In this first Grower-to-Grower article of 2020, Dennis Crum shares his list for pre-spring season planning. Give your crops a head start by taking care of business before the growing season begins.
After 25+ years of growing at Four Star Greenhouse, Director of Growing Operations Dennis Crum and his team of growers have developed some proven strategies to ensure healthy crops and smooth greenhouse operations. He puts great stock in the value of planning by reviewing past performance, which he explains in a recent article here.
But planning also means looking to the future, and he has a system to help growers get ready right now for the spring season, which he shares in this list below.
1. Have your 2020 growing plan in place
“By reviewing what you have grown successfully in the past and what you want to try this year, you should have a good idea of the varieties you plan to grow this year,” Crum says. “You should know what varieties to grow and in what size container. Also, know how many of each you’ll order.”
Get your growing season off to a good start by preparing your growing plan and greenhouse.
He notes that hopefully most growers have already made these decisions, because if they order early, they can often receive early-order discounts that can save significant money.
2. Check your growing space
“If it seems to you like you’re growing less, maybe it’s time to book more for this year,” he recommends.
Customers can give you great feedback. “Touch base with the people you do custom orders for and ask if they will need more this year. Review with them what they did and if that worked, so that this year’s plan is an improvement,” Crum says.
Your growing plan should ensure enough space for everything you want to grow this year.
“Now is the time to design your growing space, so make sure you have a workable system in place to compare the current plan to space available,” he explains. “If you don’t have enough space, you might have to size down or find someone else to do some growing for you. If you have extra space, decide what you can add.”
3. Get your ordering ready
“Do you have all your supplies ordered?” he asks. “I’m talking about seeds, cuttings, hard goods, trays, pots, tags, hanging baskets and related products. If you’re ordering unique or customized containers from overseas, is there enough time for them to be produced and shipped?”
“Don’t forget to order your custom tags for combinations, either,” he adds.
4. Analyze your water
“When was the last time you had your water tested?” Crum asks. “Have you made any new additions to your greenhouse or changes in growing practices? Were there any growing issues last year that need to be corrected?”
He recommends growers get water tests done early in the fall or as early as possible, to give them time to check the soil and pH, and to order the right soil mix, additives and fertilizers. “Make sure you understand your water and soil conditions and have all the materials ordered, so you are ready to grow with them,” he explains.
5. Check greenhouse equipment and growing environment
As early as possible, Crum recommends checking the environmental quality of the greenhouse for growing. This means an extensive review of the condition of heaters, fans, booms, injectors, lighting, irrigation equipment and all other system elements.
“Ask yourself if all your equipment is in good condition and ready to go,” he says. “Do you have enough racks? Do you need replacement equipment? The earlier you check, you’ll have more time to find the right items.”
Check the pH, fertilizer levels, watering protocols and culture guidelines to make sure new varieties grow well right from the start.
Give new and existing employees training on how the equipment works and how to operate it.
6. Plan early for 2020 labor
“Again, the earlier you can get people lined up yourself or check with a good source of labor, the better for your growing operation,” Crum says. “And remember to have enough truck drivers lined up to get your plants delivered!”
“Then, get your training done before starting the plants. Train your employees how to fill pots, handle plants, plant combinations – in other words, how to plant the way you want things planted,” he advises.
“Make sure everyone knows exactly how the equipment works and how to use it. Give the existing staff refresher courses on this too,” he says. “Everyone should know how to use fertilizer injectors and use the watering tools, which can be heavy and tricky to use.”
There is also yearly worker protection and safety training to consider. “They need to understand how to be safe with equipment, what the greenhouse procedures are, safe chemical use, clean growing practices and more,” he adds.
7. Be ready for new varieties
New varieties debut every year and each has specific growing requirements. “I suggest you review the crops you’re growing and become comfortable with those new varieties by reading culture guides and talking with salespeople, breeders and suppliers. You can also search online for culture and trial results from garden trials, university studies or breeder trials, which can be very helpful,” he notes.
“We do grow-out tests with new plant samples every year,” Crum explains. “We grow a good cross section of the new varieties and we check the pH, fertilizer levels, watering protocols, etc. to understand and be ready for the full growing season.”
8. Get your greenhouse clean and ready
“Is your greenhouse cleaned and ready for the new season?” he asks. “Are the weeds sprayed and is everything sanitized and ready to go?” It’s never too early to plan ahead and get started on preparations for a new growing season, Crum says. “Good preparations like this let you focus on the actual growing process, so you can maximize your crops!”
Start the season out with a clean, sanitized growing and operating space.