CF Greenhouses in Leamington, Ontario, flowers power a loading dock that looks
as if it were designed to house really big aircraft, or at the very least, the
temperature controlled, immaculate trailers of the CF Greenhouses floral
trucking business. "The space is used primarily to load flowers on our
trucks and something we'll talk more about after we tour the greenhouses,"
says CF Greenhouses General Manager, Rick Rabb. "The hanging pots are an
efficient use of space and also part of the unique way we grow flowers at CF
Greenhouses", he adds.
CF Greenhouses Owner, Floyd Cacciavallani, started his business over 50 years ago, after he and his wife immigrated to Ontario from Italy. Floyd is standing in one of the first greenhouses he built himself, using his skills as a brick layer to construct the greenhouse 'benches'- a back saving innovation that continues to be a feature of modern greenhouse design and construction. Today, CF Greenhouses consists of 400,000 square feet of greenhouse space - with an annual product mix of poinsettias, Easter lilies, hydrangea, bedding plants, hanging plants and garden mums.
"We are known for our hanging pots," says General Manager Rick Rabb, "and the hanging system is another one of Floyd's greenhouse innovations." The hangers enable the plants to be placed in such a way that they don't interfere with the light reaching the plants below them. "Efficiency is important but growing this way also allows us to produce poinsettias that no one else grows," adds Floyd. And that includes poinsettia trees, grown from one plant over 12 months. "Most market ready poinsettias are made from multiple plants decreasing the growing time for the bigger products. The trees are expensive to produce but have a special look that our customers ask for," explains Floyd, whose smallest poinsettia is 6".
CF Greenhouses ships direct to their chain store customers in Ontario and specific US markets. The company also sells at the auction clocks in Toronto and Montreal but only for customers who pre-buy their plants. "There are about 200,000 market ready poinsettia pots in our greenhouses right now and they will all be shipped out of here within the next few weeks - making space for the next crops of Easter lilies and bedding plants," says Rick.
Another part of CF Greenhouses business is plant propagation, meaning that the company produces rooted cuttings for other vegetable and flower growers. Below, workers are planting geranium cuttings, purchased from breeding stock specialists from either Ethiopia or Costa Rica, in a soil plug. Within hours, the wilted cuttings spring to life as they begin to root.
"Many growers use hormones to help with the rooting process but at CF Greenhouses we root plants the old-fashioned way, by closely monitoring temperature, air circulation, and light," explains Floyd. "Propagation is tricky work and many growers don't want to bother with it, so they are quite happy to buy their rooted plants from us. Our success rate with the cuttings is virtually 100% - we lose very few plants and that helps manage costs."
Leamington is known as the tomato capital of Ontario, for both field and greenhouse tomatoes. Many of the tomato bedding plants grown in Ontario get their start at CF Greenhouses. Grown from seed, it takes 5 weeks of intense, light, heat and moisture to produce tomato seedlings. "The amount fruit a tomato plant will generate is determined at this stage of the growing process," says Floyd, who claims his seedlings are popular for that very reason.
As part of its diversification strategy, CF Greenhouses is a licensed distributor for Kohler Power Systems, secondary power generating systems. "It is really a separate business from greenhouse production but many of our customers are greenhouse growers, who are required to have back-up power systems in order to purchase insurance," explains Floyd.
"My son Cole, has been very involved in this part of the business because of his expertise in electrical engineering, says Floyd proudly.
CF Greenhouses employs 3 fulltime service people for these power-generating systems, which depending on the size of the generator and its fuel burning capability (ethanol, diesel) can cost up to $1 million installed.
"If you are in the generator selling business you have to have some way of measuring or demonstrating all that power," concludes Floyd. "And we do it by plugging the generators into this stainless steel 'town' on wheels - a 1200-kilowatt load bank, capable of absorbing the power of 10,000 houses."
That is flower power of a different sort. For more information about CF Greenhouses visit the website at www.cfgroups.com , because they have a good thing growing.