 60–70% of the solar energy At the beginning of the crop cycle,
for transpiration, leaving the remaining when there is less transpiration due to the
210–280 W m−2 to be removed (Wacquent, limited development of the plants, water
2000), which involves very high air exchange fogging is very advisable to decrease
rates. temperatures.

8.9.2  Humidity management 8.10  Dehumidification

In the morning, when the Sun comes out, 8.10.1  Associated heating
the plants start transpiring, increasing the
water vapour content of the air inside the When there is no specific dehumidifica­
greenhouse. The interior temperature can be tion equipment (such as in the case of most
even lower than the ventilation set point greenhouses), dehumidification is achieved
temperature. The greenhouse air is close to by heating and ventilating. This method is
humidity saturation and as the walls are efficient, but it requires very high energy
colder, water condenses on them first. Later, consumption and a very powerful heating
condensation will occur in other parts of the system. The energy consumption for dehu­
greenhouse and even on the coldest parts of midification through this procedure may
the plants such as the stems and fruits. A involve 15% of the total energy used for
small opening of the vents will evacuate a heating well-insulated greenhouses in the
large amount of the air saturated with south of France (Baille, 1999). When the
humidity, decreasing this condensation. air is heated, the RH decreases as the satu­
Sometimes in heated greenhouses, for ration vapour pressure increases. Later
energy-saving reasons, low temperature set ventilation avoids a temperature rise and
points are used, which may notably increase excess water vapour accumulated is evacu­
the water condensation before dawn. To ated, introducing fresh air of low water
alleviate this situation it is recommended content.
that the set points are increased just before
The efficiency of ventilation to
decrease the air humidity depends on the 8.10.2  Dehumidification systems
state of the entering air. In winter and
beginning of the spring, when the external Conventional systems, that use heat pumps
air is cold, and with low humidity, a mod­ or a refrigerator circuit, are not economi­
erate air exchange rate is sufficient to dehu­ cally feasible (Urban, 1997a). Another
midify, especially if it is associated with a option is to circulate the humid air through
heat supply. a hygroscopic fluid (calcium chloride, tri­
In summer, when the external air is ethylene glycol) that absorbs part of the
hot and dry, high ventilation may cause a water vapour in the air. Periodically, the
large drop in humidity inside the green­ fluid must be heated to regenerate it. Its
house. To avoid an excessive drop, profitability is not clear.
152 Chapter 8

8.11  Summary •• In greenhouses with a good ventilator

area when the wind velocity is low
•• In order to avoid excessive tempera­ (less than 2 m s−1) natural ventilation
tures inside the greenhouse the energy depends, primarily, on the buoyancy
inputs must be decreased and the heat effect. With higher wind velocities, the
losses maximized. The reduction of wind effect is more important.
natural inputs is achieved by limiting •• The opening area ratio is the propor­
solar radiation and by means of shad­ tion of the total ventilator area of a
ing. The increase in energy losses, as a greenhouse with respect to the area
first step, is achieved with ventilation, covered by soil, expressed as a percent­
natural or forced. If the interior temper­ age. The recommended values for the
ature must be further decreased, active opening area ratio in high radiation
cooling methods, most commonly by conditions range from 15 to 25%.
evaporating water, will have to be •• The use of anti-insect screens in the
used. greenhouse vents to avoid or limit the
•• Greenhouse natural ventilation entrance of insects, notably reduces
(exchanging interior air for exterior ventilation, thus the opening area ratio
air) allows for the evacuation of the must be increased where screens are
excess heat and decrease of the tem­ used.
perature, modifying the humidity and •• In small greenhouses the combination
the gas content of the greenhouse of sidewall and roof vents is more effi­
atmosphere. cient for natural ventilation than the
•• The air exchange rate (R) of a green­ use of only roof vents.
house is the ratio between the volume •• Mechanical or forced ventilation, blow­
of air exchanged per hour and the total ing air into or extracting air from the
volume of the greenhouse. greenhouse, allow for high ventilation
•• A greenhouse is not an airtight struc­ rates to be achieved.
ture, having leaks of air whose value •• Cooling by water evaporation may be
depends on the construction quality of done by means of ‘pad and fan’ systems
the greenhouse and on the exterior (injection of external air cooled as it
wind speed. passes through wet pads) or by means
•• Natural ventilation of the greenhouse of water fogging or misting inside the
takes place through permanent or greenhouse, renewing the interior
temporary openings (normally vents) humid air in both systems.
in the roof, the sidewalls or front •• The fog-mist systems can be of different
walls. The efficiency of ventilation types: low or high water pressure, and
depends, in the first place, on the air/water systems.
exterior wind intensity and direction •• Water transpiration through the plants
(the wind effect) and the temperature is the simplest method to evaporate
differences between the interior and water in a crop, but it involves a non-
exterior air (the thermal or buoyancy restrictive water supply and efficient
effect). These two effects generate ventilation.
pressure differences which move •• Shading allows for a permanent high
the air. temperature decrease but it involves
•• The characteristics of the openings limiting the PAR, which decreases
(vents) and the vegetation (height and ­photosynthesis and yield. Therefore, it
plant arrangement) also influence is advisable to use mobile screens, to
ventilation. deploy them only when they are
•• The efficiency of the roof ventilation needed.
depends on the greenhouse height. Due •• Shading devices can be internal or
to the chimney effect, tall greenhouses external to the greenhouse, and perma­
ventilate better. nent (fixed) or mobile (movable).
Management of High Temperatures 153

External shading is preferable, but its •• The set point temperature to ventilate
installation is much more expensive. (threshold temperature) usually ranges
•• Whitewashing the greenhouse cover is between 23 and 26°C, although if car­
a type of low-cost permanent shading, bon enrichment is used it may be a lit­
which is widely used during the high tle bit higher.
radiation seasons. •• The RH set point to ventilate ranges
•• Management of ventilation to maintain between 75% (daytime) and 85%
a suitable temperature involves achiev­ (night).
ing high air exchange rates which may •• The decrease of the environmental
be as high as 80 or more greenhouse humidity, when heating is available,
volumes h−1 in full summer, in the can be achieved by heating and venti­
Mediterranean area, in a totally devel­ lating. It is an effective method but it
oped crop. uses a lot of energy.
Air Movement in the Greenhouse: Carbon
Dioxide Enrichment – Light Management

9.1  Air Movement Inside the 1997). The boundary layer is a thin air film
Greenhouse which surrounds the leaf surfaces, where
the plant exchanges energy, water vapour
9.1.1  Introduction and CO2 with the environment. The thick-
ness of the boundary layer may range from
less than 1 mm to a maximum of 10 mm
In a greenhouse with a hot-air heating
(Hanan, 1998).
­system there is a great heterogeneity on tem-
Inside a greenhouse, the wind velocity
peratures, with important vertical gradients,
is of the order of 10% of the outside wind
temperature stratification, so the top air
velocity, as an average (Day and Bailey,
­layers of the greenhouse are warmer than
1999). This limited movement of the air
the lower ones, because warm air weighs
inside the greenhouse induces a thick
less than cold air. Water heating systems
boundary layer which notably hinders, in
with horizontal pipes provide more uni-
relation to open air conditions, the CO2 and
formity. The same applies to heated soils. In
water vapour diffusion through the stomata
unheated greenhouses temperature stratifi-
(Gijzen, 1995a) limiting photosynthesis.
cation is of less importance. For tempera-
ture uniformity, air needs to be moved
inside the greenhouse.
9.1.3  Plant responses

The air movement affects the plant growth,

9.1.2  Air movement: objectives altering the energy transfers, the transpir­
ation and the CO2 absorption, so that the leaf
Besides its contribution to the uniformity size is affected, as well as the stem growth
of greenhouse air temperature by avoiding
and the yield (Langhams and Tibbitts, 1997).
stratification, air movement also has a large
The most notable effects manifest themselves
impact on the morphology, physiology and
reproduction of the plants as it affects the as an agent that decreases the resistance of
temperature of the leaf, gas exchanges and the boundary layer. In the boundary layer the
the resistance of the boundary layer and, air velocity, temperature and CO2 and water
therefore, photosynthesis, transpiration vapour properties differ from those of the
and water use (Langhams and Tibbitts, surrounding air (Day and Bailey, 1999).

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

154 2nd edition (N. Castilla)
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 155

The air movement through the vegeta- 9.1.4  Air movement regulation
tion triggers ‘thigmomorphogenesis’, which
results in thicker stems and shorter inter- Air velocities from 0.5 to 0.7 m s−1 are recom-
nodes, probably induced by an increase in mended as optimal for plant growth, to facil-
the ethylene level in the internodes (Biro itate gas exchange (CO2 and water vapour) at
and Jaffe, 1984). This contributes to the the leaves (ASHRAE, 1989), whereas veloci-
strengthening of the plants (hardening). ties greater than 1 m s−1 around the leaf
restrict growth (ASAE, 1984).
Mechanical stress Some authors recommend that all the
The mechanical effect of the wind on the greenhouse air above the canopy should be
plants affects their morphology. Any mechan- moved at velocities of 0.2 m s−1, avoiding
ical stimulation, that is intense enough, has stratification of the air layers without gen-
negative effects in any of the growth stages erating turbulence (Hanan, 1998). For this,
(Jaffe, 1976). Wind velocities above 4.5 m s−1 fans are commonly installed above the
produce mechanical damage (Breuer and crop, but never more than 0.9–1.0 m from
Knies, 1995), but normally these values are the top of the crop, so that some of the air is
never reached inside a greenhouse. also moved inside the canopy (Photo 9.1).
The axis of the fan must be parallel to the
Temperature and gas exchange ground surface and in the direction of the
ridge. The required flow is 0.01 m3 s−1 per
The main effect of air movement on heat greenhouse square metre, installing fans in
exchange, CO2 absorption and transpiration the direction of air movement at distances
and evaporation is explained by its influ- less than 30 times the diameter of the fan
ence on the leaf surface boundary layer (ASAE, 2002).
(Nobel, 1974a, b). When a good air distribution network is
Air movement decreases the thickness available, such as the one used for carbon
of the boundary layer, affecting all the pro­ enrichment, air may be circulated inside the
cesses that depend on temperature and gas greenhouse injecting air through this
exchange. network.

Photo 9.1.  Destratification fans are increasingly used to mix the air in the greenhouse.
156 Chapter 9

9.2  Carbon Enrichment (CO2) l­ evels do not generate yield increases. This,
in turn, may be caused by an accumulation
9.2.1  Introduction of starch, which would limit photosynthe-
sis, or by an increase in the thickness of the
leaf (Hanan, 1998). When conditions occur
In a greenhouse, the limited air movement
which induce high photosynthesis rates
hinders the supply of CO2 to the stomata of
(high radiation together with high CO2 lev-
the leaves for photosynthesis. This gas
els, for instance; see Chapter 6), sometimes
exchange is dominated by the boundary
an induced photosynthetic inhibition may
layer resistance, as the air velocity, even
occur (feedback effect), due to an accumula-
with mechanical ventilation, is hardly
tion of photosynthates (complex sugars
above 0.3 m s−1 (Hanan, 1998). Therefore, it
such as starch), as they are produced at a
is necessary to achieve a minimum hori-
higher rate than that with which they are
zontal air movement for CO2 supply to the
transported or exported to other organs of
leaf stomata. Increases in CO2 levels gener-
the plant. The phenomenon is complex and
ate an increase in photosynthesis and a sub-
induces the Calvin cycle to stop (Lambers
sequent increase in yield. Besides, CO2
et al., 1998).
enrichment induces an improvement in the
In a greenhouse, under normal stagnant
water use efficiency (Sánchez-Guerrero
conditions it is very difficult to have a dif-
et al., 1998).
ference of CO2 content between the external
The nomenclature used for the presence
air and the greenhouse air greater than 600
of CO2 may take different forms: ppm (parts
ppm (Seeman, 1974). In practice, CO2 lev-
per million), vpm (volumes per million) or
els that reach close to 1000 ppm is only fea-
partial pressure. In this text the most com-
sible (at an affordable cost) with closed
mon form (i.e. ppm) will be used. For more
details see Appendix 1 section A.7.
Care must be taken with problems
derived from the pollution caused by the
supply of toxic gases, depending on the
9.2.2  Recommended CO2 source of CO2. From the point of view of
concentrations workers security the maximum limit is
5000 ppm (i.e. 0.5% of CO2 in the air)
The recommended CO2 concentration (Hicklenton, 1988).
depends on the species and the variety, Ventilation is the most economic
the climate conditions (especially PAR method to limit CO2 depletion in the green-
and leaf temperature), as well as economic house air, but it only allows the maximum
reasons such as the price of CO2 and ben- to reach levels close to those of the external
efits of its use. For vegetables, it has been air (350 ppm). Besides, in many cases venti-
recommended not to exceed 1500 ppm for lating is not desirable, for other reasons.
cucumber, or 1000 ppm for tomato and Therefore, artificial enrichment is a usual
pepper (Urban, 1997a). Nowadays, 1000 practice.
ppm is considered a suitable maximum Maintaining high CO2 levels involves
limit for all the species, except for cucum- closing the vents to avoid leakage, which
ber, aubergine and gerbera (Hanan, 1998). may induce excess temperatures, in some
In aubergine, 700 ppm must not be cases. Thus, under Mediterranean condi-
exceeded (Nederhoff, 1984). The excess tions, a usual strategy is to maintain levels
of CO2 in tomato plants may cause abnor- of 350 ppm by injection and stopping the
mally short leaves or the rolling of the injection when the vents must be kept
leaves, whereas in other crops it may open to limit the thermal excesses; when
cause leaf chlorosis (Langhams and vents are closed, the CO2 level is increased
Tibbitts, 1997). to 600–700 ppm (Lorenzo et al., 1997c;
An adaptation of the plants to high CO2 Sánchez-Guerrero et al., 1998; Segura
is possible, so that the increases in CO2 et al., 2001).
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 157

