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The Quiet Achiever Stephen Hadley

The Quiet Achiever Stephen Hadley

The Quiet Achiever Stephen Hadley

Nursery Manager and Head Grower of Vegetables for Gellert Nurseries


If you are a NZ greenhouse vegetable grower there is a very good chance Stephen Hadley has grown plants for you.   Stephen has been working at Gellert Nurseries for nearly seventeen years.  His role is Nursery Manager and the Head Grower of Vegetables.  

Stephen was born in 1973 and has lived and worked in and around Pukekohe his entire life. He attended St Joseph’s Primary and Intermediate School before moving onto Pukekohe High School.  At the age of 13 Stephen’s mum helped him get a job with local tomato grower Noel McIsaac.   He worked there for one and a half hours after school and three hours on a Saturday.  By the time he had finished high school he knew he wanted to be in the horticulture industry so completed a ‘Certificate in Horticulture Practice’ at Carrington Polytechnic.  From there he was offered full time work with a well-known grower in the Pukekohe district at the time, Wayne Taylor.  Stephen worked for Wayne for four years before moving on to work for another well-known grower in the area Brian Nicklin.  Stephen worked at Brian’s tomato growing operation for two years before Brian, and several others, came together to build the first of the Status greenhouses in Tuakau.  Stephen worked at the original Harrisville site for two more years.

By now Stephen had been working with and growing tomatoes for twelve years.  An opportunity then arose in 1998 to become the head grower of a property in Hart Road, Pukekohe.   This property was growing around 9000 tomato plants.  Stephen relished the opportunity to take the next step in his career.  During this period Steve had built up a strong relationship with consultant Bryan Hart.  Bryan was aware that Gellert Nurseries owner, Steve Gellert, was looking for a nursery manager.  The rest as they say is history, Stephen was employed by Steve Gellert in August 2001.

Throughout the past seventeen years advancements in young plants, delivered to growers, has been remarkable.  Back then it was quite normal to receive tomato plants that would take eleven to twelve weeks to pick, now we take for granted that growers are having plants delivered to them that are already flowering and can be picked in six or seven weeks.  Grafting tomatoes has come a long way since the norm of single and double headed grafted plants.  For the past three years triple and quadruple headed grafted tomato plants have been developed for the commercial market.    Stephen was instrumental in developing the 60cm Cucumber plant.  Now we know that the 60cm plant has been a game changer for several growers and has added real value to their bottom lines.  Stephen has also been involved with growing advanced capsicums, eggplants and has been instrumental with kiwifruit and the grafted watermelon programmes.

These magnificant grafted eggplants are just one example of the advaced plants grown at Gellert Nurseries


I asked Stephen had they reached the limit of plant advancement?  He thinks that with the installation of the new supplementary lighting there are new possibilities “We are fortunate to work with our Dutch consultants from Van der Lugt Nurseries and use their experience of how to use the lights, which has taken the need for experimenting out of the equation.”   He thinks that the plants he grows are at a very advanced level but there is always room to improve.  “There are risks to achieve further advancements so the customer has to be involved with our processes”

Photo taken Monday 6th of June at 2.30pm showing the intensity of the supplementary lighting at Gellert Nurseries. 


 I wanted to know what some of the ongoing challenges he faced are “One of the biggest challenges is the constant changing of varieties, learning the new variety characteristics and to get the best out of them.”  Steve said this can often take a minimum of two seasons and by that time another new variety or seed batch arrives. “It is a continual learning process and that is part of what makes it challenging and exciting”. Stephen said the biggest challenge is constantly trying to improve outcomes for growers, “We know if they succeed we will as well, and that makes for a good ongoing working relationship.”

Stephen is the proud father of two sons and somehow juggles his work life and home life.  His passion for sport means he enjoys watching local sporting events.  In his youth he played left back for the Pukekohe Premier Soccer team.  He is very handy at tennis and played at a high level for his club.  Stephen is very keen to watch this year’s football world cup, he will be supporting Croatia as this is where his mum originates from.   Apart from all the sport, Steve loves reading and likes to spend time at the local library with his family.   It is a great time to relax and spend quality time together.

Stephen survives on very little sleep, he has been known to have less than 4 hours a night.   So next time your plants arrive at 6am, think of the guy who woke up at 1am to make sure the lights were turned on so your plants could be picked up, packed and loaded onto the truck ready for delivery. 

Stephen Hadley’s involvement in the development of growing advanced vegetable plants over the past seventeen years has possibly not seen him gain the accolades he deserves. His loyalty and dedication to his job and the industry is second to none.   Stephen Hadley is not the kind of guy after any notoriety, he continues to be the quiet achiever.

The above photo demonstrates the effect lighting has on shortening internodal space on cucumber plants.  Growers are planting mature plants, it means faster from planting to picking and has the added benefit of potentially extra fruit to the crop wire! Below are spaced cucumbers which have an excellent leaf size and colour.

Stephen’s constant analysis of every crop involves walking multiple times through the plants at all stages.  This photo also demonstrates the crane heating system.  By lowering the heating pipes closer to the crop, heating efficiency is achieved.  

Simply breath-taking gorgeous eggplants grown at Gellert Nurseries in the middle of the winter! 


An example at a grower’s property of a now mature quadruple headed grafted tomato plants stem.  These plants were grown for this customer by Stephen Hadley and the team at Gellert Nurseries.



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