Growing Points: Putting your best foot forward

September 23, 2013
Written by Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza
When I visit greenhouses, I make it a point to look thoroughly at the structure, equipment, walkways, paths and – of course – the plants.
When I visit greenhouses, I make it a point to look thoroughly at the structure, equipment, walkways, paths and – of course – the plants.

I think the total picture of a greenhouse is a reflection of your personality, your crop and your business management practices. Visitors can learn a lot about you by touring your greenhouses.

October is a good time to reflect on your business. Quite often we are just too focused on growing plants and forget that the greenhouse is like your house. If it is not well maintained, or there is poor sanitation, or if it is crowded and the walkways are cluttered and the plants not well maintained, it is all a reflection on you. I would like you to look at the pictures below:

5620-Entrance-MIRZA
5620-Inside-View-MIRZA
   
These pictures were taken on the ninth of May when bedding plant customers were starting to shop. The picture on left shows what they saw at the entrance. The parking area was totally in disarray with small equipment, debris and all manner of clutter.

The first impression of this greenhouse is that it is in a state of disrepair. The grower/owner does not have enough time to maintain the basic structure of the greenhouse.

Also remember that you advertise that “best quality” plants are sold here. How could proper temperature and humidity be maintained if the structure is in disrepair? Insects can move freely when the greenhouse is “over-ventilated.”

The picture at right is an inside view. The grower is quite innovative to have built these troughs on top of each other. However, it is quite obvious that the plants are starved for light and this is May.

5620-Plant-stretch-MIRZA
5620-Weeds-MIRZA
   
The lack of light is stretching the plants, which is obvious in the picture on the left. Weeds were in abundance and so were the thrips and whiteflies on these weeds. When I talked to the grower about the conditions, he smiled and was polite in telling me that he could not find time to fix all the problems. (He added that his wife is also constantly “reminding” him about the disarray in the greenhouse and said he would be sure to fix it by the time of my next visit!)

He could have told me to get lost, but growers respect me and we have great relationships. Normally it is very difficult to tell others if something is wrong.

5620-Well-maintainedMIRZA
5620-Clean-design-MIRZA
   
Now look at these simple greenhouses that are free-standing, well-maintained plastic structures (previous page) with a reasonably good gravel parking lot, fine signage and a positive impression of grower management. Inside the greenhouse, plants are nicely stacked up with good light transmission. The wooden benches are painted white, the walkways are simple and clean, and there are no signs of weeds.

Going a step further where growers take pride in what they do, you not only find well-maintained structures but also very good pathways that are neat and clean. You can’t find a wilted plant in the entire greenhouse. These are the growers who cannot sleep that night if they have found even one whitefly in the greenhouse!

 5620-Warm-welcome-MIRZA 5620-Well-spaced-plants
   
This is an example of a greenhouse that customers really enjoy visiting. It is welcoming, clean and well presented. The space is well utilized and the plants are not under stress. Unlike vegetable operations, in which space utilization is fixed (e.g., 2.5 plants per square metre), bedding plant greenhouses have to use space very effectively. In the pictures above, one can see how everything is arranged properly and plants are not under stress.

Finally, many growers love to impress immediately when you enter the greenhouse. These plants create an impression of happiness and clearly display the WOW factor. With plants this good, the people growing them must be especially dedicated and highly skilled.

5620-Parking-lot-planter-MIRZA
5620-Entrance-design-MIRZA
   
The parking lot of this greenhouse has lots of planters and the entrance is warmly welcoming with particularly beautiful flower baskets … and of course many customers will love the ice cream available inside.

There are plenty of resting and reflection spaces inside the greenhouse.

This is the time to take a tour of your greenhouse facility. Take your staff with you and look at everything.

Here is a checklist of what to do when touring the greenhouse.

First impressions: Start with the parking lot. Is it clean, safe and offering enough space for customers … especially with good handicapped and seniors parking capabilities?

The structure: Does it need any repairs?

Condition of floor: Is it good for walking and pushing a cart? Any weeds in the cracks, algae under the benches, or fungus gnats hanging around in October?

Examine the condition of benches. If they are wooden, are they rotten and in need of upgrading? It might be time to invest in better benches. Moveable benches are certainly worth considering.

5620-Injector-MIRZA
 
   
The equipment: Irrigation systems, injectors and drippers all need attention at this time of year. I recently took this picture with moss and algae on the injector. This means the unit is leaking. It is a very good place for fungus gnats to stay around in winter. You can see weeds here as well.

Check for leaky furnaces, bird nests in chimneys and overall heating system performance.

Add to this list. Spend a day on a walk-about and take note of what needs to done.

The moral of this story is to continually pay attention to your business. In order to make it sustainable and profitable, you have to make every aspect of it functional. Small things can become big problems before you know it!


Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza is a greenhouse consultant. • This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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