9.2.3  CO2 enrichment techniques gas (equivalent to 8.5 m3 of air at equal

­temperature and pressure) (ASAE, 1988). In
There are two main CO2 supply sources: (i) practice, 60% surplus of air is supplied (air
supply in the form of pure gas; and (ii) sup- factor of 1.6).
ply of CO2 generated by burning organic In natural gas boilers the heat of the
substances. The generation of CO2 by combustion gases can be recovered as well
decomposition of organic matter, which was as the CO2. Natural gas, such as propane and
important in the past and is not used nowa- butane, almost don’t have problems of
days, may be considered as a form of that harmful gases (NOx and SO2). A complete
produced by combustion. Carbonic ice combustion must be achieved, to avoid the
(solid CO2) has only been used in the labora- formation of toxic CO (carbon monoxide)
tory, due to its high cost and because it nota- and other gases such as ethylene and pro-
bly decreases the temperature. pylene. It is very important (and conven-
Soil mulching was used in the past to ient) to install a CO analyser/monitor. When
increase CO2 levels, activating the decom- the time of heating and CO2 supply do not
position of the organic matter of the soil coincide, the hot water is stored.
(Levanon et al., 1986). In a sand-mulched Other devices used are CO2 generators
soil, just after the supply of organic matter, that produce CO2 by combustion (these are
the decomposition of the organic matter in fact open-flame natural gas burners).
during the first months may involve a rele- Their cost is low and they only produce a
vant supply of CO2 to the crop. little heat but they increase the RH of the air
(Photo 9.2). As a guide, propane supplies
three volumes of CO2 and four volumes of
Pure CO2
water vapour per volume of burned gas;
This is the ideal method, as it can be applied butane supplies four volumes of CO2 and
at any time and in any desired amount, only five volumes of water vapour per volume of
being limited by the capacity of the equip- gas burned; whereas natural gas supplies
ment. Unfortunately, the cost of pure CO2 is one volume of CO2 and two volumes of
much higher than that from other sources. water per volume of natural gas burned
In the gas phase CO2 is colourless, odourless (ASAE, 2002).
and incombustible. It is heavier than the air Biogas coming from fermentation gen-
(density 1.52 kg m−3, at normal temperature erates CO2 which can be used for carbon
and pressure). enrichment. If the biogas comes from anaer-
It is supplied in small bottles or from a obic fermentation, combustion would be
central tank with a distribution network. used first to remove the methane (Urban,
The CO2 is stored as a liquid at low tempera- 1997a).
ture and under pressure.
When exact control of the input as a Enrichment with small burners
function of the CO2 levels in the air is not
possible, some authors recommend to add The main use of burners that send the com-
5.6 g m−2 h−1 (Hicklenton, 1988). bustion gases directly inside the greenhouse
may be the supply of CO2 or the supply of
Combustion gases CO2 and heating simultaneously. In the first
case, the equipment has lower capacity.
The gases must be devoid of harmful com- In relation to the air supply, there are
ponents, so the fuels, such as natural gas, two types of burners: (i) without a fan; and
paraffin or propane, must have a low sulfur (ii) with a fan. In all of them, the air supply
content. is critical for good combustion. Besides, if
Natural gas is the most used. It pro- the burner is used often and there is no
duces 1.8 kg CO2 m−3 of gas, at 20°C and renewal of the air (ventilation) the lower
standard atmospheric pressure and its com- oxygen level may result in incomplete com-
bustion requires 1.77 m3 of oxygen m−3 of bustion. Therefore, it is usual to increase
158 Chapter 9

Photo 9.2.  CO2 generator that produces CO2 by combustion.

the air supply (by a factor of 1.6) to avoid at night. Dissipating it to the exterior
incomplete combustion. The supply of (air,  underground water) is not advisable
external air to the burner (by means of a fan) due to the environmental impact.
avoids these problems.
The use of small burners is usually
imprecise. If they are used just to heat the 9.2.4  Distribution of CO2
air, they may produce very high CO2 levels,
which are undesirable sometimes; whereas
It is important to achieve a homogeneous
if there is no need to heat, their use involves
distribution of CO2 in the whole greenhouse,
an undesired thermal supply.
without differences between the beginning
CO2 enrichment from a central boiler and end of the supply lines (horizontal gra-
dient), and also avoiding vertical gradients
In a centralized heating system, the com- (low concentration inside the canopy). The
bustion gases originating in the boiler can distribution ducts may be located inside the
be used for CO2 supply, if the gases are crop, laying over the soil, so the enriched
pure enough. The advantage is that the air crosses the canopy before it reaches the
supply of CO2 and the heating can be done roof vents.
separately in the greenhouse. As the boiler There are two main methods for the
is larger, a better control of the combustion distribution of pure CO2. In the first
is possible. Besides, the water vapour con- instance, the liquid CO2 is evaporated by
tained in the combustion gases can be means of specialized equipment and then
extracted, avoiding their entrance in the forced by its own pressure through a dis-
greenhouse. tribution network of pipes and delivered
When CO2 is produced by combustion through perforated PE tubes along or under
in a central boiler, the destination of the (when raised gutters are used) the rows of
heat can be: (i) to use it directly for heat- plants; this method is popular in northern
ing; (ii) to dissipate it inside the green- countries (Nederhoff, 1995). The second
house to get rid of it (maintaining a low method is to inject CO2 in the airflow of a
pipe temperature); and (iii) to store it fan, which is connected with a pipeline of
­d uring the ­daytime and use it for heating large-diameter perforated air-­circulation
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 159

PE tubes; this method is popular in south- 9.2.6  CO2 control

ern warm ­countries, most notably along
the Mediterranean. Under good photosynthesis conditions, the
A special form of distribution is to dis- consumption of CO2 ranges from 3 to 4 g
solve CO2 in the irrigation water (0.6–0.8 g CO2 m−2 h−1 (Bordes, 1992), but an important
CO2 l−1) by the system called ‘carborain’. It amount is lost by leakage or by ventilation,
is admitted that this method does not sig- which may be as high as 75%; the average
nificantly improve photosynthesis, but has consumption in sophisticated greenhouses,
other positive effects on root growth and being estimated at 8–13 kg CO2 m−2 year−1
nutrient absorption (Nederhoff, 1995). (Baille, 1999).
The CO2 that comes from combustion CO2 may be supplied from dawn until
gases requires a proper transport pipeline dusk, but in many cases it is usually lim-
with aluminium pipes if the temperature is ited for economic reasons to the hours
high or PVC if it is low. The distribution takes around noon. In winter, with low PAR
place through PE pipes. A network of PE film ­levels (up to 100 W m−2) it has been recom-
ducts (of 50 mm diameter) drilled with holes mended not to exceed 2 g CO2 m−2 h−1,
(of 1 mm diameter) every 20–120 cm is a whereas during the spring and summer,
usual solution, avoiding ducts longer than with PAR levels from 100 to 400 W m−2,
40 m and using a recommended pressure at supplies of 2–8 g CO2 m−2 h−1 are recom-
the beginning of the duct of 750 Pa, by means mended (Chaux and Foury, 1994b),
of a fan (Hicklenton, 1988). The holes in the although in each case, the economic rea-
distribution ducts must be more frequent sons to fix the supply must prevail.
near the ends than near the beginning. If the CO2 is free of pollutants, the CO2
The CO2 must be injected near the levels do not cause problems between 1000
plants. In a greenhouse with crops in paired and 2000 ppm (0.1–0.2 kPa) (Langhams and
rows, one small-diameter perforated PE Tibbitts, 1997).
tube is placed for each double row, either on Under normal crop conditions in a low-
the soil, or under the raised gutter (when tech greenhouse, measurements of CO2
available, in the case of soilless culture). depletion in the air have been recorded of
up to 37% (Sánchez-Guerrero et al., 1998,
2005, 2008), reaching values of 55% under
9.2.5  CO2 balance extreme conditions (Lorenzo et al., 1997c).
The increases in yield due to CO2 supply
The CO2 balance depends on: (i) the CO2 sup- (700 ppm with vents closed, 350 with vents
plied; (ii) the CO2 exchanged with the external open) have been of the order of 19–25% in
air; (iii) the CO2 assimilated in photosynthesis; cucumber and from 10 to 15% in green bean
and (iv) the CO2 originating in organic matter. (Lorenzo et al., 1997c; Sánchez-Guerrero
The last item is usually neglected. et al., 1998, 2005, 2008), supplying the CO2
The photosynthesis rate ranges from from the beginning of the morning until 1 or
1  g m−2 h−1 of CO2, or less under cloudy 2 h after noon.
weather, to 4–5 g m−2 h−1 under good light The combined effect of heating and
and CO2 conditions, sometimes even reach- CO2 enrichment has allowed for yield
ing 7 g m−2 h−1 (Nederhoff, 1984). increases in cucumber in an autumn–­
As a rule of thumb, a minimum supply winter cycle of the order of 50% (Sánchez-
of 4.5 g m−2 h−1 CO2 is recommended, or its Guerrero et al., 2001), duplicating the
equivalent as natural gas combustion gases increases obtained by the use of heating
(Van Berkel and Verveer, 1984), to maintain alone. In green bean, the increases are
high levels (up to 1000 vpm CO2) in closed smaller (Lorenzo et al., 1997c). Never­
greenhouses and to avoid important CO2 theless, the most economic use of both
depletions in ventilated greenhouses. For techniques may involve different yield
economic reasons, the supply must not be increases, depending on the different heat-
greater than 4.5 g m−2 h−1 of CO2. ing and CO2 enrichment set points used,
160 Chapter 9

and the associated costs of the inputs in 9.3  Light

relation to the corresponding values of the
produced yields. 9.3.1  Introduction
Nowadays, in sophisticated facilities,
it is possible to carry out dynamic control Light regulation is practised in a greenhouse
of the CO2 supply. The CO2 enrichment for the following reasons: (i) to alter the
threshold varies depending on the heat length of daylight hours (increasing or
demand conditions, radiation, wind speed reducing them); (ii) to interrupt the dark-
and opening of the vents and this is repre- ness at night (briefly, for regulation of pho-
sented in Plate 20 (Nederhoff, 1995). A toperiod); (iii) to extend or reduce the dark
high CO2 set point (line A in Plate 20) is period of the night using artificial light or
used if the heating is independent of venti- darkening screens; (iv) to increase photo-
lation and radiation. Line B is taken as the synthesis (complementing the naturally
set point when heating is not required and available light and/or extending the length
radiation exceeds a certain threshold. If the of the day with artificial light, Photo 9.3);
radiation is lower than a pre-fixed value and (v) to decrease the light intensity (e.g.
and heating is not used the CO2 set point with shading screens when the air tempera-
follows line C. A last option for a CO2 set ture gets too high).
point is chosen when the greenhouse is The objective is to maximize photosyn-
highly ventilated (from a certain percent- thesis by maximizing the light interception
age, the ‘Min.’ line). How far the vents are (PAR) by the greenhouse, which involves
open (the percentage), which is determined optimizing its design and orientation. In
by the wind speed among other parameters, order to make the radiation useful for pho-
influences the CO2 thresholds (Plate 20); tosynthesis it must be intercepted by the
an increase in the wind speed moves lines crop, which will require the crop rows to be
B and C towards the left. appropriately orientated (north–south) and
The grower can maintain a higher CO2 a proper arrangement and density of the
level when using carbon enrichment by plants (lower in winter than in high radia-
avoiding ventilation but it does not seem tion seasons), depending on the species,
advisable. cultivar and crop conditions.

