Lettuce-growers see light at end of tunnel-house

Georgie Wade with some of the gourmet lettuces being grown in their commercial glasshouses.

Georgie and Dave Wade are glass half-full people.

Their optimism has come in handy in the past 12 months. The couple moved from Temuka to Ashburton last September after buying the hydroponic lettuce business know as Ashburton Hydroponic Growers – they have stuck with the known brand name and they are calling their business Lettuce Bee Healthy.

In November their glasshouses and outbuildings were severely damaged by hail and then in February orders for their gourmet lettuces decreased and then stopped as the covid pandemic started to take effect.

Just as restaurant and cafe sales began to pick up after lockdown, their gateside stall was ransacked and money stolen.

Georgie says they have been tested but are surviving; they are continuing to trial new options in their hydroponic glasshouses, which once successful will be available to their customers.

She works for Midlands as their HR/HS adviser and husband Dave has been the main fixer and grower, putting his years of commercial gardening experience to good use. The business was started by Pauline and Roger Withell about 25 years ago and run by Pauline after his death five years ago.

Georgie said she and Dave were enjoying the lettuce-growing lifestyle, despite the hiccups.

They have their lettuces grown from seeds through QuikStart Seedlings in West Melton and then grown hydroponically (in water). The different glasshouses and plastic tunnel-houses are full of lettuces at different stages of growth; it takes about five weeks for the plants to mature, when they are harvested, bagged and delivered to Ashburton restaurants, cafes and supermarkets for sale.

Georgie said last November’s hail broke about 40 per cent of glass in the glasshouses; the damaged product and broken glass had to be dumped.

Dave set about managing the repairs and the growing continued until about February, when international tourism began to drop off as covid spread around the world. Then New Zealand locked down and orders stopped.

The Wades’ sheep feasted on gourmet lettuce but the couple had to keep the growing cycle going.

“There’s been a lot of unforeseen things happen,” Georgie said. “We were in a bit of a spiral as you can’t plan but we knew we had to carry on growing so we would continue to have a harvest available.”

After lockdown, the orders started coming back.

She said the past 12 months had been a steep learning curve as they got to grips with the business requirements and gave some love to ageing infrastructure.

“We have had some hard times, but we are here and we will make it succeed.”

They have met new people through their delivery channels and have been warmly welcomed by customers. They are planning for positive times.


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