Greenhouse foggers

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About Jason Deveau (Spray Guy)

Dr. Jason Deveau has been the OMAFRA Application Technology Specialist since '08. He researches and teaches methods to improve the safe, effective and efficient application of agricultural sprays in specialty crops, field crops and controlled environments. He is the co-administrator of Sprayers101, co-author of the Airblast101 Textbook, a slow cyclist and an even slower runner.

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Greenhouse application equipment spans from the humble squirt bottle, to gas-powered foggers, to robots equipped with hydraulic vertical booms. The variety of spray equipment available reflects a variety of needs, just as a carpenter’s toolbox contains different tools designed to do different things. In order to get the most out of foggers and misters, it’s important to understand how they differ from “conventional” hydraulic spraying.

A greenhouse robotic vertical boom sprayer.
A greenhouse robotic vertical boom or “tree” sprayer

Mechanical and Chemical Spread

For many greenhouses, water is the carrier that dilutes and delivers the chemistry to the target. Water has a high surface tension and tends to bead on target surfaces. Dr. Heping Zhu (USDA, Ohio) created some amazing videos using controlled water droplets and both waxy and hairy leaves. In first video we see how water beads up on a waxy leaf, and as it evaporates, the area touching the leaf surface remains small. In the second, we see the droplet get hung up on a trichome (leaf hair) and evaporate while suspended above the leaf surface.

Neither situation is desirable since the goal of spraying is to maximize the level of contact between droplet and target. Contact can be increased via mechanical spread or chemical spread (see figure below).

The degree of chemical spread can be increased by adding adjuvants such as non-ionic surfactants to reduce surface tension. In the videos below we see the same controlled droplets with the same volume of liquid, but they now include a non-ionic surfactant. In the first video we see a greater degree of contact with the waxy target surface as the droplet spreads. In the second, the droplet does not get caught by the trichome, but splashes down onto the surface. Some product labels advise the inclusion of adjuvants and others are already formulated with them. In the case of surfactants, be aware of the potential for run-off and phytotoxicity.

Mechanical spread requires us to break a single, larger droplet into several smaller volumes to increase the degree of contact. This approach usually comes with a caveat about evaporation, but this is rarely a concern in a humid greenhouse. As for the risk of drift, once again, in greenhouses it is a different story than conventional spraying. Spray drift is desirable! Lateral air movement is very important to encourage plant canopy penetration and prevent droplets from merely settling on upward-facing plant surfaces. While some equipment generates its own air, the air currents in the greenhouse are often the primary means for suspended droplets to circulate throughout the space. In either case, air could be considered the carrier instead of water. Too little air flow, or gaps in circulation, will reduce coverage. Too much air flow (specifically, greenhouse air circulation) may cause plants to exhibit stunting.

Spray Quality (ISO)

Here’s how ISO/DIS (5681:2019 Equipment for crop protection — Vocabulary 3.2.1) defines the spray quality produced by misters and foggers:

  • ( MIST: “Spray with volume median diameter between 50 μm and 100 μm.”
  • ( FOG: “Aerosol spray with volume median diameter under 50 μm where the droplets are effectively suspended in air with little or no settling by gravity.”

These droplets do not behave like coarser droplets. For more information on droplet movement, survivability, and transfer efficiency, download Purdue Extension’s “Adjuvants and the Power of the Spray Droplet”.

Water sensitive paper has limited utility when diagnosing coverage from foggers. Sophisticated optical scanners may be able to detect deposits as small as 25 μm, but this is open to debate. Manufacturers do not support the use of papers when quantifying deposits less than 50 μm , and some draw the line at 100 μm.

In the following image, papers were used to diagnose coverage (from clean water) in a poinsettia greenhouse. The two papers on the right were located in the canopy and sprayed using a thermal pulse fogger and a hardware store style hand pump. The paper on the left was held directly in the path of the fogger while using the smallest nozzle provided with the unit. The spray enveloped the paper (and the person holding it). Close inspection showed tiny deposits, and the SnapCard app detected 4.5% coverage, but this greatly underestimates the actual deposition and does not account for the droplet count.

UV dyes are the preferred method for analyzing coverage from foggers.

Fogging and Misting Equipment

Greenhouse spray equipment can be classified by droplet size, but also by the spray volume they employ.

