March 25th, 2011 - Winter Green

A few weeks ago I was involved in a whirlwind trip around Wisconsin that had me helping out one of our other state agricultural nursery inspectors. It being March, there wasn't a lot going on in most nurseries, but the places we visited were "all winter" growers, being companies that keep their greenhouses running all winter (not an inexpensive proposition in northern Wisconsin).
These were very interesting places, and it was especially nice to see some very green plants and walk around in a 75 degree greenhouse after snowshoeing the perimeter of an apple orchard a couple days previously.
This place was a HUGE grower of geraniums, and was gearing up for Easter with pots and hanging baskets.
As a matter of fact, their were literally pots and baskets for as far as the eye could see.
It was mind-boggling. They had just built a new greenhouse solely for this plant material, and were busy potting, watering, hanging, and moving things around for the big shipment coming up.
The large green blocks you see on the right side of the above image are all pallets of hundred of pounds of peat.
From this, the nurseries make their own "soiless mix" to put in their pots, using peat as the base material. This is to keep the growing media as sterile and neutral as possible, and have a starting media that is clean, free of contaminants, and that can be specifically tuned to the plants being grown by adding things like Milorganite, permeability agents, fertilizers, growth inhibitors, and all kinds of voodoo to get your plants healthy and perfectly timed to be looking their best when you are admiring those beautiful baskets hanging in your local store.

The colors and smells in these places are amazing. The plants and trays just go on and on to the vanishing point.
Every house has it's own style of heating and ventilation, which are critical for keeping the plants within their growing conditions, and helping prevent mold, fungus, and insect growth from taking advantage of the small succulent little plants, much sought after by these organisms. As with other things in nature, the young shoots are the tastiest, and are often the most vulnerable as well.
They are always trying to maximize space in the greenhouse without cheating something out of it's sources of light, water, airflow, and nutrients. And all while trying to make them easy to get to.
These young starts are on large metal tray-tables that slide on rollers to create aisles, then slide back for watering. The roof is also on a computerized system for opening the vents and controlling fresh air, and temperature.
"The Language of Nature is Mathematics" - Galileo Galilei
Luckily most of these plants are annuals, which aren't as large of a concern to us nursery inspectors. Our definition of the plant materials we need to inspect is normally, "Materials that will over-winter outside in the Wisconsin climate," but we do inspect geraniums and most other plants that come in from other countries (even if they were inspected there before shipment) as there have been problems with viruses and insects brought in that didn't show up before the plants began to mature. Everything was super-clean here.
I thought these were going to be "upside down" tomatoes from a distance, but no, more ornamentals. Wow, there is a lot of weight hanging there.
I want that one. No, not that one. THAT one.