Strawberries in the snow? | Assiniboine Community College
Narrow results:
Strawberries in the snow?

Strawberries in the snow?

Written On: 25 July, 2018
Category: Academic Agriculture Community Greenhouse Research
Related programs:  Horticultural Production Agribusiness Culinary Arts Prairie Horticulture

Strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and other warm-weather crops could be grown in northern Manitoba, thanks to research being carried out at Assiniboine’s Sustainable Greenhouse.

Strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and other warm-weather crops could be grown in northern Manitoba, thanks to research being carried out at Assiniboine’s Sustainable Greenhouse.

Dr. Sajjad Rao, agriculture instructor and researcher, said he has been contacted by organizations in northern Manitoba that would like to build greenhouses to grow fresh vegetables and fruit.

“They are interested in our research. We are not a commercial enterprise. We are not going to build the prototype and manufacture a greenhouse and take it to northern Manitoba. We are here to provide them with information,” Dr. Rao said.

Assiniboine’s Sustainable Greenhouse was opened in 2013 at a cost of $1.3 million. The funding came from donors to the Assiniboine Community College Foundation and other sources, including the federal and provincial governments.

Dr. Rao was attracted to Assiniboine from the private sector because of the opportunity to conduct research in the state-of-the-art greenhouse that was already under construction.

“This greenhouse was a big learning experience for me. It was built in front of me, so I have seen all the steps as it was built,” he said.

Assiniboine Sustainable Greenhouse

Dr. Rao has published two articles in scholarly journals on his research.

The article in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science, was co-authored by Dr. Lord Abbey, a former instructor at Assiniboine, now a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The article in Acta Horticulturae, published by the International Society for Horticultural Science, was co-authored by Dr. Abbey and Dr. Mohammad Khakbazan of the Brandon Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

The college’s greenhouse has three pods, each more technologically sophisticated than the last.

In the low-tech greenhouse, a black wall heats up with the passive solar heat coming through the roof. The floor is made of gravel. Temperature and humidity are controlled by the operator.

The medium-technology greenhouse uses solar panels beside the building to heat a mixture of glycol and water that is pumped through pipes in the concrete floor.

The high-tech greenhouse has many features that are standard in the industry, including computer control of temperature, humidity, irrigation and ventilation.

Dr. Rao’s first scholarly article evaluates the effects of the “micro-climates” created in each pod on the growth of collards, carrots and tomatoes. The second article examines the difference in the growth and yield of tomatoes between the low-tech and the medium-tech greenhouses.

Dr. Rao is recommending the low-tech or medium-tech models as the template for greenhouses in northern Manitoba, because the requirements for the high-tech model would be difficult to support in remote areas.

The medium-tech model is the best for growing tomatoes in winter, because of the heated floor, he said in his second scholarly article.

“There are a lot of visitors to the greenhouse. They ask, ‘If we’re going to have a greenhouse like this, what do we need to do?’ We have a prototype here with three or four years data,” Dr. Rao said.

Part of his research is focused on the cost of using the three different technology levels.

“Does the heat coming from the floor in the medium-tech greenhouse make a significant difference in crop production? How much electricity and propane do we need to use to reach a certain temperature? I am trying to calculate the cost of the energy in terms of dollars.”

Now in the fourth year of his five-year research plan, Dr. Rao said his research shows residents of northern Manitoba could grow a variety of crops in a low-tech or medium-tech greenhouse.

“They can grow baby carrots and all kinds of greens. They can produce planting material like sweet potato slips in April and May and in June they can plant them outside in their grow plot. From there, they can produce their sweet potatoes. They can start tomatoes in the greenhouse and plant them outside in the summer months.”

Dr. Rao is also researching the best strains of strawberries and sweet potatoes to grow in Manitoba’s climate.

Part of his research has been funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial program recently renamed the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.