Saturday, March 8, 2008

Unexpected Stress in the Greenhouse Industry

Owning a nursery is usually one of the most rewarding experiences I can imagine. I would not hesitate to recommend this profession to anyone who seeks true quality of life, as being around growing things for the better part of each day is truly a zen-like experience. Nevertheless, just as in any business, there are unexpected moments of intense anxiety that can arise, and about which the would be nursery owner should be aware.

Apart from the constant battle against the ravages of pests and diseases that can quickly decimate a whole season's earnings is the fear of loss of heat. Successful growing depends on careful monitoring of the temperatures within your greenhouses. Not only do some plants require highly consistent temperatures, which are usually regulated by thermostats, but nearly all of the plants grown in a commercial greenhouse, particularly during germination, are tender enough to sustain heavy damage or be lost entirely if the temperature drops below 55 degrees. Should the thermostat fail or a fuel delivery be delayed, this can happen very rapidly, especially if this occurs during the middle of a frigid winter night (note: do not rely on automatic delivery schedules for your greenhouse fuel; instead, keep an eye on your fuel levels and contact your provider immediately if you consume fuel more rapidly than their schedule predicts). Therefore, most serious growers possess remote alarms that monitor the temperature within the greenhouse and deliver a sharp alert to the sleeping owner should it drop dramatically. More than one nursery owner has consequently spent a sleepless night of anxious vigilance out in the greenhouse, armed with a slew of space heaters.

One of the greatest stresses for the typical grower can involve crop failure. When seeds fail to germinate, or a provider of live plant material such as cuttings or plugs fails to deliver, a real problem arises, particularly in the case of plants that are in high demand or that have been specially ordered by request. Assuming the seed for a lost crop is even still available by the time the failed germination is confirmed (which is often not the case), some seed companies can take several weeks to ship your order. By the time the seed arrives, there may not be enough time left in the season to grow the plant in time for its demand. The same is true when an expected shipment of live plants is not forthcoming or arrives damaged. Unfortunately, while these orders must typically be placed at least six months in advance of the expected delivery date, the provider may not feel compelled to provide any advance notice of failure in return, and the nursery owner may not discover the loss until the shipment is actually received. Because of the lead time required to fill such orders and the heavy demand at the time of year the issue arises, the lost plants may be impossible to replace at a later date.

The proper watering of nursery stock can also be a source of stress, although many owners actually find the process, which can consume all day, every day, to be relaxing. Growing beautiful plants depends on even watering. Should a drought or long period of heavy rains occur, outdoor plants may wither or rot. The same is true where an improperly trained employee is set to the task of watering, as it involves far more than simply waving a sprinkling hose back and forth over pots or trays. Each variety has its own particular moisture needs. Some, such as succulents, should not be watered until they are completely dry. Others, such as ligularia, should never be allowed to dry out completely. Geraniums flower heads will be quickly destroyed when wet, and asters will be far more prone to powdery mildew when the leaves are wet. Where plants are grown under cover and watered with dripline irrigation, soaker hoses, or other automated systems, many of these problems can be avoided, although this may not be practical or possible for the smaller grower.

While temperature control, crop failure, and watering issues are some of the most common concerns of the typical nursery owner, they are far from the only ones (the effect of the economy could well be the subject of many lengthy articles to come). Nevertheless, most small nursery owners will tell you that they continue to grow not because they expect to get rich, but for the love of the process. I, for one, can think of nothing more enjoyable than to see the first tiny sprouts break through the walls of the seeds in which they are imprisoned, spreading their new leaves eagerly to bask in the warmth of the sun.

No comments: