The weather outside may be becoming frightful, but it’s a balmy 70 degrees in greenhouses in New Jersey.
Matt Bruckler, of Jah’s Creation Farm in Egg Harbor Township, is hard at work planting baby spinach, baby kale, arugula and other greens this winter. “We grow year-round. We keep the greens through the winter to transplant and grow in the field in spring,” Bruckler said.
Bruckler’s farm has been using greenhouses to grow crops for 25 years and provide year-round crops for a community-supported agriculture program. While it can be expensive to keep greenhouses warm through the winter, Bruckler explained the farm is his livelihood and heritage. “I grew up here. … My great-grandfather started the farm.” The greens turn over quickly and provide Bruckler with produce to sell in the winter.
According to Jersey Fresh in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the Garden State has 9,100 farms. Nurseries and greenhouses account for $444.8 million of the billion-dollar industry.
Rick Van Vranken, agricultural agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Atlantic County, said that while there are small operations and startups doing year-round food crops in New Jersey, the majority of winter agriculture production is holiday ornamental plants, including poinsettias and Christmas cactus.
Poinsettias are indigenous to Mexico and grow in warm climates. They gained an association with Christmas in the 16th century. The plant also is common this time of year because it thrives in the low sunlight of winter and the flowers — that’s the small yellow flowers, not the red bracts or leaves — bloom around late December.
Coia’s Garden Center grows poinsettias in its Vineland greenhouses. “There’s a very high demand this time of year,” said manager Joe Perella. “We grow the plant from a clipping starting in June, and they’re ready for harvest and sale by December.” Coia’s sells their plants at their own garden center and wholesale to other businesses.
Patcong Farms in Egg Harbor Township stays open through the holidays selling the seasonal plants that are shipped in. “Our primary business is mulch, eco soil and topsoil,” said manager Alyssa Purvis. “But we sell the poinsettias at Christmas, then flowers again at Easter.”
Vraken said greenhouses pose a challenge due to heating costs. “Growing in the winter, especially food crops, is expensive with heating and can be more challenging than people think,” Vranken said.