As Ken travels from meetings to nurseries across the state, region, country, and world, he always has an eye out for new ideas. We publish them in our monthly newsletter, SOMETHING TO GROW ON, and will use this page to archive his collection.

PORTABLE IRRIGATION LINE
THE ROLLING PRUNER
THE RODENT REPELLANT
GRAFTING TABLE DESIGN
MIST SYSTEM
ANTI-SMASH IDEA
OVERHEAD IRRIGATION IDEA
ADJUSTABLE IRRIGATION RISERS
TRUCK SAVVY
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE...
SMART MARKETING
RAISING PROPAGATION TRAYS
MAKE TRADE SHOW DOLLARS COUNT
KEEP IT SIMPLE
CEMENT MIXER/SUBSTRATE BLENDER
LET GRAVITY DO THE WORK
FILLING POT-IN-POT CONTAINERS IN THE FIELD
WOODEN WATER TOWER
EASY PLANT COVERING
MIST CHAMBERS
SHOWER MANIFOLD
POTTING UP LINERS
NESTED POTS
SIMPLIFY THE WORKPLACE
COVERING GREENHOUSES
LABEL NOW


PORTABLE IRRIGATION LINE

This idea comes from Holland - a simple wire coiled into the shape of an angry cobra is used to set up temporary stakes for an overhead irrigation system. It seemed like a simple, inexpensive answer for this situation. The pictures below will provide a better illustration.


THE ROLLING PRUNER

Overlook Nurseries in Mobile, Alabama, uses a wheel barrow frame and mounts pruning shears with adjusted handles so it can be pushed down the row comfortably while pruning hollies, azaleas and other nursery crops. See the picture to clear up that description.


THE RODENT REPELLANT

Dr. Carl Whitcomb (nursery and research farm in Oklahoma) tried baits to baseball bats trying to keep rodents from his seed flats. He finally came up with the simple solution of suspending a rectangular frame made from 2 x 4s from the top of the greenhouse to keep the flats out of reach and return some of the frustration he endured from these unwanted critters over the years. Simple, but it works. See the picture.


GRAFTING TABLE DESIGN: A GOOD IDEA

This title is an oxymoron or a rare event for me (Ken Tilt). I usually take other people's ideas. But, laziness is the mother of invention (or something like that) and I could not find what I needed to make my life easier. If you are going to graft for long periods of time, it is nice and more efficient if you have a comfortable table and chair and they are designed for the task. Our usual method of grafting was to grab a rickity chair, put it under a pecan tree, flip over a 5 gallon paint or lard can and bring a worn-out cardboard box of assorted grafting stuff along with a cooler of scion wood. We took the one gallon understock and scattered it around the chairs and in true southern tradition, it was time to "have at it". You can imagine the results.

I was always looking for where I put my knife down or the marking pens. Grafted plants always got mixed with the ungrafted plants. The chair was too tall for the bucket which also made it hard to hold the understock at the right angle to make the proper cuts. My back began to hurt after an hour, I kicked over my drink..... You get the picture. So, the frustrations resulted in the design of a grafting table pictured below along with a new industrial, adjustable chair or stool that cost two times as much as the table but my back feels better. The cost of the materials for the table was about $70. Let me know if you would like to have a copy of the design. It should be posted on the web site by next month.

The table was designed for 1 or 2 people to graft at a time. The four pockets or trays in the center of the table hold your knife, sharpening stone, bags, twist ties, budding rubbers, markers and tags. The trays can be removed when you are finished grafting and stored until next time. Your leather strap is attached to the table. The cut outs in the center are placed so you can get closer to your work. You can adjust the circle to your size (in my case it needed to be a little larger). The shelf underneath the table allows you to take a one gallon container and lean it against the table to give you a good 45 degree angle to make your cuts and wrapping easier. It also is a good place for your knife while you are wrapping the graft. Although it was not part of the design idea, the support board under the table was perfect for a foot rest.

The table is 42 inches high which allows you to stand up and comfortably work in this position. You can put 30 to 40 understock plants on one side. As you finish the grafts, you push them to the finished side. If you are grafting by yourself, there is a slide bar that pulls the hard-to-reach pots to you. After completing the 30 to 40 pots, you shift the completed grafts to a trailer and reload the understock. If you are fortunate enough to have some help, the other individual can keep the plants moved and restocked. It is a simple system that has worked well. If you do not have a good shade tree or air conditioned room, you may need to add a large umbrella to the design.


