A conversation with any nurseryman always starts off with one topic - the weather. When the weather is good, the conversation is usually accompanied with a smile. As a result of good weather this year, confidence seems to have been restored among growers and this is being reflected in greater demand for machinery and kit. The warm summer certainly boosted sales of irrigation equipment.
"The favourable weather has led to growers requiring more control of watering," says Rotomation director Phillip Ashton. "Watering is one of the most important and labour-intensive jobs on the nursery."
Rotomation recently installed boom irrigation in a newly built six-acre block at bedding plant grower W Robinson & Sons in Cheshire and also has orders for boom irrigation from two other customers - one for a three-acre block, the other for a 2.5-acre block. It is not just the larger wholesale nurseries that are thinking about irrigation. Rotomation also has an order for seven booms for a retail nursery in Sheffield.
"Boom irrigation gives better watering control, leading to a more uniform crop," says Ashton. "With booms, the glasshouse can be split into zones whereby water is only applied to the zones that have plants in them and can water at different speeds in each zone. This not only saves water but avoids overwatering. What's more, with the handheld remote control, growers can programme all the booms while walking through the crop."
The vagaries of the English summer mean the hose pipe is still a much-used item on many nurseries and in garden centres. But wherever the hose is pulled, there is a risk of damaging stock. Grower Services has a simple solution - the Hoseguider. Galvanised and with a plastic roller, the 58cm-long device is designed to be anchored in the soil so that hose pipes can be safely moved around beds without damaging plants in the process. Current price is £15.
When talk of the weather is exhausted, conversation will turn to production and inevitably the difficulties in securing a suitable workforce, which in turn leads to talk of mechanisation and automation of seeding, potting and transplanting. The past 12 months have seen little in the way of development of such equipment, but some lines are being installed - and often using high-capacity items.
Ashton says: "We offer a comprehensive range of seeders to suit all requirements, from small hand-operated needle seeders up to fully automated production lines capable of sowing up to 2,000 trays per hour.
"In recent years sales have been mainly high-capacity lines into large wholesale nurseries supplying the multiples or garden centre chains. At the moment we are installing a seeding line comprising an in-feed conveyor, destacker, tray-filler, Lambda drum seeder, watering unit, tray restacking unit and out-feed belt."
Not all today's kit is aimed at the big growers. The latest transplanter to be added to the Rotomation range is the RW5, which is an economical planter aimed at those smaller growers wanting to automate. It uses the same wireless technology as found on the larger models, can transplant up to 10,000 plants per hour and can have up to 12 fingers. It has a programmable touchscreen display with self-diagnostics.
In terms of potting, Rotomation reports the EVO2 potting machine to be selling well at the moment. It has a 2,000-litre hopper with a wide conveyor in its base to transport the compost. Ashton explains the advantage of this extra-wide supply belt: "It has the ability to deliver large quantities of compost for fast production speeds of up to 4,200 pots per hour, while running the motor at a much slower speed than most potting machines. This reduces wear and tear and allows the machine to operate quietly."
The EVO2 also has a central pot adjustment system to adjust the potting carousel to accommodate pots from 6cm to 27cm, round or square. Drilling is accurate and consistent in the centre of the pot, with holes up to 22cm.
One of the latest potting machines from Mechanical Botanical is the Mayer 2432, a machine suited to potting trees, shrubs and roses. The unit gives users a wide potting range - from 9cm to 32cm - and boasts speeds of up to 3,000 pots per hour.
The largest machine in the Mayer range is the 2800. It handles pots from 10cm to 40cm in diameter and is suited to bare root or re-potting. The central turntable on this unit has its own compost conveyor to deliver extra compost as required.
A recent item to be added to the GAL Systems portfolio is the Da Ros Masking Trayfiller. This uses an inverted belt to cover the pots as they travel through. It incorporates a vibrator and paddle/brush assembly to push the peat into the pots. The bottom belt travels slightly faster than the top belt to ensure the correct positioning of the tray. When changing styles of tray, the belt is simply removed and swapped - an operation that takes just a couple of minutes. Everything is adjustable in speed and height, so giving a clean and efficient fill.