Photo 9.3.  Artificial light is used in areas where there is a deficit of solar radiation.
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 161

Under normal conditions, the LAI of light to the crop, such as: (i) painting the
(leaf area index) is an indicator of the greenhouse structural components white;
light interception (see Chapter 6). During (ii) applying a white plastic film as soil
the first stages of the crop a high plant mulch (Hernandez et al., 2001); and (iii) in
density allows for better light intercep- general making extensive use of other light-
tion, so early production will increase (in reflecting materials.
relation to a normal density). Once the A usual practice is to use reflecting
crop covers all the available space the walls, such as in the lean-to greenhouses in
plant density is less relevant. A high China (Fig. 7.5). Several reflection devices
planting density involves a decrease in have been proposed to increase radiation,
the quality of the product in most species, but they are usually uneconomic. However,
and beyond a certain threshold a decrease the reflectors perform well with direct light
in yield, when expressed on a per unit and not with diffuse light, and unfortunately
area basis. the highest interest for increasing the light
When the solar radiation is insufficient, availability is in the winter months when
it may be complemented with artificial diffuse radiation prevails (Hanan, 1998).
light, to increase the PAR level above the Artificial light is the most reliable and
radiation compensation point and maintain effective method to increase the light
an active growth. The positive effect of an availability.
increase of the PAR on the growth is more
relevant at low PAR levels (Hanan, 1998).
Artificial light may also be used to extend
the period of photosynthetic activity in the 9.3.3  Artificial light to increase
winter season. In vegetable cultivation in the illumination
the Mediterranean area, artificial light is not
economically feasible in most cases. The The use of supplementary artificial light
vegetables usually grown in greenhouses is common in sophisticated greenhouses
are insensible to photoperiod, under normal for high added value crops, in latitudes
conditions, but tomato, as an example, will above 40°N in America and 50°N in
become chlorotic when the day length Europe (Nelson, 1985). The main goals of
exceeds 18 h. supplementary light are to increase photo-
Whitening the greenhouse cover is effi- synthesis (daytime illumination) and to
cient at decreasing excess temperatures in extend the length of the day (photoperiod)
the high radiation season but it notably lim- which allows for an increase of the accu-
its radiation, which involves a decrease in mulated daytime radiation (Huijs, 1995).
the potential yield (Morales et al., 2000). It Traditionally, its most popular use has been
is preferable to improve the ventilation sys- in cut flower crops (rose and chrysanthe-
tem to limit thermal excesses. The use of mum) and during the first growth stage of
permanent shading screens has similar young plants, but in the last decade the use
effects to whitening (Pérez Parra et al., of artificial light has also spread to other
2003c). The use of mobile screens, which flower species (Moe et al., 1992) and, to a
are deployed only during the hours around limited extent, to high-tech greenhouse
midday when the radiation is too high (and ­vegetable production areas of northern
so is the temperature), is another option of countries.
possible interest. The types of greenhouse lamps are:
(i) incandescent; (ii) fluorescent; and (iii) high-
intensity discharge lamps. The recent inno-
vation on the use of LEDs (light emitting
9.3.2  Light increase diodes) for lighting appears very promising,
but needs further research on its use. The
Inside the greenhouse, various techniques incandescent lamps have a very low energy
have been used to improve the availability efficiency in converting electricity into PAR
162 Chapter 9

(around 6%) emitting most of the energy in the PAR interval, so that the emitted radi­
the IR range (Baille, 1993); they are used to ation is as similar as possible to the PAR.
control the photoperiod, or to complement When selecting lamps for complemen-
other lamps, as they can induce a morpho- tary illumination, the characteristics of
genic response. radiation emission of morphological signifi-
Fluorescent lamps are more efficient cance to plants (red light and far red light)
than the incandescent, with around 20% must be considered, besides their energy
efficiency of conversion into PAR (Baille, efficiency (PAR conversion) and the prox-
1993). They usually produce white light, imity of the emitted light spectrum with
although there are different types. that of the PAR. The most commonly used
Fluorescent lamps are used effectively for are the high-pressure sodium lamps, with
germination and during the initial stages of 400–450 W of power. They are usually
growth in growth chambers (or rooms) installed so that there is one lamp for up to
because they can be placed close to the every 10 m2, and this provides an installed
plants, but are rarely used in greenhouses, power of 50 W m−2, and a useful PAR level
as they are not compact and cause large of 10 W m−2 (Urban, 1997a). These lamps
shadows, limiting the daytime radiation are usually positioned at between 1.5 and
(Hanan, 1998). 2 m high, in frames of 2.2 × 2.2 m and 3.2 ×
The high-intensity discharge lamps are 3.2 m, to cover between 5 and 10 m2 per
used when high-intensity radiation levels lamp (Hanan, 1998; Photo 9.4).
are required. Among these types of lamps The uniformity in the light distribu-
we can find the mercury, the halogen, low tion at plant level must be assessed and
pressure sodium, high pressure sodium and the shadows caused by the lamps limited
xenon (Baille, 1993). The ones with better as much as possible, with the aim of mini-
energy efficiency (of PAR conversion) are mizing any decrease in solar radiation
the halogen lamps and the sodium (low and caused. Therefore, it is preferable to use
high pressure) lamps, which reach efficien- rectangular reflectors which provide a rec-
cies of 26–27% (Baille, 1993). tangular light distribution, rather than
A primary aspect to consider is the ­circular reflectors which distribute the
radiation emission spectrum of the lamp, in light in circular shapes hindering light

Photo 9.4.  Lamps for complementary artificial illumination.

Air Movement in the Greenhouse 163

uniformity (Hanan, 1998). Specialized The use of artificial illumination

computer software is available to assist in has  not spread in the south of Europe.
the optimization of the positioning of the Artificial light is more used in the north
electric lamps across the greenhouse area of Europe, where, in the proximity of the
and above the plants. cities, its use is forbidden in the early
The illumination system is usually morning and at night for environmental
switched on when the natural PAR radi­ reasons (including a potential alteration
ation level is below 10 W m−2 (Baille, of the biological rhythms of humans). If
1999) or 15 W m−2 (Kamp and Timmerman, its use is restricted it becomes difficult to
1996), extending the day length up to a make it profitable.
total of 12–16 h, but not exceeding 18 h as In order to lengthen the useful life of
this would be harmful for some crops, the lamps, they must not be frequently
although some species such as lettuce switched on and off. It is recommended to
will benefit from constant illumination keep them on for at least 20 min, in the case
(Nelson, 1985). However, constant illumi- of photosynthesis lamps, and switching
nation may cause leaf abscission in some them off for 10–15 min, before switching
species, and is counterproductive in them on again (Van Meurs, 1995).
tomato (Hanan, 1998). The recommended The lamps return a great deal of the
illumination levels in vegetables range energy consumed as heat (in the order of
between 12 and 24 W m−2 PAR in cucum- 75%), which decreases the heating require-
ber, pepper and tomato, and between 12 ment, an aspect to consider in the manage-
and 48 W m−2 PAR for aubergine and let- ment of heating systems.
tuce (Hanan, 1998). When the PAR is very The lamps must be protected from the
low, the artificial light may double the fog systems. The profitability of the supple-
photosynthesis rate; as for example when mentary illumination depends highly on
increasing PAR from 15 W m−2 (without the ability of the grower to optimize the
complementary light) to 30 W m−2 (Kamp growing conditions, with the aim of avoid-
and Timmerman, 1996). ing other factors limiting productivity.
Pioneering work on the effects/bene-
fits of artificial light on greenhouse crops
(first on flowers and then on vegetable 9.3.4  Partial light reduction
crops) that started in Canada and the
Scandinavian countries in the last couple There are many methods to decrease the
of decades of the 20th century (Tsujita, solar radiation in greenhouses. The most
1977; Blain et al., 1987; Gislerød et al., simple is to whitewash (i.e. spray the out-
1989) has now spread to many countries. side with white paint) the greenhouse, but
Many new findings have been reported in this does not allow for easy reversal of the
proceedings of frequent international sci- shading effect (Photo 9.5).
entific symposia in the first decade of the The usual objective is to reduce the
21st century (Dorais, 2002, 2011; Moe, radiation to limit high temperatures in
2006; De Pascale et al., 2008). the high radiation season. But if this radi-
The supply of power for illumination is ation reduction involves a PAR reduction,
usually expensive, so it is frequent to resort as normally happens with conventional
to cogeneration (simultaneous production shading screens or with whitewash, it
of heat, used for heating, and electricity), generates a decrease in growth and yield.
which is more efficient and cheaper, Therefore, whenever possible, it is prefer-
although it requires a higher initial invest- able not to shade but to increase the
ment. Using inter-lighting, instead of lights capacity of the cooling system, which in
only on top of the crop, and LEDs can sub- most cases means more and better
stantially increase light and energy effi- ventilation.
ciency (Heuvelink and González-Real, 2008; It may be that, due to fruit quality prob-
Montero et al., 2010). lems (for instance, sun scald in tomato or
164 Chapter 9

Photo 9.5.  Whitening of the greenhouse cover.

pepper), we wish to shade, in which case a 9.3.5  Control of the duration

PAR decrease must be avoided using mobile of day/night
shading screens (Hanan, 1998).
The main problem of the screens is that In greenhouses the duration of the day can
they are a nuisance when they are folded be manipulated, altering the photoperiod,
and limit the light transmission. There are to control the flowering of some ornamental
several types of rails, folding (by hanging species, by means of their action on
wire or by rails) and rolling equipment. phytochrome.
They can be placed inside or above the In relation to photoperiod, there are
greenhouse, and must be mobile so they can two categories regarding the response of
be deployed to move the screens when the plants to the alternation of day (light) and
light levels are low. night (dark): (i) short-day plants, which
If they are used only for shading, tex- flower or accelerate their flowering when
tiles with white or aluminium bands and the duration of the day is shorter than its
with holes for air exchange are commonly critical photoperiod, normally less than
used. Their light reduction usually ranges 12  h; and (ii) long-day plants, in which
from 20 to 80%. The light distribution may flower induction occurs only when the day
be unequal, but it is better in the screens length is longer than its critical photope-
without aluminium bands. If they are also riod, usually more than 12.5 h. In some spe-
used for energy-saving purposes, lower cies of long-day plants the certain threshold
porosity screens must be used that still have in the 24 h cycle is related to the accumu-
openings to allow the air to pass to avoid lated radiation. Those plants whose flower-
high humidity levels. ing is not dependent on the photoperiod
The use of coloured screens alters the are the day-neutral plants. The response
quality of the light (Mortensen and Roe, mechanism to photoperiod is based on the
1992). The use of light diffusing additives in existence in the plants of a sort of 24 h
the plastic films decreases direct light while clock, marking the so-called circadian
increasing diffuse light. rhythms (Hanan, 1998).
For more details on screens, see In assessing the duration of the day and
Chapter 4. the night, the plant’s biological clock may
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 165

distinguish a 5-min difference in a 24-h Photoperiodic artificial light

cycle (Nelson, 1985). The signal of passing
from day to night is the decrease in light With the aim of altering the photoperiod of
intensity. For the majority of the plants, the sensitive plants the length of the day can
night corresponds to a radiation intensity be extended or the duration of the night
lower than 0.05–0.1 W m−2 (Hart, 1988). interrupted with low intensity photoperi-
odic illumination, typically of 0.4 W m−2,
Darkening screens obtained normally with incandescent lamps
or sometimes with fluorescent lamps
To achieve long nights darkening screens (Urban, 1997a). Nelson (1985) estimated a
are usually placed over the crops, to obtain minimum light threshold to achieve this
short daylight conditions (Photo 9.6). The was 0.5 W m−2 PAR.
solar radiation transmission in these screens The photoperiodic illumination is
must be less than 0.1%, which can be used cyclically: for instance, in chrysan-
achieved with black PE films or with black themum, switching on from 6 to 10 min
textiles (Bakker et al., 1995). every half an hour, between 22 p.m. and
The shading screens must be dark 3  a.m. (Urban, 1997a), which allows the
enough as to avoid light intensities greater greenhouse to be divided into sectors
than 0.1 W m−2 PAR (see Table 2.2). In order (between three and five sectors of sequen-
to limit excess warming of these screens, tial and consecutive lighting) decreasing
materials that are reflective (aluminized or installation costs. The radiative supply of
white in the upper part and black in the the incandescent lamps in the PAR range is
lower part) and also slightly permeable to low (6–12% of consumed energy), and the
air must be used. They must be deployed rest is transformed into heat. The light pro-
after noon. duced by incandescent lamps is approxi-
The typical long-night treatment con- mately of the same wavelengths as solar
sists of deploying the darkening screen for radiation, although its distribution is dif-
12 or 14 h, to limit the light below 0.1 W m−2 ferent (Seeman, 1974), but a high propor-
PAR (Nelson, 1985). tion is in the red light range, which is

