Perennial breeders have been busy improving the programmability of Salvia nemorosa and growers can reap the benefits of these innovations. A great example of this new Salvia breeding is ‘Blue by You’ from Darwin Perennials. Their creative plant breeders combined S. nemorosa with another hardy species, S. pratensis, to deliver a Salvia that flowers very early with season-long flower-power. Here are some keys to success.
About 40 miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio, Krueger Maddux Greenhouses sits on 82 acres of Indiana farmland. The family-owned company is known for its quality, customer service, diverse selection and something even more exceptional: 100% of the site’s production irrigation comes from rainwater. For Owner Bob Maddux, treating the environment well is part of being in the green industry, just like caring for customers and employees. Now, with 30 years at this site and 47 years in business, the company produces more than 10 million flowering and specialty plants.
Mike Lawler, Krueger Maddux maintenance manager, remembers a day in 2004 when county officials said the operation had to cut back on municipal water. At the time, the fields were brimming with a thirsty mum crop. Owner Bob Maddux’s decision to cut dependence on municipal irrigation water didn’t surprise Lawler, who started as a grower just 10 days after graduating from Ohio State in 1981.
After a year of building, grading and excavating existing and new ponds, the new rainwater system was up and running. The cost exceeded $1 million, but the company went from a $50,000+ annual water bill (with alkalinity running higher than 300 ppm) to a sustainable, rainwater-fed system that provides two to three times the water volume, plus superior quality. “The payback is already there,” Maddux says.
A history of growth and conservation
Before it became the eco-friendly powerhouse it is today, Krueger Maddux Greenhouses got its start back in 1972. In 1960, 20-year-old Bob Maddux and his uncle, Bill Krueger, opened Delhi Hills Flower and Garden Center in a former carnation-growing facility outside Cincinnati. After 12 successful years, the partners decided to launch a wholesale branch and Krueger Maddux Greenhouses was born.
When Krueger retired in 1979, Maddux bought out his uncle’s half, keeping the Krueger Maddux name. The wholesale grower blossomed, adding Cincinnati-based grocery store Kroger to its customer base in the mid-1980s. To meet demand from wholesale customers and the thriving garden center, Maddux operated five separate growing locations in the Cincinnati area.
As wholesale was steadily picking up, Gibbs remembers a meeting between Maddux and his production managers. They wanted to know his plans and Maddux wanted to hear their opinions.
“He came out to Indiana that day and started looking for property,” Gibbs says.
Maddux bought the current site in Sunman, Indiana, in 1988 and opened with a 100,000-square-foot glass greenhouse the next year.
“It’s just been growing since then,” he says. The grower added about 300,000 square feet of plastic houses through the years. Production runs the gamut from annuals and perennials to herbs and vegetables — whatever customers want. “There’s nothing we won’t grow,” Gibbs says.
Kroger grocery stores receive about 60% of Krueger Maddux’s product. The balance goes to independent garden centers, including Delhi Flower and Garden Center, the last of several IGC locations owned by the Maddux family over the years.
Visit the Indiana site in late summer or fall and you’ll find 8.2 acres under cover and 10 acres of outdoor production in full swing. The company grows 167,500 fall mums in six pot sizes (mostly 8- and 10-inch) and up to 50 varieties. At the same time, they’re growing nearly a quarter-million poinsettias in more than 100 varieties and eight pot sizes, with about 145,000 finished and the balance pre-finished for other greenhouses.
As the company has grown, so has Maddux’s concern about the resources it uses. “In the earlier years, we just used a lot,” he says. But about 20 years ago, the grower started recycling extensively. The long list of recycled items includes all cardboard and polyhouse plastic, plug trays, plastic water bottles, junk metal, old racks, used truck oil and more. Plus, delivery drivers pick up plastic pots that customers return to Kroger stores.
“We just try to recycle everything we can, even if it costs us some money to get it hauled away,” Maddux says, noting how the nation’s trash is found from city gutters to country farm fields. “I’m a firm believer. It’s amazing what America throws away. That’s what we don’t want to see.”