With pots or packs filled, the next automated job is labelling. Rotomation is now supplying the new ETS freestanding barcode labeller. This prints and applies labels using the film-peeling system. Labels can be created using ETS's own touchscreen monitor but there is an option to apply preprinted labels.
As labour becomes ever more expensive, growers and nurserymen need to consider how inbound and outbound goods are transported around the nursery. The use of pallets and container-trolleys allows forklifts and telehandlers to be considered.
Rough terrain qualities and compact design make the new Ausa range of compact Rough Terrain and Telehandler forklift trucks suitable for grower and horticultural markets, where they can tackle tasks such as unloading pallets of growing media and loading trolleys at despatch.
A low height also allows them to work in greenhouse environments and tunnels, while also allowing to access containers. Machines have lifting capacities from 1.3 to five tons and lift heights of up to 7m.
Also useful on rough terrain is the new Hinowa tracked forklift supplied in the UK by Access Platform Sales (APS). Ideal for nursery work as well as landscaping, the hydraulic widening of the tracks on this forklift increases the machine's width from 1.24m to a stable 1.8m and allows the unit to lift and carry loads of up to 2,000kg on sloping ground.
Boston-based WS Barrett has a new idea to help with manoeuvring Danish trolleys. The Danish Trolley Transporter increases efficiency by moving up to three standard Danish trolleys at a time. The powder-coated cage structure has mesh walls for safety and to steady the load, while a locking mechanism secures the trolleys during transport. The dimensions of the three-trolley mover are 1.65x1.88x1.96m, with 1m-long forklift pockets.
Also available from WS Barrett, the BEVA Tug is suited to towing Danish trolleys and other load-bearing trailers. At 60cm wide, the tug is just 4cm wider than a standard trolley and it has the capacity to tow up to 480kg - approximately four laden trolleys. It is also highly manoeuvrable, making it suitable for work in confined spaces, but has a top speed of 3.5mph when required. A regenerative braking system ensures safety.
Power for the BEVA Tug comes from two 12V batteries. The unit has an on-board, inbuilt charger and when fully charged it should last an eight-hour working day at a 50 per cent duty cycle. A ride-on version is also available.
While there may be a wide choice of new nursery equipment - from seeding to transport - many nurserymen seek to buy used kit. The not-for-profit Nursery Machinery Brokerage (www.nurserymachines.com) has been created by two open-ground hedging and forestry plant nurseries in response to the demand for second-hand nursery equipment.
The brokerage website links buyers and sellers across Europe, offering free listing of machines and enabling interested purchasers to contact the sellers directly.
Cultivation: latest kit showcased at Four Oaks Trade Show
Campey and its agricultural arm JC Machinery attended the Four Oaks Trade Show in September to show the 27 series Imants Spader, a machine that can replace traditional ploughing, cultivating and incorporation processes.
With widths from 1.2m to 1.8m, models are available for work in greenhouses, nurseries and vineyards as well as for small production of fruit and vegetables. The units, weighing from 580kg to 700kg, can be mounted to tractors from 45hp up to 80hp.
Also at the show, BLEC Global showcased its laser-guided power box rakes and laser graders, as well as specialist two-wheel tractors. The machines have proven to be successful in glasshouses and are suited to preparing level seedbeds.
The BLEC laser-guided power box rakes and laser graders can provide accurate levelling of soil and stone inside both glasshouses and polytunnels.
"Growers are realising how important accurate levelling is for drainage and irrigation," says BLEC managing director Gary Mumby. "Laser graders and power box rakes are capable of dual grading to produce either a gradient or a flat surface." Machines are available with working widths from 1.5m to 3m for use on tractors from 30hp to 100hp or more.