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Greenhouse Growers tour a vibrant success

Modified: Monday, Jun 17th, 2013


Flowers like these were showcased during the tour. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)


WATSONVILLE — Organizers say Saturday’s fourth-annual greenhouse open house was a vibrant success that drew more than 1,000 visitors to six local nurseries and helped plant the buy-local seed in many of them.

The parking lot was packed at one of those growers, Kitayama Brothers Farm on San Andreas Road, as visitors sorted through scores of bargain-priced daisies benefiting state parks and tore through several other features at the inaugural Gerbera Daisy Festival, a flower fest the president of the wholesale nursery says he plans to continue.

The local greenhouses opened their doors this year for the Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House, allowing the public a peek into the mostly indoor tending of flowers, herbs, succulents and other crops.

The event included greenhouse tours, a book signing at one nursery, benefit flower and vegetable sales at others, a flower arranging competition and much more. 

Participating growers included Kitayama and two of its neighbors on San Andreas Road — Jacobs Farm/del Cabo organics and California Floral Greens — plus California Pajarosa Floral on Hughes Road east of Watsonville, McLellan Botanicals of Aromas and Succulent Gardens of Castroville. 

McLellan was a welcome addition to the circuit this year, organizers said, and at least one more greenhouse is expected next year.

California Pajarosa, an original participant, says its 55-acre nursery in 1992 became the first rose grower in Northern California to institute hydroponic growing. The method affords more control over plant productivity, allows recycling of wastewater and boosts monitoring of PH and nutrient levels, per the company’s website.

At the large-scale Kitayama Brothers Farms, the family and its 90 employees also utilize hydroponics and recycled water from a Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency program that helps counter the area’s saltwater intrusion problem.

Kitayama Brothers grows and packs for sale several types of flowers and in one cavernous building Saturday workers were cutting and wrapping snapdragons, stock and lilies while others hauled out scores of tall, bright Gerbera daisies that quickly sold for $2 or $2.50 per pot in a benefit for Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.

The Gerbera Festival was popular and busy with tours, food and vegetable sales, vendor booths, a flower designing display, children’s activities and more. 

The business has evolved from concentrating on carnations, to roses to Gerbera daisies as of last year, said company president Robert Kitayama, who has a home in Aptos.

Gerberas are not easy to transport, allowing the nursery an advantage locally, he said. In comparison, roses are often now grown in South America and shipped north for sale, Kitayama said.

Saturday’s daisies were three growing cycles old, and past their peak for commercial growing, so would be composted if not sold to benefit state parks, he said. The plants can live for eight years or so, he added.

“We’ll do this again; I like the Gerbera Festival as a win-win all the way around,” Kitayama said. “Buy local is working for us. My father and uncles weren’t promoters, but we wanted to show our neighbors what we do. We’re proud of what we do.”

He said they mostly use steam to combat pests, which also controls the higher costs and health concerns associated with pesticides.

Wayne Schenk of Las Vegas came to Kitayama with Joselin Hernandez of San Francisco.

“It was great, it was interesting; we learned that there is a lot more to growing than planting and watering,” Schenk said. 

Sue Pearce of Santa Cruz was scouting for some light pink “gerbers” amid a sea of dark red, coral, pink, orange, yellow, cream and others. 

“This is great; I’ve been to this before,” she said. “I’m a big-time gardener and this is a really good bargain.” 

Pearce’s friend, Barbara Martinez of Soquel, said it was her first greenhouse tour. She said she came at her friend’s urging and found it beautiful. 

“I’d like to go to McLellan and see the orchids,” she said to Pearce, peering through a large Gerbera in a black plastic pot that required two hands to hold.

The Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House began with six growers, said Kathleen Williford, a spokesperson for the event who lives locally and works for the California Cut Flower Commission. It is going strong, she said, estimating Saturday that 1,200 visitors attended this year, doubling the first year’s crop of customers.

For information, visit www.montereybayfarmtours.org.

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