Growing quality Phalaenopsis Orchids efficiently and responsibly, all year round for the local market. This was the aim of the brothers Mike and Neil van Steekelenburg when they founded CosMic Plants Inc. in Beamsville Ontario in 2004. They started with a 5,600m2 greenhouse and now grow orchids on a total of 3ha over 2 locations. Mother’s Day is their biggest holiday and according to Cosmic Plant’s Arjan Noordam, despite some challenges, the run-up so far is great. In this article, he tells us more about the company’s history, how he joined, how the nursery developed over the years, the orchid market in North America, their future plans, and more.
Mike and Neil have Dutch roots and growing is in their blood for over 125 years. When the brothers decided to start growing phalaenopsis, they purchased a 5,600 m2 double poly greenhouse that needed a complete make over to meet modern standards. “Initially only half of that facility was used for the production of orchids and the other half of the greenhouse to grow seasonal products to gain recognition, build a reputation as a floral producer here in Canada and to generate quicker cashflow.”
Arjan joined CosMic Plants a year later, in 2005. He is originally from ‘s Gravenzande, the Netherlands, but really enjoyed Canada and was not ready to go back. That turned out to be a great decision. He met Mike and Neil at the end of his internship at a local garden center and now 18 years later, they have a team of over 50 employees and his role grew to that of Director of Operations.
Up until this day they still grow all of their plants by starting from a tissue culture young plant. “Half grown plants or young plants in plugs were not available when CosMic Plants started and so we had to take the long route: an 18 months growth cycle from start to finish. As a result, we started selling our first blooming Orchids no sooner than the spring of 2006.”
By the year 2007, it became clear that there was more demand for CosMic Plants’ orchids so the seasonal crops were discontinued and the focus shifted to only growing orchids. “Our production doubled from 2000 plants per week to 4000 plants per week. A small expansion in 2010 allowed us to grow to 5500 plants per week.”
In 2011 they started collaborating with a colleague orchid grower to expand their production numbers and in 2016 they purchased a modern greenhouse of 2.2 ha in size. “Here we took a similar approach as with the first location by completely restructuring and renovating the greenhouse to make it perfect to grow orchids. We needed to work on our sales and markets for the potential production expansion and it was felt that the full 2.2 ha of extra space would be too big of a jump if filled with orchids only. We decided to only use the front half of the facility for growing orchids while renting out the back half to our neighbors. In 2020 we stopped renting out and also used that part of the facility to grow orchids in, which brought us to a total of 3 ha over 2 locations.” Their products are being sold on their home market in Canada and the United States as an export market.
Unique line up and sustainable cultivation
So what makes CosMic Plants’ phalaenopsis orchids so special? Arjen: “Phalaenopsis orchids is becoming more and more a commodity in a lot of garden centers, florists, retailers and large box stores. The reason we stand out from the other producers, is that we have a unique line up: a variety of Phalaenopsis categories in 2 pot sizes which differentiates us in the market space. Please see our website on this. We also grow our orchids in the most sustainable way and control the whole growth process from variety selection to young plant production, from start to finish.”
Customers are more careful
The last two (Covid) years have been good years for CosMic Plants, but Arjan notices that customers are becoming more careful with ordering their volumes. “Despite that dynamic we’ve had great Valentine’s Day sales and now that spring, and Mother’s Day are around the corner, it is looking good with production numbers peaking. But since the summer of last year we have had to push a little harder for sales. We have had to find more customers and expand our geographical reach.”
Good run-up to Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is CosMic Plants’ biggest holiday and according to Arjan, the run-up is great. “The production peaks we planned for over 2 years ago, are finally being realized. This is an ongoing process though with such a long growth cycle! But when the schedules work out and the product quality is there, it gives the whole team a feeling of great accomplishment.”
Challenge - 2 dark month
One of the major challenges they faced recently was that they experienced one of the darkest December and January months on record. “It had an effect on growing conditions for the plants and sometimes even on people’s moods!” How to deal with it? Some of it is beyond one’s control, explains Arjan. “We could tweak the climate control settings a bit, but nothing replaces free and natural sun light.”
When asking Arjan if he is pleased at the moment, he says: “Yes, we are pleased, because in this industry there is always something to improve yet. That keeps things exciting. At the same time, there are quite some global economic and political dynamics at play which cause for a bit of uncertainty but the floral industry has always proven to be extremely resilient.”
CosMic Plants’ is always looking to improve and innovate and they are currently looking into LED’s. “Our next major investment will likely be in LED lights. We’re following all the developments in the Netherlands closely and doing our own research. We currently have one climate zone under LED lights and would like to expand that in due time.” And when looking at the future, they are also brainstorming and envisioning what the future ownership structure of CosMic Plants could look like.
For more information:
CosMic Plants Inc.
4665 Bartlett Road
Lincoln, ON L3J 0Z2
T: +1 905 562 9389
F: +1905 562 9390