Around 40 employees keep Krueger Maddux running year-round, and during spring the number rises to 80. Numerous long-term employees at the operation attest to a strong company culture that extends beyond sustainability and generous benefits.
“I’m very proud of the team of people that’s been with me for many, many years,” Maddux says, mentioning several employees by name, including his son, company President and Co-owner Rob Maddux, who’s “been here since he was born.”
The company focuses on simple things like birthdays and events that involve families. “We’re small enough that you know everybody’s name. You know about their family, their parents, their spouse and kids,” Maddux says. “That’s what it’s about. It’s all about the people and how you take care of the people that are part of your team and the people that are your customers.”
Though Maddux is turning 80 this year, he’s not in a hurry to retire. When friends ask about his plans, his answer is ready. “I say I’m semi-retired now. I’m only working six days a week,” he says, laughing. “I just love the business and the people so much. It’s been a great ride.”
The pond system
Part of Maddux's legacy is the pond system he's implemented to keep the greenhouse running clean and green.
The reclaimed water system works through a series of ponds and collection systems. Water in developed areas is collected, including runoff from roofs and French drains on all of the outdoor growing areas. All collected water feeds by gravity into the first of three ponds.
15 feet deep, holding 2 million gallons
Pond 1 is where soil, perlite, plant labels and other large particles settle out. Lawler treats with beneficial bacteria every two weeks but allows algae to develop and reduce excess nutrients from runoff. Gravity then feeds water into the next pond.
20 feet deep, holding 5 million gallons
Pond 2 has two aerators and a low-water cut-off float. Treatment here includes bacteria, as needed, and blue dye to restrict light penetration and discourage algae growth. Lawler’s goal is to see no more than 4 feet deep along the pond’s interior wall. A transfer pump with a strainer moves water to Pond 3, which sits on higher ground.
30 feet deep, holding 12 million gallons
Pond 3 has two aerators and gets supplemental bacteria and dye, as needed. From here, water travels about 300 feet, via a 12-inch pipe laid 25 feet underground, into a live well in the “water room” building. A set of high-water cut-off floats in the well regulate the pond’s height.
Two sets of pumps and automatic filters, a combined capacity of 400 to 500 gallons per minute, pull from the well to a 300,000-gallon cistern that forms the building’s basement. When needed, a heat exchanger warms water to 55 degrees F along the way. Lawler uses 93% technical sulfuric acid to adjust for alkalinity and a 12.5% sodium hypochlorite sanitizer follows. Controllers and pH and oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) probes help ensure the system maintains treatment levels within the range Lawler sets.
The company plans to add an additional pump and filter to speed up water processing and recovery. “We want to increase our ability to produce or treat water by a third over the capacity we’re at now,” Lawler says.
Two variable-frequency drive pumps pull water out of the cistern. “That provides the volume and the pressure for our watering system, and we’re also looking to increase that by one more pump,” he says.
As Lawler points out, running on 100% rainwater involves more than people imagine, but it’s worth it. “The water quality is better and the quantity of water we have at any time is much better,” he says. “The water’s free, but you have to work it.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin and frequent contributor to GIE Media publications.
Trendy tags and labels
2019 Ask the Experts - Tags and Labels
Kristi Huffman, senior vice president, horticulture, at Multi Packaging Solutions, explains where the tags and labels market is headed.
Greenhouse Management: What makes Multi Packaging Solutions – WestRock experts on tags and labels?
Kristi Huffman: Our start as The John Henry Company brings a long history of horticulture expertise. We love to say that our legacy is 107 years young, and we now couple that legacy with the new footprint and scale of MPS – WestRock. Being a part of a true leader in the global print and packaging industry has been fantastic — it’s made our horticulture group that much stronger. In North America, we have five tag facilities producing billions of tags, and nine label facilities producing billions of labels. This expansion has even allowed us to begin providing automated label application equipment to our clients, making the process easier and more efficient. Tags & labels really are our bread and butter — we know them, and we know them very well.
GM: Why is tagging and packaging important in horticulture?