MIST SYSTEM

Mist system set up in propagation area where cuttings are prepared. The idea behind cuttings is a race to see if you can help speed the replacement of the lost plumbing system (roots) before the cuttings dry out. This is a step in the process of sticking cuttings where they can dry out. Mist will help.


ANTI-SMASH IDEA

Cut the corners off your container beds so that large trucks do not smash your plants and profits as they make their turns on tight nursery roads between beds.


OVERHEAD IRRIGATION IDEA

Provide for overhead irrigation in your propagation houses so that you will be ready for the plants as they come off mist or for over-wintering irrigation. Look for ways to add versatility to your nursery. Things do not always run as anticipated in this business! (A gross understatement.)


ADJUSTABLE IRRIGATION RISERS

Make connections on your irrigation risers so that they can be easily switched out for taller or shorter risers as you adjust for the size of your plants going into a production bed.


TRUCK SAVVY

One nursery modified its trucks by adding side doors to be able to access plants for multiple shipping drops. Of course, you should always remember the "First on last off" saying when organizing your plants for shipping.


PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE...

This is a picture of someone standing on container ground cloth where the ground beneath the cloth was not properly graded and compacted. Depressions like this cause the obvious problems of standing water with the resultant root rot problems and unstable surfaces for situating the plants. Proper planning and preparation in any phase of the nursery business can save many problems.


SMART MARKETING

I have noticed several large nurseries that have a small shaded and open wholesale display area where a sample of all the plants grown in the area are organized for small pick-up truck walk-in buys. This saves much time in going around the whole nursery to see each one of the plants the individual wants to purchase. The key to success, I am told, is to always bring the best plants available to the sales yard so that the buyer can be assured that you are not keeping the "good stuff" in the back.


RAISING PROPAGATION TRAYS

A constant problem in the nursery is preventing various root rot pathogens, many of which are spread from container to container by water moving from the drain holes of one container into the drain holes of another. Some nurseries raise their propagation trays onto old flats to keep the trays off the ground to prevent this from occurring.

MAKE TRADE SHOW DOLLARS COUNT

A trade show suggestion – Much money is spent on marketing your plants through trade shows. ($500 for a booth – add electricity, carpet... etc. and you move quickly to from $700 to $800, 3 days at a motel and food - $300, gas and parking $2 to $300 dollars, to which you need to add advertising and promotion) You can easily spend $2,000 or more for a small booth and weekend trade show. You want to make those dollars count. You need to attract attention. A well designed booth with good lighting is a good investment and good business. Paying all that money just to create the weak link in the marketing chain by slopping some flats and plants into the booth is a waste. Get professional help if design is not one of your talents.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

McCorkle Nursery, a mid sized to large nursery in Dearing, Georgia, implemented the principle of “keep it simple” for their workers. Once required space was calculated for a crop, the nursery painted lines on the ground cloth of the growing pad to accommodate the planned number of pots. No repeated calculation and adjusting needed to be done. Most southern nurseries place their containers “pot-to-pot” until top growth shades the containers, avoiding excessive heat on the roots. Pots are then spaced. Lines are drawn to allow the labor to fill pots between the lines and appropriate space is allocated for spacing at a later date. Most labor in a nursery is involved in the repetitive task of moving containers from place to place. Anything that reduces this activity saves time and money.


CEMENT MIXER/SUBSTRATE BLENDER

Most small nurseries cannot afford substrate mixers at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 ($30,000 to $60,000 ZAR). They either purchase pre-mixed substrates or use a front-end loader to incorporate media components and additives. Nursery producers are notorious for finding someone else’s junk and putting it to use. Old out-of-service cement mixers were salvaged and put back into service blending container substrates. They were too old for the abuse of mixing concrete but have greatly extended life mixing a lighter material, like pine bark and peat moss.


LET GRAVITY DO THE WORK

From the mixer to the containers works easier if you let gravity do the work. Nurseries have long used hoppers of various shapes and sizes to funnel substrates onto a potting bench. Many nurseries find this as efficient, or more so, than potting machines which require up to 13 people to keep them running smoothly. Certainly the smaller grower uses these hoppers to their advantage.


FILLING POT-IN-POT CONTAINERS IN THE FIELD

Rigsby Nursery in Ft. Myers, Florida mounted a hopper on a truck bed and took it to the field to fill pot-in-pot containers. It worked well for their system.

