Demand grows cucumber numbers
What began more than 40 years ago as a horticultural hobby on a three-quarter acre piece of land near Kaiapoi has evolved into a 33 acre enterprise that just keeps on growing for the owners of Island Horticulture David and Deirdre Barton.
Demand for their hydroponically grown telegraph cucumbers – ‘Coolcumbers’ – has never been stronger.
Two years ago, the couple toyed with the possibility of selling up and retiring but instead opted to carry on and are now actively expanding their operation with an investment of just over $1m in an additional half hectare of glasshouses, imported from Holland.
That represents an extra 9000 plants, on top of their existing productive base of more than 30,000 plants.
“It’s a huge expansion that reflects rapidly increasing demand,” Deirdre explains.
“We believe it’s the product itself that’s creating its own demand because people know they can rely on getting the same product with the same nice flavour all the time.”
The couple are pleased they decided not to sell, noting that their present management structure is working extremely well, with manager Dianne Main taking very good care of the extensive growing operation.
Island Horticulture currently employs 14 full-time staff altogether and is poised to add another four over the 2017/18 summer season.
A key producer for Foodstuffs, Island Horticulture supplies cucumbers to supermarkets throughout the South Island via Foodstuffs’ distribution centre.
It is all a long way from how David and Deirdre started out, growing tomatoes in a couple of old glasshouses in Clarkville, North Canterbury.
Back then, David worked as a professional firefighter and horticulture was just a part-time hobby to earn a little supplementary income.
After growing tired of tomatoes, David tried raising a crop of cucumbers and found he really enjoyed it. “It’s the job satisfaction that got me hooked.”
Gradually, they began building up production until it reached a point where David was able to switch to working full-time in the glasshouses.
Technology has transformed the business over the years, with basic thermostats and hand operated vents giving way to efficient computer controlled systems.
Year-round heating systems, derived from European practice, support plant growth and control diseases so spraying can be kept to a minimum. Plants are grown hydroponically in coco peat, with nutrients supplied through water.
“We like to say we enhance Mother Nature with what we do here.”
Along with the glasshouses, Island Horticulture has an extensive packing shed, equipped with the latest grading and wrapping equipment.
The business has ranked as a top three finalist in the South Island Farmer of the Year event.
While cucumbers are grown year-round, light plays a strong role in production, which naturally falls away in winter along with demand.
Costs remain static throughout the year, offset to an extent by cuc umbers fetching a higher price over the cooler months.
Telegraph cucumbers are packed with healthy vitamins and useful micronutrients, and help with digestion and cleaning cholesterol from the body.
Deirdre enjoys snacking on cucumber slices and hummus, but David admits his love of cucumbers does not extend beyond the glasshouse.
“I know we grow the best quality cucumbers around but I just don’t like eating them!”