This gardener knows bulbs, blooms and bucks
April 14, 2006
by Becky Talley
Fence Post Staff Reporter
In stores and floral shops everywhere, you can find a wide array of beautiful, colorful and vibrant flowers. However, like food in a grocery store, it is sometimes hard to fathom how these wonders of nature came to be and who put so much time and effort into growing them for our enjoyment. There is one greenhouse in northern Colorado, that has been at the center of the flower business for decades, and with 85,000 square feet of flowers, everything has been coming up roses.
The Jordan family began their agricultural career in Iowa where they raised cattle, chickens, corn, soybeans and alfalfa. For health reasons the family decided to move off the ranch and to Colorado and thus began a whole new type of crop production that is still in the workings today.
In the spring of 1979 Norman Jordan saw an ad for a greenhouse up for sale in Fort Collins, Colo., and thought it would be similar to farming. He bought the 50,000 square foot greenhouse (which had recently converted to rose production) and began to run the rose business.
After many years of success, Norman sold half of his business to his son, Warren, in 1982 and eventually sold the other half to him in 1989.
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The Jordan family got into the rose business at the right time. It was a prosperous venture for many years. In fact, during the peak rose production years, there was around 100 acres of roses in Colorado, and the state became the second largest rose producer in the United States because of the sunlight it receives. At that time rose imports accounted for only 2 to 3 percent of the total roses in the U.S.
However, due to cheap labor, heating and inexpensive greenhouses, South American rose producers began to crowd the domestic market. Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico planted thousands of acres of roses and because overhead and expenses were low, they could undersell rose producers in the U.S.
“What I pay for labor a day, they can pay for a week,” says Warren Jordan.
As a result of cheaper rose prices, the import market (mainly from South America) accounts for around 80 percent of the total roses sold in the U.S. today.
Like farmers all across the United States, many local rose growers have had to diversify their crop, find niche markets in order to make a profit or go completely out of business. Currently, there are only 3 acres of roses grown in Colorado by about three producers.
Jordan’s Greenhouse felt the crunch of the rose market just like the rest of the state. The greenhouse that once produced 1.5 million roses a year now only grows enough roses to fill up 10 percent of the total square footage available.
Like many others in the industry, Warren turned to different plants in order to move into other markets.
About 10 years ago he made the decision to expand into other types of flowers and planted them in only 4 to 5 percent of the total square footage of the greenhouse. The move was successful and four years ago the business transitioned from roses taking up 97 percent of the total square footage to now taking up only 10 percent of the total square footage with other flowers filling the majority of the greenhouse.
Today, lilies, gerbra daisies, astromeria and experimental plants are the main flowers grown. The experimental plants are planted to see if there are markets for them and if they will hold. For example, the daisies were experimental and were found to sell, so they became a main crop. Snapdragons and tulips are plants that have not made it. Currently, Warren is testing dahlias and asters. In all, the greenhouse now produces around 1 million flowers a year.
The sheer volume of plants brings to mind the questions of how is everything grown and where do all of these flowers go?
The beginning for each plant is different. Warren grows seven different varieties of roses, ranging in stem length, that come to him from California at 1 year of age. The lilies come from a bulb, and the seed plants are planted in the greenhouse as plugs (they have already emerged from the seed and are growing).
Each plant is grown and handled, cut and shipped in varying ways. For example daisies are allowed to fully open, and are cut once a day. Warren grows quite a few different varieties and their blooms will stay open seven to 10 days. Each daisy plant will produce flowers for around three years.
Lilies, on the other hand, are a little more difficult to keep. The flowers must be cut days before they bloom, so the value isn’t lost, and they are cut once a day. Once a plant has flowered, that’s it ” it will not produce another flower. However, the flowers will stay open for 10 days to two weeks.
The rose bushes are interesting. They will live for 10 years and a single bush can produce up to 30 roses in a year of production. Once a rose is cut it will take around 50 days for a new bloom to emerge. Unlike the daisies or lilies, roses are cut twice a day and the length of the stems are based on what the bush supplies. Short stem rose bushes provide a higher production level, but long stem rose bushes produce the more valuable flower. Like lilies, the roses must be cut before they bloom. The bushes can also be manipulated by pinching off the blooms in order to produce more roses at certain times, such as Valentines Day (manipulation for this holiday begins in August).
The minimum stem length for Jordan’s roses to be shipped is 10 inches. After they are harvested, they are sorted by stem length, grouped 25 per bundle, protected in a plastic cover and put in a cooler for shipping. Daisies and lilies are packed in a similar fashion, and all flowers are packed into an air conditioned truck and shipped to a wholesale house in Denver. From there, the flowers will be distributed to florists around the state.
In order to move with the times and get the most out of the crops, the greenhouse has undergone several improvements. One major improvement is the installation of a computer that is used to control the environment in the greenhouse. Basically, the computer senses when an environment has changed and adjusts accordingly. The computer controls the temperature, amount of water the plants receive and the carbon dioxide level in the sections of the greenhouses. Being Colorado, this type of control is quite a chore. Jordan’s Greenhouse has seven different boilers to heat the greenhouse, and Warren says that heating constitutes his second largest bill.
The computer helps to ensure a proper growing environment for all the crops. For example, all the plants ” including the roses ” are hydroponic; another improvement at the greenhouse that has been in effect since 1989. This means that these plants are rooted in a peat moss-type media, in this case ground coconut husks, and get all their nutrients through water, not actual soil. Hydroponic growing allows plants to mature and flower faster and take up much less space because their root systems don’t need to spread as much for nutrients.
At Jordan’s Greenhouse the water and fertilizer (which is mixed in the water) are administered by a drip irrigation system that is controlled by the computer. The computer senses the amount of sunlight coming from the greenhouse roof and will increase or decrease the amount of water given. The more sunlight, the more water, etc. Once the plants have been watered, the run-off is collected and filtered for reuse.
With the computer system, Warren can control the environment of his greenhouse from almost anywhere. He can log on from home or work, and the computer will even call his cell phone if there is a problem.
“As far as farmers go, we are considered farmers just in a more controlled environment,” Warren said.
However, all the control over the conditions in the greenhouse can have some negative results.
“Creating a perfect environment for plants to grow also creates a perfect environment for pests,” said Warren.
Like most gardeners, the greenhouse uses chemicals to control problems like aphids, spider mites and powdery mildew. Warren says the pests are easily controlled with a minimum amount of chemicals as long as they aren’t allowed to get established.
Another major step for the business was the addition of the garden shop and floral shop about two years ago.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the greenhouse opened to the public, but now they really encourage customers to stop in. The floral shop will make arrangements for any occasion, and often a dozen of the roses with a stem too short or slightly curved will sell for $6.99
“We specialize in selling what we grow here,” Warren said, “The niche we have is fresher flowers than the ones being brought from a warehouse. We can be more price competitive.”
Besides the freshness of locally grown roses they have a longer vase life, a better fragrance and will open more fully than the roses shipped from South America, Warren added.
In fact, the floral shop has the first pick of the roses that come out of the greenhouse.
“My main interest in growing roses is for the floral shop,” said Warren.
Gardening in this region has its challenges and advantages. Like other crops, flowers are a commodity product and the marketing can be tough, but prosperous. And like all crops, the rewards can be very fulfilling.
“Once you’re involved in it you have to keep with it. The fun side is to see all the flowers and the fruits of your labor,” concluded Warren.