Greenhouses, Plant Biology

Greenhouses

The Greenhouses at UGA

The Department of Plant Biology maintains seven greenhouses with a floor area of approximately 24,000 square feet, along with a transplant garden area and lath house, 18 growth chambers, and three walk-in growth rooms. All greenhouses are connected on the north side to a common headhouse or service building that includes a small laboratory, work areas for potting, cold storage, offices and supply rooms.

The greenhouses support both research and teaching activities in Plant Biology, as well as, Genetics and Ecology. While most of the greenhouse space is reserved for research, an extensive collection of plants is maintained for teaching.

Greenhouse staff

The Plant Growth Facilities are under the supervision of Michael Boyd. Kevin Tarner is responsible for research greenhouses five and six as well as the flower room in greenhouse two (part of the teaching collection). Greg Cousins is responsible for teaching and research materials in greenhouses zero, one and two, and the production and delivery of all classroom material. Michael Boyd takes care of research projects in greenhouses five and six, and the plant collections in greenhouse three.

Use of our teaching materials

The Plant Growth Facilities and staff are available to grow plants for courses taught within The Biological Sciences Division. Requests should be presented in writing to Mike Boyd, who will insure that plants are at the proper stage when needed. Please make sure that requests are made sufficiently ahead of time so that materials can be purchased, work can be planned in advance, and plants have time to grow.

The greenhouse facility maintains diverse collections of tropical plants, cacti and succulents, seedless vascular plants, cycads, carnivorous plants, and orchids. Our staff will deliver requested plants from the collection rooms to the classroom, and will also return the plants to the greenhouses. Personnel in the teaching labs are responsible for watering demonstration plants while in use. Please make requests at least one week in advance to Mike Boyd. We welcome additions to the teaching collections, but unfortunately are unable to handle requests for field-collected material.

Instructors are welcome to bring their classes to the facility to set up short-term projects or to visit the teaching collections, but please contact Mike Boyd at least two weeks in advance. Tour groups from local schools and orgnizations are welcome.

Research Projects Space

Faculty and students should submit requests for research space to Michael Boyd on the forms provided below. Project size and duration, current space availability, past performance, request lead-time and project importance are all considered when allocating space. Every effort will be made to provide space to all those who need it. Priority will be given to faculty, students, and staff in the Plant Biology Department.

First time users of the greenhouse facility should schedule an orientation session with the greenhouse manager before starting their projects. Keys will be issued by the manager, and should be returned promptly at the end of the project. Any delays in the completion date should be discussed as soon as possible.

The greenhouse manager has final authority with regard to space allocation.

Supplies

Commonly used containers, soil mixes, tools, fertilizers, and labels are available at no charge to personnel in the Department of Plant Biology. Requests for unusually large quantities of supplies or unusual supply needs requires advanced planning and budgeting. Please consult with greenhouse staff concerning the location and use of available supplies.

Responsibilities

The greenhouse staff is responsible for:

  1. watering and fertilization, including weekends and holidays, if these are not part of the experimental treatments
  2. disease and insect control practices
  3. providing horticultural supplies and soil mixes
  4. assisting with the acquisition of seed and plant material
  5. assisting with design, configuration of environmental conditions, planting and maintenance of projects
  6. steam sterilization

Greenhouse users will be expected to:

  1. take charge in starting projects
  2. carry out all experimental treatments and measurements
  3. harvest plant material needed for experimental purposes
  4. maintain an active role in the progress of the project
  5. promptly notify the staff at the end of the project and assist with the disposal of unneeded plants
  6. autoclave transgenic plant waste.

Growth Chambers

The department currently has 18 reach-in and step-in growth chambers. Twelve chambers are located in the headhouse building and six in B023 of the Life Sciences Building. In addition, the department shares space in three large growth rooms in B023 of Life Sciences. Since growth chamber space is limited, allocation of space will be based on the user’s documented need for environmentally controlled or isolated conditions.

www.plantbio.uga.edu

Good Bug, Bad Bug: Using Beneficial Insects in the Greenhouse

When I walk into a greenhouse—any greenhouse—I’m immediately hit with the smell of green and earth. The smell is so pungent, it transports me to another place, somewhere that work and stress and responsibilities don’t exist. You can imagine how unsettled that calm becomes the moment I realize that thrips or whiteflies have managed to penetrate the defenses and are sneakily destroying those plants that the greenhouse is supposed to be protecting.