Photo 9.6.  Low-cost greenhouse equipped with a darkening screen and source of illumination for
photoperiodic control of a chrysanthemum crop.
166 Chapter 9

required by phytochrome, making it suit­ •• Greenhouse CO2 enrichment is usually

able for its use in photoperiodic control done by means of pure CO2 injection or
(Nelson, 1985). CO2 produced by combustion. The gen-
eration of CO2 by decomposition of
organic matter, used in the past, is now
9.4  Summary very rare. The supply of pure CO2 is
the most expensive method.
•• The air movement in the greenhouse, •• CO2 produced by combustion must be
besides avoiding temperature stratifica- free of harmful gases, so the fuels used
tion, is of great importance to the crop, must be ‘clean’, especially with a low
affecting photosynthesis, transpiration content of sulfur. The combustion must
and water use, and therefore, growth be complete, to avoid the formation of
and yield. An absence of air move­ other harmful gases (carbon monoxide,
ment has a negative effect on crop ethylene).
production. •• The gases most commonly used to gen-
•• The optimum values of air velocity erate CO2 are natural gas and the LPGs
in greenhouses are of the order of (propane and butane). In heating boil-
0.5–0.7 m s−1. To achieve such values, ers that use natural gas, the combustion
fans are used that move the interior air, gases of the boiler are normally used as
with flows of 0.01 m3 s−1 per square a source of CO2.
metre of greenhouse. •• CO2 supplies to the greenhouse, for eco-
•• Increases in the CO2 air content gener- nomic reasons, do not normally exceed
ate an increase in photosynthesis, with 4.5 g m−2 h−1 of CO2 during working
a subsequent increase in yield, whose hours.
value depends of the CO2 level and the •• Greenhouse light regulation allows for
climate conditions. Anticipated yield altering the length of the day or to inter-
increases are higher with the joint use rupt the duration of the night (by use of
of CO2 enrichment and heating. darkening screens or artificial light) as
Nevertheless, the profitability in their well as to achieve higher light levels to
use must be determined by the specific increase photosynthesis, complement-
management of the CO2 enrichment, in ing natural light and lengthening the
each case. duration of the day with artificial light.
•• In low-tech greenhouses, notable deple- The use of shading systems allows for a
tions of CO2 are observed, in high radia- reduction of the intensity of solar
tion conditions, frequently exceeding radiation.
20–30%. •• The increases in the light available
•• Ventilation is the cheapest method to for the crop can be obtained by means
limit CO2 depletion (due to the plants’ of cheap techniques, such as the use
use of CO2 for photosynthesis) in the of reflecting materials (white mulch
greenhouse air, below the normal levels and others) or painting the surface of
(350 ppm). the structural elements white. Nor­
•• Nowadays, the maximum appropri- mally artificial supplementary light
ate level of CO2 in the air, in practice, is  not used under Mediterranean
is 1000 ppm for the majority of conditions.
crops. •• The partial reduction of solar radiation
•• In Mediterranean greenhouses, the is practised, mainly, as a means to limit
most efficient carbon enrichment high temperatures in poorly venti­­lated
strategy is to maintain levels of greenhouses. It is normally done by
350  ppm of CO2, by injection, when means of whitening or using shading
the vents are open and, when closing screens. The use of perman­ent shading
the vents, to raise the level to 600– (whitening or permanent screens)
700 ppm. ­generates a continuous decrease of
Air Movement in the Greenhouse 167

radiation, which involves a yield reduc- allow for shortening the length of the
tion. Therefore, it is preferable to use day, and with photoperiodic artificial
mobile screens. light (of low intensity), which inter-
•• The control of the duration of day/ rupts the length of the night. Most edi-
night, to regulate photoperiod, is done ble vegetables are insensitive to
by means of darkening screens, which photoperiod (see Chapter 6).
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates

10.1  Introduction 10.2  Desirable Characteristics of

Horticultural Soils
Normally the location of the greenhouses
is based, primarily, on the local climatic 10.2.1  Physical and hydraulic
conditions, with little relevance to the soil characteristics
qualities of the chosen location. If the soil
was not appropriate, an extreme remedy Although modern high-frequency irrigation
would be to create an artificial agricul- techniques notably limit the basic function
tural soil, a frequent situation in some of soil being a water and nutrient store,
areas of south-east of Spain and some a loamy or loamy-sandy textured soil would
parts of the Canary Islands, where the be most appropriate for horticultural crops,
crop profitability allowed for such an ideally composed of around 50–60% sand
intervention. and well supplied with organic matter.
The problem of soil exhaustion, in A texture of this type with no gravel, stones
many cases due to monoculture, decades and boulders and that is well balanced chem-
ago induced the system of greenhouse ically, normally has good hydraulic and
‘rotation’, displacing them by means of chemical characteristics (see Chapter  11).
special devices (Photo 10.1) or simply A  proper structure provides for good por­
changing their location (usual in tunnel- osity (basic for the root aeration) contribut-
type greenhouses, in the north of ing to a balanced permeability which is so
Africa). ne­cessary in protected crops.
A later innovation was the use of inert An aspect that is often neglected is the
substrates and the development of soilless drainage conditions of the greenhouse soil.
crops, which insulate the root media from If necessary, the soil should be provided
the soil, notably limiting soil-borne disease with an artificial drainage network.
The water and nutrient reserves of a
good horticultural soil are higher than 10.2.2  Chemical characteristics
those of a substrate, and so the margin of
error is much smaller when growing in A proper cation exchange capacity (CEC),
substrate. a  balanced pH (from 6.0 to 7.5, if possible)

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

168 2nd edition (N. Castilla)
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 169

Photo 10.1.  Decades ago, in certain cases in England, to avoid soil-borne problems greenhouses were
moved from one location to another, in a peculiar form of crop-rotation system.

and the absence of salinity or alkalinity prob- potential of the soil solution, and for horti-
lems (electric conductivity of the saturated cultural cultivation it is advisable to discard
extract (ECe) lower than 4 dS m−1 with an soils whose ECe exceeds the threshold of
exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP) lower 3–4 dS m−1 (Dasberg, 1999a), except in extreme
than 10) would be desirable generic qualities, situations and for very tolerant crops.
but these are not always achiev­able in a hor-
ticultural soil used for protected cultivation.
The soil depth in horticultural crops is 10.2.3  Considerations on the
usually not as limiting as in other crops, management of greenhouse soils
due to their smaller root development, pro-
vided that good drainage is available. The In horticultural protected cultivation,
soil depth must be at least 30–40 cm. besides the usual soil cultural practices, the
The higher the CEC, the higher will be biological status of the soil must be espe-
the buffering capacity of the soil, limiting the cially considered (presence of parasites and
risks of fertilization errors. The organic mat- soil-borne diseases). The incorporation of
ter content is very closely linked to the cli- organic matter in the soil (primarily to
matic conditions, which determine the improve its physical and hydraulic charac-
speed of mineralization, and which is very teristics) must include efforts to monitor the
relevant to the important nitrogen supplies salinity and alkalinity conditions along
it produces. In Mediterranean climates, with the availability of nutrients.
organic matter decomposes very quickly The use of transparent plastic mulch on
and it becomes a source of nitrogen losses. a bare soil during the high radiation season
As the soil is the source of the essential (solarization) has proved to be effective in
nutrients for the plants (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S reducing the phytosanitary problems origin­
and micronutrients) it is necessary to know ating in soils, and, in avoiding or decreasing
their concentration and availability to plan the use of pesticides.
a proper fertilization programme. High soil salinity is very common in
The salinity of the soils affects plant arid regions, especially in coastal areas,
growth because it increases the osmotic where it is common that the irrigation water
170 Chapter 10

is also of high salinity. The decrease in the supply the nutrient solution (drip irrigation,
evaporation of the soil water with mulching sub-irrigation, circulating water, trays or
techniques limits the capillary rise of water floating tables or aeroponics); or (iii) a func-
and salts, decreasing the problems derived tion of the use of drainage (open or free
from salinity. The absence of rain in green- drainage systems and closed or recircula-
houses (except in shelters with perforated tion systems) (Winsor et al., 1990).
covers) decreases the possibilities of salt The proper hydroponic systems most
leaching. In addition, the high doses of ferti- commonly used are: (i) the nutrient film
lizers used can generate saline conditions. technique (NFT); (ii) the deep flow tech-
The use of a sand layer over the soil, nique (DFT); (iii) the floating raft tech-
characteristic of the ‘enarenado’ technique nique (FRT) in which cultivation takes
(used in the south-east of Spain), plays the place on floating polystyrene boards; and
role of mulching, decreasing evaporation (iv) aeroponics. All of these are closed
from the soil and allowing the use of slightly systems. In the NFT a thin layer of nutri-
saline irrigation waters, without yield ent solution flows through gutters that
reduction. contain the roots (Cooper, 1979). The
In this ‘enarenado’ (sand mulching) method known as NGS (new growing sys-
technique manure is also applied, in quanti- tem) can be considered as a variant of
ties of up 100 t ha−1, incorporating part of it NFT. In the floating systems, trays made
into the soil and leaving the rest in a uni- of light-weight synthetic materials float
form layer over the soil. The addition of a over a nutrient solution. In the ­aeroponics
sand layer, of 7–10 cm thickness, over the systems the plants are cultivated in perfor­
manure finalizes the preparation of the ated plastic pads, which separate the aer-
‘enarenado’ (Castilla et al., 1986). ial part from the roots, which remain in
The root development in the sand– the dark in an enclosure where nutrient
organic matter–soil interfaces reaches high solution is fogged with a very high fre-
values of root density (much higher than quency. The aeroponic systems are seldom
those measured in the soil). These high den- used commercially.
sities can be of great interest for the crop, However, the substrate-based systems
providing good aeration of the roots in soils are the ones that have received widespread
of low permeability (Castilla et al., 1986). use in horticulture (Plate 21); a brief descrip-
tion follows.

10.3  Soilless Cultivation

10.3.2  Advantages and disadvantages
10.3.1  Introduction: systems of substrate-grown crops

Soilless cultivation is the system in which The main reasons for the expansion of crops
the plant develops its root system in media grown on substrates have been to avoid soil-
(normally solid or liquid) confined in a lim- borne diseases (in contaminated greenhouses,
ited and isolated space, away from the soil mainly, by monoculture) and for the good
(Abad and Noguera, 1998). Nowadays, the agronomic performances of the crops with
term hydroponics which properly refers to these systems (Urban, 1997b). Furthermore,
water culture (hydroculture), is confused with the development of substrate technolo-
with all the methods and techniques to cul- gies and improvement in their management
tivate plants out of soil in artificial sub- they may improve the efficiency in the use of
strates or in well-aerated nutrient solutions water and nutrients (closed systems), and
(hydroculture) (Pardossi, 2003). also contribute to a reduction in several crop
Hydroponic crops may be classified as: cultural practices in the management of the
(i) a function of the type of substrate or con- soil (Penningsfeld and Kurzmann, 1983;
tainer; (ii) a function of the method used to Savvas and Passam, 2002).
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 171

The higher production and earliness of The substrate must be laid out over a
soilless crops is derived from improvements well-levelled surface, with a certain slope
in the water and nutrients supply, and the (not higher than 1%, if possible) to facilitate
good root oxygenation which results in drainage; otherwise the drainage system
good quality products, if properly managed may be simple or complex depending on
(Morard, 1995). the characteristics of the installation. The
The main disadvantages of substrate- separation of the drained solution from the
grown crops are: (i) their higher initial cost root zone is important to avoid possible dis-
(relative to conventional soil cultivation); ease infections (Fig. 10.1).
(ii) the requirement for highly technical
crop management by the grower; and (iii) the
low buffering capacity of the systems. 10.3.4  Characteristics of the substrates
Because of the limited volume of the sub-
strate involved, the limited availability of Physical properties
water and nutrients requires continuous
monitoring, to avoid failures in the contin- Among the relevant physical characteristics
uous water and nutrient supply, which can of the substrate are: (i) porosity; (ii) water
have disastrous results. The cost of the sub- retention and availability; and (iii) air
strate cultivation system is, nowadays, content.
lower than the implementation of an ‘enare- The total porosity (or total porous
nado’ crop. space) is the total volume of the substrate
Another negative aspect of substrate that is not occupied by organic nor by min-
cultivation is the generation of a high vol- eral particles; its optimum level is greater
ume of solution that drains from the sub- than 85% (Abad and Noguera, 1998). It is
strate, which has to be removed, as well as important to distinguish between the cap-
the substrate waste, the recycling of which illary pores, which retain water, and the
depends on the type of substrate. macropores, which allow for aeration
(Bunt, 1988).
The available or useful water (see
Chapter 11) in substrates, given their physi-
10.3.3  Substrate cultivation systems cal and hydraulic characteristics, lies within
very narrow ranges of matrix tension.
In substrate cultivation systems the nutrient Figure 10.2 shows the water retention curve
solution is supplied in excess from above, of a substrate considered as ideal. The
by means of drippers or micro-sprinklers, or matrix tension values of 1, 5 and 10 cb
from below the substrate, so that it ascends define: (i) the readily available water (RAW)
by capillarity action. The excess supply of contents (between 1 and 5 cb); (ii) the
nutrient solution must be removed by reserve water (RW) (between 5 and 10 cb);
drainage. and (iii)  the not readily available water
Another method to irrigate is by sub- (NRAW) (above 10 cb) of the ideal substrate
irrigation, which is used in pot plants. (Caldevilla and Lozano, 1993).
In relation to the positioning of the sub- The aeration capacity is the propor-
strate in the greenhouse, it may be done in tion of the substrate volume that is occu-
several ways among which we can highlight pied by air, once saturated and drained,
(see Fig. 10.1): (i) in a ditch, isolated from which usually corresponds to 20–30% in
the soil by a plastic film, used with heavy volume (Abad and Noguera, 1998). The
substrates such as sand; (ii) in a gutter, laid height of the container or of the substrate
over the soil (or sand, perlite, etc.); (iii) in slab has a great influence on the air con-
slabs of rockwool or coconut fibre pre- tent of the substrate, because the capillar-
packed in plastic film; (iv) in a plastic bag ity of the water dictates that with low
filled with substrate and laid over the soil height the air content is lower, and vice
(or perlite); and (v) in pots or containers. versa.
172 Chapter 10

Substrate Soil
PE film


Rigid frame

Drain Soil

PE film Rockwool
Drain Soil

PE film
Drain Soil

Fig. 10.1.  Most common substrate cultivation systems.

