Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Stranger Arrives Home

Who is that man with long hair in my driveway?  Could it be my long lost son Reese?

It can't be Reese. He left with a truck full of food and a brand new pair of shoes - the food is gone and the thick rubber tread is worn away on his shoes.  That is impossible. Who could possibly walk that much in only six months?  Reese has.  At his job, he walks 7 miles a day and will walk a minimum of 11 miles every day during the upcoming busy season.  

Back in April, Reese accepted a position 460 miles from home with Metrolina Greenhouses in North Carolina.  It is a wholesale plant grower with the largest, most automated, single-site heated greenhouse in the United States.  It has 162 acres under glass plus 15 acres of outside growing space.   During peak season (March - June) they ship over 180 tractor-trailer loads of products each day to big-box retailers, home improvement chains and other greenhouses along the East Coast.  This is an empty section before the seedlings arrive.

This was Reese's section on September 3rd when the pansies and violas were seedlings.  He is responsible for 2 acres during the weekdays and 5 acres on weekends.  As an Assistant Grower, he manages watering, fertilizing, soil sampling, setting out sticky cards, and pesticide applications (fungicides, insecticides or PGRs).

Reese said, "Watering the plants is far more complicated than you might think. When I first arrived I had no idea what I was in for. 

The moisture levels in the soil can be split into 5 levels: #1- paper bag dry, this level is so dry that... well, it is the same as a paper bag; #2- there is a hint of moisture, but these must get some water soon! #3- wet, there is some moisture in the plants, depending on the weather it means either a couple of passes of water (if sunny) or it will be fine until tomorrow (if cloudy). #4- the soil is as its maximum water holding capacity and finally; #5- saturation. If you want more detailed information, click this link:

In regards to watering the plants, we can't keep them at level #4 or #5 as that would cause pest issues to arise - fungus gnats, botrytis, stretching, and more.  I must let the plants dry to level #2 before watering. This also helps with keeping the plants smaller and forcing the roots to grow. You might think 'alright, just wait till the plants dry out then water, not to bad'. See, that is difficult. I must get everything in my section watered by 12:00 noon so there will be plenty of time for the leaves to dry. I walk my section while it is just beginning to get light outside and I have to determine 'will this make it through the day without water? If not how many passes? Should I just touch up the edges with a hosepipe?' It is confusing as the situation is always changing. Everything impacts how fast the soil drys out: temperature, light levels, plant species, spacing, wind movement, plant size, day length, soil type, pot size. Sometimes a few of these factors become critical in the decision. Say, light levels, if it is sunny outside and something is at level #4 it could take only two days for it to dry out to the point of needing more water, but if a large storm hangs in the area then it could take upwards of four to five days before needing water. Determining when to water the plants is a very complex process which only experience can solve. 

The water running through the arms hanging over the crops, which are called booms, includes a fertilizer mixture. Sometimes though, the soil ph level gets out of whack and via chemical magic (read as 'nutrient lockout') keeps the nutrients away from the plants. This causes the plants to undergo undue stresses. Lack of nutrients can have a variety of symptoms. No nitrogen will make the leaves yellow. Leaves cupping on pansies is calcium deficiency, purple leaves are a lack of phosphorus. To fix this we must either spray the plants with nutrients or fix the ph. You might think that fixing the ph would be more crucial, but sometimes it is better to spray the plants and hold the problems off. If the plants are in a 360 cell tray (think the size of a thimble for the roots), then the plants are only going to be in there for 4 or so weeks before they are transplanted into a finished pot. The size can be anywhere between 1 qt (0.94 L) to 2 gal (7.57 L). The larger volume of soil would negate any ph changes that had been applied earlier. It is just not worth the work. It would be far more efficient to spray it 2-3 times and that is it.

These are the pansies before they were shipped to the retail stores. 

Poinsettias and mums were the main crops right before I came home before Thanksgiving.  They didn't get watered overhead but are on tables which are flooded.  When the bracts start changing color, the overhead watering can cause spots on the leaves.

The color is so vibrant it plays tricks on your eyes when you are standing in the middle.

I returned to work right before Thanksgiving in time to prepare everything for the holidays.  Every employee from the top to the bottom worked a massive two-day shipping.  Now it is time for cleaning and then the spring crops will be started."

Reese was tired so we didn't do anything special during his week at home - any excuse to be lazy was good for me.  Scooter, on the other hand, was not as accommodating; he demanded attention fulltime.

