How to Turn a Shipping Container Into a Greenhouse
Over the last few years, shipping containers have seen numerous second-hand applications outside the transport industry. These versatile and standardized steel boxes have emerged as an affordable, sustainable building resource that can be modified into homes, condos, office spaces, classrooms, mobile clinics, restaurants, kiosks, and so much more.
Since their rugged construction is meant to withstand the harsh sea environment, shipping containers can remain intact when exposed to extreme elements on land. Moreover, their strength and design make it possible to stack multiple units onto each other or interlock them at 90 degrees. These features make shipping containers ideal for many applications, particularly buildings.
One of the latest innovative applications of repurposed shipping containers is in the creation of container greenhouses. With many Canadians in the GTA looking for creative ways to grow their own vegetables and fruits, shipping container movers in Ontario can easily place a container greenhouse in any backyard, allowing many households to have their own urban farm and constant supply of locally grown fresh produce.
Types of Shipping Container Farms
When planning to start a shipping container farm, you can choose to either set up a container greenhouse or an enclosed freight container farm. The latter type differs from a container greenhouse in that the shipping container is fully enclosed, allowing the farmer to control all aspects of plant growth. However, building and maintaining one requires a lot of technology, making it more expensive to operate than a container greenhouse.
Container greenhouses function like a typical greenhouse, whereby you provide optimal conditions for plant growth. Since they rely on natural light, most farms opt for an open-top cargo container, though they can also strip off the top of a regular shipping container. Next, you need to install greenhouse roofing to cover the open top and racks inside the container to hold the plants. You can choose a style of growing crops, such as soil or hydroponics, depending on your budget, needs, and preferences.
Regardless of the type of shipping container farm you choose, you can enjoy several benefits, including:
- Low cost of production. Though the cost of starting a container farm is quite high, it uses modern and efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and hydroponics that can reduce water consumption by up to 90% compared to a traditional farm.
- Easy installation and maintenance. Container farms may involve a lot of work during the initial modifications. However, once the farm starts running, maintaining it is quite easy. Since the plants are enclosed in the container, there’s a lower risk of pest and disease attacks, making it possible to practice organic farming without pesticides and fungicides.
- Year-round farming. Many processes like lighting, irrigation, temperature control, and ventilation use technologies that can be automated for total control. Since the internal growing conditions can be controlled, you can grow your plants all year regardless of the season. Common plants include tomatoes, capsicum, strawberries, herbs, cucumbers, leafy vegetables, and other seasonal crops.
- Local fresh produce. Most of the food available to households in urban areas is transported from remote farms. Long transit times may affect produce freshness; plus, it will cost more because of transportation and the middle-men involved in the supply chain. With a shipping container farm, you can grow your own produce and sell the surplus to your community at a higher quality and lower price than the competitors.
Getting Started with a Shipping Container Greenhouse
The first thing you should do is find a suitable location on your property to set up your container greenhouse. Unlike an enclosed shipping container farm that relies entirely on artificial light, you should find a spot that receives as much sunlight as possible to provide natural lighting for your greenhouse. Ideally, it should be positioned at a good distance away from your house and any trees that may shade the greenhouse. If your region experiences very high temperatures in summer, you may consider choosing a site that receives partial shading for a few hours during the day to reduce your cooling costs.
The next step is choosing the type and size of shipping container you want for your urban farm. This largely depends on the amount of space on your property and your budget. Shipping container movers in Ontario usually have 20- and 40-feet containers, so you can choose one that meets your needs. Also, consider choosing an open-top container to avoid the extra work of cutting out the roof of a regular shipping container. However, if one is not available, you can still choose the latter option.
Once off, you need to install a greenhouse roof to cover the void at the top, as well as vertical racks to support your plants. You can increase natural light penetration by cutting out the west-facing and south-facing walls of the container and installing glass panels to the south wall and a window and glass door to the west wall. The door will ensure easy access to the container greenhouse.
You should also make proper preparations to protect your plants from varying temperatures at different times of the year to keep them from withering in summer and freezing in winter. To deal with the extreme summer temperatures, you may install a ventilation system using two electrical fans connected to a temperature control device. One of the fans will be used to suck cool air in and the other one to blow hot air out. A deciduous tree can provide shade for a few hours a day in the summer without affecting light penetration in the winter since it sheds its leaves during this time. Also, consider adding mulch around the plants to minimize evaporation when watering plants.
To protect plants from extremely cold temperatures, you will need several measures, including adding a layer of styrofoam insulation on the non-glazed walls and ceiling; building a thermal mass heater using bricks or other items and painting it black to maximize heat absorption during the day; and installing electric heaters as needed.
Lastly, you should choose how to grow your plants, either in soil or using hydroponics or aeroponics systems for soilless farming. If you prefer growing the plants in soil or another medium, it’s good to install a drip irrigation system to save on water. You should also come up with a suitable growing system, using trays, racks, shelves, or growing chambers, as well as a system for monitoring and controlling aspects of the interior such as temperature, humidity, light, soil pH, and so on.
A shipping container farm can be a great investment for households in urban areas looking for a continuous supply of fresh produce year-round. However, setting up a successful farm requires more than just installing a container greenhouse. You also need to have some agricultural knowledge to ensure optimal growth conditions in terms of nutrition, watering, pollination, weed, insect, disease control, and even training the plants to grow in an orderly way. With the right skills and tools, you will be able to enjoy fresher, tasteful, and more nutritious herbs, vegetables, and fruits from your own container greenhouse. For more information, please contact Sigma Container Corporation.