The costs of building a cooler are substantial so you want to do a lot of planning and research. Sufficient space and capabilities to keep the temperature between 33 and 34F is the goal. Of course if you have the funds, building one huge complex for all your needs is perfect. Most of us don’t start our peony farming with unlimited funds.
We built our third cooler last year. Our first cooler is 20’ X 8’, the end of a 43 foot semi-trailer. The remaining area is used as a packhouse. Our second cooler is 10 X 10 and now used only for taking the field heat out and our last (hopefully) cooler is a converted 40’ reefer container requiring no added insulation.
There is a big difference between a semi-trailer (or a conex) and a reefer. With a Conex or semi-trailer you must build your cooler with lots of insulation on all four surfaces. The cost for our first cooler was $10,000. We paid $2,500 for a pretty ratty semi then proceeded to make it work. We used blue board for insulation and sealed everything with a couple of coats of marine plywood and deck paint. My Husband and Son are both retired from construction so I pay nothing for labor. We used a Cool Bot for our cooling unit. We purchased the largest Air Conditioner we could find, 24,000 BTU. A few years into production, we covered the packhouse flooring with plywood and an easy to clean floor covering.
Everything worked really well for a few years until two things happened. 1. Our production increased and 2. Our weather warmed up. We purchased a second AC, but the problem of space was not so simple.
We purchased what I call a ‘standalone’ cooler next. It comes in panels you put together that are fully insulated. We paid $1,250 for this used equipment and it had no cooling unit, just the shell. We used a Cool Bot with an AC for cooling. Last year we replaced the Cool Bot with a conventional compressor/evaporator unit but I believe a Cool Bot would have been sufficient. That expansion didn’t even last one year. We were still very, very short of cooler space as our production was increasing almost 100% a year with new fields maturing.
Last year we bought a 40’ reefer. It has stainless steel walls already insulated. We hired a refrigeration guy and purchased two Evaporator/Compressor units designed for floral use. Again, my Husband and Son helped some with the hangers, wiring, drains etc. But the refrigeration units themselves were installed professionally. The costs of these two units and his labor were $10,000. We paid $4,000 for the reefer. We installed plywood on the floors and hope to put down easily cleanable flooring next season.
My estimation is the original 20’ cooler would handle about 3,000 plants at maturity. Some of this depends on your market. For us, we have standing weekly orders so we move our stems from the field to the cooler and then on their way to end users in less than one week. If you are still working on a market, you may have to hold stems longer and accumulate stems so you will need more space.
The 40′ reefer can hold up to 35,000 stems. However, we’ve converted one end to hold boxes ready for shipping. This end has the two full sized double doors so it is convenient to load and unload the boxes.
In 2017 and 2018 we finished the floors in the coolers and covered the entire area, all three coolers and a processing area with a new roof.