OUTLOOK: Flower power at Quik Farms

Business is blooming under the glass at Quik Farms, which produces an estimated 5 million stems of crythansimum each year in Chilliwack.

Leo

Leo

Afternoon clouds hang heavily over the fields of Chilliwack, but inside Quik Farms, it’s always springtime.

What began as a potato farm 25 years ago has blossomed into one of the premier flower growing operations in the province.

It has nearly seven acres now under glass, using innovation and ingenuity to grow flowers for markets across Western Canada and into the United States. Another 13 acres outside grow seasonal flowers.

Quik’s is part of growing number of greenhouse operations in Chilliwack that have transformed the local agricultural industry.

Once at the mercy of the vagaries of the elements, farmers now have the ability to shape the environment they grow in, prolonging the growing season and providing year-round employment. Producing everything from tomatoes to poinsettias, they are part of a multi-million dollar industry that has transformed the Fraser Valley’s agriculture landscape.

Quik’s specializes in crythansimums – lots of crythansimums. Each year the farm produces an estimated five million stems. That crop is supplemented by another 600,000 stems of lilies, and up to 500,000 stems of alstomeria.

The flowers find their way into wedding bouquets, table centrepieces and flower markets both far and wide.

In 2010 they held a place of honour on Olympic podiums in Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler. Those bouquets presented to each medal recipient featured flowers grown at Quik’s.

Leo Quik says his fondness for flowers might have something to do with his European heritage. Responsible for sales and logistics, Leo says a bouquet of fresh flowers is a staple in so many European homes.

But there is a lot of science behind that simple pleasure.

Indeed, growers strive for perfection, not only in production techniques, but also in the final product.

That means constant research and innovation, like movable propagation beds that allow young cuttings to be shifted beneath the appropriate irrigation drips, depending on the stage of their development.

Chrysanthemums are not grown from seed at Quik’s. They start as cuttings, mostly taken from their own mature plants. This helps maintain the consistency that customers demand, but also protects the crop from any outside disease.

Chrysanthemums are an ancient flower, with roots stretching back to 1500 BC. They come in every, shape, size and colour imaginable, with more being developed every season. Keeping ahead of what variety markets demand (months ahead of when the cuttings are planted) is just one of the challenges faced by Quik’s. It’s a competitive and secretive trade that takes planning, research and intuition.

In addition to Quik’s own home-grown varieties, the farm also works with breeders in Holland who help them acquire any new varieties which are licensed to be reproduced in North America, Leo says.

Choosing what varieties to grow is only the beginning. Once the cuttings have matured, the plugs are transferred to the main part of greenhouse. They are planted directly in that rich Chilliwack soil, spaced between a wire grid that is elevated as the plant grows to provide constant support. The spacing between has to be balanced between the needs of the plant, and the desire to maximize production.

Drip lines provide measured water and nutrients; supplemental lights extend the growing day.

Warmth is maintained through boilers using either natural gas or wood pellets.

The emphasis is always on environmental sustainability, Leo says. Pests, for example, are controlled with “good bugs.” Even the carbon dioxide byproduct from the gas boilers is reintroduced into the greenhouse to enhance the growing environment.

When the flowers are mature, they’re harvested by hand (although Quik’s is investigating a more efficient automated system).

Most of the stems are shipped early in the morning to Burnaby were they are sold through the  United Flower Growers’ unique auction system – a daily event that can accommodate more than 3,000 transactions every hour.

But not all the flowers make it to the auction floor. Quik’s also has a retail outlet at its Prest Road greenhouse, bringing field fresh flowers to customers right at the farm gate. To find out more about Quik’s (and to even order flowers online) go to www.quikfarm.ca

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