Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A fourth greenhouse growing herbs?

I didn’t post last week because Chuck and I were involved in deep negotiations with a young man named Bjorn. He is from Sweden and is a health food addict. He loves to cook wholesome, mostly organic food, using fresh herbs and spices. He noticed our three greenhouses driving by and he came in to see what we were growing.

Our greenhouse number one grows nothing but butter lettuce. We harvest 400 heads of crisp, tasty lettuce each day and deliver them the same day to local grocers. Greenhouse number two produces 600 heads of robust pak choi each day, which is delivered along with the lettuce. Finally, greenhouse number three was designed to grow 600 heads of Red Sails and Green Ice specialty lettuce, ones with the crinkly leaves.

Bjorn said that was all well and good, but warned us against putting all our future into our conviction that the lettuce market will stay healthy forever. “I used to grow nothing but hydroponic lettuce in Sweden, until some multinationals set up a hydro-lettuce growing operation just across the highway from my location. I had two greenhouses, so they built four giant ones. That’s when I looked around for something else to grow.”

It took him forty days to go from seed to harvest, since his operation wasn’t fully automated. He figured out that if he started growing herbs instead of lettuce, he could produce 5000 herbs per day, instead of the 800 heads of lettuce he was growing and harvesting each morning in his two greenhouses.

When you consider that pre-packaged small bunches of herbs sell for a higher price than a head of lettuce, the decision to switch made sense. Chuck thought about this for a moment, then bombarded Bjorn with questions. He wanted to know every single detail about the operation. How many people did he need to harvest and package the herbs? Three full-time employees, was the answer.

Did her use an organic fertilizer? No, because Bjorn is convinced that plants absorb inorganic nutrients, even from organic fertilizers. By feeding them inorganic nutrients to begin with, he’s just saving some time that it takes an organic fertilizer to break down into inorganic components.

We were glad to have found a like-minded person, who understood that our basic ferts, Advanced Nutrients Micro and Grow, were just as healthy for growing our vegetables, as any high-priced organic product. The expertly designed macro and micro nutrients in two-parts of the very popular hydro three-part (we don’t use Bloom because we don’t want our lettuce to go to flower and seed) provide our leafy crops with just the right nourishment to grow into large and beautiful salad ingredients.

Chuck and I showed Bjorn around our specialty lettuce operation, and he was really impressed with our Nutrient Pond. “We use a different hydroponic method. Our herbs grow in Styrofoam blocks, just like your lettuce, but the blocks are then placed in a long, u-shaped receptacle. These receptacles are designed to move smoothly along much narrower canals than your pond. The roots hang down into the space under the receptacles, which is flushed once every ten minutes with a recycled nutrient solution.

“Herbs get water stressed easily, so this way the roots never hang in water for too long. It’s almost like a combination hydroponic/aeroponic system. The roots breathe in between flushes—they appreciate these periods of oxygenation. Every two weeks the nutrient solution is discarded and the system of canals is flushed with plain water for a day."

“This cleansing with plain water is necessary to prevent diseases and allows the plants to concentrate essential oils,” explained Bjorn. “These oils are responsible for the strong taste and fragrance of my herbs.”

We told Bjorn about Sensi Cal Grow which ensures that our lettuce will always be crunchy and fresh, and Sweet Leaf, which is an Advanced Nutrients product designed to enhance the taste and fragrance of each plant. “The berry sugars and amino acids in Sweet Leaf load up the cells of the lettuce with carbohydrates, which in turn get rid of that slightly bitter taste that untreated lettuce sometimes has,” said Chuck.

We were reluctant to use Sweet Leaf, at first, since it is normally used during the flowering stage of plant growth. However, we tried it and it works equally well during the vegetative stage of our lettuce by enhancing the production of fragrant oils that in turn make our lettuce sweet and irresistible.

“And even though we use a synthetic base fertilizer, we do add an organic touch by using three Grandma Enggy products: Fulvic Acid, Humic Acid, and Seaweed Extract. The first two re-create that rich, black, organic topsoil that grew all those tasty vegetables in our grandparents’ day.”

Bjorn lifted out one of our Styrofoam squares with a Red Sails lettuce plant in the middle and had a horrified expression on his face when he looked at the black roots. “This would not be good for my herbs,” he said with a sigh. "We package them in hard plastic containers, with their white roots intact. If we allowed them to become black, we would lose half our customers.”

I explained that we cut the roots off at harvest time, so for us having the rich, black, organic Humic Acid coloring our nutrient solution is no problem. “You could always just use Golden Honey Fulvic Acid by itself,” I said, “and still get good results.”

“You can also use Mother Earth Super Tea Grow for that organic touch. It is a great complement to synthetic fertilizers, because even though you’re right that plants absorb inorganic nutrients even from organic fertilizers, there is something to be said for those age-proven organic ingredients that add something extra to any vegetable.”

“What herbs are the most popular?” asked Chuck, and I could see that he was already building the fourth greenhouse in his imagination. "Marjoram, Mint, Oregano are all popular, but Basil sales account for 40% of our profits. Lately, we have grown a lot of Cilantro, since the local Italian community has increased its demand for this herb."

“How long does it take to go from seed to harvest?” I asked. “Anywhere from 28 days to 42 days, depending on the specific herb. Our crops mature 25% faster than herbs grown in soil. Thanks for telling me about your plant nutrients. When I go back to Sweden, I must order some samples from Advanced Nutrients.”

We told Bjorn that the company’s online store would make that easy. “Be sure to contact the very helpful tech guys at Advanced Nutrients,” we told him. It’s a toll-free call and when you’re on their website, check out the Advancedpedia and the Nutrient Calculator, as well. They are very useful tools in deciding how to put together the perfect diet for whatever you grow.”
Bjorn thanked us and handed Chuck his business card. “If you ever want to get into the herb growing business, give me a call. I’m always looking to partner up with bright, enterprising young men, such as yourselves,” said Bjorn, with a charming Swedish accent. I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before Chuck would be dialing Bjorn’s cell phone number.

And so he did, and now we’re knee-deep in negotiations. Stay tuned to this blog for further developments.

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