Chemical properties
The volumetric relations between dif-
ferent geometrical dispositions of perlite The ideal substrate must not only be devoid
(P-2 type, grain size between 0 and 5 mm) and of harmful substances, especially of heavy
of rockwool are shown in Plates 22 and  23, metals, but also it must be chemically inert,
respectively. The value of limiting the which is not the case in some organic
height of the substrate to maximize water substrates.
content can be observed. The CEC (cation exchange capacity)
Other important characteristic of defines the quantity of cations that can be
those substrates that are a mixture of par- fixed per unit volume or weight of the sub-
ticles, which influences the porosity, is strate. Substrates with no or very low CEC
the size distribution of the particles. will be the most convenient. The CEC is
A very important physical property is the important in organic substrates and it is
hydraulic conductivity of the substrate, as advisable to saturate the substrate before its
it has a crucial influence on the avail­ use with calcium supplies, with the aim of
ability of water to the crop. Also of inter- minimizing the CEC, so it does not affect
est are: (i) the capacity of the substrate to the  availability of nutrients scheduled for
­re-wet; (ii) its apparent density; and use in fertilization.
(iii)  how much it contracts in volume Some materials can be acidifying
(Raviv and Lieth, 2008). (e.g.  peat), or cause a basic reaction in
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 173


Tension (cb)

5 Air Water

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100

Volume (%)

Fig. 10.2.  Water retention curves in an ideal substrate (adapted from Caldevilla and Lozano, 1993).
A, percentage of air (25%); RAW, percentage of readily available water; RW, percentage of reserve water;
NRAW, percentage of not readily available water; SM, percentage occupied by solid matter (15%).

the ­solution (e.g. rockwool) at the beginning the substrate that does not interfere with this
of the cultivation, which can be corrected availability will always be preferable.
by accordingly adjusting the pH of the sup-
plied nutrient solution. The optimum pH Biological properties
level of the nutrient solution, for horticul-
tural crops, ranges between 5.5 and 6.5 Substrates of mineral origin are biologically
(Pardossi, 2003). inert (at least at the beginning), which is
In general, a good substrate must be not the case with organic substrates, which
chemically stable, which avoids any are biodegradable and able to release ammo-
release of elements that can generate nia, or phytotoxic substances or growth
problems of salinity or phytotoxicity, or regulating substances. The use of organic
induce undesired precipitations in the substrates with high biodegradability must
solution. be avoided as they contain a lot of plant
The salinity of the substrate can be roots which eventually degrade and become
altered by an imbalance between absorp- a problem.
tion (plus leaching) and supply, or by a The carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio has
high CEC of the substrate, so monitoring been proposed as a biological stability index
the EC of the solution is of paramount for organic-based substrates. A C/N ratio
importance. between 20 and 40 is considered appropri-
In soilless cultivation, the availability ate for substrate cultivation (Abad and
of mineral elements is essential. Therefore, Noguera, 1998).
174 Chapter 10

10.3.5  Types of substrate s­ ubstrate, with no CEC and a slightly

­alkaline pH (that is easily neutralized and
Classification of substrates controlled if the slabs are wetted with an
acidic solution before the beginning of the
From the point of view of their horticultural crop cycle). It has a homogeneous structure
use, substrates can be classified as organic and low density (which eases its transport)
and inorganic (or mineral). The organic and good porosity (Smith, 1987).
­substrates can be of natural origin (peats) or Nowadays, it is one of the most widely
synthetic (polyurethane foams), and also used substrates in Europe, and elsewhere.
include several by-products of natural A  variant of rockwool is fibreglass, which
­origin (sawdust, coconut fibre, cork resi- has a laminar structure (milfoil type) to ease
dues). The mineral substrates can be of nat- the lateral diffusion of the water.
ural origin (sand, gravel) or artificially Expanded perlite is a very light, very
transformed (rockwool, perlite), including porous and well-aerated material. Several
in this group several industrial by-products sizes of perlite are available commercially,
(blast furnace slag). the most popular comprising particles
between 1.5 and 2.5 mm (Morard, 1995).
Criteria for substrate selection Its main problem is its mechanical fragil-
ity which over time degrades its good
Although the best substrate for cultivation porosity and aeration characteristics, as
will vary in each case depending on the spe- the grains break up increasing the propor-
cific use conditions, a good substrate must tion of fine elements. Although initially it
have good physical characteristics (with has a basic reaction, such as rockwool,
high capacity of readily available water after some time it becomes chemically
retention, enough aeration, low apparent neutral.
density, high total porosity and stability of The water retention capacity of perlite
characteristics and of the structure) as well depends on its size. Plate 22 shows the vol-
good biological and chemical properties umetric relations of the water content for
(scarce or no CEC, reduced salinity, slightly different geometrical dispositions of P-2
acid pH and biological stability) (Abad and perlite (grain size of 0–5 mm). In practice,
Noguera, 1998). P-2 perlite bags usually have a diameter of
In addition, obviously, it must have a 15–20 cm in cross-section, are 1.2 m in
cost (in which transportation is very impor- length and contain 40 l (Caldevilla and
tant) that is in line with its performance. It Lozano, 1993). For economic reasons
is also important to consider its availability smaller volumes are also used (33 l).
in each local market. Finally, it must not be The peats are organic materials origi-
forgotten that the choice of substrate must nating from the decomposition of swamp
be in agreement with the technological level plants. They are usually free of pathogens,
of the greenhouse, especially with the capa- despite their organic origin, but have the
bilities of the fertigation system. inconvenience of a high CEC, the ability to
greatly contract when they dry out, and
Most common substrates being very difficult to re-wet.
The blonde peats have good physical
The most common substrates are rockwool, properties and are easy to re-wet, so they are
peat, coconut fibre (coir) and perlite. very convenient for soilless cultivation in
Rockwool has excellent characteristics bags. The black peats are more decomposed
of water retention (Plate 23), being used in than the blonde types and their physical
slabs of 7.5 and, sometimes, 10 cm height properties are inferior to those of the blonde
(usual dimensions 100 × 20 × 7.5 cm or ones. Both peats are commonly used mixed
100 × 15 × 10 cm). For ease of raising trans- with very porous substrates, such as poz-
plants seeds are sown in rockwool cubes. zolana or pumice (Penningsfeld and
Rockwool can be considered an inert Kurzmann, 1983; Urban, 1997b).
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 175

The barks are light and well-aerated The joint selection of the substrate
substrates, but retain little water. Their C/N and the soilless growing system
ratio is high and they absorb a lot of N as
they decompose. Other agricultural and for- The choice of the substrate determines the
est by-products (e.g. wood waste, pressed system to be used and vice versa, so they
grape rests) are used in mixes for pots. must be considered together.
Coconut fibre (coir) has properties The simplest cultivation system is the
closer to rockwool rather than to forest by- use of ditches (Fig. 10.1), whose large ­volume
products, being widely used in the form of provides greater inertia than other systems.
plasticized slabs and in polystyrene con- Scheduling of irrigation (see Chapter  11)
tainers for substrate-grown horticultural and fertilization can be done by a timer. The
crops, although its CEC complicates its best adapted substrates are sands, gravels,
management, in relation to inert materials perlite, pozzolana and volcanic gravels and
(García and Daverede, 1994). There are barks, alone or mixed with peat.
important qualitative differences in the Gutters (Fig. 10.1) that are located over
coconut fibre depending on its origin. the soil or suspended have a smaller vol-
The use of pozzolana (pumice) and vol- ume of substrate than the ditches, so irriga-
canic gravels is limited to those areas in tion scheduling must be more precise than
which they are naturally found, such as in with ditches, using a demand tray (see
the Canary Islands, where they are known Chapter 11) or calculated as a function of
as ‘picon’, or in Mexico (‘tesontle’). Their the intercepted radiation. The most suitable
properties vary depending on their origin substrate materials are perlite, bark,
and texture. expanded clay and pozzolana.
The sands and gravels of siliceous ori- In the light bags or slabs (Fig. 10.1) irri-
gin are preferable to those of calcareous gation is scheduled by means of a demand
­origin. As they are abundant everywhere, tray or as a function of the accumulated
they were used when substrate cultivation radiation and the drainage, usually requir-
first began to expand. Their main disadvan- ing the use of a computer to manage the fer-
tage is their heavy weight. The most appli- tigation. The most usual substrates are
cable sand sizes range between 0.2 and rockwool and coir (coconut fibre) for the
2.0 mm, and the best gravel varies from 2 to slabs and perlite, blonde peat, expanded
5 mm (Urban, 1997b). The gross materials clay, bark and volcanic materials for the
(gravels) require a high irrigation frequency bags. Sometimes, bags and slabs are isolated
due to their low water retention capacity. placing an expanded polystyrene board
Sands and gravels are commonly used in below to ease the runoff of the leachate
mixtures for open field pots, because, due to (Fig.  10.1) and, possibly, the incorporation
their weight, they provide the pots with sta- of a root heating pipe.
bility against the wind.
Vermiculite is an industrial transforma- Closed systems (with recirculation)
tion of mica, and is light, porous, well aer-
ated and with good water retention capacity With the aim of avoiding contaminating the
(Zuang and Musard, 1986). It is usually aquifers with the drainage solution from
used in mixtures. soilless growing systems, systems have been
Expanded clay has good physical developed whereby the drainage water is
characteristics, but its low water retention recirculated. These are also known as closed
capacity, which forces a higher irrigation systems, and they require good quality
frequency, and its high price have water. In these systems, where irrigation
restricted its use to pot crops (Zuang and is coupled with drainage and recirculation
Musard, 1986). of the excess solution (usually in the order
Polyurethane foam is very durable, is of 20–30%), the environmental impact is
light, inert and recyclable, but it has a low avoided or minimized but the danger of
water retention capacity. propagating diseases with the recirculating
176 Chapter 10

solution increases, necessitating disinfec- (water and nutrients injected in the mixing
tion of the return solution (Dasberg, 1999a; tank), if all of the drainage water is used.
Marfá, 2000). The drainage percentage is Recirculation systems require good lev-
limited by the capacity of the disinfection elling of the land, with uniform slopes of
system and by the risk of root asphyxia. The 0.5%, and may adopt different arrange-
more drainage the better will be the control ments (Fig. 10.4).
of salination of the recirculating solution. In order to prevent the propagation of
When the water is of good quality it is diseases it is necessary to disinfect the
possible to use closed systems, but if the drainage water. For this, the most usual pro-
water is of medium quality it will be advis- cedures are (Kempes, 2003): (i) to heat the
able to use semi-closed systems (flushing nutrient solution, at least, to 95°C for 30 sec;
out or periodically discarding the concen- (ii) to apply UV radiation, within the range
trated recirculating solution) and when the of 200–315 nm in darkness, to inactivate the
water is of poor quality it will be necessary pathogens; (iii) to filter the drainage water,
to use open systems, or to clean the source by means of a membrane or sand beds; the
water by reverse osmosis. In open systems it majority of pathogens are eliminated with
is essential to have good irrigation schedul- pore sizes between 0.01 and 10 mm; and
ing (doses and frequency), the absorption of (iv)  chemical treatment with chloride,
nutrients being less relevant, whereas in ozone, hydrogen peroxide or bleach.
closed or semi-closed systems it is the oppo- When salts accumulate excessively in
site (Sigrimis et al., 2003). the mixing tank (Fig. 10.3), it will be neces-
The simplest closed system (Fig. 10.3) sary to discard the drainage water (i.e. to
uses a mixing tank where the nutrient solu- flush it out), in order to eliminate the salts.
tion is added to the drainage water that is
being recirculated. Then, irrigation is per- Salinity in soilless growing systems
formed from the mixing tank. The system
has, at least, one output (water and nutri- The total salt content in the irrigation water,
ents absorbed by the plants) and one input expressed by the electric conductivity (EC),

Re-filling solution

Water storage

Constant EC

Mixing tank
Lixiviate Drainage

Fig. 10.3.  Scheme of a simple soilless closed growing system (with recirculation).
The Root Medium: Soil and Substrates 177