Although planting in a greenhouse makes a clean break from the many problems common to outdoor planting, that doesn’t mean that these issues won’t find their way inside. You’d need a battery of miniature sniper towers to prevent all unauthorized entries through the tiny cracks and unscreened vents, let alone the ninja pests that hitch rides into the greenhouse on new plants.

Luckily for all of us, there are mercenaries available for just this sort of thing. Predatory and parasitic insects have caught the attention of research and commercial greenhouses across the country—this is great news for the rest of us, because the increasing demand for these insects is making them easier to order through catalogs and websites.

Bugs in the greenhouse

I had never considered the benefits of using predatory insects in a controlled setting like a greenhouse until a few lacewings wandered into my greenhouse one day. Well, I say they wandered, but what they really did was lay some eggs on my African violets. It took a few minutes before I realized what I was looking at (if you’ve never seen them, lacewings lay unusual eggs that hang from long, delicate stalks). Being the curious type, I left them alone, just to see if they’d hatch—after all, it’s been a terrible year for flower thrips (I accidentally introduced some on an infected plan—quarantine, quarantine, quarantine!).

A few weeks later I started seeing teensy green nymphs wandering around on my plants and I noticed that the flower thrips were becoming less and less of a threat. Within a few weeks, the colony of thrips was completely gone, which was a great relief to both myself and the African violets. Now, I’m not one to ever put all my eggs in one basket, but so far, so good. Knowing the green lacewings are on patrol makes me worry less about thrips and mites; when I accidentally uncover one of these little hunters, I’m pretty sure they’re wiggling their antennae at me as if to say, “No worries, boss, I’ve got this.”

Beneficial insects suited to greenhouse life

Not all bugs are created equal, especially when it comes to working for a living. If your greenhouse is reasonably small with manual temperature and humidity controls, you’re going to need much hardier stock than the commercial producer who has the ability to create precise climate zones. Small producers often order new bugs each year instead of attempting to establish a breeding colony of beneficials, just to simplify the process.

Generalist hunters like ladybugs, mantids and my green lacewings are excellent choices for starting a greenhouse biological control program. These insects are readily available, inexpensive to purchase and familiar to almost any gardener. Heck, if you can find some mantids running around in your garden or ladybugs overwintering in your attic, they’ll transplant well into a tightly screened greenhouse.

For other growers, more specific help might be needed. If you’ve got a particularly noxious case of mites, it may benefit you to set species-specific predators on them. You can fight mites with mites—predatory mites like Galendromus occidentalis and Amblyseius californicus are hungry hunters who are able to roll with the punches as conditions change in the greenhouse. Predatory mites are often used as a short-term control for chronic problems with their plant-feeding cousins.

When caterpillars, sawflies or beetles are the problem, parasitic wasps may be the answer. Unlike their cousins the social wasps, parasitic wasps are very small and usually lack a stinger. During the reproductive phase of their lives, these wasps seek out soft-bodied larvae as food sources for their young. When the wasps find a suitable host, they lay a series of eggs on or inside the nuisance insect. Upon hatching, the new wasps feed on the parasitized host and the cycle of life continues.

Other jobs for beneficials

So far, there’s been a lot of talk about killing other bugs with bug on bug violence, but I haven’t gotten to the very best part of beneficial insects that I discovered while reading about commercial greenhouse tomato production a while back. As it turns out, bumblebees are making a huge splash on the beneficial insect scene; we’ve heard a lot lately about the value of native bees to our gardens, especially with the decline of the European honey bee.

If you’re growing vegetables indoors in a medium to large greenhouse, you may want to invest in a bumblebee box stuffed with these nifty pollinators. Like honey bees, bumblebees are docile creatures and not prone to stinging, but unlike honey bees, they don’t make a lot of honey or wax that creates yet another chore. Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of tomatoes, the perennial greenhouse favorite, and do a smashing job with other plants that require labor-intensive hand-pollination like peppers and strawberries.