KH: First and foremost, tagging and packaging is relied on by the consumer to give them answers to their most basic questions. “What is this is, what should I do with it, how do I care for it?” These are living products, and consumers want to keep them that way.
The other reason packaging is important is something many don’t often consider — it’s a silent salesperson. It not only helps alleviate the need for staff by directly answering questions, but it can also create that impulse buy. In some areas, the plant is just stunning; it sits on the bench and sells itself. However that’s not the case for all plants. When you think of something like a blueberry bush… you don’t generally wake up in the morning saying, “I’m going to buy a blueberry bush today.” But if the consumer goes to a garden center and happens to walk by a blueberry bush with a pot wrap or some sort of large tag with a recipe for blueberry muffins, that’s exactly what’s going to attract them to walk over to the bench and bring that plant home.
GM: What content do consumers want on their tags and labels?
KH: They of course need the basic information — price and care requirements like sunlight. But they also want to dig a little deeper. What are good companion plants? If this plant blooms in the summer, what’s going to bloom in early spring? Is this deer-resistant? Does it attract pollinators?
I also think water and fertilizer are attributes we need to focus on a little more as an industry. As we continuously survey consumers, we find that they’re increasingly seeking more information on these topics.
GM: What else is trending and what’s coming next?
KH: If a retailer is trying to bring price, bar coding, care and handling into one element, a locking tag or an adhesive works well. The important thing is to secure the information directly to the pot. It can’t be a stake tag that can easily be moved from Point A to Point B.
The other thing that we’re seeing a lot more of is true packaging. Clear, plastic cartons are the new trend because they provide a lot more real estate — a lot more opportunity to show what you can do with the plant or what it’s actually going to look like season to season. It can also work to transform that plant into a gift. We’ve worked with a client who has packaged their Venus flytrap and put it in a very unique plastic carton. It has a great cartoon-like character of the plant on the front that really draws the consumer in. It’s been an enormous success and has led to a significant boost in sales for that client.
Blueprints for structural success
2019 Ask the Experts - Structures
Michael Walsh and Adam Chalasinski of Nexus/RBI Systems Engineering Division discuss building greenhouse projects with integrated systems, new technologies and more.
With modern technology, growers have to consider every component of their greenhouse when building a new structure.And that includes factors such as heating, cooling, benching and more. Below, Nexus/RBI Systems Engineering Division's Michael Walsh and Adam Chalasinski discuss buildinging a modern greenhouse.
Greenhouse Management: What are the upsides of building environmentally controlled systems together?
Adam Chalasinski: Modern greenhouses tend to have multiple suppliers for heating, cooling, dehumidification, growing systems, benching, plumbing, etc. Partnering with a greenhouse provider that engineers and integrates this equipment helps minimize hidden costs that occur due to holes in the project scope between independent suppliers. By having the design under one roof you can eliminate the duplication of equipment and control systems — it’s common for various pieces of equipment to have an independent sensor and control. This not only saves you initial capital expenses but future maintenance costs. Having the entire greenhouse operation designed by one team, rather than in bits and pieces by multiple companies, creates ease of mind for owners and growers.
Michael Walsh: Our sales and design team will design the entire greenhouse and systems package. We will control all equipment inside the house both structurally [roof ventilation, sidewall roll curtains, etc.] and secondary [heating, shade curtains, nutrient injection, etc.]. This allows us to create a cohesive package built around the needs of the crop.
GM: What are some of the greenhouse technological developments that have become available in the past few years?
MW: Mechanical cooling in greenhouses has been one of the biggest developments over the last few years. Compared to standard natural ventilation or pad/fan cooling, more sophisticated mechanical cooling systems can control temperatures and humidity levels regardless of the outside conditions. Greenhouses using positive pressure cooling equipment can provide another option to traditional cooling methods. Integrated nutrient injectors are also a great tool. If they are built into the main control system, optimal nutrient recipes mixes can be created and sent to each irrigation zone.
GM: Why does it benefit growers to have the same company that designs and manufactures your greenhouse also design and install your environmental control system?