FILLING POT-IN-POT CONTAINERS IN THE FIELD

Transplant Nursery in Lavonia, Georgia used back yard engineering skills to make a potting machine. A conveyer system feeds substrate to a round hopper atop a merry-go-round/whirligig apparatus that has double offset circular wooden benches rotating around a central pivot pole. The upper inset ring has half-moon cutouts that allow the individual doing the potting to place the container on the lower outer ring and nest it into the half-moon cut-out and pull the gravity fed media into the pot from the central hopper above. After potting the wheel is rotated and the pots are removed by another worker on the opposite side of the circle who puts them on a wagon to be watered-in beneath the irrigation manifold before going to the field container bed.


WOODEN WATER TOWER

Ideas emanate from frustration. One grower became very impatient when he or his employees spent long idol moments at the end of a garden hose filling a 50 or 100 gallon sprayer. From the old steam engine train water towers, Transplant Nursery got the idea to build a wooden water tower holding a 200 gallon tank with a simple commode floating ball valve to automatically refill the tank as a 4 inch line quickly filled the spray tanks.

EASY PLANT COVERING

If you cover and uncover your plants with plastic or some other overwintering material as temperatures fluctuate, you may appreciate the adaptation installed by Buddy Martin of Martin’s Nursery in Semmes, Alabama. He installed permanent 6 inch nailer boards that serve as spacer guidelines as well as offer a stapling surface for easy covering to adjust to fickle weather occurrences.


MIST CHAMBERS

Lancaster Farms, a very innovative nursery in Virginia, showed us a flat carrier while on an IPPS tour. It is a reverse “C-shaped” handle with a double pronged fork on the bottom of the “C” and a handle on the upper side. The fork slides easily under the full length of the flat allowing the employee to easily carry a flat in each hand.


SHOWER MANIFOLD

An old idea adopted by most nurseries is building a manifold of multi-rows of evenly spaced irrigation heads fitted with water-breaker nozzles so that a wagon or cart of newly planted containers can stop briefly under this shower manifold and be watered thoroughly before going to the field container pads. There is no commercial product available. Each nursery creates their variation of this irrigation apparatus.


POTTING UP LINERS

Each nursery is different and evolves a production system that meets their needs and the needs of their customers. Some nurseries like to fill all their containers and set them on the growing pads and pot the liners directly in the field. They have developed an auger with a 4-inch liner-sized head that can be set into a battery or electric tethered drill that is used to quickly dibble/drill holes for the planters to insert the liners.


NESTED POTS

There are large numbers of variations of container designs and most can be worked successfully into a production program. Nested pots or a smaller pot “nested” inside a larger base pot offers plants, such as rhododendron or dogwood trees which have heat sensitive roots, protection from the extreme exposure to southern heat stresses. Rebar or metal poles are often run through the base container holes to offer stability to the nested plants.


THE BACK SAVER

How do you carry large containers for 8 to 10 hours a day or how do you manage a 10 to 50 gallon container as you get older? The inventor of the Pot Hog and Oink is not a nursery producer but an allied company with an interest in nurseries. He developed this hand-truck looking device with claws allowing leverage to easily lift and move large containers. He made hand held grips that offer easy lifting without bending and with a grip that is kind to the fingers. See www.tmateo.com to get the clear picture of this very helpful device.


FLAT CARRIER

Lancaster Farms, a very innovative nursery in Virginia, showed us a flat carrier while on an IPPS tour. It is a reverse “C-shaped” handle with a double pronged fork on the bottom of the “C” and a handle on the upper side. The fork slides easily under the full length of the flat allowing the employee to easily carry a flat in each hand.


SIMPLIFY THE WORKPLACE

It is important to mark container ground beds to avoid continued calculations and counting. Other areas of the nursery can be similarly simplified. If you use the same pesticide concentration, fertilizer parts per million, container substrate mix, or growth regulator application rate, do not redo your work everytime you apply. Make a menu for your employees and give them pre-weighed volumes to eliminate that step. Use color codes and labels to make it simple and mistake proof.


COVERING GREENHOUSES

It helps to have talented welders and builders on the nursery. The arduous task of covering greenhouses became easier when a nursery built a metal platform on skids that could be pulled by a tractor from greenhouse to greenhouse. Employees could easily be at the top of the houses to pull plastic and cover the houses.


LABEL NOW

Small nurseries should begin labeling everything as soon as they build the first greenhouse or container pad. It helps for inventory and directing new employees and customers to the right place. It is an obvious advantage but amazing that nurseries get so comfortable with their surroundings that they do not notice. Take pictures of your nursery sometime from all angles and see what you are missing on your own nursery.


Send horticultural questions to ktilt@acesag.auburn.edu.

Send questions and comments about this site to bfischma@acesag.auburn.edu.