Customers drive the extra mile for plants with that extra touch

Nick Zimmer is the owner of Willow Greenhouse, an ornamental facility in Northville, Michigan. He grows a wide range of annual and perennial crops in a 10.000 sq. ft. greenhouse and sells directly to consumers. “Customers travel 30 miles and more to buy plants at my facility” says Nick. “Of course they know they get excellent quality and value, but what draws many customers from afar is the knowledge that we consistently use biological control in our production. Customers value that they can take home a plant and rest assured that it is free of chemical residues. A predatory mite release sachet on the plant, that is biocontrol in action, is part of that extra touch when you buy ornamentals at Willow Greenhouse."

Before starting his own greenhouse two years ago, Nick was a head grower at another operation in New Jersey. That’s where he first learned about biocontrol through his Biobest representative. After he moved to Michigan, he started working with Veronica Cervantes, Biobest advisor in the Midwest. “I was impressed from the start by the superior level of pest control that I could achieve with biologicals as compared to chemical sprays”, says Nick. “I also knew it was important not to cut corners: biocontrol works best when you go bio all the way. For me, that means literally zero spraying. How I got there? I gave Veronica full access to my production plan. She helped me develop a solid strategy using Biobest’s wide range of biocontrol solutions that include the use of aphid banker plants, mini sachets and food supplements Nutrimite™ and Nutrimac™ to establish and maintain the beneficials even in the absence of prey. Most importantly, she was there when I needed help with monitoring and implementation. The biocontrol strategies she recommended have been robust and have worked well across the different crops.”

“My customers are always curious about the mini sachets in their hanging baskets. They often think it is some kind of fertilizer. It’s a great starting point to engage in a conversation and to tell them about our use of biological control. It’s really part of what makes our offering different from buying plants at a large chain garden center. This year I set up banker plant stations with signs and big magnifying glasses for them to see the bios in action. I would like to have even more educational material available for them. I’m even trying to talk Biobest into making special packages available with biocontrol products to sell to my customers. I’m sure they would love to see the good bugs continue their work in their homes and gardens.” I enjoy sharing our knowledge about beneficials with our customers, but it will also be a pleasure to share my success with other growers and encourage them to give bios a try. It has been a very positive experience for us.

Nick continues: ”Direct sales to consumers and consistent use of biocontrol have worked well for me. It gives me peace of mind to know that by using natural enemies, our staff and customers benefit from a pesticide free environment, it is safe for them to walk around and pick the plants, and I don’t have to worry about re-entry periods, which is an added value for a retail operation. My business is doing well and I am planning to further expand. I’m now starting to do more vegetable seedlings, for example.”

When asked about the propagation material he starts with, he mentions that he is always trying to get information about the treatments applied by the propagators. This often turns out to be difficult. I would love to be sure to get starting material that has not been chemically sprayed or is free of harsh chemical residues for my bios. This is certainly an area with good potential for the future. However, in the meantime I start by dipping the cuttings, upon arrival, in a mix of beneficial nematodes and biopesticides. Then, I’m off to a good start of the growing cycle, a complete biocontrol strategy and a successful sales season.”