Since discovering the lacewings in my greenhouse, I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for what they can do. Not only do I use considerably fewer chemicals in my plants (after carefully checking that the lacewings are elsewhere), my little greenhouse helpers are more than ready to scoop up trouble pests before I’m even aware of their presence. You may not be ready to bring bumblebees or parasitic wasps on board just yet, but adding a few friendly ladybugs to your greenhouse might just enhance that sense of calm your greenhouse bestows every time you open the door.

www.greenhomegnome.com

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The big three

Focus on Pest Control — Biological controls

Keep populations of thrips, aphids and spider mites at bay with biological controls.

Year after year, growers report that thrips, aphids and spider mites are the most problematic pests in the greenhouse. From beneficial insects to proper scouting and sanitation, there are many things you can do to manage these three threats with biological controls. We spoke with Alex Traven, head grower at Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, about best practices.

No matter what pests you’re dealing with, weed control is an absolute must, Traven says. He’s noticed that wherever you have leaks, you’re going to have weeds, and with weeds come bugs. So when Peace Tree Farm is shutting down its greenhouses, he drains all of the plumbing and makes sure that there are no wet spots left.

“Otherwise you’ll have weeds growing in there that nobody knows about until you go in to refill that house and find that you’ve already got bugs in there,” Traven says.

While biological controls are great at controlling pest populations where they are, they don’t eradicate them, Traven says, so it’s crucial to start off on the right foot. “So if you’re starting with a very, very low population that’s below your economic threshold, a good biological control program will keep it there. But if you’re already to the point where you’ve got damage or a very high population, you won’t really be able to catch up to it,” he says.

A lacewing larvae eating a potato aphid on a pepper plant

Controlling thrips

Thrips are a perennial issue for greenhouses and Traven is always on watch for them. “My assumption from day one with every single thing is that there are thrips there,” he says. “I’ve never really felt like I was able to exclude them from anything.”

If you’re using a biological control program, it’s critical to get them early on in their life cycle and prevent them from building up a population. “You don’t wait and see on thrips. If you wait and see on thrips, you’re done,” he says.

It’s incredibly difficult to control adult thrips with beneficial insects since many predatory mites or beneficial nematodes only target the pest in certain life stages, so timing is everything. Traven will even change the dates of his bug deliveries to make sure that predatory mites are being applied the day after Peace Tree is sticking cuttings.

“When you’re talking about these really short life stages of insects — that can be a two- or three-day window that you can really control them. You can miss that entire window of control with bio-controls if you’re waiting a week before applying,” he says.

Identifying aphids

Instead of looking for aphids themselves, Traven recommends telling employees (especially less experienced workers) to scout for aphid damage, which is much easier to spot.

“They’re much more likely to notice the shininess of the honeydew that they excrete or the white molted skins than they are to see the very cryptically colored small aphids that might be there,” he says.

Identification is key when it comes to biological aphid control, Traven says. But, “It’s not as easy as one would suspect.”

Growers often assume that whatever species of plant you find an aphid on defines the type of aphid. For example, an aphid on lettuce is always a lettuce aphid.

“But that’s not true at all,” Traven says. “There are many different types of aphids that have different hosts that they like or don’t like. And then on top of that, there’s different parasites and organisms that will control those aphids, but some of them are species-specific.”

A potato aphid parasitized by Aphidius ervi (left) and three birdcherry-oat aphids parasitized by Aphidius colemani

Fighting spider mites

Spider mites don’t fly like thrips or aphids, but they’re “astonishingly mobile,” Traven says. There’s a lot you can do to control them with proper sanitation practices, but once they get into the greenhouse, they don’t hesitate to climb up posts and basket lines and make their way across drip lines.

To spot them, look for damage at the tips of the plants rather than spider mites themselves.

One of the things Traven has found is that environmental conditions can favor the predators in the fight against spider mites. “You can’t just rely on one organism through the entire growing season,” he says. “You may need to switch when the weather switches.”

But the main thing to remember is to clean thoroughly in the off-season to keep spider mites from overwintering and then exploding in population once the temperatures get warmer.

Potato aphid

Bringing in chemicals

If you’re dealing with a biological control program like Peace Tree Farm, you’ll also have to take a look at the interactions between chemical applications and your beneficial insects. At a certain point, Traven says you have to make sure that you’re looking at the economic threshold of a crop and determining the best course of action to keep your plant at the quality it needs to be.

“If you don’t feel like it’s going to make it at the quality that you need, obviously you need to do what you need to do,” he says.