Salinity also limits the leaf expansion

(Hsiao, 1973) and increases the incidence of
blossom end rot (BER) in the fruit (Dorais
et al., 2001a).
In the majority of crops the minimum
average concentration of the nutrient solu-
tion required is in the order of 1.5 dS m−1
(Sonneveld, 2003), although the production
of high quality vegetable fruits may require
EC levels as high as 2.5–3.0 dS m−1 in the
nutrient solution (Pardossi, 2003), or even
higher (Dorais, 2001a, b, 2008) under cer-
tain conditions. The postharvest useful life
of some fruits, such as tomato or cucumber,
improves if they are cultivated at high salin-
ity (Welles et al., 1992), which is not the
case for pepper.
The negative effect of salinity on crops
Drain Drain
can be mitigated by limiting the transpira-
tion rate, by means of VPD and radiation
Fig. 10.4.  Different arrangements for drainage reduction (Li et al., 2001), for which under
collection in substrate-grown crops. Mediterranean conditions positive effects
have been observed with shading (Lorenzo
et al., 2003) and fogging (Montero et al.,
is an index of the quality of the irrigation 2003), although this may involve an increase
water. The main effect of salinity in the of BER in fruits like tomato.
water or the nutrient solution is osmotic,
because the higher the salt content the higher
is the osmotic pressure of the solution.
10.4  Changes in the Management
Osmotic pressure (MPa) of the Root Medium
  = 0.33 EC (dS m−1) (10.1)
As the osmotic pressure increases, the water Traditionally, the root medium fulfilled
stress increases as the water is less available three main functions: (i) water storage;
for the plants. The effects of salinity in the (ii) nutrient supply; and (iii) plant support
production, both quantitatively and qualita- (Dasberg, 1999a). These three functions
tively, are complex as they are influenced have lost relevance in modern greenhouse
also by different growing conditions production systems.
(Sonneveld, 1988). Other salinity effects are The plants are not supported by the
those influencing the nutrition as the root system, but with a complex framework
absorption of specific ions is altered, such of threads and training nets. The nutrient
as the antagonism of sodium with calcium and water supply is regulated more and
and magnesium, or generating toxicity, in more by the grower (and his or her comput-
the case of ions without osmotic relevance ers) in substrate growing systems in accord-
(Dorais et al., 2001b; Sonneveld, 2003). ance with the changing needs of the plants.
The salinity decreases the size of the These conditions made possible the reduc-
fruits and the fresh weight production, tion of the variability in the root medium,
because the high osmotic pressures hinder relative to conventional soil cultivation, but
the water supply to the fruits (Ehret and Ho, need continuous monitoring and control.
1986), although in crops like tomato it con- There is a clear trend towards the use
tributes to improving its organoleptic qual- of  water and fertilizers using closed
ity (Magán, 2003; Dorais et al., 2008). ­systems (recirculating) aimed at limiting
178 Chapter 10

the ­environmental impact of the drainage •• Soilless crops, in addition to their

solution/water, although using such a sys- higher installation costs, require pre-
tem requires the availability of good quality cise monitoring to avoid failures in the
water and/or high investment. water and nutrient supply, which could
be disastrous given the low inertia of
these systems.
10.5  Summary •• Crops grown in solid substrates are the
most prevalent in greenhouses, with
•• The choice of the location of green- perlite, rockwool, sand and gravel as
houses has been based, mainly, on cli- the most popular substrates. Other sub-
matic conditions and if the soil was strates used are coir (coconut fibre),
not suitable in the chosen location, it peat, bark and expanded clay.
was improved, even creating an artifi- •• The main physical characteristics of a
cial soil. substrate are porosity, water retention
•• Although modern high frequency irri- and availability, and air content.
gation techniques limit the function of •• The readily available water in sub-
the soil as a water and nutrient reserve, strates is retained in very limited and
a soil with good physical, chemical and narrow margins of matrix tension.
hydraulic characteristics is always •• A good substrate, besides having good
preferable. physical characteristics and stable
•• High salinity is a common feature of chemical properties (or ideally being
arid region soils, where many of inert), should be biologically stable and
greenhouses are located, and this is inexpensive.
aggravated by the use of more-or-less •• The most common substrate growing
saline water for irrigation. The absence systems in Mediterranean greenhouses
of rain inside greenhouses decreases are ditches, gutters (supported or ele-
the possibilities of combating salinity. vated), slabs and bags. The choice of
Some techniques like mulching or the substrate determines the system to
‘enarenado’ (sand mulching) allow be used and vice versa.
cultivation in soils with slightly •• Closed systems, which recirculate the
saline  water without compromising drainage water, require good quality
production. water. These systems avoid the envi-
•• Soilless cultivation allows for the ronmental impact of eliminating leach-
development of the plant roots in a ate, but the recirculating water must be
medium (solid or liquid) isolated from disinfected, to prevent the propagation
the soil, and thus, avoiding soil-borne of diseases.
diseases. •• The negative influence of salinity in the
•• The reasons for the expansion of soil- production of soilless crops may be
less crops, besides the prevention of the minimized with proper climate control.
soil-borne diseases, has been the good •• The main traditional functions of the
agronomic performances derived from root media (water storage, nutrient sup-
better control of the water supply and ply and plant support) have lost rele-
mineral nutrition, and good root vance in modern (soilless) greenhouse
oxygenation. production systems.
Irrigation and Fertilization

11.1  The Plants and Water that water losses by transpiration are the
­unavoidable cost for the plant in order to be
Water serves a number of basic functions able to fix CO2 from the air, essential for
in  a plant’s life, constituting up to 95% of photosynthesis and plant growth.
fresh weight (Sutcliffe, 1977). Water dis­ Transpiration requires energy (nor­
solves several substances and is the trans­ mally solar) for the water evaporation pro­
port vehicle for the nutrients in plants. By cess. If the energy decreases, transpiration
means of cell turgor it provides rigidity decreases. The energy supplies from the
and gives shape to several plant organs. It is greenhouse heating systems also contribute
necessary for photosynthesis and partici­ to the evaporation process.
pates in a large number of chemical reac­ The majority of the water is absorbed
tions of plant metabolism. In addition, it passively by the roots, as a result of transpi­
allows plants to be cooled through its evap­ ration. When transpiration stops, there is no
oration, by means of transpiration, absorb­ passive absorption of water and nutrients,
ing heat and cooling the leaf surfaces. which can have negative effects for the
plant. Therefore, in areas of low solar radi­
ation some energy is applied to the green­
house by maintaining a certain minimum
11.2  Transpiration pipe temperature to promote transpiration.
The roots can obtain energy, burning
Transpiration may reach up to a maximum sugars, and absorb water actively, when there
of 98% of the total amount of water absorbed is no transpiration or during the night. This
by cultivated plants in their life cycle active absorption can be enhanced by increas­
(Sutcliffe, 1977), but normally it represents ing the soil temperature, and thus, the roots.
95% (Kramer, 1983), the rest being used in Normally, on a sunny day, transpiration
plant metabolism. increases quickly immediately after sunrise
Transpiration takes place, mainly, and, as the roots cannot absorb the transpired
through the stomata of the leaves, which water at the same pace, the plant transiently
must open to capture the required CO2 uses the water stored in its ­tissues. When
for  photosynthesis, and transfers water transpiration decreases, the root absorption
vapour from the plant to the atmosphere restores the water deficit of the tissues, com­
(see Chapter 6). One way of looking at it is pleting rehydration during the night.

© Nicolás Castilla 2013. Greenhouse Technology and Management,

2nd edition (N. Castilla) 179
180 Chapter 11

The maintenance of the turgor of the decreases quickly as the soil surface dries out
cell and tissues, by means of water, is fun­ and it is not rehydrated. When crop develop­
damental for the elongation of the tissues ment is slow, and the plants only slightly
and growth. Therefore, proper levels of shade the soil (intercepting little radiation),
water content must be maintained in the the evaporation can be very important. When
plant, to avoid inducing growth limitations the crop is well developed and shades the
that negatively affect the yield. soil completely, the evaporation is very lim­
Transpiration depends on the intercepted ited, because the plants intercept most of the
solar radiation and on the environmental solar radiation preventing it from being used
humidity at the level of the leaf boundary layer in the evaporation of water from the soil.
(see Chapter 6). Transpiration shows a hyster­ Soil mulching, such as sand mulch
esis in relation to solar radi­ation, from sunrise (‘enarenado’) or with plastic materials,
until noon. At night, the rehydration may totally or partially avoid the evaporation of
involve, on cloudy days, a relevant percentage water from the soil.
of the daily water use (Medrano, 1999). In greenhouses, with crops grown in the
When air humidity decreases, the VPD soil, drip irrigation minimizes the evaporation
(water vapour pressure deficit) increases and (E), wetting much less of the soil surface than
transpiration increases. If this transpiration for example sprinkling irrigation systems.
increase is large, and the water supply by the In soilless crops, the substrate is usu­
roots is low, the stomata will progressively ally covered by a plastic film, so the E com­
close to avoid tissue dehydration. Therefore, ponent of the ET is virtually nil.
in climate controlled greenhouses, an exces­
sive increase of the VPD must be avoided.
The water movement through the soil–plant–
11.4  The Water in the Soil
atmosphere continuum is governed by its
overall potential, so the alteration of the
water potential conditions in the soil or in 11.4.1  Introduction
the plant affect the whole set.
With high ambient humidity and low The water status of the soil is characterized
levels of radiation the transpiration rate is by its capacity to retain water and by its
very low. As nutrient absorption is linked to water potential (energy status of the water
the transpiration rate, these conditions (low in the soil).
radiation and high ambient humidity) may
induce nutrient deficits, especially for  ele­
ments like calcium whose mobility in the 11.4.2  Characterization of
plant is very strongly linked to transpiration. the soil water stress
Under Mediterranean conditions, the
maximum transpiration value for a green­ Water potential
house crop such as tomato is 6 mm day−1
(Jolliet, 1999), although some authors place The most precise way of quantifying the
it in general between 6 and 9 mm day−1, or water available in the soil for absorption by
even 1–1.5 mm h−1 (Kempes, 2003). the plant’s roots is by means of the water
potential in the soil (ysoil). The water poten­
tial is normally measured in pressure units,
11.3  Evapotranspiration using MPa and kPa (1 kPa = 0.001 MPa).
The water potential is a measure of the
Evapotranspiration (ET) is the sum of the free energy of the water and has four com­
water evaporation from the soil surface (E) ponents (matrix (matric) potential, gravita­
and the transpiration (T) or water evapora­ tional potential, osmotic potential and
tion through the plants. pressure potential). The matrix potential
The evaporation (E) from the soil is high (ym) is caused by the forces that retain the
when the soil is wet (e.g. after irrigation) but water in the soil. The osmotic or solutes
Irrigation and Fertilization 181

potential (ys) is caused by the salts dis­ Field capacity (FC)

solved in the soil solution. An approximate
relation is ys = 0.036 EC, expressing ys in The field capacity of a soil is the amount of
MPa, and EC in dS m−1. The gravitational soil moisture or water content held in the
potential (yg) depends on the elevation of soil after excess water has drained away
the particular point. The pressure potential freely for 1 or several days. As most soils do
is caused by the external pressure exerted not drain until they have retained a certain
by the soil’s atmosphere and is usually amount of water and then retain it indefi­
neglected (except in waterlogged soils). nitely, the definition of field capacity is ide­
Normally, under saline conditions and alized and the concept applies more to soils
around field capacity, the main component with a gross texture (i.e. with a large particle
of the water potential is the matrix potential size) (Table 11.1).
(ym). Its value is negative. In practice, the Given the existence of soil layers that
absolute value of ym is used, which is called interfere with the movement of the water in
matrix tension. the soil as well as possible water tables, it is
The characteristic moisture curve of a convenient to measure the field capacity
soil, or water retention curve, represents the in situ (Castilla and Montalvo, 1998).
relationship between matrix potential (or
tension) and water content (Fig. 11.1). Permanent wilting point (PWP)

The permanent wilting point of a soil is

the water content below which the plant
Sandy Sandy-loam Silty-clay wilts and water absorption from the soil
Like the field capacity, PWP it is not a
Matrix tension

constant of the soil and does not depend

only on it. There is no unique value of
water content for which the plants stop
extracting water. For instance, a plant
under a low evaporative demand can
extract more water from a soil than if the
demand is higher, because it has more time
for absorbing water. On the contrary, if the
Fig. 11.1.  The retention curve, or characteristic evaporative demand is high the plant can
moisture curve, of a soil represents the relationship temporarily wilt with water content in the
between the moisture content and the matrix soil that is higher than the permanent wilt­
tension (absolute value of the matrix potential). ing point.

Table 11.1.  Field capacity (FC), permanent wilting point (PWP) and readily available water (RAW) for
soils with different textures.

Moisture content (% dry weight) Available water

holding capacity
Soil texture FC PWP RAW (mm m−1)b

Sandy 6–12 (9)a 2–6 (4) 5 85

Sandy-loam 10–18 (14) 4–8 (6) 8 120
Loam 18–26 (22) 8–12 (10) 12 170
Clay-loam 25–31 (27) 11–15 (13) 14 190
Silty-clay 27–35 (31) 13–17 (15) 16 210
Clay 31–39 (35) 15–19 (17) 18 230
Average value in parentheses.
Available water holding capacity expressed in millimetres of water per metre of soil depth.
182 Chapter 11

The field capacity and permanent wilt­ ­ ercentage of readily available water (RAW).
ing point concepts are idealized. The best In tomato, for instance, for an open field
way to define them, although not perfect, is well-irrigated crop the allowable soil water
by the water tension in the soil (e.g. 0.33 depletion has been established between 30
atmospheres for the FC and 15 atmospheres and 50% of the readily available water
for the PWP). (Castilla, 1995).

Readily available water (RAW)

11.4.3  Measurement of the soil
The readily available water is the difference water content
between the water content at field capacity
and at permanent wilting point.
RAW = FC – PWP (11.1)
The soil water content can be measured by
Tables 11.1 and 11.2 show the FC, PWP and direct procedures, taking soil samples and
RAW values for different soils. drying them in a stove to calculate their
When considering substrates other than gravimetric moisture (in weight), but this is
soil, due to their special characteristics FC a time-consuming process that does not
and PWP are not used. The RAW is found allow for continuous data monitoring.
under very limited ranges of matrix tension If the gravimetric moisture has to be
(see Chapter 10). transformed into volumetric moisture, the
apparent density of the soil is required.
Allowable soil water depletion Several indirect procedures allow for
the evaluation of the volumetric moisture
Although plants can extract available water in the soil. Among them, we can highlight
retained in the soil or substrate, as the avail­ the neutron probe method (nowadays in
able water decreases the plant has difficul­ disuse) and time domain reflectometry
ties in extracting all the required water and (TDR) and frequency domain reflectometry
starts suffering water stress. This threshold (FDR), which, to some extent, will be dis­
moisture value is the allowable soil water cussed later on. A full description of all
depletion and varies depending on the available methods can be found in Raviv
soil  conditions, evaporative demand and and Lieth (2008).
crop development stage. The allowable soil The continuous monitoring of the
water depletion is usually represented as a matrix potential is carried out, normally, by
tensiometers, although electric resistance
sensors can also be used. Monitoring the
Table 11.2.  Readily available water (RAW, in
osmotic potential is commonly practised by
mm m−1), as a function of the soil matrix tension
for different soils. measuring the EC of the soil or substrate
solution. A practical review of their use in
Soil matrix tension greenhouses can be found in Thompson and
(atmospheres) Gallardo (2003).
Soil texture 0.2 0.5 2.5 16
Description of soil moisture sensors
Clay 180 150 80 0
Silty-clay 190 170 100 0 Soil moisture sensors measure the volumet­
Loam 200 150 70 0 ric water content of the soil or matrix poten­
Silt-loam 250 190 50 0 tial. The matrix potential is very close to the
Silty-clay-loam 160 120 70 0 total water potential, if the soil is not saline.
Sandy-clay-loam 140 110 60 0
Sandy-loam 130 80 30 0
matrix potential sensors
Fine sand-silt 140 110 50 0
Tensiometers.  Tensiometers are cheap, sim­
Fine sand-medium 60 30 20 0
ple, easy to use, and require minimum
Irrigation and Fertilization 183

maintenance (Photo 11.1). Tensiometers use house vegetable growing (Thompson and
gauges, but in some models these are being Gallardo, 2003).
substituted by pressure transducers, which
are more precise but more expensive, allow­ volumetric moisture sensors.  In the past the
ing for continuous monitoring. neutron probe was used. Nowadays, it has
Tensiometers perform well within the been substituted by dielectric sensors,
0–80 kPa matrix tension range. To achieve which measure the dielectric constant of
exact readings, the correction by gravity in the soil matrix, deducing the value of the
the water column must be taken into volumetric moisture content in the soil
account, because 10 cm of water column from it. Two methods are used: (i) TDR; and
equals 1 kPa, which in greenhouse irriga­ (ii) FDR.
tion management practice is of little rele­ TDR is based on measuring the trans­
vance. Nowadays, there are tensiometers in mission time of an electromagnetic signal
the market that allow for the automation of along a metallic probe introduced into the
the readings. soil. FDR sensors use the capacitance (the
ability of a body to store an electrical charge)
Electric resistance sensors.  The principle to measure the dielectric constant of the soil
behind electric resistance sensors is that the matrix. FDR sensors have better perform­
electrical resistance between two electrodes ance than those of TDR. A review by
is a function of the water content. The most Thompson and Gallardo (2003) on their use
usual types are plaster blocks, which are of in greenhouses summarizes several aspects
no use where high-frequency drip irrigation about their use.
is used as they do not work efficiently with
high levels of soil moisture. In addition, Management of tensiometers (in the soil)
they do not last long.
Other similar sensors (granular matrix In greenhouse high-frequency drip irriga­
sensors) have improved their performance tion systems, the recommended intervals of
with respect to the plaster blocks, but water tension in the soil lie between 10 and
­tensiometers are more suitable for green­ 20 kPa (for soil with a gross texture, i.e. with

Photo 11.1.  Tensiometers are increasingly used in greenhouses.

184 Chapter 11

large-sized particles), between 10 and 11.5  The Water in the Plant

30  kPa (for soil with medium texture, i.e.
medium-sized particles) and between 20 11.5.1  Introduction
and 40 kPa (for fine textured soil), measured
in the maximum root density zone. These
In herbaceous plants the water constitutes
values are for guidance, and must be
normally more than 80% of their fresh
adjusted depending on each case’s specific
Normally, during the autumn and the
winter in the Mediterranean coast the
matrix tension must be maintained 11.5.2  Characterization of the water
between 20 and 40 cb, because very low in the plant
values (10–20 cb) can generate problems
of root asphyxia; when the evaporative The water content and availability in the
demand increases, in spring and summer, plant can be characterized by direct or indi­
it is advisable to maintain it between 15 rect methods. Among the direct indicators
and 30 cb. are the relative water content, which quan­
Good tensiometer management, besides tifies the water content of a plant tissue, in
fixing the irrigation frequency, allows the relation to its maximum possible value, and
quantities of applied water that are used to the measurement of the plant water poten-
be checked thus avoiding unnecessary tial. Neither of these direct methods is of
leaching and wastage of water. practical application.
Among the indirect indicators of the
Use of moisture sensors in substrates plant water status, besides visual symptoms
(leaf rolling, colour changes, wilting) that
In order to measure the moisture content of only appear under severe water stress con­
substrates very sensitive tensiometers are ditions, we can include: (i) the stomatal
used, whose measuring limits are, normally, conductance; (ii) changes in stem diameter;
between 1 and 10 kPa of matrix tension and (iii) the sap flux; and (iv) the plant tempera­
with special ceramic capsules as the ‘lap­ ture (Gallardo and Thompson, 2003a).
tometers’ (Terés, 2000), which give a very In response to dehydration of the
fast reading. They must be installed so that phloem caused by transpiration and later
there is good contact between substrate and rehydratation, the stems and trunks of
sensor, which is difficult in porous sub­ plants experience contractions and dila­
strates, locating them at the right depth, tions in 24 h cycles. Quantifying these is a
given the variability of water content in the good indicator of the plant’s water status
substrates. (Huguet et al., 1992).
The sap flux that ascends through the
stem (due to transpiration) is another indi­
11.4.4  Quality of the irrigation water cator of the water status of the plant.
When the plant’s water status is good,
In greenhouse crops the assessment of the with a normal transpiration that cools the
irrigation water quality must not be limited plant as water evaporates, the plant’s tem­
to the conventional parameters (see Appendix perature is usually lower than the surround­
1 section A.8), but must include evaluation ing air. If water stress occurs, transpiration
of: (i) the solid elements content (if drip irri­ is limited by stomatal closure increasing the
gation is used); and (ii) its temperature (par­ temperature (Jackson, 1982); this can be
ticularly where significant volumes of water measured using an infrared thermometer.
are applied (i.e. surface irrigation) in The ‘crop water stress index’ (CWSI) has
unheated greenhouses during the cold sea­ been proposed as an indicator of the water
son, to avoid a thermal shock due to low status of the plant (Idso et al., 1981) (see
water temperature). Appendix 1 section A.8.1).
Irrigation and Fertilization 185

11.5.3  Water stress s­ alinity conditions, but the production

will be seriously affected, quantitatively
Water vapour losses from the sub-stomatal and qualitatively.
cavities to the atmosphere in the transpira­ Excessive fertilization, the accumula­
tion process are compensated for by water tion of ions in the vicinity of the roots and
absorption from the soil. the salts supplied by the irrigation water,
A plant is considered to suffer water together with the natural salinity condi­
stress, or water deficit, when the water tions of the soil, are the main causes of
potential in its tissues decreases to the saline stress (Ehret and Ho, 1986) (see
extent that it negatively affects the perform­ ­section 11.7.4).
ance of the physiological processes. In greenhouse horticultural crops, the
The causes of water deficit can be: primary objective of irrigation is to avoid
water stress, but also to avoid undesirable
1.  Low y in the soil, due to low water con­ conditions of salinity at the root level.
tent or to salinity.
2.  High transpiration rate.
3.  High resistance to the water flux in the
11.6  Greenhouse Irrigation
soil or in the plant.
During the hours around midday, in 11.6.1  Introduction
well-irrigated plants, short-term water defi­
cit due to high evaporative demand may Surface irrigation systems, mainly by fur­
occur. rows, that were traditionally used in green­
Long-term water deficits are usually houses are now no longer used. Equally,
caused by progressive depletion of the water there has been a decline in the use of micro-
in the soil. sprinkler systems (at height), and now dif­
ferent high-frequency irrigation systems
(drip, exudation) are widely used.
11.5.4  Effects of water stress
in the plant
11.6.2  Components of the drip
The most sensitive processes to water deficit irrigation system
are: (i) cell elongation; (ii) cell wall synthe­
sis; and (iii) protein synthesis (Hsiao, 1973).
The main components of a drip irrigation
Leaf expansion, that determines the useful
system are: (i) the irrigation/fertilization
leaf area for photosynthesis, is very sensitive
control centre; (ii) the main pipelines and
to water deficit (Hsiao, 1973). The growth of
secondary lines; and (iii) the micro-tubes
the aerial part is much more sensitive to
and emitters or diffusers.
water deficit than the roots’ growth.
The irrigation control centre
It is now known that stomatal closure
(Photo 11.2) is basically composed of filter­
may occur in response to the water status of
ing and fertilization equipment, the pres­
the soil independently of that of the plant, by
sure and flow control elements, and the
means of sending root signals (production of
automatic control equipment (schemati­
abscisic acid), which also influences leaf
cally represented in Fig. 11.2; Montalvo,
expansion (Gallardo and Thompson, 2003a).
1998). It may also incorporate the water
pumping system although this will not be
the case if the water has enough pressure.
11.5.5  Saline stress The filtering equipment is important in
order to avoid physical blockages, particu­
The sensitivity to salinity varies depend­ larly in the emitters. Usually it consists of
ing on the species, cultivar and the age of sand filters, disc and mesh filters. In cases
the plant. A crop can survive under high where there is risk of using water with a
186 Chapter 11

Photo 11.2.  The control centre of a localized irrigation system.

1. Electric valve 6. Fertigation equipment

2. Hydrocyclone 7. Disc or mesh filter
3. Manometer 8. Controller (computer)
4. Sand filter 9. Flow meter
5. Gate valve

8 Mechanisms for automatic

operation in the field (solenoid
valves, volumetric valves)

5 9
2 7
3 3 3 3

Fig. 11.2.  Scheme of a control centre of a localized irrigation system.

high solid content, mainly sand, it is com­ The main and secondary pipelines,
mon to use a separating hydrocyclone to made of plastic materials (PVC or PE), carry
pre-filter the water. the water towards the irrigation pipes (of
The fertilization equipment is an essen­ PE), to which the emitters or diffusers are
tial component for fertigation; fertilizer connected, through which the water is sup­
tanks, venturi injectors and metering pumps plied to the soil or substrate.
being its most common components. In Pressure meters are required to monitor
more sophisticated irrigation control cen­ the performance of the system. These are
tres, pH and electric conductivity probes placed, at least, after the pump and after the
usually complete the system. filters. Flow meters are compulsory in some
Irrigation and Fertilization 187

automated facilities (pump controllers) and attained with a suitable irrigation schedule.
are convenient in all types of facilities in This requires a good knowledge of the crop
order to provide precise information on the water requirements.
amount of water supplied. The most usual The wet soil volume reduction achieved
features that are automated are the irrigation with drip irrigation may generate a corre­
controllers (which manage solenoid valves sponding adaptation of the root system and
at a distance) and the volumetric valves. induce nutrient limitations in the crop; it is
therefore highly recommended that fertilizer
is incorporated in the water with drip irriga­
11.6.3  Management of drip irrigation tion. The small diameter of the emitters and
the slow water flux lead to the accumulation
of materials that can potentially cause par­
Characteristic features of drip irrigation
tial or total blockages. It is therefore neces­
­systems, although not exclusive to them,
sary to filter the water properly and to avoid
are high-frequency irrigation and localized
blockages by means of preventative mainte­
water supply directed to only a part of the
nance and/or by injecting different chemical
potential root zone of the crop (Vermeiren
products (e.g. nitric, phosphoric or sulfuric
and Jobling, 1980). They are the most com­
acid, for pH adjustment; or special chemi­
mon form of high-frequency localized irri­
cals for microbial control) depending on the
gation (HFLI) systems, and require different
type of expected blockages.
management to that of surface or micro-
sprinkler systems.
Good management of drip irrigation
requires a proper knowledge of the water 11.6.4  Water and salts movements
and salts movements (affected by the slow with drip irrigation
and localized supply of small water vol­
umes) to avoid salination of the root zone The movement of water and salts and distri­
on the long term and to achieve, especially bution patterns in the soil with drip irriga­
in areas where water is a scarce resource, tion are of great importance (Photo 11.3),
efficient water use, which will only be not only for the selection of the type of

