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New @ 95: A Modern Greenhouse

February 15, 2012

New @ 95, Week 3: A Modern Greenhouse

In 2008 Volante Farms opened its state of the art greenhouse, replacing a line of aging hoop houses with new technology and an easier use for employees and customers.  The glass house dwarfed the structures that preceded it and ushered in a new age of sustainability for the farm, while simultaneously creating a growing space that was more economical, more ecological, and also provided an enhanced beautiful canvas to display our plants upon.

Our Westbrook greenhouse creates paradise in the winter and invites it in when the climate improves.

Technological Advances

This main greenhouse is over 14,000 square feet of radiantly heated concrete, powered by a duo of 98% efficient gas boilers and covered with a glass, foam, steel and aluminum frame. It is divided into four inner bays that can be individually temperature controlled and one open bay that is used as a cold frame with a rolling curtain along one wall. This open bay welcomes customers into the building and can prepare plants for their trip from cozy confines to the harsh realities of New England weather.

The greenhouse is almost entirely computer controlled and monitored, via a brain in the utility room and various remote computers. The computer monitors weather conditions inside and outside, including sunlight, temperature, wind, and humidity and then adjusts how the greenhouse responds accordingly. Different zones can call for heat as needed or vent extra heat through the articulating roof vents. It can recognize that a cloudy day may not provide enough sunlight to help plants grow and therefore keep a heat curtain closed to conserve the ambient heat. It can recognize whether precipitation falling is snow or rain and turn on roof level radiator fins to aid rapid snow melt and prevent potential roof collapse.

In addition to these technological features, there are other environmentally sound aspects of the house that are impressive as well. As mentioned there are curtains built into the roof that draw closed to retain heat below the roofline at night. There are shade curtains as well, which provide minor heat retention when closed but are most useful on extremely hot and sunny days. Then they are drawn to 90 percent closed preventing sun wilt on plants and dropping the overall temperature by as much as ten degrees making the greenhouse cooler than many hot August days.

Water Conservation

Pansy hangers and flats prep to be the first out the door in the spring. The hangers are watered by micro irrigation and the floor is watered by hose, but both with recaptured rain water.

The glass roof of the greenhouse is built around a framework of gutters that collect and remove rainwater. This rainwater is collected in a 10,000-gallon tank in the back of the greenhouse. It only takes an inch of rain on the roof to fill the tank, which is approximately the amount of water we can use on the plants in the greenhouse and nursery in a week. This means that in an average year we can irrigate our greenhouse grown crops with very little need to draw water from the town service reducing costs and the strain on the water table. This water gets filtered and pumped to several locations. Some of it travels to our two bays of ebb and flow benches. These are the grey plastic pans sitting atop metal frame legs in the greenhouse. Plants grown on these benches are watered using a Venturi pump and an array of solenoid valves. This allows water to enter the bench from underneath to be absorbed by the roots of plants until the excess is vacuumed back away. This method of watering allows plants to get exactly the amount of water they need, without exposing disease prone leaves and blossoms to the dangers of overhead watering which can splash and transmit fungi and mildew rapidly. The water is then recaptured and retained for future irrigation, while wastewater on these benches is almost non-existent.

Another destination is the micro irrigation system that feeds the thousands of hanging plants that swing from the lines throughout the greenhouse.  Each hanger is placed at two-foot intervals along drip lines that measure out about a half-gallon in 15 minutes, one drop at a time. These lines have weighted tubes that put the water right on the soil level of the pots. These ensure that the water is where we want it, that plants are watered evenly, and disease spread is prevented.

Roses, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Hydrangeas and many more fill our beds every spring.

Dependable Plants

In addition to the main house, which is used for retail and cultivation, we have 4 growing houses. Two are older and smaller and will be upgraded in the foreseeable future, and two were completed just a year ago, to provide replacement space for the houses that came down with the recent farmstand construction.