But be aware that the effects can be long-lasting to a biological program if you aren’t careful. There are certain conventional products that can be used to target specific pests without harming beneficial insects, but broad-spectrum sprays can wreak havoc on a program.

“It’s kind of a slippery slope of chemical use when you use a chemical to treat a crop where you have a beneficial insect program,” Traven says.

Say you’re protecting against five different pests and one of them gets to too high of a level. If you spray for that pest, you can kill the beneficial insects that are controlling the other four, Traven says. Suddenly, you’re looking at the other four pests growing without the control of the beneficial insects and needing to make a broad-spectrum application to get things under control.

“So there’s a real slippery slope once you start using chemicals that really tends to just shut down the program unless you’re using very specific targeted products,” Traven says.

Aphids

Spider mites

Biologicals

Thrips

Pest control

Pest and Disease

Pest Scouting

High touch

Departments — Meet the Grower: Michiel Verheul

Michiel Verheul shares decades of growing knowledge with employees and customers at High Q Greenhouses.

Michiel Verheul admits that he probably wouldn’t make a good tree grower, because he wouldn’t have the patience to wait years for saplings to grow into calipers. When he started High Q Greenhouses in Alberta, Canada, in 1988, he decided to focus on young plants.

“My favorite part is when large volumes of unrooted cuttings come in, and we’re sticking trays and trays of cuttings,” says Verheul, owner and head grower at High Q, which is an authorized “root and sell” grower for Selecta and Dümmen Orange. “They’re a little limp when they first go on the bench, and you water them in and come back an hour later, and they’re all standing straight up. That gives me great joy, seeing the plant’s response to what we’re doing.”

But it’s not just the speed of watching young plants grow that gives Verheul gratification. What he enjoys most about the greenhouse industry is interacting with other growers to share his expertise — whether they’re employees or customers who finish the young plants he grows.

“I love the fact that my customers are other growers, because I like talking to other growers about how they grow crops and finding out how they overcome challenges,” says Verheul, who owns the greenhouse with his wife, Ina. “We’re providing cuttings to growers that they can make even bigger and more beautiful, and seeing what our customers do with our products just blows me away.”

Here’s how Verheul is sharing his horticultural knowledge with other growers throughout the western provinces.

After doing everything for himself in the past, Verheul has delegated more and more in recent years.

Family roots

A fourth-generation grower, Verheul grew up in the Netherlands, where his family grew vegetables. Naturally, he pursued an education in horticulture. He had the opportunity to work in Canada to gain experience as part of his training, and he liked it so much that he began the immigration process and moved to Canada in 1983 — soon after marrying Ina.

He worked for a wholesale grower for five years, but the goal was always to start their own business. “We were all gung-ho with a business plan, and we went to the bank they just laughed us right out of there,” he says. “So, we took all our savings and rented a facility to start our business.”

The first year, they rented 3,000 square feet of space. After moving to a larger location, they grew to 20,000 square feet within five years. Then in 1992, they finally got a bank loan and purchased their own land where they continued to grow. Now, a combination of gutter-connected and freestanding greenhouses cover a total of 60,000 square feet.

One of Verheul’s current tasks is doing more customer education.

Team training

As High Q Greenhouses expanded, Verheul’s role and responsibilities changed.

“I’ve learned to delegate rather than try to do everything myself,” Verheul says. “As the operation grows, you’re finding your hands are not dirty every day. You have to learn to become a manager rather than a grower.” The businesses employs 17 people during peak season, and dips down to four during the off-season.

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Over time, Verheul documented his processes and practices for seeding, watering and, more recently, distributing biocontrols, to give employees a guidebook to follow. “Documentation is important for continuity and continued improvements,” he says — especially when the employee base is so seasonal, and as growing methods and materials continue to evolve.

Customer education

Similarly, Verheul trained his office staff to handle the most frequent questions from customers, so now only about 20% of the more specific or unusual queries trickle down to him. As soon as he notices several customers asking the same thing, “we try to fix it by avoiding the question,” he says, using channels like social media and his annual catalog to educate customers. “Our catalog has gone through an amazing amount of adjustments to mitigate some of the most common questions.”

In the early days, Verheul spent hours on the phone with customers. Now, he produces a weekly email newsletter and posts regularly on Facebook to share updates more efficiently. High Q also launched a new website last year to make ordering even easier.

