Cleaning and preparation begin mid-summer here, so we're well prepared when the new growing season starts.
By Robin Bourdon and Dan Foster
In our 16 acres of indoor growing areas here in Carleton, MI, we have acrylic ranges, glass houses, 35-year-old double poly gutter-connected houses, four acres of outdoor growing area, and everything in between. This requires us to spend plenty of time and effort making sure everything is ready when the next growing season starts.
As Site Manager for the Indian Trails Road facility, Robin oversees maintenance for acrylic ranges and poly houses with gravel floors that have seen lots of use. Dan, Site Manager of the Sigler Road location, which includes houses built in the last 16 years, with some more advanced systems. In both places, the yearly process starts mid-summer and continues through the fall, so that everything is ready to go for next year. This is how we do it.
Because Indian Trail is our original facility, more of our systems involve manual labor for irrigation, weeding, and other tasks.
Missy O'Dell, a grower at the Sigler Road facility, power washes floors.
We check heat tubes under benches and jet tubes above them for wear at the end of the season, replacing those that need it and rolling up tubes for storage in the summer.
Weeds want to thrive in our gravel-floored houses, so we constantly pull and spray them. This minimizes potential for the weeds to act as a host for pathogens and pests.
Another regular task is to power-wash walkways, walls, and other surfaces to eliminate the algae that love greenhouse environments. We also use GreenClean®, an algae eliminating product. Algae can block incoming light on walls and create a slipping hazard for employees.
We also roll up and store any unused hoses during the summer which helps avoid dry rot.
Another Sigler facility grower, Sue Wigman, hoses down floors as part of a regular cleaning program.
In contrast, the newer flood floor systems at the Sigler Road facility have their own maintenance requirements and need thorough cleaning to keep them free of algae and contamination. This starts with repairing rubber divider strips, cleaning out cement divider cracks and shooting water hole to hole, to get debris out. We may also grind down uneven cement to eliminate puddles.
Then, we flood the floors with a chlorine mix two to three times to kill fungus, bacteria and other pathogens, before flushing the system clean. Because this shocks the system, we empty the area of any plants before we start. We have two flood floor systems, so once one is cleaned, we move everything over and then clear out the second area and start the same process over there.
Sanitation and maintenance are a top priority throughout the year.
We grow approximately 100,000 hanging baskets annually, and we start work on these systems in late July by flushing lines and filters, checking for leaks in the solenoids, checking drip tubes and organizing by color and size, checking diaphragms, and making necessary repairs. Once this work is done, we shut off the water until we are ready for new baskets to be hung.
3 Steps to Greenhouse Preparation
1. Organize first
If you have a plan and a process, you will likely get more done. It doesn't matter how you organize, but it is important to organize this work and make time to be prepared. All equipment and systems are labeled for easy identification, and carts with parts accompany us as we make repairs to specific systems.
2. Do this work during slow times
We begin work when the first growing areas start to empty out mid-summer. To avoid having any system fail when we start growing, we schedule our checking, cleaning and repairing early over several months. Almost all elements of the houses are ready by the end of the year.
While it can be challenging do start this kind of work during the summer, we believe it is really important to give ourselves time to do this work well.
3. Clean is better
We believe that having a clean facility is critical to running good operations and giving our customers piece of mind. If you see a restaurant with a dirty or disorganized kitchen, would you want to eat there? We want customers to see a clean facility and feel comfortable that their plants are clean and healthy.
We have a machine that scrubs and power-washes the floors & sidewalks, as well as walls and other areas daily.
Then, for the next six months, we'll be checking wear points on hoses, as well as bearings, cables, wheels, fuses and boxes on our boom systems. By organizing a few carts with spare parts, we have the nozzles, caps, magnets, filters, solenoids and other parts needed for easy repairs. Booms do a lot for us and we want to take great care of them.
Both the Indian Trails and Sigler Road greenhouses rely on environmental control systems, so both teams carefully check air and soil sensors and replace as needed, as sensor accuracy is so critical to successful growing. We also replace filter material in sensor boxes, as well as clean them.
We also check the evaporative cooling systems to see if the nozzles are aimed correctly are secure and are unclogged. We then check and replace O-rings if needed, check and clean the boxes, and change supply water filters if necessary.
We operate with the Dosatron® injector system, so it is critical that it runs well and puts out the right amount of material consistently.
Preventative maintenance is our motto for boilers, heaters, exhaust fans, vents, horizontal airflow fans, air heaters and other equipment. We also check and make sure heater fins are aimed properly.
Some systems are used a lot — shade systems, Rytec doors, sidewalks, walls, floors. We regularly check that these are in good working order, clean, and make repairs as needed.
Don't forget outdoor growing
Because we do outdoor growing in spring, we check the drip lines carefully in the fall so they are ready when needed. This includes three to four chlorine flushes of the lines and injectors to eliminate any algae or other contamination.
Robin Bourdon is Site Manager of the Indian Trails growing location and has been with Four Star for 23 years. Dan Foster is Site Manager of the Sigler Road location and has been with Four Star for 16 years. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or call 734-654-6420.