In these houses we do the bulk of our propagation work, from filling flats and pots with soil to the entire seeding operation. Many of the annuals and vegetable plants you see for sale during the year are started here in our seeding area.

Fuchsia hangers are one of our specialties each spring, lending a pop of color to slightly shady porches and front doors.

Our plant material is one of the main reasons that we have had such staying power in the community. We are very proud of the product we can offer and of the paths we employ to get it to you. Many of the annuals and vegetable seedlings available are started here from seed beginning mid-January. We place seed into small-celled trays that hold a few hundred seedlings. The trays are sprouted in germination chambers and then brought out into the greenhouse where they are meticulously nursed into transplant ready stage.

Other plants come to us started as cuttings and seedlings from a variety of trusted local growers who we have partnered with over many years.

Still more plants arrive to us at ready-to-sell stage as we have learned to cultivate partnerships with growers who are specialists in their fields and not waste time providing an inferior product when we know how to procure the best for you.

All of this requires somewhat of a juggling act for space and resources, but we have decades of experience providing the flowers and plants our community has come to expect.

Gazania seedlings pop up early in the season in our germination area. They will be garden ready in early May.

A Place for All Seasons

The vast variety of plants we offer is impossible to list conclusively, it changes by the week, month and season. In the early spring we grow hundreds of hangers in time for Mother’s Day. We grow pansies in hangers, patio pots, window boxes and individual flats to help get spring color to your yard as soon as possible.

As the year progresses we offer bay after bay of impatiens, marigolds, and geraniums: the classics. Additionally we offer an array of specialty plants from renowned specialists Proven Winners and similar growers.  We carry a wide selection of rose plants and flowering shrubs and perennials from several local growers specializing in native and adapted plants that are hardy and unique specimens for your garden.

We provide plenty of opportunity to get your home Victory Garden off on the right foot with strong tomato, summer squash, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and many more vegetable starters.

Lettuce thrives in the greenhouse, whether waiting transplant in our field, your garden, or cut at this stage for a tasty salad.

As summer rolls through fall we offer fully grown annuals and perennials to fill holes in the landscape that suffered from gaps of inclement weather or inconsistent care.  Any space in the greenhouse by now is filled with flats of baby lettuce and arugula primed for sale in the farmstand. Fall hardy mums are widely available to stretch the growing season a little further after the summer heat is done baking. And as the holiday season approaches the greenhouse not only houses a vast array of greenery but a huge selection of poinsettias and gift plants, perfect for sprucing up the indoors as well.

Poinsettias keep the greenhouse full of color through the holiday season.

Knowledgeable Growers

With all we offer we are closely tied to the consumer and try very hard to stay tuned to your needs. We can be depended on to have the classic and traditional varieties. We also recognize that there are trends in the garden and we try to stay abreast of them as well. If there is a plant we aren’t carrying that you would like us to, be sure to let us know so we can respond to your needs.

While you are discussing your garden needs with us be secure that you will receive knowledgeable and helpful advice. Many of our growers and greenhouse crew have been at Volante’s and in the industry for decades. If someone doesn’t have the answer to your question, we will do our best find the person who does. One of our greatest strengths as a business is our connection to the product and the area, something many large home improvement centers can’t compete with. We sell plants we trust to succeed and offer the knowledge to support their growth.

Even on the darkest December afternoon, our greenhouse provides a ray of light and a source of warmth.

As we transition into a year-round operation we expect the greenhouse to provide even more, if not especially a warm and sunny place to visit on a cold snowy winter day.  And spring is always around the corner.

Next Week: Biological Pest Control and Integrated Pest Management

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily @ Random Recycling permalink
    February 16, 2012 8:50 am

    What an exciting year in Needham with both the opening of your full time farmstand and the new Farmer’s Market. It will be so nice to have more access to fresh and local foods.

  2. Jean Dalton permalink
    February 16, 2012 9:32 am

    I am so happy that I live within a few miles of your marvelous farm and can hardly wait for the new opening. You are a wonderful resource for the community ! JHD wellesley

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