CHESHIRE — No longer does working at a greenhouse mean watering plants by hand. At Kurtz Farms in Cheshire, the more than 30 acres of growing space is automated to water, monitor and care for the plants through computer systems.
The Record-Journal met up with Zach Welburn (known to his co-workers as Zach “Kurtz”) at the wholesale plant and flower center to talk about the automated greenhouses, challenges in the field, and the future of growing.
Q: What do you do on a daily basis here at Kurtz Farms?
Welburn: I usually fix things that are not working, or I check the systems out. The greenhouses are all computer controlled by a system which monitors the temperature, humidity...it looks at outside air temperatures and the roofs open and close as (needed).
Q: What is that computer system like?
Welburn: So the main computer system sits in an office where the grower can set up all his parameters so each house can have different parameters for temperature or humidity so everything is its own zone. The computer system will actually graph everything so you can graph temps and humidity through the day so you can see if you have a problem with the crop. You can look at the graphs and say, ‘oh maybe my humidity was too high or too low and that’s what’s causing the problem.’
Q: How long have you been doing this?
Welburn: This facility about three years, but greenhouses in general – many, many years.
Q: How did you get into this type of work?
Welburn: By trade I am an electrician and I started wiring greenhouses and then I got into the controls of the greenhouse.
Q: What made you want to work in greenhouses?
Welburn: I just happened to wire one and I got hooked on it.
It’s just a different trade, it’s very computerized and it’s very smart. It’s not a matter of running a wire from point A to point B, it’s not the same thing everyday. It’s always different.
Q: What are some skills associated with this line of work?
Welburn: You have to be educated in fertilizers and pesticides. You need to be able to look at the plant and decide if there’s a problem with it or if there’s a bug infestation and what kind of bug it is and what you’re going to use to treat the bug.
Q: What crops are planting now?
Welburn: There’s quite a few houses with Poinsettias, those are planting now to get ready for Christmastime. The Poinsettias take a long time to grow and come into color. They’re started with a cutting, it’s not from a seed. They take a cutting of a plant and they start that in the pot to grow.
Q: What kind of plants are popular now?
Welburn: So right now we’re growing a lot of mums, that’s a popular one. Here they grow a lot of annuals so that’s all year, flowers and then all-year potted vegetables.
Q: What are some challenges you face in this job?
Welburn: Everything is monitored so in the wintertime if a heater system goes down we get an alarm call and we have to come at what could be 3 a.m., and we’re fixing a furnace or heating system or fan to make sure the crops don’t get too cold and die.
Q: Have you ever had to answer one of those middle-of-the-night calls?
Welburn: Yes. I mean if it’s broken it has to be fixed. The big thing is maintaining everything so it’s always good so it’s always going to work. If you have no heat, you have no plants. You have no plants then you’re not shipping anything.
Q: What are some recent advances in this business?
Welburn: There’s a new system that’s in the basket line that actually weighs each basket and only adds the water needed. We tried it this past season and it was great to keep everything growing the same.
There’s not a lot of watering that’s done by hand, most of it is done by robots.
Q: Are these the only greenhouses you operate?
Welburn: I’ve actually traveled far for other greenhouses. Like I have them call me to go to multiple states to program and adjust things at other greenhouses.
More wholesale information can be found by calling 203-272-2996
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