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  • Norfolk Farms

A different greenhouse technology

There was a day when muck and tobacco greenhouses went hand in hand – you couldn’t have one without the other. That day has passed.

Graig Bouw holds one of the float trays that will eventually have a tobacco plant in each cell.
Graig Bouw holds one of the float trays that will eventually have a tobacco plant in each cell.

One of the common ways of starting tobacco plants now is floating trays. Graig Bouw, who grows for Steve Malo, has been using this system since 1998, and is now growing his sixth crop for Malo.

With float trays, the muck bed is replaced with a float tank that is similar in size to the muck bed. In it are Styrofoam float trays with 288 cells in each. There is a hole in the bottom of each cell where the roots can come through as the plant grows.

Each cell contains muck, into which a pelletized seed is placed. Muck is put in the cells from a hopper and then a dimpler machine drops the seeds into each cell. Bouw and several other growers work together to complete this process at seeding time.

“It’s something we only do once per year and we go around and seed each other’s greenhouse,” he said.

With muck greenhouses, seeds were either broadcast or precision seeded. The one drawback is the greenhouse needs to heated with the float, but with the furnace it keeps the plants more even.

When the plants are starting to mature, they are clipped with a mower to harden them off and keep at the ideal size for planting. This is done with a lawn mower on a hanger above the plants. Two inches is taken off every day. By this point – usually April 23rd to 25th, the offshore labour has usually arrived and undertakes this task.

Fertilizer is added directly to the water when it is mixed together prior to being put in the bed.

As the plants grow, they take up water and the water/fertilizer mixture has to be replenished a couple of times through the season. With ideal fertilizer/water mix, Bouw believes it gives more control and produces better plants.

“I am not saying there’s not good muck plants out there,” Bouw added.

The other big change he sees with the float tray system is the labour savings in not having to pull plants. It takes 50 to 55 days for the plants to be ready from seeding time.

“You can’t find people to pull plants anymore for that short of a time,” he said. “You take the trays right out into the field.”

So, the end result is instead of starting the day by pulling plants from 7 a.m. to noon, the trays are taken directly to the field on an elephant wagon. Then planting starts.

The planter is modified from a traditional planter with a carousel to hold the trays. Then the plant plugs are put in cups on the planter to be inserted in the ground.

Bouw said it he can plant 14 to 15 acres per day with the new system. Before, he could only do half of that. He grows 60 acres on two Malo farms for a total of 145 acres.

Harvesting is done with a mechanical harvester. This requires one worker driving the machine. With the system used on this farm, the tobacco is put into a box, then dumped into a trailer and taken to kiln loading station. There, the bins are loaded for bulk kilns.

“It’s as mechanical as you can go right now,” Bouw said. 

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