Oh...that feels so good!
I am watching every bite you eat.
We celebrated his trip home with a special dinner.  It was the last of the canned tuna fish and pickled zucchini saved from our A First at the Last Dinner.  It was shipped to me by Becky at Home and is the best tuna fish in the world.

Sometimes doing nothing is everything. 

Awesome tunafish and pickled zucchini!
I packed his truck full of food and sent him on his way.  The busy season is in full-swing so time off for the winter holidays was not possible.  Dustin was able to come home when his factory in Iowa closed for a week.  He braved the 13-hour drive and decided to always fly in the future.  

Life has changed so much this past year.  I know the calendar says it has only been one year but it has felt like a lifetime. We are working hard at adapting and it seems distance is going to be the new norm.

Dustin, Reese, and Joshua.
Additional Links

A First at the Last

Aquaponics Dreams

Aquaponics Dreams Delayed, Part 2


  1. Oh how wonderful that he got to come home and get recharged! I have 4 sons that are scattered all over the country and I sure do miss them. Enjoy your week! Holiday hugs, Diane

    1. We talk by phone and Skype, but it is not the same as sitting in the living room chatting. I really miss my guys also.

  2. After many months of hard work Reese deserves to be spoiled with food he loves.
    I understand very well that you and your husband miss the boys , and I do hope that they will soon find good (or even better) employments nearer to their home.
    By the way, missing tread on those shoes can be dangerous at work, particularly on wet floors.
    But after so many miles !
    And all those pansies ! To me they always seen to have a "face". I like best the yellow pansies.

    1. He is constantly walking on wet concrete floors so the company has shoe safety requirements, no open toes, flip flops, sandals, etc. It's an industrial environment which is why we purchased quality, heavy duty boots before he left. They are holding up well, the soles were originally thick but if they had been cheap, nothing would be left now. We offered to get him new ones but he said there is still a little life left in these so he chose to wear them a bit longer. I also think they are broken-in and comfortable now.

  3. Jeannie,
    You are the best "tuna hoarder" on the planet! I'm glad that you could enjoy the last jar with Reese. We have been eating quite a bit of it for quick salad dinners here, too, and gave away quite a few canned items such as the zucchini pickles for Christmas. (But actually no tuna this time!).

    His job looks so interesting. I just love plants and growing things--like you do--and I can see that he inherited that from you. What a great job! I can see how hard it would be to get things watered correctly. I have the same challenge in my little greenhouse on a much smaller scale. Those pansies are breathtaking. I'll bet he never tires of seeing them.

    1. Hoarding is easy. I can put anything in my underwear drawer because they NEVER go there. The plum sauce required refrigeration so it quickly disappeared. He was awed by the flavor of the tuna, not like store bought at all.

      Reese loves being in a greenhouse, forget a desk job in an office. He knows what he wants to do someday (aquaponics) and this is one of the steps along the path. Yes, he got his love of plants from me. I would be thrilled to be there but could NOT handle all the walking.

  4. So glad your boys got to come home, even if only for a quick trip!

    1. A quick trip is better than nothing and I will take it every time!

  5. How wonderful to have family during the holidays! You be sure to let Reese know that many of the gardeners that depend on his seedlings are bloggers!! As hard as I try, sometimes, when I plant seeds I get absolutely nothing for my effort!!

    1. I look at the plants in the garden centers differently now. I realize the hard work that goes into getting them grown and transported in good shape to stores. Also, I check to see where they came from hoping it might be one Reese grew. Lastly, I don't flinch at the high prices but realize I am getting a good deal considering the labor and expense involved.

  6. Plants from Metrolina are the best! I live a mile and a half from Bonnie Plant Farms but they have subpar plants compared to Metrolina. Thanks for the hard work to grow plants that perform well in my garden!

    1. Well Lana, they are only better because Reese is there working. I don't think Metrolina could do it without him, in my unbiased mother's opinion.

      I think Reese will be thrilled when he gets around to reading the post and reads what you wrote. He hasn't seen it yet because he is working long hours right now.

  7. It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas. My sister was given one of the poinsettias mixed with houseplants by her MIL. Being we're in N Carolina, I'm betting Reese grew it. Pretty cool!

    1. Oh, I bet he did grow it! I hope she loved the gift, but how could she not? Something bright, green and alive in the middle of the gloomy winter is always welcome.

      Thanks for sharing that bit of news. Reese will get a kick out of it.

  8. What a fascinating job! I too will never look at a garden store plant the same way!