Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bolting Lettuce, Chuck and I in Panic Mode

Chuck had to go to Colorado on business, so I stayed behind to man the fort—I mean greenhouses. Now that we have four to look after it’s quite a bit more work, and frankly, it’s much easier when Chuck is around. Then I got a phone call from my ex-wife asking me to come to California to sign some papers.

“Why can’t you fax them to me?” I asked. She explained that because of the confidential nature of the business transaction, the other party specifically asked that they’d be signed in person, in front of a witness.

I spoke to the senior staff-member who has been with us for years, and she assured me that since most of the functions of our four greenhouses are automated, she and the others could look after the operation. She promised that they will harvest and deliver the quota of Butter Lettuce, Pak Choi, and Specialty Lettuce to our clients daily.

The Herb-producing greenhouse hadn’t yet reached the harvest stage, but she would look after that one, as well. In the face of such assurances I felt better and headed to the airport for a quick trip to San Francisco.

After a day spent signing the papers, I had a couple of hours to kill before my flight back, so I went down to the waterfront and decided to have some dinner. I found a small bistro with great food aroma surrounding it, so I went in. At least I thought I entered an eatery. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up the next day.

A sharp blow to the head knocked me out and my wallet was gone. I was lying on the floor of the entrance to a dilapidated flophouse. Without any money or credit cards it took me a visit to the police station and several frantic calls to the person I left in charge at our greenhouses, in order to have her wire me some money so I could get back. As it was, I could only get a flight the next day.

When I did get back, I found out that they’ve been having some problems. They had an unexpected heat wave and several bright, sunny days in a row, and the shading mechanism on the Specialty Lettuce greenhouse refused to work. No matter how many fans they ran at top speed, the temperature in the greenhouse kept rising and rising.

They tried to cover the greenhouse on the outside with a large, dark green tarp, but the sun kept changing its position and they couldn’t shade the Lettuce properly. They even got some ice cubes and put them in the Nutrient Pond to keep the temperature down.

Intense light for extended periods, coupled with the high temperature (anything above 85º F) will cause lettuce to bolt. Even though we’re very careful to feed our produce with Micro and Grow without the Bloom, the mature Red Sails and Green Ice Lettuce on the Pond bolted.

Bolting lettuce means that it goes into flower production prematurely (i.e. before being harvested), and thus becomes unmarketable. Its taste turns bitter and unappetizing. So not only was my trip disastrous, but I returned to a disaster, as well.

I called Chuck and he took the next flight home. He was mad at me for leaving the greenhouses in someone else’s hands. We both started to panic, but the senior staff member redeemed herself by finding a solution. We lost at most four days worth of produce. At 600 heads per day, that meant we had to replace 2400 heads of Specialty Lettuce. Otherwise we’d be letting our customers down.

She phoned around to other suppliers, some of whom she had worked for in the past, and managed to piece together the order, all 2400 heads. We had it all shipped to our greenhouse, where the produce was repackaged with our logo on it and the trucks arrived to take the first 600 to their destinations.

The other 1800 heads of lettuce are stored in our refrigeration room, standing in ice water. Ice water rejuvenates the cells of the lettuce and allows for a slightly longer storage. Our customers were totally unaware that the quality lettuce we substituted for our own wasn’t exactly harvested that very day.

We had to clean up our Nutrient Pond, thought. Because of the high heat, the humidity increased so I actually discovered signs of Powdery Mildew on some of the bolted lettuce. This insidious fungus will spread very quickly unless it is dealt with right away.

Luckily, Advanced Nutrients has started distributing Protector again, their miracle product which both fights and prevents Powdery Mildew. Not a fungicide, nevertheless it takes care of the problem on edible vegetables much better than using sulphur. Besides, dusting with sulphur leaves a residue and an odor, which is hard to get rid of.

Even though it is not a pesticide, it is not advisable to use Protector beyond the second week of flowering for fruits like tomatoes, where flowering is involved. The ingredients that inhibit the fungus can also change the color of your blooms as well as their aroma.

Chuck and I use it sparingly on Lettuce that is at least 7 days from being harvested. We hadn’t had any discolored leaves or noticeable changes in the aroma of our plants.

The extreme heat also caused some semi-wilting of our younger plants, so we used Advanced Nutrients Revive in order to restore their vitality. This truly remarkable product contains Calcium, Iron and Zinc Chelates, Magnesium, and Nitrogen. It perked up our Lettuce instantly.

We used Revive as a foliar spray, and mixed 5 mL of it per Liter of water. It is absorbed by the leaves of the lettuce and restores not only their robust demeanor, but also imparts a rich, green color, which is desirable in our type of produce.

We also feed our lettuce Mother Earth Blended Super Tea Grow on a regular basis. This 100% organic product enhances our base fertilizers, which are synthetic, with that highly nutritious, organic touch. It contains canola, crab, fish, and shrimp meal, as well as alfalfa extract, citric acid, earthworm castings, and sea kelp.

Sea kelp is rich in natural hormones that promote cell division, root and plant growth, and the distribution of nutrients throughout our Lettuce plants. Enhanced taste and fragrance are also imparted by this product.

Finally, we always add Sensi Cal Mg Mix Grow to our Nutrient Pond, since Lettuce always requires extra Calcium. It is this element that gives Lettuce its crunchy texture. This product is specifically designed for the vegetative growth phase and contains three kinds of Calcium, which are easily absorbable and help our lettuce grow large, healthy, and tasty.

posted by silvio @ 4:02 PM   0 comments


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