a popular item at S&W Greenhouse
can you get fresh strawberries
in the dead of winter? Carrollton, of course.
Helen E. McKinney
CARROLLTON, Ky. (March 2003) Faced with developing
a way to bring tourists to Carrollton during February, the Carrollton-Carroll
County Tourism Commission came up with a novel idea backed by a catchy
slogan: Where can you get fresh strawberries in the dead of winter?
Carrollton, of course.
S&W Greenhouses hydroponically grown strawberries have
developed into a tourist attraction, said tourism executive director
Hydroponic strawberries fill two greenhouses at S&W Greenhouse.
In one greenhouse, the plants are grown in long perlite bags supported
underneath by troughs. A nutrient solution flows through the bags, eliminating
the need for soil, said owner Tommy Williams.
Williams at S&W Greenhouse.
In the second greenhouse, the plants are grown in stacked
foam pots. A PVC tube circulates the water though the pots from overhead
drip lines. Williams said he has observed two other sites in western
Kentucky that grow strawberries in this stacked pot fashion, which reduces
The first recorded use of hydroponics occurred in one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to historians,
the plants were grown in a steady stream of water. Many centuries later,
U.S. troops stationed on infertile Pacific Islands during World War
II ate fresh fruits and vegetables produced by this same method.
Williams said he was looking for ways to diversify his business due
to recent tobacco cutbacks. In the past, he grew tobacco plants in all
of his greenhouses. Williams, Bruce Wash, Jerry Stafford and their wives
own S&W Greenhouse.
Now in his third year of producing hydroponically grown fruit, Williams
said he obtained tips on growing the berries from a West Virginia researcher.
Afterward, he decided to just jump in and try this new system.
Williams said the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to terminate
the use of soil fumigants, which are used to combat fungal diseases
in California and Florida, the major strawberry producing states. Many
strawberry growers fumigate the soil with methyl bromide before planting
to control soil borne insects, diseases and weeds. The process has been
essential to produce high yields and high-quality fruit.
As a result, growers are looking for alternate means of producing strawberries.
Most experts say the hydroponically grown berries are far better than
field-grown strawberries, he said.
So far, results have been positive and the idea has worked in
well with the garden center, he said. The berries are juicy and
so large that Williams said he has been harvesting eight berries to
The berries are sold at the S&W garden center and to a few groceries
and restaurants in Owenton, Ky., where Williams lives. He recently struck
a deal with a Midway, Ky., restaurant that promotes Kentucky-grown food.
Williams began by purchasing plug plants, which developed roots. From
these rooted tips he was able to start some of his own plants this year.
Hydroponic systems reduce the growing time needed to produce a crop
of berries. Since the plants are sensitive to day lengths, they begin
producing flowers in the fall, then fruit in winter months. There is
no production past early June.
There are boxes of bees in each greenhouse, which Williams said are
used to pollinate the berries. The bees are useful in giving a good
shape to the berries, he said.
Environmental factors are not a problem in greenhouse grown plants because
lighting, temperature, humidity and irrigation can be controlled. Light
intensity greatly affects strawberry growth and development.
Harvesting berries grown hydroponically is also easier on laborers.
While field harvesting requires backbreaking labor, hydroponic plants
may be harvested from a standing position. Because there is no soil,
there are no weeds, no digging, no cultivating, no soil-borne diseases
nor any need to rotate crops.
But things do not slow down this time of year for employees at S&W
Greenhouse, said employee Lynn Vaught. We start seeding the other plants
that we grow in January, she said. This includes all of the flowers
sold at S&W because none are shipped in as with other nursery businesses.
Vaught said even in slow times, when there are few customers, there
is still plenty of labor involved in growing the food and plants that
Caldwell summed up this unique process by saying, S&W strawberries
gives me that special something that sets us apart from other small
rural communities searching for winter weekend getaways.
Tours of the two greenhouses may be scheduled
if Williams or his staff are available to do so. To make reservations
call (502) 732-0472.
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