Research will tell...

US (DE): Could disused chicken houses be used to grow strawberries?

“We’re just starting,” said Gordon Johnson, a University of Delaware Extension fruit and vegetable specialist. “Come back in two months, and we should be able to tell you whether it’s working or not.”

Johnson said there are an estimated 2,400 old or abandoned houses in Delmarva, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to repurpose the sometimes-decaying structures. Johnson spoke at Delaware Ag Week on January 9 at the State Fairgrounds.

Johnson is working with a farm in Frankford to see how well strawberries grow indoors — a way to produce local fruit in the winter. If indoor berries can produce enough, they might turn a profit despite high start-up costs and high heating bills.

Jennifer Reed of Pure Starts LLC said the company has grown cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, hemp, and Campari tomatoes in a 30- by 40-foot pole building and a converted poultry house. “You can grow anything in there. The ventilation is perfect,” she said. 

Refitting and sanitizing the houses won’t be cheap — roughly $70,000 for a 40 by 550-foot house, Johnson said.

Old equipment must be removed. The top layer of soil should be removed and replaced to avoid salinity issues, and everything needs to be disinfected to kill any residual salmonella.

The roof can’t typically be removed because that would weaken the house’s structural integrity too much, he said. The biggest investment is in grow lights. On the plus side, poultry house heaters can be used and seem to present no problems, Johnson said.

Read the entire article at Lancaster Farming

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