Production Quality with Efficiency
From the time container nurseries in the southern United States began things have changed drastically. From methods to sow the crop to those used to ship it, the evolution of nursery practices are as wide spread as an artist color palette. Not that we in the nursery are artists but we do like to have a pretty picture or crop of seedlings come shipping time.
Sowing a container crop differs from nursery to nursery. It really depends on the size of your facility as to what equipment might be best. Smaller nurseries still hand fill their trays and hand sow their seed. Larger, more advanced nurseries use automated sowing lines. Automated sowing lines consist of a bale buster, tray filler, vacuum drum sower, capper, and water tunnel. The automated sowing lines increases production from an estimated 50,000 cavities hand sown per day to 450,000 plus per day. The automated filled and sown trays have a more uniform media compaction as well as seed sown in the middle of the cavity. This helps with better crop management.
Once sowing is complete the growing begins. Like sowing, the growing process differs in every nursery. The irrigation systems are fairly basic in some nurseries and very sophisicated in bigger operations. Small growers use the least expensive fixed irrigation system. This system tends to have patterns and is less uniform in water and fertilizer distribution. A boom or pivot system offers a highly uniform irrigation system.
As far as fertilizers, some growers prefer nine month slow release fertilizer to manage nutrients in their crops. Others use only water soluble fertilizers. A few use a combination of both. This combination gives you the most control. A short term slow release fertilizer gets a crop through early establishment and the prime time of root development. Then the grower will switch to water soluble fertilizer to grow and finish their crop.
Most nurseries have incorporated top clipping as a standard operating procedure. It allows for improved seedling quality, as well as a uniform crop. This technology is very customized to nursery operations but generally starts in early summer and continues into early fall depending on seedling development.
The goal is to have uniform seedlings with well developed root systems and balanced nutrition. Crop reports are developed on every seed lot that evaluates top height, root collar diameter, root development, and foliage nutrition.
Unlike sowing and growing, packing is more standardized. Most nurseries pack their seedling in boxes for shipping. This wasn’t always the case. Decades ago, the seedlings were left in the trays and carried to the field then pulled out of the trays as the seedlings were planted. Today nurseries pack based on customer’s needs with generally 250-300 seedlings packed per box.
There are big differences in nursery operations and we encourage customers to visit their nursery and see how processes work. This also devlops a good working relationship with a key partner to help in establishing a forest.