Diversify Your Greenhouse Operation with Veggies
Home vegetable gardening is hot, and ornamental growers have a unique opportunity to tap into this growing trend.

by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions

 

Delat T Greenhouse Vegetables Adding vegetable bedding plants to the crop rotation can extend ornamental growers’ seasons.

More consumers are realizing that nothing beats homegrown veggies. According to recent research from Today’s Garden Center magazine, 78% of garden centers saw a significant increase in sales of edibles and vegetables over the last year. Of the 21 categories included in the study, edibles transplants ranked No. 6 in sales. For some consumers, growing their own food is a matter of frugality; for others, it’s sustainability. But whatever the reason, this new generation of home veggie gardeners creates a unique opportunity for ornamental growers to branch into edible plant production. But, you must be willing to commit and learn as much as you can before investing time and resources into the endeavor, notes Tina Smith of the UMass Extension Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture Program.

CHOOSING VARIETIES

New vegetable varieties are introduced all the time, but Smith advises growing a mix of both traditional heirloom plants and newer, more exotic varieties. Make sure you're choosing disease-resistant varieties, which can help home gardeners be successful. “Many heirloom varieties of tomatoes that have large, tasty fruits but may lack disease-resistance are now being grown on grafted rootstock,” Smith explains. “The rootstock is chosen for its disease-resistance, vigorous growth and high fruit yield. The scion is selected for the taste of the fruit.” All America Selections is a great resource for learning about the latest varieties. Visit the site at www.all-americaselections.org to see what’s new.

You'll also want to consider which vegetables are most commonly grown among home gardeners. According to that National Gardening Association's white paper "The Impact of Home and Community Gardening in America," the following are the 10 most popular vegetables grown in home gardens:

 

 

1. Tomatoes

2. Cucumbers

3. Sweet Peppers

4. Beans

5. Carrots

6. Summer Squash

7. Onions

8. Hot Peppers

9. Lettuce

10. Peas

You might want to think about planting herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, thyme, sage, mint and rosemary, which also are popular in home gardens. Smith also suggests creating "edible containers," which combine both flowers and vegetable plants in one pot.

 

TIMING

Timing is critical when it comes to starting vegetable seeds. Smith says starting vegetable seeds too early can be detrimental to quality and lead to overgrown plants. To germinate, seeds require warm temperatures and uniform moisture. Root zone heating is especially beneficial to the germination process, and Delta T Solutions offers bench and floor heat options that are ideal for heating plants at the soil level.

 

Delat T ornamental greenhouse vegetables

Garden centers have seen a significant increase in sales of edibles and vegetables over the last year.

For a production schedule for various vegetable crops, visit http://extension.umass.edu/floriculture/fact-sheets/growing-vegetable-bedding-plants-scheduling-nutrition-height.

PROPER NUTRITION

Nutrition requirements for vegetable plants may be different from those of ornamental plants, so it's important to research nutrition needs before you start. Smith notes the following common nutritional problems that can occur in vegetable plants during the early stages of production:

  • High soluble salts. Excess salt injury is common shortly after transplanting, because young plants do not tolerate excess salt well. This can be especially problematic if excessive water-soluble fertilizer is applied within the first few weeks after transplanting. Check the roots often and conduct soil tests regularly to ensure plant health.
  • Trace element toxicities. Tomato plants are especially susceptible to iron and manganese toxicity. Symptoms include small dark spots and mottling on leaves. Excess iron and manganese can come from trace element fertilizers in the mix and even from irrigation water. Keep the pH between 5.8 and 6.0 and use low trace element fertilizers to avoid these problems.
  • Ammonium toxicity. While not as common now that growers generally use 50/50 ammonium and nitrate water-soluble fertilizers, ammonium toxicity can be problematic, especially in tomato, eggplant and pepper crops. Avoid applying too much ammonium in early spring.

If you’re thinking about adding vegetable plants to your production lineup next year, now is the time to start planning. You’ll want to think about whether you want to start the plants from seed or purchase plugs, and also consider how much space you want to devote to edibles.

You should always start with a disinfected greenhouse, and the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension recommends using separate greenhouses for vegetable seedlings and ornamental bedding plants in order to protect the vegetable plants from pests and diseases that could migrate from the ornamentals. Keeping them separate also will make treating the vegetable plants for pests and diseases easier.

The decision to grow edibles can be a lucrative one, and if you start planning now, by next season, you could be reaping the rewards of tapping into this re-emerging trend.

 

Delta T Solutions has designed and manufactured customized heating solutions for greenhouse growers using hydronic (hot water radiant) heat for more than 20 years. To learn more about cost-effective in-ground bench and perimeter heating systems; high-efficiency boiler systems; and other systems that improve crop health, contact Delta T at 800-552-5058 or email mkovalycsik@deltatsolutions.com.

 

 
Delta T Solutions
27711 Diaz Rd, Suite B, Temecula, CA 92590 • 800.552.5058 • 760.682.0428 (fax) • www.deltatsolutions.com