AC: Greenhouses operate like sophisticated machines when designed properly. Equipment such as vents, exhaust fans, walls, piping, conduit and sensors placement all have their optimum placements. To compare a modern-day greenhouse to another machine, an iPhone wouldn’t operate seamlessly if everyone sourced their own screens, batteries, and processors. Partnering with a greenhouse company that offers single-source solutions helps minimize hidden costs and optimize equipment layouts for operational efficiency.
GM: Tell us a little bit about the Systems Engineering Division.
MW: Our greenhouse projects aren’t designed with a “one- size-fits-all” philosophy. We understand the needs of the plant, the location, weather conditions, and the performance of our structures, and the needs of the grower. We can focus on specific areas such as heating/cooling, irrigation, growing systems and structural design. The Systems Engineering Division currently has five mechanical and environmental engineers on staff working hand-in-hand with our customers to balance these needs and provide optimal solutions.
Making progress with PGRs
2019 Ask the Experts - PGRs
Dudley Dabbs, eastern regional manager at Fine Americas, discusses ethephon, tank mixing and other PGR tips for success.
Greenhouse Management: Why isn’t my ethephon PGR working effectively?
Dudley Dabbs: As we approach summer and warmer temps, we hear from more growers asking for support on ethephon products (such as Collate and Florel), which are used for increased branching. Many of the larger commercial greenhouses prefer overhead boom applications for ethephon where the 6X more concentrated Collate has a better fit than Florel. The increased concentration of the Collate formulation eliminates the boom overwatering issue with Florel because it takes so much of the less concentrated formula to achieve the desired results. In addition, Collate increases storage and shipping cost while reducing the number of containers needed to do the job.
Every year we hear about failures — whatever product they’re using, we get the call. We have identified two of the most common pitfalls to avoid.
First, make sure your spray tank water is buffered so that the pH is between 4 and 5. Ethephon is stable at low pH, but at higher pH levels, it will destabilize and not be as effective.
Second, avoid high temperatures at application. That means making late evening or early morning applications during warm weather so that you can avoid doing applications at temperatures higher than 79° F.
We have confirmed this through Fine Americas-funded studies conducted by Dr. Roberto Lopez at Michigan State University.
If you make sure these two factors are addressed, you can avoid failures and increase your chance of success with ethephon PGRs.
GM: What’s the best way to start tank mixing PGRs?
DD: As growers mature in their PGR use, they often advance to tank mixing two or more PGRs together to achieve the results they’re looking for. Before doing that, it’s very important that you understand what the different PGRs do. Understanding the different plant growth regulators’ modes of action is the first step toward success with tank mixing.
GM: How can I successfully use the Trifecta tank mix I’ve heard about?
DD: Some very experienced users are tank mixing three PGRs — Dazide, Collate and Configure — to achieve the utmost precision: Dazide for height control, Collate for branching and Configure for branching through a different mode of action. These growers have coined the phrase Trifecta as a nickname for this three-way combination.
Using these three products together does achieve excellent results, but it is not for the inexperienced PGR user. It takes great knowledge and careful management to succeed. One of the most critical aspects of mixing PGRs is proper application timing. Using these three PGRs together really optimizes your outstanding plant production if you can achieve the proper plant growth stage timing.
You get the plant to maintenance growth, but you also encourage it to branch and fill out the pot, growing wider than taller. You end up with a tight internodes and lots of breaks — a really tight plant. You get that way quicker and with only one application. These plants have nice architecture while maintaining plant growth.
If you’re really interested in delving into more enhanced PGR use, Dr. Joyce Latimer of Virginia Tech University, Dr. Brian Whipker of North Carolina State University, and Dr. Roberto Lopez of Michigan State University will be presenting a Branching Out with PGRs seminar sponsored by Fine Americas at Cultivate’19, Sunday, July 14, at 2:45 p.m. And you can also attend Managing and Improving Plant Vigor with PGRs on Monday, July 15 with Latimer and Whipker at 9:45 a.m.