But those new channels don’t replace face-to-face conversation. When Verheul first started High Q, he personally delivered every order. Obviously, that’s not possible anymore, but now, a lot of customers come to him, instead.

“My customers have access to me,” Verheul says, explaining that 70% of High Q’s products ship to a few major depots throughout the region, while some customers pick up orders themselves. “The 30% of customers who come to the door, we’re able to interact with them personally. That’s what makes us successful is that personal touch. As an independent grower, I’m in touch with my customers so I’m able to educate them directly.”

Leveraging more than 35 years of growing experience, Verheul is happy to share best practices and new ideas with his customers. “If the information we’re giving is helpful to a grower,” he says, “then that’s going to make us more successful.”

The author is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Greenhouse Management magazine.

Meet the Grower

High Q Greenhouses

Direct to doorstep

Departments — Hort Truths

Direct shipping can be a way to attract new customers and increase profits.

“Direct to your doorstep every month” is pretty much the retail mantra of the moment; one that holds true for the plant industry as much as any other. I’ve lost count of new online direct-to-consumer houseplant retailers that keep popping up. All that marketplace pressure, or opportunity, may have you considering shipping direct to retail customers.

With the houseplant craze still on the rise — and market disruptors such as The Sill influencing many entrepreneurs from outside the green industry to jump on the plant wagon — growers are faced with the decision of going retail to compete.

On the surface, or from the outside, it may seem like a simple enterprise to start direct shipping the plants you’re already growing. Not so. You’re creating a new profit center for your operation, which is often akin to creating an entirely new business. A new business that has very different logistical requirements than your wholesale operation. Online ecommerce capacity, inventory tracking, taxes and accounting, order pulling, packaging, shipping and so on. All these new operations require different and additional labor and costs.

If you think it’s just the logistics you’ll need to adapt and manage, think again. The marketing work that will go into targeting and engaging with the end consumer will be a whole new ball game for you. Oh, and you’ll need to staff for that work too.

Direct shipping isn’t going to be logical or profitable for all wholesale growers. For some, it could mean creating the new customer base and revenue stream they need to stay in business. Let’s look at a few fundamental considerations if you find yourself facing this decision.

Product

Before you consider going the direct-shipping route, consider your products and plant offerings. Is what you grow going to be in-demand for online plant shoppers? For example: If your current customer base is landscape contractors and your product cash cows are mostly full-flat bedding annuals, then online direct to consumer sales may make no sense for you.

If your product selection is more diverse across plant categories or unique, and you’re willing to mix and match flats and sell individual plants, then branching out into retail sales can make sense. If you are a tropical foliage or succulent grower, then your inventory is a prime target for today’s online plant consumers.

Technology

Selling product as an online retailer is going to require not only a nice modern website, but also a meaningful investment in an ecommerce platform, as well as integration with your existing inventory software and live inventory itself. Creating a new digital presence may already be a big step for you.

Directly selling plants to customers can create a new profit center for growers, if done correctly.

Legal

Obviously, there are different legal and monetary considerations when selling retail versus wholesale. Additional business licenses or certificates may need to be obtained. Taxes will need to be collected and reported differently, dependent upon where you ship. You’ll also have to make sure you manage shipping restrictions for certain types of plants across state lines.

Marketing

You’ll be creating a new profit center for your business; you should also create a new business plan or marketing plan to support it. Are you ready to start marketing to an entirely separate segment of customers? Defining exactly who you’ll be selling and shipping direct to is vital to creating effective targeted marketing. You’ll need to tailor both organic and paid marketing and advertising efforts to your new customers, as well as manage your social media engagement.

Packaging

If you’ve ever ordered plants online or from a mail-order business, you’ve probably seen all sorts of different packing styles. Some work great, some are terrible and result in damaged plants. Figuring out how to properly pack your plants so that they not only survive their shipping journey, but also show up looking fantastic, is no easy feat. You’ll need to do a lot of experimentation and invest in the right materials configuration. Not to mention, create new customer facing POP materials, such as tags, care sheets and more.

Labor

All the work that goes into shipping direct to customers will differ from your wholesale SOPs. If your sales have been declining, and your existing staff has time to burn, then it could be a good opportunity to put them back to work and grow sales. If you’re already maxed out on your labor, then you’ll need to plan for new staff to handle customer service, process retail orders, assemble orders, pack and ship, and do marketing. Don’t assume your existing wholesale staff will be able to add on retail duties or be suited to them.

