Photo Report : Visit to Westbrook's high end orchid facility in Canada

During the Canadian Greenhouse Conference bus tour, we were also welcomed at Westbrook Greenhouses' Plant 4 in St. Catharines. Westbrook is well known in the Canadian greenhouse industry as a grower of quality floral products, as well as an innovator and manufacturer of commercial and production greenhouses. We had a chance to visit their phalaenopsis orchid operation which is equipped with some of the latest innovations that were developed in-house by Westbrook Systems. An eye-opening visit to a grower that knows how to think out-of-the box.

Westbrook Greenhouses Limited is the foundation of the Westbrook Group of Companies. Founded by Dutch immigrant and grower William Vermeer in '59, it all started with a small greenhouse near Grimsby. The very first Greenhouse of Westbrook produced mainly orchids, pot plants and various cut flowers. As the years went on, the company began to grow and thrive, ever producing more cut flowers and eventually opening more greenhouse locations;Westbrook plant 1, 2, 3 & $. The latter one in St. Catharines was build in 2005 and produces mainly orchids.

On top of the greenhouses business, there is also Westbrook Systems which manufactures greenhouse structures and technology, Westbrook Logistics, which ships their product out all around Canada and even the US, and Westbrook Floral which is the office location, and the heart of the company.

Westbrook plant 4 in St. Catharines was built in 2006 by Westbrook. The greenhouse complex consists of several compartments and structures.

Orchid production is a lengthy process which can takes up to two years. The cultivation is spread over three stages. On the left and the right side is the first stage; inside the sterile and closed environments the in vitro orchid tissue culture (Meristem) arrives from a laboratory in Germany. In these rooms the tissue culture is being transplanted into special propagation trays and kept in specific climatic conditions for the first Meristem period.

After the Meristem stage, young plants enter the greenhouse inside these trays, before they are transplanted into pots. The exact moment of transplanting all depends on the size and stage of the plant. Pictured is a variety from the Dutch breeder Anthura. When the leafs of the plants in the trays reach the right size (7 cm) they can be transplanted into pots.

Workers transplanting the fully propagated young plants into the pots. This is being done with the help of a Javo Direct potting machine.

After transplanting, the pots are placed on benches and enter the greenhouse. Due to the fact that the bench-loop system can move each batch, all kind of varieties, colors and ages are growing inside the same greenhouse in the same constant climate. A head grower of Westbrook described the entire process. The Meristem stage and the transplanted crops (stage 2), are growing in the same climate.

The greenhouse of Westbrook is a double inflated poly greenhouse. Originally the structure was designed for floral production, but when Westbrook decided to start Orchid cultivation, they had to adjust the structure and features inside the greenhouse. An orchid is a tropical plant so temperatures must be kept above 15 degrees Celsius and below 32 degrees Celsius. The climate in the second stage of propagation is constantly being kept at 26-28 degrees Celsius. The Relative humidity is being kept at 60 percent. This to prevent fungal diseases.

We spotted these new Quick Plug orchid plugs in the greenhouse. Westbrook's growers told us that they were very satisfied with this propagation media, despite of the extra cost of it. Please note the laser cut holes in the benches; the greenhouse and the benches initially were built for standard ornamental cultivation in the first place and Westbrook had to rebuild many parts of it before they could start orchid cultivation; it took lots of time to laser cut all of the holes in the benches.

This is the third stage of the crop; you can see that the crop is uniformaly creating branches. In order to prevent spiking, the temperature at stage 3 is constant being kept at 19,5 degrees Celsius: The greenhouse is equipped with pad and fan cooling and conditioning, which makes it a very demanding and expansive cultivation process. There is a double screen installation installed; one energy curtain and one shading curtain. As well as this, supplemental lighting is used as additional light during the day, and not to extend the day.

This is the open space/corridor between the two greenhouse structures. Westbrook decided to put a roof structure over it with insect mesh. Thanks to this, a buffer is created between the outside air and the greenhouse. According to Westbrook, energy saving can be realized; In winter months (when the insect mesh is also covered with plastic) cold air from outside will enter the buffer before it is directly being forced inside the greenhouse. With an outside temperature of -20 and and inside temperature of +20 this is more than welcome. In every 5 bays a ventilation window is present.

This is the last part of the third stage; the crop is flowering and ready to ship. Sometimes the crop stays a bit longer in the greenhouse to harden off a bit, before they are being packed and shipped.

All kind of varieties grown at Westbrook. Westbrook packs the orchids in many configurations, with or without pots and often in luxury gift wrapping. The retail price of an orchid can reach up to 30-40 US Dollars; but this is a reasonable price is you know the lengthy and energy demanding process that took place in advance.

If you would like to obtain more information about Westbrook Greenhouse Systems or Westbrook Floral, please visit their websites; would like to thank Westbrook for their warm welcome at their greenhouse in St. Catharines. As well as this we would like to thank the Canadian Greenhouse Conference for the very informational Bus Tour. In the coming week we will run several more stories from this event.

If you would like to join the Bus Tour next year as well, please contact the Canadian Greenhouse Conference at :  or send your requests to Glenna Cairnie (e-mail).

In February 2015, our own HortiDaily High Tech Greenhouse Tour will also visit a very impressive Orchid farm in Holland; Ter Laak Orchids. Click here to obtain more information about this free bus tour.

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