Tropical flowers are pretty, but often expensive. Even in tropical countries where the best growing conditions exist naturally, flowers are usually costly to grow and buy. But they do not have to be. Here is a story of two women in Jamaica who found ways to make a profit growing flowers. Their story is a good example of how to start a small business cheaply using the resources that are around you.
In Jamaica, tropical flowers such as anthuriums (Anthurium spp.) usually grow in between rocks among ferns in shaded river gullies. It is hard to produce the same conditions when you are trying to grow a large quantity of these flowers to sell. Marie Thomas and her daughter Jean live in an area of Jamaica’s north coast where the anthuriums grow wild and beautiful. They love the red and white heart shaped flowers so much that they developed unique ways to grow lots of them cheaply.
Marie and Jean did two things that made their business a success. First, they carefully observed the growing conditions of anthuriums and tried to think of ways to recreate these conditions. They noticed that anthuriums do not need soil to grow. These plants get nutrients from fibrous material. They thought they could grow the flowers on coconut husks because coconut husks are covered with fibres. They were also plentiful and cheap.
Marie and Jean saved a lot of money by using the coconut husks. In fact, they didn’t have to pay for them at all. In Jamaica, the milk of the green jelly coconut is a popular and refreshing drink. However, most jelly coconut vendors simply throw away the coconut husks after customers drink the juice. Marie and Jean collected the coconut husks lying around at vendors’ stands on the island.
The Thomases also built a greenhouse which gives anthuriums the shade and humid conditions they need. The greenhouse was their main expense. It was built on a quarter acre of sloping land at the back of their home. They used bamboo and wooden posts to build the walls and roof of the greenhouse. They tacked up black polyurethane netting beneath the roof. The netting lets 50 per cent of the sunlight into the greenhouse, which gives the anthuriums shade. The Thomases had enough money to invest in the polyurethane netting. If they had not had the money, they could have used loosely woven palm fronds to cover the roof.
The Thomases made terraces inside the greenhouse. The terrace walls were made with stone collected from the area. Terraces help hold water and reduce soil erosion on the slopes. This, in turn, reduced the amount of water needed for irrigation. They made garden beds on the terraces. Each bed is about one metre wide by 7.5 metres long. The beds are about 15 centimetres above ground level. The Thomases put layers of dried coconut husks on top of the beds. The young anthurium plants grow on the husks.
Preparing the husks
Marie and Jean do a few things to prepare the husks for the beds. First, they lightly spray the husks with a fungicide to keep them from rotting in the humid conditions. Marie is learning about non poisonous fungicide treatments. Soon, she plans to try these methods on the anthurium beds.
After the husks are properly treated and dried, they break them into different parts. These are used for different layers on top of the beds. The bottom layer consists of the tough shell of the coconut husk. Each piece is about 3 centimetres wide and between 14 to 20 centimetres long, depending on the size of the coconut. The Thomases place these pieces so that they overlap over the length of the stone beds. They cover the entire surface of the bed with pieces of husk. Next, they fill in any cracks with some of the soft fibres from inside the husks.
They use these soft, stringy fibres to make a bed for each anthurium plant. The young plant is called a sucker. They place the sucker on the foundation bed and pile the softer husk fibres in a mound around it until the plant can stand up without being held. About four plants fit across each bed.
It can take two months for suckers to send out firm roots. Plants take several months to mature. As the plants grow, the Thomases add more of the soft, fibrous coconut husks to support the plant. Then they put more of the tough outside husks around the plant to ensure that it stands up. They also look for fungus growth. They cut out and throw away any parts with fungus.
To ensure that each plant is getting enough nutrients, Marie applies shredded cow dung and a fertilizer that she buys from the local shop.
When they first started growing anthuriums, the Thomases got most of their coconut husks from the jelly coconut vendors in their community. Now, however, their business is so large that they buy truckloads of husks from a nearby coconut plantation. Marie and Jean have a thriving flower business. In less than three years, they became the main anthurium producers in their region. Today, they supply local florists, hotels and shops in the nearby tourist area. Tomorrow they might be growing orchids, too, as they believe their coconut husk growing method can be used for many types of flowers.
What can you learn from Marie and Jean’s experience? Perhaps there is something you can grow to sell, such as an herb that people like to use in cooking. Or maybe you can start your own fruit drying business with solar dryers you make yourself. Look around for ideas and cheap materials. You won’t know what you can do until you try!
- This script was written by Maria Protz, Project Manager, SNAP Sub Project, Mekweseh, St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. It was based on interviews with Marie and Jean Thomas in Jamaica.