Photo 11.3.  Knowledge of the characteristics of water movement (a sandy soil is shown) is of great
interest for ideal management of high-frequency localized irrigation systems.
188 Chapter 11

e­ mitters and their density, but also to opti­ Rn = Net water supplied by irrigation (the
mize their management (Bressler, 1977; part of the irrigation water which remains
Fereres, 1981; Castilla, 1985). stored in the root volume and is available
for the crop)
Pe = Effective rain (part of the rain that
remains stored by the root volume and is
11.6.5  Greenhouse irrigation available for the crop)
scheduling (soil-grown crops) AC = Water that enters the root volume by
capillary ascension
As water is a limiting resource in many agri­ ETc = Water evapotranspired by the crop
cultural areas, it must be a basic objective of The soil water balance method is often
its management to optimize its productivity used to calculate how much water to apply
by means of adequate (i.e. avoiding water in surface or sprinkler irrigation.
deficits in the root zone) and efficient irri­ Where HFLI is practised, considering
gation (i.e. maximizing the fraction of the the time interval as the time passed between
applied water that remains stored in the rooted the end of two consecutive irrigation epi­
soil profile and is used later by the crop) to sodes, the initial water content and the final
obtain maximum yields. water content are almost the same (Dq = 0)
Two questions are essential in irriga­ and the net amount of water that must be
tion scheduling: added by irrigation, Rn, becomes:
1.  When to irrigate? (frequency) Rn = ETc − (Pe + AC) (11.3)
2.  How much water to apply?
This is an equation that can be used to carry
The amount of water to apply must compen­ on the previously mentioned accounting,
sate for the evapotranspired water corrected starting from the moment at which the soil
as a function of the application efficiency stores all the retainable water.
(assuming that the water content of the soil The effective rain (Pe) is non-existent in
is quite stable under drip irrigation given a greenhouse and the capillary ascension
its high frequency). Where saline water is (AC) is negligible in the Mediterranean area,
used, the supply must be increased to cover because the water table is deep. Therefore,
the leaching requirements as described by Rn = ETc.
several authors (Ayers and Westcot, 1976; In HFLI, when the density of drippers
Doorenbos and Pruitt, 1976; Vermeiren and is high, such as in greenhouse horticultural
Jobling, 1980; Veschambre and Vaysse, crops, the volume of wet soil in many cases
1980). Other components of the water bal­ is close to 100%.
ance are irrelevant for greenhouse drip irri­ In low frequency irrigation systems, the
gation (Castilla, 1987), except for rain in the time for irrigation comes when the ‘allowable
case of a perforated greenhouse cover. soil water depletion’ is achieved in the soil
Various methods can be used to calcu­ (section 11.4.2). When irrigating, water is re­­
late the irrigation schedule in a greenhouse. placed up to field capacity, providing the soil
with the maximum amount of useful water.
Method based on calculating the water In HFLI the irrigation frequency is
balance in the soil much higher and is fixed as a function of
other parameters, mainly by matrix tension
The most simple expression for soil water in practice (as described later).
balance is:
q1 − q2 = Dq = Rn + Pe + AC − ETc (11.2) Determination of the ETc

where: The ET depends on: (i) the climate para­

Dq = q2 – q1 = The difference of moisture meters; (ii) the availability of water in the
content at the beginning (1) and the end (2) soil; and (iii) the crop. When the ET
of the considered period ­requirements are not fulfilled, the crop can
Irrigation and Fertilization 189

suffer water stress and yield losses when The evaporation pan acts by integrating
the deficit is large. the climate conditions (radiation, wind,
The quantification of the crop eva­ temperature and humidity). It consists of a
potranspiration (ETc) or maximum ET of the cylindrical pan, made of galvanized steel,
crop, which would involve the maximum diameter 121 cm and height 25.5 cm, sup­
yield under non-limiting water supply con­ ported by a wooden platform that stands
ditions, is: 15  cm over the soil. It is filled with water
that must be clear and its level must always
ETc = Kc × ET0 (11.4)
be maintained between 5 and 7.5 cm below
where Kc is the crop coefficient, whose the edge of the pan. Measurement of the
value depends on the crop (size and devel­ water level is done by means of a lim­nimeter
opment stage, transplant or sowing date) ­provided with a micrometric screw and the
and ET0 is the reference evapotranspiration difference between two consecutive meas­
which is taken as standard and depends on urements is the evaporation in the period
the existing climate conditions. between the measurements. There are also
In order to estimate the ET0 several other models.
methods have been proposed by the Food Daily readings are recommended, in
and Agriculture Organization of the United the early hours of the day. For the previous
Nations (FAO) (Doorenbos and Pruitt, 1976). calculations the average of the daily evapo­
In greenhouses, the Class A evaporation pan ration readings must be used, over the
method (Photo 11.4) is easy to apply. It esti­ period of at least 1 week.
mates the value of ET0 as a function of the The value of the Kp depends on the
evaporation from a water surface (E0): general climate conditions and the sur­
rounding environment (Doorenbos and
ET0 = Kp × E0 (11.5)
Pruitt, 1976).
where: Therefore, the ETc in the pan method
ET0 = Reference ET would be:
Kp = Pan coefficient
E0 = Evaporation from a water surface ETc = K c × Kp × E0 (11.6)

Photo 11.4.  Class A evaporation pan.

190 Chapter 11

The coefficient Kc depends on the crop and The evolution of the Kc values will
its vegetative stage and changes through the depend on the sowing or transplanting date
crop cycle, increasing from lower values of as a function of the climate conditions, but
the initial stage (sowing or transplanting) it can also be estimated as a function of the
through the vegetative growth period, reach­ thermal integral of the leaf development
ing the highest values in the maximum when the dates are different to those indi­
development period (when the crop covers cated in Table 11.3 (Fernández et al., 2001;
the soil, intercepting all the solar radiation) Fernández, 2003).
and decreasing during senescence. Other methods for calculating ET0 that
In Mediterranean plastic greenhouses, are of interest in greenhouses are the radia­
values of the product (Kp × Kc) for several tion and the adapted Penman–Monteith
crops have been estimated and are summa­ methods, detailed in Appendix 1 section
rized in Table 11.3. A.8.3. In order to have proper greenhouse
The similarity of the values of the climate data it is necessary to have a mete­
product (Kp × Kc) with the Kc values in orological station in the area (Photo 11.5).
several horticultural crops, according to
the literature (Doorenbos and Pruitt, 1976; Gross irrigation requirements
Veschambre and Vaysse, 1980) allowed for
the estimation that the Kp value in the Of the irrigation water applied only a part is
greenhouse is normally around 1.0. Later available to the roots, due to: (i) the runoff
studies (Fernández et al., 2001) stated that losses (there may be none, for example in a
Kp was lower (around 0.8), but that the Kc well-designed and well-managed drip irri­
values were higher than those provided gation system); and (ii) the almost unavoid­
for open field crops, so their product is able percolation or deep leaching required
very similar to the figures provided in where saline waters are used in order to
Table 11.3. remove the salts from the root zone.

Table 11.3.  Evolution of the product of the crop coefficient by the pan coefficient (Kp × Kc) per fortnight,
of some horticultural species, in unheated plastic greenhouses in Almeria, Spain, for indicated sowing (S)
or transplant (T) dates (Castilla, 1989).

Tomato Pepper Cucumber Melon Watermelon bean Aubergine
(days) T: 16 Oct T: 1 Sept S: 16 Sept S: 16 Jan S: 1 Feb S: 16 Sept T: 1 Oct

1–15 0.25 0.20 0.25 0.20 0.20 0.25 0.20

16–30 0.50 0.30 0.60 0.30 0.30 0.50 0.35
31–45 0.65 0.40 0.80 0.40 0.40 0.70 0.55
46–60 0.90 0.55 1.00 0.55 0.50 0.90 0.70
61–75 1.10 0.70 1.10 0.70 0.65 1.00 0.90
76–90 1.20 0.90 1.10 0.90 0.80 1.10 1.10
91–105 1.20 1.10 0.90 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.05
106–120 1.10 1.10 0.85 1.10 1.00 0.90 0.95
121–135 1.00 1.00 – 1.10 0.90 – 0.85
136–150 0.95 0.90 – 1.00 – – 0.80
151–165 0.85 0.70 – – – – 0.80
166–180 0.80 0.60 – – – – 0.80
181–195 0.80 0.50 – – – – 0.80
196–210 0.80 0.50 – – – – 0.80
211–225 – 0.60 – – – – 0.80
226–240 – 0.70 – – – – 0.60
241–255 – 0.80 – – – – 0.60
Irrigation and Fertilization 191

Photo 11.5.  Meteorological station inside a greenhouse.

The lack of uniformity in applying the In surface or sprinkler irrigation (Ayers

water will involve an extra water supply (in and Westcot, 1987):
total Rb, gross water requirements) to cover ECw
the net water requirements (Rn). The water LF = (11.8)
application efficiency coefficient (Ea, lower 5 ECe − ECw
than 1.0) expresses the ratio between the where:
water stored in the soil profile available for ECw = Electric conductivity of the irrigation
the roots and the applied water: water (dS m−1)
Ea = Ks × Eu (11.7) ECe = Electric conductivity of the soil’s
­saturated extract, adapted to the degree of
where Ks is a coefficient that quantifies tolerance expressed as the expected yield
the soil’s water storing efficiency (which (as a percentage of the maximum yield)
is of the order of 0.9 in sandy soils and 1.0 in Table 11.4.
in loamy or clay soils) and Eu is a coeffi­ In the case of HFLI (Ayers and Westcot,
cient that reflects the uniformity in the 1987):
emission of water (in a well-designed and
well-­managed irrigation system, Eu = LF = (11.9)
0.85–0.95). The calculation of the uni­ 2 Max EC e
formity coefficient of a certain facility is where:
easy to perform (Castilla and Montalvo, Max ECe = Maximum electric conductivity
1998; Castilla, 2000). tolerable of the soil’s saturated extract for
In the case of using saline water, it is that specific crop (see Table 11.4).
necessary to add a complementary amount Once LF is known, the gross water
of water to ensure the removal of the salts. requirement (Rb) is:
This leaching fraction (dependent on the Rn
salinity of the water used, represented by Rb = (11.10)
LF) is the minimum amount of drainage Ea (1 − LF )
required to maintain the soil salinity In systems of low uniformity, scarce
between certain limits that do not involve supply of water or saline waters, with the
yield loss. aim of reducing the large losses due to
192 Chapter 11

Table 11.4.  Tolerance level of some crops to salts (dS m−1), expressed as the expected yield
(in percentage of the maximum yield). (Source: Ayers and Westcot, 1976.)

Percentage of maximum yield

100% 90% 80% 50%

Crop ECw ECe ECw ECe ECw ECe ECw ECe Max. ECea

Climbing bean 0.7 1.0 1.0 1.5 1.5 2.3 2.4 3.6 6.5
Broccoli 1.9 2.8 2.6 3.9 3.7 5.5 5.5 8.2 13.5
Melon 1.5 2.2 2.4 3.6 3.8 5.7 6.1 9.1 16.0
Cucumber 1.7 2.5 2.2 3.3 2.9 4.4 4.2 6.3 10.0
Potato 1.1 1.7 1.7 2.5 2.5 3.8 3.9 5.9 10.0
Lettuce 0.9 1.3 1.4 2.1 2.1 3.2 3.4 5.2 9.0
Onion 0.8 1.2 1.2 1.8 1.8 3.2 2.9 4.3 8.0
Pepper 1.0 1.5 1.5 2.2 2.2 3.3 3.4 5.1 8.5
Spinach 1.3 2.0 2.2 3.3 3.5 4.9 5.7 8.6 15.0
Strawberry 0.7 1.0 0.9 1.3 1.2 1.8 1.7 2.3 4.0
Tomato 1.7 2.5 2.3 3.5 3.4 5.0 5.0 7.6 12.5
Max. ECe, maximum electric conductivity tolerable of the soil’s saturated extract for that specific crop.

leaching that would follow the use of have received wide use and nowadays are
the  previous formula (Eqn 11.10), some common in HFLI systems. Their detailed
authors propose that the higher of the terms, use is described in several papers (e.g.
Ea or (1 − LF) of the formula (Eqn 11.10) is Castilla and Montalvo, 1998).
deleted, although this would result in an In order to use the soil moisture meas­
incomplete control of the salts in the less urements for irrigation scheduling, it is nec­
irrigated zones of the plot. The drainage of essary to know the desired moisture
these salts would be entrusted, after the irri­ thresholds, expressed in water volumetric
gation campaign, to the rain or to possible content or in matrix potential at the rooted
complementary irrigations (soil disinfec­ depth. The upper limit of soil moisture is
tion, pre-sowing). close to field capacity, and the lower limit is
the ‘allowable soil water depletion’ (see
Methods based on soil parameters ­section 11.4.2). The lower limit indicates
when to start irrigating and the upper limit
Soil moisture sensors can be used as a when to stop it. The difference between the
unique method to schedule irrigation or in two limits indicates the maximum amount
combination with the water balance meth­ of water than can be supplied. Once the
ods, with plant sensors or, even, as a com­ ­limits are set, irrigation management can be
plement to an irrigation strategy based on done manually or automatically.
experience. When installing the moisture sensors
The evaluation of the volumetric water the fact that soil moisture is usually very
content in the soil using reflectometry (TDR) heterogeneous must be taken into account.
techniques is rarely used, difficult to oper­ This heterogeneity necessitates placement
ate and expensive. of the sensors in representative places, and
In practice the measurement of the replicating the number of sensors at least
water tension in the soil (which is equal twice or three times, to obtain representa­
to the absolute value of matrix potential) is tive measurements.
the most affordable procedure. The use of For common greenhouse vegetable
plaster blocks is not common, among other crops, when a single sensor is being used, it
­reasons due the need for a good calibration must be located between 10 and 20 cm deep,
depending on the composition of the soil’s 10–15 cm from the base of the plant, and
solution. Tensiometers, on the other hand, 8–10 cm from the dripper. It is advisable to
Irrigation and Fertilization 193

use one deeper sensor, at an equal distance plant’s water status. The crop water stress
from the plant and dripper, to control the index (CWSI) has been proposed as a stress
deep water content and the drainage index (Idso et al., 1981) (see Appendix 1
(Fig. 11.3). Furthermore, another sensor can section A.8.1).
be placed at the border of the wet bulb and The measurement of the leaf tempera­
at the same depth as the first one, to check ture is usually done with an infrared ther­
the proper distribution of water. mometer, although thermistors have also