At 20 acres (8 hectares), Simply Natural has the largest organic greenhouse in Central America. So, what do we do with all that space? Well, in addition to growing all of our lime, avocado, neem and mango saplings, we also grow melons and cucumbers for the local Panamanian market. Since Panama imports more than 80% of its food, this is a great opportunity for Simply Natural to fill the void!
A huge part of our agricultural achievements is the emphasis we place on efficiency, utilizing the state-of-the-art SupPlant irrigations system and employing only organic methods. As an example, here’s how we get our melons from seed to market in just 67 days.
- Seedlings are grown for 14 days and then transplanted into the greenhouse growing medium
- For the next 21 to 30 days, the seedlings continue to grow
- Manual pollination starts as the flowers appear, beginning about 21 days after being transplanted
- During the next 10 days after pollination, the fruit begins to develop
- The fruit is placed in a mesh bag and hung from a metal lattice so that it doesn’t stress the vine
- After another 22 to 25 days of growth, the harvest begins at about day 67
- Over the next 14 days, the harvest is completed, the old vines removed and the process starts all over again
The growing medium we use is made of coconut fiber encased in a bag that holds nutrients delivered by our drip irrigation system. Each plant has its own irrigation feed and any excess water flows into a tray so that the water can be captured and recycled. As the plants continue to grow, they are “trained” to grow vertically up a metal lattice and are hand pollinated when they flower.
When the fruit gets to be about the size of a tennis ball, they are hung in mesh bags from the lattice and continue to develop. When harvested, the mesh bags are clipped from the vine, packed up and shipped to market.
All of this requires a lot of tender loving care from our dedicated green house staff. Because we are 100% organic, pest management is front of mind. Two important steps we take are critical to our success. First, everyone going into the greenhouse must first pass through an air lock and clean their boots on a mat soaked with a natural pest control liquid. This helps prevent pests from getting into the greenhouse in the first place. Second, we grind neem leaves and fruit and combine them with water to make an emulsion that we spray onto the crops in the greenhouse. Neem helps the plant nutritionally, but also controls pests like mites, powdery mildew, rust, whiteflies and aphids.