I paid a visit recently to the farm run by Thomas Collins and Jim Carthy, in Rush, Co. Dublin. They have been working together since the 1970’s and having grown a variety of crops in the early years, now concentrate solely on cucumbers. Thomas & Jim are, probably, the largest producers of cucumbers in Ireland. Thomas gave me a run-down on their year.
The Production Year
After the last crop of the year has reached the final production phase, the glasshouses are completely cleaned out. All of the support systems are overhauled. Then new hydroponic packs are laid on the floor. Using these means that the plant roots do not need to bed in the soil and all the feed and minerals given to the plants travel through the irrigation system.
Due to the extra resources, needed, to bring seeds to suitable size for planting out, Thomas and Jim have found it more effective to buy ready-made stock from specialist nurseries. These nurseries exist to provide growers, like Thomas & Jim, quality certified plants, at whatever stage of maturity best suits that growers production schedule. This also allows them extra space to have a crop continuously ready for consumption. This is important, as the best growing cycle, for cucumbers, is to rotate with new plants, every fourteen weeks.
Thomas & Jim use a CO2 enhancement system to promote the growth of strong full-flavoured fruit.
This extra CO2, allows the plants, to use all of their energy, to produce their fruit and use less of their energy extracting CO2 from the ambient air. Plants, like cucumbers, need CO2 to grow.
Watering is carried out on a continuous basis using computer controlled systems along with the application of trace minerals.
The plants grow vertically for about 2 metres, trained on hanging cords. They are then trellised horizontally. This allows the fruit to freely hang, vertically, and develop to full maturity without obstruction. It also makes for easier harvesting.
Bug Control – Using Biorational Pesticides
One of the most interesting discoveries was that plant pests are controlled biologically, using predator bugs. Packs of these predator bugs are attached to the plants. Once they sense the presence of pests, such as spider mites and thrips, the predator bugs leave their packs to attack them. Pests, like these, can destroy a Cucumber plant in hours. Having taken care of their prey, the good bugs return to their packs to wait for their next meals. This process means that no chemicals are used to eradicate crop damaging pests.
Off to the Consumer
After ten weeks, the first cucumbers are ready for harvesting. Packing consists of simply shrink-wrapping, before labelling, putting into boxes and shipping to the shop, market or storage depot.
The question of using shrink wrap came up. Thomas insists that cucumbers will keep fresh for at least a week in this packaging, without the need to refrigerate. When using, only strip off the wrap from the section you are going to use. The remainder will happily sit in the wrap for another day.
I thanked Thomas and Jim for what was a very interesting visit