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Growing In The Green: May 2007

January 18, 2008  By Melhem Sawaya

To change the output, you have to change the input

I always believed that there is a better way to do things. If I am doing a certain procedure the same way year after year, I get the feeling that I am missing something, an improvement, of some sort, to what I am doing.

To find that small or big factor that can improve a certain process takes the drive and the unquenched thirst for seeking knowledge, and then applying it. By no means is my drive just to change things as much as it is to find improvements.


Acquiring new knowledge in performing a certain process does not mean that the old way is wrong. I will definitely not change the old method until I apply the new information and prove its advantage.

Whether the new information is better or not, we always learn by trying different things, and in the process our bank account of knowledge increases.

Knowledge is one of the noble commodities that no one can take away from us. Knowledge is a treasure that proves very useful in everyday life, and especially in our field of work where knowledge is the strongest commodity we can possess, as long as we apply it.

By no means am I trying to get philosophical, but the reality is that successful people are always seeking ways to improve their status. It comes down to acquiring knowledge and applying it in a prudent way.

There are many sources for acquiring knowledge in our industry, but nothing can take the place of first-hand, face-to-face speakers in an informal setup where communication is wide open.

This is why Greenhouse Canada magazine felt so strongly about the usefulness of a Grower Day a dozen years ago with the plan to put on a day of useful, practical information that would increase our knowledge bank. Yes, some of us will acquire more from a speaker than others, but I guarantee that anyone who does not attend meetings such as Greenhouse Canada Grower Day or the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, or the like, will not add a thing to their bank of knowledge.

In my almost 30 years in the greenhouse industry, I have seen many operations grow and flourish, and some get weaker and disappear. But one thing I noticed very distinctly, the owner/manager of an operation, who acted like they knew it all and didn’t thirst for new information they could practically apply are not in business any more, even though they were a top grower less than 10 years ago.

The information age is changing fast and, if you don’t keep up, you will miss the boat.

Yes, this is a ‘commercial message’ to attend the Greenhouse Canada Grower Day, (June 20 in Debut it is a genuine one. I can tell you first-hand that attending any meeting such as this results in the benefits of learning from the speaker, networking among other attendees, and first-hand contact with an expert … all of which you can draw on in your daily operations.

I was fortunate that my first employer believed in encouraging their employees to advance themselves by acquiring knowledge through different meetings, courses, and workshops and many of us took that opportunity to advance ourselves in our workplace and, definitely, it has benefits for the company, too.
Greenhouse Canada Grower Day is not a big money-maker. If it wasn’t for the generosity of companies allowing their experts to come and share their knowledge with us, the event would not happen.

I started this Grower Day at the German Hall in Delhi, Ontario, in 1986-87 when I worked at Fernlea Flowers, and then continued it with Greenhouse Canada magazine. I feel very sorry for those growers who do not understand the importance of perpetual learning as the foundation for any successful operation.
I got carried away with my ‘supposed to be’ very short introduction to this year’s Greenhouse Canada Grower Day but I have seen the advantages of a big day like this and how it can be one factor in your business success. By the way, yes – we don’t have to travel far for information to be useful. Most of the time it is at our door, not far away, and is just as good or better than the information from across the pond or across the border.

This year’s program will shed more light, and give us more insight, on the number one crop. Bedding plants have so many varied and new aspects to them that many growers are not catching up fast enough. The number of flats produced last year was about 50 per cent less than only three years ago, and if you are still growing a 12-0-4 cell pack, you are a minority.

This year’s speakers will discuss the latest in Vegetative Nutrition, Targeting 100 per cent Germination, Programmed Liners Equal Profit, Marketing to Maximize Your Margins, The Power of Media In Promoting Your Product, Osteospermum and Argyranthemum Production, and The Effective Management of Thrips and Spider Mites.

Here is a brief description of each topic:
Dr. David Koranski will share his vast experience of dealing with plant nutrition at all stages, from seed or cutting to market. In this presentation, Dr. Koranski will concentrate on some of the vegetative material that we are overwhelmed with each season, and often without enough information about the culture.

Dr. Koranski will enlighten us on how to grow green petunia and calibrachoa and how to avoid toxicities of geraniums. He  will also tell us how to use different fertilizers to achieve a specific plant growth habit.
Jerry Gorchels of PanAmerican Seed will discuss the stages of plug germination from stage 0 to stage 4, with emphasis on some specific species as illustration. With the use of transplanters, a 100 per cent plug tray is not a luxury anymore, it is a must. Plus, with the cost of energy, an 85 per cent plug tray costs 17.6 per cent more in energy cost due to heating blank plugs.

Jerry will discuss temperatures, light, moisture, covering/not covering the seed, and some specifics for different species.

Whether you are a plug producer for selling or for in-house use, or a purchaser, this talk guarantees to shed a new light on plugs that will translate directly to your bottom line.

Many growers propagate their own cuttings, or purchase rooted cuttings, but producing the properly programmed plug/liner that will take less time to finish, with the least maintenance and the best quality, is a target we should all aim for. Ron Sant, of George Sant and Sons, will share his and the Sant team’s experience with their rooting station of 10 million

liners, and what they do to achieve the most energized plug. Ron will go through their facility and what they do to achieve that plug. From environment to nutrition to different treatments, this is a grower-to-grower talk to which we can relate.

It is one thing to grow a good, energized plug and 100 per cent germination plug tray, but without taking the right steps to get the product to the customer, then all our hard work is not rewarded.

Dave Konsoer of Proven Winners will share with us how to market our product from displays to branding or no branding, labelling, pricing, and what is the best return on advertisement. Dave is involved every day with marketing and he has his finger on every pulse of the horticultural industry. So, if you would like to know what the horticultural market is doing and how to improve your profit margin, Dave Konsoer is here to tell us that.

Do you ever think what the world of information would be without news-papers, magazines, radio, TV or Internet? Most of us are exposed to one or more of these influences one time or another.

Frank Ferragine, with his gardening program and morning weather reports on City TV, and his involvement with the family greenhouse operation (Bradford Greenhouses and Garden Centres), has great insight about grower operations that don’t also market. He understands how the public (our customers) hunger for practical information about improvements. Frank is an excellent communicator of concrete ideas on how to use the media in promoting our product.

Some genuses have tricks to get the maximum performance out of them. Roger Kehoe of Ecke Ranch will share with us how to produce two crops, osteospermum and argyranthemum, most economically and with the highest quality product.

These two crops are gaining popularity with consumers due to the improved breeding, excellent show and the ability to give consumer satisfaction from late April to past the light frosts in October or early November, which makes these two of the longest enjoyed genera.

Roger will cover step-by-step production from propagation, timing, temperature, nutrition, and also choosing the right cultivar for the right pot size.

Some topics are not always fun to listen to, but are critically important if our intention is to produce good quality plants with minimal ‘meat’ on them.

Graeme Murphy, the greenhouse floriculture IPM specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, always gives us the practical, important facts and procedures to take care of insects. Graeme will cover the life cycles of mites and thrips, and discuss the latest integrated pest management on how to prevent, control and eliminate these two pests. He will also discuss biological control and chemical control with specific recommendations.

Though this is a brief description, this year’s Greenhouse Canada Grower Day is guaranteed to give every participant a new and different tool to achieve a higher profit margin and, hopefully, a better quality of life.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome, by e-mailing him at

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