Outsourcing

You may have seen a few plant “drop shipping” services pop up over the last few years. These operations plug in to your ecommerce platform, such as Shopify, and drop ship plants they grow to your customer. While I think this kind of model could potentially be useful for retailers that are not in the green industry (but want to retail plants) — or retail garden centers who don’t want to take the direct ship plunge but want to capitalize on certain retail plant trends — you are giving away a lot of control. Whatever, and however, the drop shipper handles product quality and customer service will be a direct reflection on your brand. Be prepared to keep a tight eye on quality control if you outsource your online plant sales.

We’re only scratching the surface here, as there are many other factors to consider when you’re developing a new profit center for your greenhouse operation. Direct shipping may not be right for you as a grower, but if you’re ready to jump in, just make sure you’ve done all your retail homework.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com

Ecommerce

Direct-to-consumer

Mail-Order

Direct-Shipping

A pat on the back

Departments — Outlook

During a particularly crazy time at a recent trade show, I enlisted some help from a coworker to deal with a last-minute problem and said what I always say — “Thanks!” I was more than a little surprised when they responded, “I’m just doing my job.” While that was technically true, it struck me that this person probably hadn’t been shown a lot of gratitude.

In the day-to-day of shipping deadlines, staffing problems and making sales, it’s easy to forget to show your appreciation. But that’s when it matters most. When stress levels are high, you can change the mood at your operation by setting a good example. Whether it’s someone doing their job well, going above and beyond or working some extra hours, they’ll appreciate knowing that their efforts are noticed.

It’s like they always say, “People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.” Whether it’s a birthday card, a text, an email or a pat on the back, it could make the difference in someone’s day. And it could make a difference in employee performance and retention.

The topic comes to mind particularly now that the holiday season is over. It’s easy to remember to show gratitude during the holiday season when warm, fuzzy feelings are in the air, but it’s just as important during the rest of the year.

The issue is illustrated really well by food bank donations. During the holidays, food banks are inundated with donations while people are feeling generous. But when spring and summer hit, shelves get bare and people go hungry.

So next time things are getting tense or you notice a gray atmosphere around the greenhouse, try telling people they’re doing a good job. It just might bring a little holiday cheer all year-round.

Kate Spirgen, Editor | [email protected] | 216-393-0277

Controlling the unknown

Features — Cover Story

Despite challenges, greenhouses rely on fundraisers as a core part of their business.

It’s the middle of December. Snow is on the greenhouse roof. The weather is frigid and the growing season is almost over. A well-deserved break is just a few days away.

But the entire greenhouse is still bustling, still humid and muggy as poinsettias and other holiday crops are being finished. Once the plants are ready to serve as a centerpiece of the table or the lynchpin of a home’s holiday decorations, they’ll be placed carefully into trucks to be shipped out to nearby big box stores, independent garden centers or perhaps the grower’s own retail shop down the road.

Some of those plants, though, serve a special purpose. Those plants then travel to nearby churches, schools, sports teams and other groups that have sold the plants as fundraisers. And for many greenhouses, doing fundraisers is a core part of the business and represents a main source of revenue.

Growing for fundraisers, though, can be a challenging exercise for operations. For one, there is no easy way to know exactly how big each fundraiser will be and how many of each plant will be needed. There’s also the question of pricing — should it match wholesale or retail pricing, or should it be marked at a different rate? And how can a grower prep without knowing final order sizes when the growing season starts?

“There’s no good way to plan,” says Tim Holliday, head grower and wholesale manager of Roebuck Greenhouses in Roebuck, South Carolina. “You never know what trend is going to hit year-to-year.”

Bev and Tim Galema at Galema’s Greenhouse in West Lafayette, Indiana

“It can be a hard place to be in.»

Galema’s Greenhouse, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, sells its plants to almost every corner of the industry, from fundraisers to landscapers to their own retail store. Growing in around 70,000 square feet of greenhouse space and about 20 acres outdoors, the business produces everything from young plants to poinsettias to mums and some vegetables.

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According to Bev Galema, who runs the business alongside her husband, owner and founder Tim Galema, no part of the business is more chaotic than the fundraising part of the business.

