Marino Blue Heliotrope, stuck in Week 7, on February 13 or 14; photographed in Week 9, on March 1.
Photo courtesy of Tom McKeegan
At its location in Sumner, Washington, DeGoede Brothers Greenhouses grows an array of crops — within 284,000 square feet of greenhouse space, under 47,000 square feet of unheated cold frames and outdoors in about five acres of summer and fall growing beds.
In the winter, the greenhouse forces bulbs for Valentine’s Day and Easter sales, and grows primroses, pansies and English daisies; and in the fall, it produces poinsettias, garden mums and pansies, says production manager Tom McKeegan. “In the spring, hanging baskets has been the historic focus of this company, but in recent years, the vegetative annual in a four-inch pot is just huge to us now,” he says. “It's both baskets and pots — pretty much a typical mix of spring crops.”
One of the difficulties of growing in Sumner is the low sunlight during the winter and spring, McKeegan says. For years, DeGoede Brothers used supplemental high-intensity discharge (HID) lights on vegetative annuals in propagation, which worked well, but it was looking for an upgrade. The operation started working with Philips Lighting in the summer of 2017 to get LED lights installed. The lights were up and running in December 2017.
"We jumped right in with both feet — we tend to do that,” says propagation manager Meka Foster. “We had heard a lot about it. We had talked to people and heard good things, so we knew it was something we needed to do, or wanted to do.”
DeGoede Brothers runs the lights in its 6,000-square-foot propagation space to provide light to vegetative annuals. The lights are on from December through May, from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Foster says, automatically kicking off if the sun comes out through the clouds and provides enough light for the crops.
After a successful first spring, Foster has noted several advantages from using the LEDs. “Plants are rooting way faster and better than they have before — gosh, up to a week or two weeks off of prop time in there, for how quickly the unrooted cutting is rooting out to the side of the plug tray,” she says. “We're also finding that we don't have to go in and pinch a lot of the crops because the lights are basically doing it for us.”
Because the crops are branching well, the team doesn’t have to take the first pinch off, so color arrives earlier in the spring than in previous years, Foster says. At the same time, the plants are requiring more fertilizer to keep them green, which she suspects is due to their faster rooting.
With the reduced need for pinching, the labor savings of LEDs are measurable, Foster says. “We did a lot by hand,” she says. “We also have a trimming machine that we would use at times, but [the lights are] saving us labor.”
Generally, the propagation time for vegetative annuals has decreased 25 percent, from 28 days to 21 days, McKeegan says. However, Foster notes that some crops have been cut down to 14 days.
McKeegan says LED lights allow DeGoede Brothers to be its “own best young plant supplier.” The operation believes it produces young plants that are at least equal or better-quality than its options for purchase.
“Freight charges on a box of offshore-produced unrooted cuttings are a lot less than a box of rooted liners being shipped across the country,” he says. “Our goal is to root as much of our vegetative young plants as we can, as that helps us control our input costs. LED lights are a huge part of that.”
Overall, McKeegen says the LEDs give DeGoede Brothers the opportunity to tighten crop scheduling. “Before, it really depended upon, ‘Are we having a bright spring?’ ‘Are we having a dark spring?’” he says. “With being able to produce a more compact plant, a better-branched plant, we're not pinching off that first flower bud, we're planting that young plant sooner. I think all those things add up to giving us the best chance of producing an early-flowering, but yet still toned, plant."