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Organic grower Andrew Mans from Coaldale:
Andrew Mans joined the company to start up the greenhouse business of Mans Organics in 2012. By that time, his parents were growing several specialty organic open field vegetable crops like squash, cantaloupe, onions, shallots and garlic, besides 130 acres with other field crops, like alfalfa and grain. "My parents wanted to expand the range of the organic vegetables and I decided to quit my job as a carpenter to become a grower."
Andrew Mans inside his greenhouse with a yellow tomato crop
As Andrew was completely new to the industry, he had to learn a lot as he began from scratch. "Together with a local employee we started the construction of the greenhouse, and during that process we got introduced to many other professionals and suppliers from this industry. I learned a lot from them."
The greenhouse was supplied by Paul Boers. Prins Greenhouses from Abbotsford, B.C., was responsible for the installation of the heating and Damatex designed the entire control system. When the construction of the greenhouse was completed, Mans started the first greenhouse crop in 2013. At that time, they had no idea about growing or about organics in the greenhouse, but they began nonetheless. Soon, crop consultant Leo Hoogenboom from Lacombe, AB was hired. "That was a life saver. Leo helped us a lot with the start up of the production, came up with great advice and made us familiar with greenhouse growing."
Mans Organics started with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. When we asked them about the challenges, Andrew immediately explains how difficult it is to grow organic. "All of our crops are certified organic according to Canadian standards, which requires that we grow directly in the soil. We can't use a hydroponic method, which is quite challenging sometimes. As well as this we can only use very expensive organic nutrients and we are applying many biological IPM strategies."
"Growing in the soil is what we're all about," said Andrew. "Besides organic worm castings, we don't add any topsoil or special mixes to it. We do use some soil amendments and try to add some organic matter; that being said we do grow directly in the soil that the greenhouse was built over. I truly believe that this is also the reason why many customers like our vegetables so much; our number one comment on our products is that you can really taste that the crops are grown in a biodiverse, healthy soil."
The greenhouses have pipe rail heating systems. Natural gas boilers are used to heat the greenhouses, also a CO2 from the condenser is used to fertilize the crops.
Now three years later, Andrew already talks about growing as if he has been doing it all his life. Over the past three years they added two more freestanding hoop houses to their first gutter connected greenhouse, and nowadays Mans employs 7 full time employees. They grow a large number of varieties; three colors of bell peppers, beefsteak tomatoes, TOV's, Ramiro peppers, cherry tomatoes, Long English cucumbers, eggplants and even runner beans. All of the produce is marketed to local specialty organic stores.
Mans grows a lot of crops. As well as this they have their own propagation area in which they use LumiGrow LEDs. This year, Bevo Farms will also supply them with pepper and cucumber young plants.
The greenhouses are all fully controlled with the help of a Damatex system; it was designed according to the special needs of Mans Organics. "Other growers recommended Damatex to us as their control systems are known to be flexible and completely adjustable to any company. Especially for a company like ours, with many different crops and sections, flexibility in the design of the systems is needed. Damatex basically asked us; what do you want to do, what are you looking for in the system?"
Mans explained about the help they received from Damatex and other suppliers. "They were our most valuable contacts. They gave us a lot of advice and introduced us to special technologies and innovations."
As an example he mentions the integration of special pump sets for organic cultivation. "Damatex helped us with the design of a special installation and irrigation controls. As well as this they helped us out with the problem of our too cold irrigation water. Damatex worked with them to come up with a unique solution that allows the cold water to be mixed with hot water from a water heater at the proper ratio and provide the correct final temperatures.
Damatex installed high-end controls at Mans Organics which feature small control modules. The system works completely zone independent and controls any hardware inside the greenhouse operation; from heating to irrigation and energy curtain strategies. "The flexibility and support from Damatex helped us a lot. Also their graphic interface provides a great tool to steer the crop and gives you an idea of what is going within a few seconds."
Learn more about Mans Organics at www.mansorganics.ca
More information on Damatex:
+1 514 351 33 45
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