Rempel’s silver celebration
By Dave Harrison
Ron and Debbie Rempel know roses. And that’s understandable, given that they’ve been growing them in their Niagara-on-the-Lake greenhouse since 1986.
Ron and Debbie Rempel know roses.
And that’s understandable, given that they’ve been growing them in their Niagara-on-the-Lake greenhouse since 1986.
Rempel’s Greenhouses is celebrating its silver anniversary this year. This is extra special, especially since its roses have helped thousands of customers celebrate anniversaries – and other special occasions – over the past 25 years.
|Debbie and Ron Rempel.
Surviving as a Canadian cut rose grower isn’t easy, given pressures from South American imports. Domestic production, according to Statistics Canada reports, has dropped from 52 million stems in 2001 to 12 million stems last year.
In 2001, roses were the top cut flower in terms of Canadian production levels; last year, they were sixth, trailing tulips (96.7 million stems), gerbera (69 million), mums (27.5 million), lilies (19.8 million), and alstroemeria (15.6 million).
However, the Rempels have developed a loyal customer base of local restaurants, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
Debbie and Ron are savvy plant marketers who have deep roots in the sector. Their “brand” is their reputation. “Ron is known as The Rose Man in the community,” notes Debbie. “We have made a name for ourselves here in Niagara.”
Debbie has been involved in plant retailing for many years, beginning
with a store they formerly owned on the main street of
Niagara-on-the-Lake. Cut flowers and hanging baskets were part of its
|Proud supporters of Pick Ontario of Flowers Canada Ontario
Six years ago, they returned to retailing with the launch of Wine
Country Roses, located directly in front of Rempel’s Greenhouses. In
addition to their own roses, they use as many locally grown flowers as
possible. “We’re now an FTD florist,” says Debbie,” and that’s really
working well for us.”
They also have a customer loyalty program that is paying off.
SECOND GENERATION FARMER WITH TREE FRUIT AND BERRY ROOTS
■ Ron is a second-generation farmer. His dad had a tree fruit and berry
farm for many years. (The home farm is located just minutes away from
their greenhouse and retailing operations.)
After graduating from the Niagara Parks Commission School of
Horticulture, Ron worked as a landscaper with the Calgary Parks
Department before returning to Niagara-on-the-Lake to look after the
In 1986, he decided to diversify their operations and built a
12,000-square-foot greenhouse on a former peach orchard they acquired.
From day one, they’ve specialized in roses. “At the time, there were no
other rose growers in this area.”
|Each plant is fed by a pair of drippers.
Soon after, Ron attended a rose school in Minneapolis hosted by Roses
Inc. The program was great. “It offered a lot of networking
opportunities with other growers throughout North America,” with many of
those friendships continuing today.
Ron remained a member of Roses Inc. for many years, and later belonged
to its successor, the International Cut Flower Growers Association.
Rempel’s Greenhouses harvests roses year-round, though Ron cuts back on
heating in the winter when demand is lower. The farm has a natural gas
TOO SMALL TO CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE FUELS HEATING
■ Switching to an alternative fuel isn’t an option. “We’re just too
small to spend that kind of capital on. A lot of guys went with wood
chips, but you need a pretty good size greenhouse to make it pay.”
They grow about a dozen or so varieties, including ‘Jacaranda,’ a
variety they still grow in the soil. It was one of their first roses and
it remains a customer favourite. “It’s hot pink and very fragrant,”
The rest of the crop is grown in pots, each fed with a pair of drippers.
Biocontrols are used when possible. Ron has had good success using persimilis against spider mites, for example.
|Lighting is important with winter production, as are the energy curtains.
Thrips is another problem, he adds. “They get into the flower bud and chew on it.”
Powdery mildew can be an issue. “If humidity levels get too high, we’ll
get condensation problems on the leaves,” Ron explains. “We need to
apply bottom heat to get the warm air moving through the crop. It helps
keep the leaves dry.”
Venting the moist air is also important.
Drip irrigation is used, with two drippers in each pot. “We feed every
time we water,” says Ron. They water about five times a day, depending
on the weather. To help apply the correct amount of water, they measure
how much water drains out the bottom of sample pots.
Water quality is tested weekly.
They’ve been growing in coco for over 15 years. “It’s a great growing
medium,” Ron explains. “It allows for a lot of air movement through the
roots.” And because it drains so well, there’s reduced risk of
overwatering the plants.
|Ron Rempel maintains some soil production, with the rest of the crop in containers.
ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING ESSENTIAL FOR WINTER PRODUCTION
■ Artificial lights are essential for winter production. Without them,
there’d be a lot of blind shoots. “You’d just be growing foliage and no
New varieties are constantly trialled to replace varieties that aren’t
productive. “You need to cut so many roses per square foot to make a go
of it,” says Ron. “You need varieties that are high producers.”
Cut gerbera was also grown for a few years, but those rows have been
taken out. They weren’t able to devote sufficient space to grow a wide
enough range of colours to meet consumer demand. They now source gerbera
from local growers. “You can’t be all things to all people,” says Ron.
With the onsite retailing facility, they need a good mix of tea roses and sweetheart roses.
About half the production are red varieties, reflecting market demands.
All the greenhouses are glass, which is better during low-light conditions. Glass isn’t as energy efficient in the winter compared to double poly, but energy curtains help save on heat. Those same curtains cool the greenhouse in the summer, because the plants will grow soft if it’s too hot.
Ron added peonies to the home farm about 20 years ago. It’s a high-end crop and extremely popular with consumers.
Wine Country Roses has been quite busy with weddings, corporate events and sympathy arrangements, gaining a reputation for imaginative arrangements and bouquets incorporating many locally grown products.
|Debbie Rempel, in the Wine Country Roses display area.
Always thinking of new markets, the Rempels are presently working with local wineries to tie in their roses with the burgeoning estate winery industry. “The Days of Wine and Roses is a program we are developing with the wineries to cross-promote each other’s products,” says Debbie. “It’s such a natural pairing because we’re surrounded by wineries.”
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES LAUNCHED
■ They’ve already co-hosted an open house geared towards local bed-and-breakfast operators. “Days of Wine and Roses is such a catchy phrase that evokes celebration,” explains Debbie, “and no celebration would be complete without fresh flowers, especially our local roses.”
And Rempel’s Greenhouses is more than just roses and other cut flowers. They’re quite excited about a growing line of large patio pots they’ve introduced.
“It adds to our product line and makes us much more than just a flower shop,” says Ron. “This is what consumers are looking for.” ■
In ancient times it was used medicinally. Pliny the Elder listed 32 remedies made of its petals and leaves.
Napoleon’s wife Josephine loved roses, so much so that she grew more than 250 varieties.
Roses bear no fruit, but the rose hips (the part left on the plant after a rose is done blooming) contain more vitamin C than almost any other fruit or vegetable.
The rose has celebrity status. Country music star Dolly Parton has a red/orange variety named after her.
The rose is a symbol of the times. In fact, it’s the official National Floral Emblem of the United States, where June is National Rose Month.