“It can be a hard place to be in because if they order a pink plant and we don’t have that for whatever reason, they aren’t going to want a red one,” she says. “So, to balance what I can offer that’s unique and have enough on-hand, because it is a perishable product and I can’t grow more, is tricky.”

Galema’s was founded by Tim in 1991, a few years after he graduated from Purdue University. He had worked for a greenhouse operation and gone back to Purdue to work in a lab, but Bev says Tim had been unhappy and wanted to get back to growing. That’s when the greenhouse that had previously employed him was put on the market.

“So we looked at them and he said, ‘I helped build them. I know what’s wrong with them and how to fix them,’” Galema says. They leased some land on Tim’s grandfather’s farm and started building the business little by little. In the beginning, Tim was still working part-time at Purdue.

“That developed into one more thing and one more thing and now we’ve got space I can’t keep track of,” Bev says with a laugh. “I have a degree in accounting [from Purdue] and actually worked full time before we had kids. And then this became my full-time job.” The Galema’s three children, as well as Tim’s parents, all work for the business.

Fundraising, she says, has been part of the business almost since the beginning and accounts for roughly 10 to 15% of Galema’s overall sales. The business grows mums for fall fundraisers and poinsettias for winter ones.

“We started with small growers, so we understand the needs of small growers and know the needs of small people,” Galema says. “We are flexible to handle the needs of more hands-on people. Not everybody wants 10,000 of one thing. And even if they get 100 of one thing, they don’t want 100 of the same color.”

According to Bev Galema, 10 to 15% of her business’ sales come from fundraisers.

Fundraising for Galema’s follows that same ethos. According to Galema, the business does fundraisers with different organizations across the state with no real criteria for what kind of group can purchase Galema’s plants for them. For instance, the greenhouse began growing for around 12 fundraisers for different travel softball teams in the area after an initial team signed up. From there, word got around.

One challenge now, Galema says, is growing for fundraisers correctly without overextending the business by taking on orders that could leave the business short on plants. She says the greenhouse space is about full, so committing more space for a winter poinsettia fundraiser just isn’t an option. And even then, there is still the challenge of being able to give customers exactly what they ordered.

“For poinsettias, one thing people like that can be hard to find are Jingle Bells poinsettias, which have generally not been in a box store,” she says. “But because I can’t find it anywhere else, I can’t go to my fellow growers and ask for 50 more because the fundraiser over-ordered. So, in the past year, we have been trying to shift our customers to give us [final totals] at least two weeks ahead.”

Roebuck Greenhouses started growing for fundraisers in the late 1990s. According to Holliday, the business started working with fundraisers when a friend asked him to do one for a local middle school. From there, they developed their own brochures and started to grow that side of the business. Fundraisers take place in the winter for poinsettias and in the spring for hanging baskets.

Roebuck used to grow for big box stores like Kmart, Lowe’s and Walmart before many of those stores began sourcing all their plants from one greenhouse producer.

“We had to change our business model, so we started focusing more on the landscapers, the independents and the fundraisers,” Holliday says. He started at Roebuck in 1990 and the business only shifted hard away from big box stores in 2006 just before the Great Recession.

Currently, Holliday says fundraising accounts for around 30 to 33% of Roebuck’s overall sales from the 200,000-square-foot greenhouse. He expects that part of the business to continue growing too but says it’s the most stressful part of the job.

“It’s terrible; I’ll be quite honest with you,” he says. “The little bit of hair I have left, I’m about to pull out. We aren’t taking orders — we’ve committed to this school civic group or whatever — and their numbers are still coming in. And right now, I’m oversold based on paper. You need a good backup plan.”

“It’s one and done, and I don’t have to keep after them.»

Currently, Galema’s offers its fundraiser customers the same price it does its wholesale customers. According to Galema, they’ve done that for years and had no reason to do it differently until recently.

“We haven’t changed it yet,” she says. “As we get more into this and we talk to more people, we have learned that isn’t always the case.” In 2020, Galema’s could raise prices for fundraisers, although not by more than a few percentage points.

Galema says the business is still profitable charging wholesale rates. There is more uncertainly with the process, she says, but it is also a one-and-done sale. By comparison, the ongoing relationship with retailers is sometimes an ongoing negotiation.

