Back in 2014 Windset Farms was one of the first major farms to start with greenhouse grown strawberries. “Though it hasn't been easy developing a crop strategy for this fairly new greenhouse grown product, we learned year by year”, says Tim de Kok, Senior Grower at Windset Farms California.
Tim de Kok, senior grower at Windset Farms
With a vibrant red color, a plump and juicy texture and super sweet flavour, it's no wonder Windset Farms' strawberries have found themselves a strong fanbase since the introduction of the greenhouse grown product in 2014. "The strawberry program is doing very well this year", Tim de Kok confirms. "We went through some very challenging periods over the last year or so, but we have learned a lot from it. We will apply what we have learned next year and of course hope to do even better."
One of the biggest lessons learned is the importance of the propagation stage. "That’s where it all starts and that’s where we have to do an excellent job. Then once you figure out the different varieties, growing media, fertilization, growing strategies, labor and the plant densities we can simplify the operation and focus more on the details. We have now narrowed it down to a sort of bleu print for successfully growing greenhouse strawberries in Santa Maria."
Coir is easier to haul
Windset Farms grows all their strawberries on Riococo coir substrate. “Since we’re in Santa Maria it’s a lot easier to use coco as our growing media of choice since it works very well for the plants and it’s a lot easier to haul away once were done with the crop”, Tim says.
He explains how the program offers even more flexibility. “Since we have our own coco mill we can play around with different blends. It’s really interesting how the plants react to the different blends of Riococo. The plants don’t lie as my father says!"
The Riococo coir products have been used by Windset Farms in their cucumber and tomato crops as well, with the high quality and consistency of the products as one of the most important features. Also growing on an OMRI certified organic Riococo substrate is a plus to the farm.
With strawberries being a new crop, there’s still a lot to learn and to discover. “For sure the gained experience will help us out a lot going forward in growing and producing a more sustainable and crop protection free strawberry."
Shan Halamba, CEO of Riococo is proud to have a prestigious company like Windset Farms® among their worldwide customers. “In the industry, so many companies are trying to sell to customers buffered coir and they say, only buffered coir is the solution to grow strawberries. We have proven with our experiments and growers around the world that this is not the case. We do not buffer our coir material and have developed a maxwashed method to clean and reduce the EC level to bring our coir mixes to propagate and grow strawberries in many different climate conditions without any growth issues.”
According to Shan, the different mixtures and blends are constantly tested, and out of that research and development process, the strawberry slab emerged. “Our strawberry growing mix combines water-holding capacity with air-fill porosity to create a good balance for greenhouse strawberries. It helps growers produce vigorous growth, performed better in terms of fruit yield per plant, fruit weight, healthy plants, brilliant color and excellent flavor.” said Shan. The mix comes in a variety of Riococo products, including greenhouse grow bags, grow planks, grow discs, and nursery container systems.
Strawberry roots require a significant amount of oxygen in the substrate. This is why it is key for the media to have excellent aeration properties. “It is also why Coir is the growing medium most grower’s think is ideal”, he adds. “With the perfect balance between aeration and water holding capacity allow the roots to develop to their full ability. Additionally, Riococo contains many beneficial bacteria and fungi which help mitigate the development of harmful bacteria and fungi. Riococo washing process keeps the positive organisms that naturally occur in coir, like Trichoderma, intact without having to re-inoculate the media.”
“Our product is also heat sterilized to ensure it does not contain any harmful fungi. This helps to reduce anthracnose disease in the strawberry plants. According to Halamba, as a result, growers do not need to use any other methods or to fumigate to disinfect the media, which can pollute the environment. By having these positive bacteria and fungi in place from early in the propagation, they remain in a symbiotic relationship with the plant throughout its life, helping increase the productivity.”
Shan mentioned, “We have consultants that can help recommend the stages for a traditional strawberry grower to transition their growing systems to Riococo. In addition, they are available to answer general questions and tips for growing. This will allow the growers to be a step ahead as they transition and to meet their customers’ requests to have delicious strawberries year round”.