High Volume (HV)

These applications are performed at pressures ranging from 500 to 4,285 kPa (75 to 700 psi) employing flow rates of 3.9 to 5.7 L/min (1 to 1.5 US g/min). They use standard label rates to accomplish a dilute application by broadcasting droplets larger than 100 microns. The goal is to cover all surfaces without incurring run-off. Examples of HV application equipment include backpack sprayers, trailed sprayers and boom sprayers. Practice and self-calibration are necessary to achieve the desired results when using manual HV sprayers.

Targeted Low Volume (LV)

These applications are performed at high pressures around 20,685 kPa (3,000 psi) employing flow rates approaching 1 L/min (0.26 US g/min), covering 93 m2 (1,000 ft2). They apply reduced rates over a given area and create droplets between 25 and 100 µm. These are concentrated sprays that do not result in wet foliage. LV applications are particularly good in high-humidity environments, when it is desirable to minimize the moisture on leaves. Examples of LV application equipment include aerosol cans.

Ultra-Low Volume (ULV)

These applications employ flow rates approaching 2 L/min (0.52 US g/min), covering 930 m2 (10,000 ft2). They require concentrated solutions, but apply reduced rates per area using droplets less than 25 µm. ULV applications will not raise greenhouse humidity and are a good choice when days are short and nights are long. They are also an excellent way to apply disinfectants for complete space sanitation before starting a new crop. It is important to ensure vents are closed and fans are off during sanitation. Examples of ULV application equipment include total release cans, auto foggers and thermal pulse foggers.

PulsFOG hand-held ULV cold fogger

Thermal pulse foggers are unlike other ULV equipment and warrant special consideration. The design of the pulse fogger has remained virtually unchanged since the 1940’s. Smaller, 24 hp machines are used in smaller operations but range up to large 175 hp machines. Tank size ranges from 10 to 50 L, where 10 L should be enough to cover 4,645 m2 (50,000 ft2) in about 10 minutes, depending on crop density. Their range is about 35 m (115 ft) from the point of release.

Thermal Pulse foggers do not create aerosol using air shear – they use combustion (80 to 100 explosions per second) to shatter spray into a fog and propel it via positive pressure. Heat is a by-product of the engine, making it an unsuitable method for applying biological products.

However, water-cooled foggers such as Dramm’s Bio Pulse Fogger reduce the exhaust temperature below 100 °C to make the application bio-rational. This has the added advantage of making droplet sizes more consistent and preventing spray from evaporating too quickly before it diffuses to the target.

Dramm Bio Pulse Fogger.
Dramm Bio Pulse Fogger

Using a Fogger

Dramm recommends that operators use approximately 1 L of carrier in 5 L of spray mix, but a higher proportion of carrier would be required for more viscous products. Start with a full tank of clean, high grade gasoline and once the fogger has been started, run it continuously until the application is complete. Leave it running even when moving between Quonset huts (see below).

Know when to use a pulse fogger versus an auto fogger. Auto foggers are convenient because the operator can set them and leave. However, in the case of multiple huts, it is more efficient and timely to use a thermal pulse fogger.
Know when to use a pulse fogger versus an auto fogger. Auto foggers are convenient because the operator can set them and leave. However, in the case of multiple huts, it is more efficient and timely to use a thermal pulse fogger.

Do not leave the manual fogger running unsupervised as an auto fogger: If they stay stationary, or aim directly at the canopy (as in hydraulic spraying), they could drench and potentially damage nearby plants.

When fogging, aim between the plants, such as the alleys and between hanging plants. This allows the fog to expand and permeate canopies for the best coverage. When spraying is done, be sure to release the pressure created in the spray tank to prevent accidental back flow into the gasoline tank.

And, because it’s convenient to include the math in this article, here are the formulae for calculating greenhouse volume to help you determine rates.

Care and Maintenance

HV, LV and ULV equipment requires model-specific cleaning and maintenance, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Even when sprayers are kept in prime condition, they are only as good as the operator’s understanding. When the wrong product is applied by the wrong machine using the wrong method, operators risk poor control, crop damage and increased potential for pesticide resistance. For more information, read the instructions that came with your sprayer, or contact the manufacturer.

Thanks to Louis Damm and Dr. Heping Zhu for their contributions to this article.