{good ol' fashioned school excursion}

My floristry class piled onto the TAFE school bus yesterday to experience the amazing Flora International flower farm in south-western Sydney. This place was incredible - a rose farm on steroids!

Flora are the largest Phalaenopsis Orchid and hydroponic Rose growers in NSW, along with also growing a large expanse of Oriental Lilies. 

The sheer size of the space is quite overwhelming. When the doors of the first glasshouse were opened up for us to step inside there was a collective breath-stopping moment where all our jaws fell to the ground taking in the amazing scene before us. This one glasshouse alone measures 4,000 sq/m. In total there are 35,000 sq/m of plants grown under glasshouse conditions.

Not only is it massive, but it is a finely tuned machine. Every minute detail is measured and calculated by the computer system which collects data relating to light intensity, temperature, humidity, nutrient levels, water uptake and so on to ensure the optimal growing condition for the plants at all times.
Window louvres and curtains are all
operated via computer - all 35,000 sq/m!
I was really impressed by the measures put in place to try and be as environmentally conscious as possible. Whilst spraying is still used as the final resort in treating any pests or diseases, other more natural measures are also used, for example 'good bugs' are released to eat the 'bad bugs', bug attracting traps and sticky mats are erected around the glasshouses and most importantly good hygiene is adhered to with a staff member conducting weekly checks on the plants - recording health of plants, and numbers of pests present to ensure preventative methods are effective.
Not just a big blue rubber band. Thrips are attracted to blue = bye bye bad bugs!!
There are no holidays - harvesting occurs every day of the year (twice a day in summer!), except New Years Day (we'll allow them that!) with of course the lead up to St. Valentine's Day being their busiest time of year. I can now fully appreciate the cost of red roses on V'Day and will never again question the price increase - trust me on this, these farmers deserve every penny they earn from those ruby red buds!
The well-oiled smooth machine continues in the bunching shed where the lovely ladies delicately handle the perfect buds to sort and wrap ready for market. Strict quality control ensures no buds are too open, too tightly closed or stems are bent.

Just when I thought I couldn't be more surprised or delighted we were ushered into Phalaenopsis Orchid heaven... this is certainly an experience the camera cannot express...
Too beautiful for words!
As if it was hand-painted
I came away from the experience so much more appreciative of the effort that goes into producing such beautiful flowers. These guys and girls work incredibly hard under less than ideal conditions at times (can you imagine the heat under that glass in summer?!) all the while trying to compete with the imported cut flowers flooding the market. 

On that note, I would strongly encourage buying locally grown cut flowers where possible. All flowers imported into Australia undergo strict quarantine regulations which stipulate they must be gassed with methyl bromide to protect against the introduction of pest and diseases and treated with Roundup to counteract illegal propagation. Not only are these extremely nasty for our own health and that of the environment - they also greatly reduce the health and quality of the cut flower reducing vase life significantly in comparison to the locally grown produce.I would like to encourage you when next purchasing a bunch of roses, Oriental lillies or a  Phalaenopsis Orchid to ask the seller if it is locally grown - support an Australian owned and operated company right here on our doorstep in Sydney. 

Flora are open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm for retail trade, alternatively you can purchase stock at Flemington Flower Markets. Guided tours of the farm take 1-2 hours and are a must for any flower lover.

For more information visit Flora International's website here

All images: {hort couture}

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