North Jackson, Ohio
Chuck’s Greenhouses is a family-owned 22,000-square-foot greenhouse in North Jackson, Ohio, that launched in 1995. Early on, CEO Chuck Lehotsky says, he had to experiment with the facility’s growing media. That, he says, led to mistakes like bad batches and a bark-based mix that proved too heavy for hanging baskets. He wound up using PRO-MIX BX, a mix of vermiculite, perlite and peat moss, for his crops year-round.
For a time, he used a commercial mix of sphagnum, peat, perlite and sand that the supplier delivered; the driver brought the pallets around to the back of the facility. “That was a big deal. I didn’t have an electric pallet jack, and by the time I got done unloading a truck by myself, I was worn out for the day,” Lehotsky says.
During winter, Lehotsky changed his growing media.
“I wanted to be able to add my own time-release fertilizer to the mix on demand,” he says. He bought a bale shaver with a fertilizer dispenser
“The only thing that I change is the volume and type of time-release fertilizer that I add to the mix,” he says. “I am a big fan of using time-release fertilizer in combination with liquid feed, so that I can use one rate of liquid feed across my entire crop in the spring. The crops that don’t require as much feed receive no time-release fertilizer and only receive constant liquid feed, while the heavy feeding crops (petunias) receive a medium-high rate of time-release as well as constant liquid fertilizer.”
His challenges with growing media over the years involved “how much mix was needed with time-release fertilizer and without.” Lehotsky says. “I would always either come up short or have way too much left over, which are both big problems.”
That issue prompted him to invest in the bale-shaver despite industry experts he consulted telling him his business wasn’t big enough to justify the purchase. The experts, he says, recommend using five truckloads of soil per year despite him barely using two.
“Since purchasing my bale shaver, I use 1.5 loads, including almost half a load of loose-fill bags that I buy for retail sales,” Lehotsky says. — Lise M. Stevens
Rougemont, North Carolina
Hoffman Nursery in Rougemont, North Carolina,, started out in 1981 as a design-installation firm called Landscapes by Hoffman. But as founder John Hoffman developed a passion for ornamental grasses — and traveled all the way to Germany to learn more about them — he started to grow his own plants and, in partnership with his wife Jill, transitioned his business from landscaping to growing in 1986.
Although initially friends and family questioned the wisdom of specializing in ornamental and native grasses, the business has been going strong for 25 years, in no small part to the growing media Hoffman uses to grow its crop of grasses.
Head grower Bill Hall says that the nursery uses two different growing media, both of which are primarily made of pine park and peat. “However, one has a small component of perlite while the other a small component of HyraFiber,” he says.
Hall says that the pine-bark, peat and perlite mix is the growing media used primarily for production, and the HydraFiber mostly for cool-season and dormant production in fall and winter.
According to Hall, the company keeps growing media healthy by not stockpiling and only ordering it as needed. In addition,the media onsite is stored in a covered shed specifically built for that purpose. As far as pests go, the grower says, Hoffman is in a fire-ant zone, so they incorporate Bifenthrin (an insecticide in the pyrenthroid family) to control the population.
On a positive note, Hall says that the pH stability of the growing media is not an issue since they grow fast-turning crops. — Lise M. Stevens
Turner Flowers & Country Store
Turner Flowers & Country Store
Annuals and perennials
Turner Flowers & Country Store has been a mainstay of Ottawa, Kansas, and the surrounding area since Ralph Turner opened Turner Greenhouse on the family property in 1936. The business has grown to 9 acres of flowers and vegetables under glass, and a shop that offers novelties such as hand-dipped truffles, plush puppets and pocket monkeys — a slim, multi-use tool that fits into a purse or pocket.
Third generation co-owner Shawn Turner directs the floral end of the business, joining the family business after he graduated magna cum laude from Kansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Education and Horticulture. In addition to flowers, the company grows tomatoes, peppers, succulents and hanging baskets in 15 acres outdoors in addition to the greenhouse. Turner he knows a thing or two about growing media, especially the special recipe that his father came up with decades ago.
“It’s a mix of two parts peat moss and sand,” Turner says. “We make it small scale, as needed — about 10 flats worth at a time.”
There’s also a specific process for mixing the growing media. “We use a cement mixer in the greenhouse to mix it — it takes about 45 seconds,” he says. He added that Turner does use Pro-Mix and biofungicides “responsibly,” but that the family growing media does the trick for growing healthy plants.
He credits the fertile Kansas soil as the secret ingredient that helps keep their growing media viable once plants go into pots or into the ground. “The soil here is really limey, which balances the water pH and provides lots of healthy nutrients and healthy plants,” Turner says. “And we can sanitize and reuse our growing media year to year."
Sounds like father and son are doing Grandpa Ralph proud. — Lise M. Stevens
Mark Worley has been Speedling Incorporated’s east coast division manager for about 20 years. While his base location is in Ruskin, Florida, Worley oversees two facilities in Florida, along with one in Texas and one in Georgia. While his duties include a host of tasks, the main one is handling growing media. But before purchasing, Worley likes to go directly to the source.
“The first question I ask when I go to growers is, ‘What is it that you want? What is it that’s working or not working?’ he says. “If they say, ‘Well we need a new soil,’ [I ask], ‘What is it that you’re missing? What is it exactly that you’re looking for in the soil?’”
For the East Coast division, Worley says the company uses mixes from Lambert Peat Moss and receives the product directly from Canada. The four mixes Speedling uses are custom made with additional perlite added in the wintertime. They have standard mixes for vegetables, a standard mix for ornamental plugs and a different mix for finished pots, he says. But according to him, they’ve also tried other mixes that didn’t quite work out.
“We have our core group, but we have experimented with other components that didn’t quite work, such as risk husk mixed with peat moss, as well as coir, but we didn’t care for them,” Worley says.
When it comes to substrate pH levels, Worley says Lambert generally adjusts the pH prior to shipment, but the facilities do add acidity if necessary. But lowering substrate pH is dependent on certain crops.
“For example, lisianthus is going to get upset if it’s too low. So we may add some liquid lime to the lisianthus crops,” he says. “If there are any others that are especially low, then we’ll raise it up again. It’s the same way with certain crops that like it more acidic too. We’ll add it specifically to that crop, but overall, we’re not really adjusting pH.”
As for yearly growing media expenses, Worley says the entire company’s annual cost is around $5 million, with the east coast division using about half of that budget. And while some growers discuss using other growing media, Worley does his best to “make it work” with Lambert due to their established relationship but is not afraid to make a change to fit growers’ needs.
“But overall, we have a good relationship with our peat company,” Worley says. “Lambert has done us very well.” — Sierra Allen