By giving young plants a great start on life since 1987, Plug Connection in Vista, CA is well-known as the west coast’s first ornamental young plant specialist. Today, it is one of the largest plug, liner and grafted vegetable liner producers in the country, providing the products, programs, services, knowledge and flexibility to serve its clients throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2000, Plug Connection purchased a greenhouse from Agra Tech, Inc. in Pittsburg, CA and today it’s become an integral part of the production processes used at the farm.
Vista is an ideal setting for growing young plants, because it features the highest light levels in North America with clear skies and warm temperatures by day, with afternoons and nights cooled by light ocean breezes. By enabling shorter finish times, faster turns and year-round availability, Plug Connection’s liners and plugs are toned and hardened by the sun and the cool breezes blowing off the Pacific Ocean, meaning that each and every one comes out exceptionally compact and vigorous.
With 350,000+ sq. ft of total greenhouse space, Plug Connection has finishing houses (stages three and four) with roll-up roofs and drop-down side walls that dissipate heat and humidity during the day. One of these (a 45,000 sq. ft. greenhouse) was purchased in by the farm from Agra Tech and today it acts as one of the company’s main greenhouses.
By producing a wide range of plants during all four seasons, Plug Connection also features the largest selection of organic herb and vegetable plugs on the market, including over 200 tomato, heirloom, unusual and novelty varieties and a wide assortment of the best seed and vegetative varieties. Specialty plants that get a healthy start by Plug Connection include Cyclamen and Gerbera Daisies to name a few. The farm is also renowned for its high-quality drought-tolerant Succulents, and premium plants such as Mandevilla, Geraniums, Grasses and Poinsettias, among many, many more.
Gregg Opgenorth is in charge of all sales and production for Plug Connection. He’s a 44-year veteran in the farming industry that started when he was 14 in the Denver, CO area. He learned the business there in the cut flower, bedding plant and flowering potted plant, tree farm, and retail/ wholesale garden center segments of the industry. His grandmother was a great gardener, florist, and mentor at an early age, he explained.
Opgenorth has been working for the company for eight years now and loves the job for its variety and the role the farm plays. “Plugs started taking off in 1990 and today we produce 80% flowers with the remaining being vegetables and herbs,” he said. “We provide starter plants for greenhouse growers and then they get them to the point where they can be re-sold at garden centers all over the country.”
The key to being successful in the plug industry is by providing plugs that are robust enough to handle the long journeys they take, Opgenorth explained. “In the past, finished growers would have to have their own propagation department and personnel. But, now we supply healthy, vigorous plugs that will survive shipping and grow into healthy plants to many finished growers. Each plug we sell has its very own cell and by devising techniques perfected over the years, we’re able to make sure that every flower, vegetable or fruit is going to mature properly and grow without interruption.”
Five years ago, the farm started grafting vegetable plants, most notably heirloom tomatoes that before were too sensitive for long journeys. Today, Plug Connection is grafting all sorts of vegetables and the results are extremely positive for growers, gardening centers and nurseries throughout Northern California—not to mention diners from NYC all the way to every territory in Canada and beyond. “We’re able to grow plugs that are resistant to soil-borne diseases, by grafting wild plants with them and producing hybrids that are stronger and produce higher quality plants. The roots are healthier so the finished product is superior, which allows us to ship plants that we could not before.”
Before Opgenorth came onboard at Plug Connection, the farm purchased a Continental greenhouse from Agra Tech, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses. This 45,000 sq. ft, greenhouse is ideal for Plug Connection, described by Opgenorth. “Our Agra Tech greenhouse is perfect for our needs, because the roof is retractable, which allows the hot air to escape and provide much-needed ventilation for the plants. We’re also able to open up the sides of the structure, to provide an ideal climate for everything we grow there.”
Opgenorth loves the Agra Tech greenhouse and he also appreciates the support provided by the company. “Our rep is Adam Pound and he is a great source of information and we’re pleased to be working with him. Agra Tech’s support is exceptional and we’re delighted with their products and the customer service that comes along with it.”
So, the next time you’re enjoying any type of ornamental flowers, high-quality herbs or tomatoes that are either heirloom or what are known as “slicing tomatoes” think about Plug Connection, because it’s likely that they got a good growing start at Plug Connection!
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Bracken is delighted with the project and happy to be working with Agra Tech again. “We go way back with Agra Tech and all of our greenhouses are from ATI, so when the time came for us to discuss this project 18 months ago, ATI was the only company we considered,” he said. “We are very happy with them and their entire team, because they bring so much knowledge and design skills to the table.”