Staying the Course
“Faithful” is a word that describes Ray’s Greenhouse, LLC, in Telford, Penn. Ray and Arlene Gehman started the business in 1977 with a 100-square-foot greenhouse that was used to produce bedding plants grown in PRO-MIX BX. Thirty-five years later, the couple are still growing bedding plants — as well as mums, poinsettias and vegetables — in PRO-MIX BX mycorrhizae. Their business has grown to 0.8 acre under cover, 0.5 acre of outdoor production and 7 acres of field-grown vegetables.
Ray, Arlene and their six children are actively involved in the business. Most of their plants are sold to homeowners, churches, nonprofit organizations and hospitals. Ray specializes in zonal geraniums and nonstop begonias, which are sold through brokers. These crops continue to sell well, but sales of vegetable plants and farm-fresh produce has grown over the last few years. Also, due to hotter than normal summers, the family has seen an increase in the sales of vinca; customers who purchase them find that the flowers perform well in the heat, so they come back the following year for more. Ray produces Wave petunias in cell packs, and due to their reasonable price, they have sold well. The sales of other crops grown in flats are either steady or declining, as in the case of impatiens. Demand has remained strong for 4.5-inch specialty vegetative annuals because most of Ray’s customers grow in containers rather than flower beds.
To reduce costs, Ray invested in a wood-burning stove several years ago. Landscapers and arborists drop off their wood leftovers at Ray’s Greenhouse. It is labor-intensive to have to cut the wood and fill the stove, but the heat is virtually free. About 50% of the heat comes from burning wood; the other half is from propane. Inexpensive heat allows Ray to keep his floors warmer, which helps produce a better root system for his nonstop begonias and other crops. Ray has also reduced his heating costs by replacing five Quonset greenhouses with a single five-bay greenhouse; this arrangement results in less heat loss because there are fewer side walls. Ray also uses natural ventilation with roll-up side walls and ridge vents; this requires less electricity, but Ray still uses horizontal airflow fans to provide optimal airflow when the houses are not open.
As previously mentioned, Ray has been a faithful PRO-MIX BX user since 1977. When asked what he liked about PRO-MIX, he said, “The product works well and I have not had any issues.” He likes the high water retention capacity compared to other growing media, as well as the fact that the color of the growing medium’s surface can be used to know when it is time to water it. Other growing media have different watering characteristics, which require a period of familiarization. Ray feels that the addition of mycorrhizae helps improve crop quality and contributes to larger bract size in poinsettias.
Ray’s Greenhouse also carries some consumer PRO-MIX products, and its customers have had success using them for starting seeds and growing in containers. Others have used potting soils offered at big-box stores, but found that they did not perform as well. They keep coming back to PRO-MIX due to its superior performance and because it is what Ray uses for his crops.