Rodger and Cindy Whitson own a 10 acre property just outside of Mosgiel. They had owned the property for 21 years when they first started growing gentians and paeonies. In 2004 they diversified into growing hydroponic herbs and salad vegetables and have grown this into a very slick operation. Neither Rodger nor Cindy had horticultural experience or qualifications but their operation is a testament to learning from trial and error. They started trading at the market at about this time.
They have a niche market where they like to “keep it small and do it well”. They grow all their herbs and vegetables from seed which they germinate in the dark at 20°C. This may take anything from 2-7 days depending on what the seed is. The seedlings are then grown-on in an all-natural fine bark potting mix that holds moisture well. The “nutrient” is heated to 15 degrees and flushed through the plants at the rate of a litre a minute. This is the only aspect of the operation that is heated – their very large glasshouses are not heated but do heat up very quickly from the sun.
Most of the seed that Rodger uses is aphid resistant which allows him to not have to use any form of pest control – their hydroponics are truly a spray-operation. His manual system of detecting any unwell plants early on allows him to discard them before any bugs or bacteria can spread. This is an incredibly tight operation with machine like efficiency and the need for Cindy and Rodger to be cycling through tasks on a daily basis to ensure continuity of supply.
All products are picked and chilled to 7⁰C before being loaded into the van at 5am every Saturday morning and transported to the market in their van. Rodger and Cindy also wholesale their vegetables and herbs to Wing On and restaurants and cafes locally.
Rodger and Cindy grow superior herbs and greens, including more recently microgreens. Their attention to detail and quality control ensure that the customers get a superbly fresh and long lasting product. They also grow several different varieties of paeonies over 3 acres of ground. All up they have about 10,000 plants with up to 2,000 under cover. This is a new development for the business and the 4 large tunnel houses were built to ensure that the blooms are kept in perfect condition, away from the weather. 95% of their paeonies get exported to Asia and the US where they have USTA registration. This requires a stringent spray regime to ensure that the blooms are bug free with random leaf testing by the authorities to ensure that the flowers have traces of the desirable chemicals.
Within the Dunedin City boundary Rodger is the only person growing flowers for export. This is in marked contrast to days gone by when there were many more. From October to Christmas every year life becomes very full for Rodger and Cindy. Rodger (with a little help from daughter Georgia who is learning the ropes) picks all the blooms himself and the packhouse is in full production packing 100 stems to the box, with an ice pack, then chilled to 1⁰C and sent to Auckland where they are checked and sent on. It can be up to 2 weeks before they are at the flower markets of Asia and the US.