Ready for anything

Features - Cover Story: Spring Survival Guide

With the busy spring season almost upon us, it’s time to get into gear. So we gathered up some of the best tips from the past year of Greenhouse Management to help you put your best foot forward.

February 26, 2020

One of the reasons Botrytis becomes resistant to fungicides is the magnitude of spores it routinely produces.
Photo courtesy of A.R. Chase

Tell your story

Wholesale growers have a massive opportunity to connect with who they’re selling to and encourage retailers to market the faces behind those plants. Those wholesalers could tell the story of how those plants were grown and who cared for them. That connects the end customer to the full circle of a plant’s life.

— Brie Arthur, food gardening expert, author and PBS correspondent, March 2019

Cultivate your crew

If you hire the right person the right way and if you nurture the new hire, just like your plants, they will grow and flourish. Culture is critical to the success as well. It is the right environment that will facilitate the growth of the plant and the person alike. Feeding the plant means the right light, soil, nutrients and water. Feeding employees means nurturing, coaching, feedback and learning and development.

— Michael Maggiotto, Sr. Human Capital Advisor at BEST Human Capital & Advisory group, July 2019

Use the right rates

For plant pathogens, the keys to resistance management involve a series of issues. First and foremost, the cause of symptoms must be determined. Using the wrong product for a disease results in no control, which can be confused with resistance. Use of the correct product at the correct rate and interval are the best ways to make sure you do not provide pressure on the fungus or bacterium, resulting in the development of resistance. It is well-known that using lower than a lethal dose of a product targets the weakest or most sensitive individuals and builds the proportion of the population with a high level of resistance until it is the only thing present.

— Raymond Cloyd, professor and extension specialist in horticultural entomology/plant protection in the Department of Entomology at Kansas State University, and Dr. A.R. Chase, president of Chase Agricultural Consulting, March 2019

Using sticky cards, taking notes while scouting and marking spots to revisit with stakes are some of many tools and tricks growers can use to boost their scouting programs.
Top Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jubenville

Perfect your scouting

There are a couple of things I think are really helpful. You should create a map of your facility — graph paper helps. And you should take that along with you as you scout, probably once a week. Some people forget to do that. I recommend using pen and paper for this because I’ve done it digitally or seen other people do it digitally. It doesn’t really stick, and they get lazy with it. Some other common pitfalls are moving too fast through the crop, misdiagnosing a disease or physiological disorder and misidentifying an insect pest. This is especially important when using biological control.

— Jeremy Jubenville, floriculture and greenhouse educator at Michigan State University, November 2019

Training employees on how to water, and setting clear expectations for how it is supposed to be done, is key in making a difficult task more manageable.
Bottom photo courtesy of Rosa E. Raudales

Avoid water woes

The weather itself calls for a watering decision. On top of that, workers must decide what to do instead of watering. Workers may fear being perceived as if they are not working hard enough and the easiest way out is to grab a hose which may be WHY some workers overwater. Head growers must communicate with their staff to make sure they all agree about how weather patterns will affect daily tasks. If the staff member’s role is to water a section, but the crop doesn’t need it, then the staff should have a clear directive about what alternative activities to conduct.

— Rosa E. Raudales, assistant professor and greenhouse extension specialist at the University of Connecticut, September 2019

Sal Gonzalez started at DM Color Express more than two decades ago, rising to his current position of sales manager.
Photo courtesy of Rob Andrew

Be honest

You have to build trust with the customer. I’d rather tell them there is a problem or admit that I don’t have a plant that is right for their location than sell them something that is not going to make it. Even if we lose them in that moment and they go to someone else and the plant fails, they will come back because we told them the truth.

— Sal Gonzalez, sales manager at DM Color Express, April 2019

Update your applications

Today, we have to be proactive and think about what we’re doing. The chemicals are more expensive, and our society is more educated about what we’re doing on the fields, on their vegetables, on their fruits. People already question what we do here and ask how harmful the chemicals are, and now that we have education spreading around, we know that we cawnnot just go in and start the spraying calendar. We need to see what we have there and base it on what we see. That way, we do the right application the first time.

— Juan Ponce, head grower of propagation at Metrolina Greenhouses, January 2020

Cut down on waste

A lot of pathogens like a lot of water around or need water around to spread or become infectious. Weeds, of course, will thrive with more water. Insect pests usually feed more on lush, rapid growth that excess water creates. The more you irrigate, the more you’re washing off your pesticides, herbicides, and then you’re also flushing nutrients out.

— Tom Fernandez, horticulture professor, Michigan State University, May 2019

Russell Freiert, one of Metrolina Greenhouses’ three spray technicians, making a biological application with a hydraulic sprayer for insects and botrytis control
Photo courtesy of Metrolina Greenhouses

Stay positive

When you see a beautiful plant, whether it’s a finished product or perfectly uniform plugs being shipped to the customer, that’s the most enjoyable moment of a grower’s life, knowing these crops will make somebody happy.

— Artur Zych, head grower at Lennon Farm Greenhouses, October 2019

Check your inventory

When you find that certain items aren’t turning as much or as quickly as you need, don’t be afraid to cull them from the herd, especially if other growers in your market already offer the same item at a competitive price. Let them sell it. Wouldn’t you rather sell more of an item you can sell faster and for a higher price? You may be better off expanding production of your key top-selling items and removing slow turners from your production schedule. Being a good grower isn’t just about growing what you do grow well — it’s knowing when not to grow something. Good editing goes a long way.

— Leslie F. Halleck, owner of Halleck Horticultural, September 2019