“You’re really selling to retailers every single week,” Galema says. “You’ll call them and tell them they need to take the gerberas this week because they are blooming like crazy and they’ll fly off the shelves and they’ll say, ‘I don’t want gerberas.’ So you’re constantly in that sales mode with retailers because they are ordering what their shelves look like, regardless of how good mine look. A fundraiser is going to take them because they already ordered them.

“It’s one and done, and I don’t have to keep after them,” she says. “It’s a different mindset.”

The real key for pricing fundraisers correctly, Galema says, is finding the right balance between the different parts of the business. Each part of the business supports the other, so if there’s a rainy spring and retailers aren’t ordering as much as expected, fundraiser orders can help make up lost sales. The inverse can be true if there’s a shorter poinsettia season.

She also notes that the different parts of the business can be reliant on different crops. For instance, Galema’s would probably stop growing poinsettias altogether, she says, if two large fundraisers went away in the winter. Without the fundraisers, the profit margins are not there to make growing poinsettias worthwhile.

For Holliday, the idea is to at least break even on a fundraiser. Prices are typically set at a point where the business can either make profit — particularly on volume sales — even if extra plants must be purchased from other growers at the last minute to fill orders. His prices per plant are slightly lower for fundraisers because the volume is likely to be there. His customers, 90% of which are schools, will regularly have $3,000 orders, whereas some IGCs are buying a maximum of $1,000 worth of plants.

Right now, Holliday does not have an order minimum, which it means there can be orders that are so small that Roebuck can’t make any money on them, but he’s considering changing that.

“I’ve been hung out to dry a few times this year where someone is three hours away and their fundraiser total is $300 and I’m sitting there thinking this is going to cost me $300, so it’s not even worth it,” he says. “But you never know. That small sale may be their first sale and the next year could be bigger.”

This year, Galema’s started using a program called Farmraiser to manage its orders. Schlegel Greenhouse, an operation in Indianapolis, recommended it to Galema’s and has used it for years. Farmraiser works by having the orders placed and processed online instead of via paper slip. The streamlined process also means there’s no chance cash or checks are lost in the process.

Farmraiser does take 10% of the gross sales from the fundraiser. The platform, though, allows the organizer to set the price for each item after the supplier sets a price based on what revenue they need out of it. The supplier can also set a maximum for a certain product — say a Jingle Bell poinsettia — so fundraising organizers can’t order in excess.

According to Bev Galema, a key to successful fundraiser sales is working as far ahead as possible.

“It controls some of that unknown.»

The first Galema’s customer to use Farmraiser was a fundraiser run by Bev and Tim’s daughter’s school band, who agreed to do it through the platform after Bev mentioned it.

“I got to see it from both ends, how it works,” she says. “They’ve got some kinks to work out, but I think it’s going to be a good platform. It gives me an ongoing report of what’s being ordered and then spits out specific orders of who ordered what.”

Galema also tries to only work with customers they’ve worked with in the past. Additionally, she says it is important to ease in any new customers by limiting what new customers can offer in a fundraiser. It’s also important, she says, to know what plants can be sourced from another operation if substitutions need to be made at the last minute.

Substitutions are a trick Holliday uses as well and he’s upfront with fundraisers to let them know that sometimes a change must be made. Roebuck only produces 35,000 to 40,000 poinsettias each year, so a larger grower nearby often will sell him enough to fill orders that Roebuck can’t with what’s on hand. He also limits the choices for poinsettias to 6” and 8” red, pink or white poinsettias.

Typically, he says, customers are interested in supporting the fundraiser as opposed to buying a specific plant, so substitutions — say a red poinsettia for a pink one — are a reliable solution. Another tip Holliday has: be picky about taking on new customers. In Roebuck’s case, they added 12 new fundraisers this year after a nearby greenhouse closed, but only did so because they felt it wouldn’t hinder any existing business.

Both Galema and Holliday say the best way to prognosticate for the next year is to tally what sold well in the year before and to have conversations with repeat customers to gauge what worked for them and what didn’t. That, they say, is the best way to see what sells and allows them to order the right product.

The process of making fundraisers run smoothly, however, is ongoing. More than anything, successfully growing for fundraisers is about doing what you can to get ahead and make it work as best you can.

“The farther ahead we can work on new things, and start new fundraisers, the better,” Galema says.

www.greenhousemag.com

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