Products & Services - Fertile ground

From heating systems to trays, composts and ornamental ware, the show has all the right kit to promote growth at your company, says Sally Drury.

Trolley-pooling:  Container Centralen offers low-cost contracts - image: Container Centralen
Trolley-pooling: Container Centralen offers low-cost contracts - image: Container Centralen

Many growers expect 2014 to be another challenging year, with difficult decisions to make. New structures will be needed to replace ageing glass and weather-worn tunnels. There will be questions over best heating system and cheapest fuel. There may be a need to update equipment to improve performance and reduce labour requirements. And there will always be questions over the most suitable growing media, which pots and containers will provide the most attractive but profitable product and how crops can be safeguarded from pests and diseases.

Answers to all these dilemmas can be found at Four Oaks Trade Show.

Visitors can discuss the latest engineering solutions for glasshouses on several stands, including HBS Designs and Naturelight. Offering new and used greenhouses, along with new and reconditioned equipment and systems, Debets-Schalke/DS2 uses the show to explain how it can provide solutions tailored to every budget. DS2 specialises in used trolleys, pumps, heating and nursery and packaging machinery.

Growers and garden centre operators will find more structures offered by McGregor Polytunnels. Canopies and covered walkways have been an important part of the company's work recently, along with polytunnels and multi-spans for production and retail areas. McGregor also has a new Spanish tunnel, designed for the UK's inclement weather.

Heating systems and machinery

Anyone considering boiler replacement should check out the Guntamatic and ETA biomass boilers on the Mainline Energy Solutions stand. The Derbyshire-based company can design, supply, install and maintain complete biomass boiler heating systems for domestic, commercial and district heating applications. Fuel options include wood pellets, wood chips, logs, energy grains and miscanthus - providing fuel security and up to 80 per cent reduction in costs. Installations also qualify for the Government's Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme, so users can generate a guaranteed income for 20 years.

Oil, natural gas and LPG are at the centre of a new system as Boiler Spares (NW) showcases its Powrmatic CPx freestanding heater. Also on display is a selection of Munter products, including direct and indirect fired mobile and suspended heaters, along with ventilation and recirculation fans and automatic louvred shutters.

If you wish to improve efficiency and processes, Four Oaks Trade Show promises to offer items of nursery machinery equipment that will inspire. Shown for the first time by Dutch company Flier Systems, the drum seeder DS11 is capable of sowing any type of unpelleted seed at high speed and with precision into rockwool, trays or soil blocks. "Best results are achieved when a specifically designed sowing drum is used for each variety seed," says Flier marketeer Andrelina Gielen. "Because of their design, our drums are comparatively inexpensive and have a fast and easy changeover." In most cases, the seed does not have to be coated.

Flier will also show the Germination Vision System PM31. "This is designed for the grading of young vegetable plants in trays, especially tomato plants, and gives considerable savings in labour costs and improvements in quality," says Gielen. "Nurseries using this system have recovered their investment within one season."

By using the optional air unit, plants that have not germinated well can be eliminated. A basic model, PM21, is suitable for bedding plants.

If you find pot-washing and other hygiene chores problematic and time-consuming, Synergy Health may have a solution. Marketing communications manager Laura Hunt explains that cleaning pots is difficult but throwing them away is wasteful.

"The washing process can be labour-intensive and require significant investment in washing equipment. New laws have imposed strict levies on all businesses where there is significant waste from the manufacturing process. With the volume of cultivation pots and trays increasing with market demand, the risk of incurring waste management fees also proportionally increases," she says.

"With changes in legislation eliminating the use of soil partial-sterilants and problems with fungicide residues in some crops, the horticulture market is starting to appreciate the need for more suitable methods of biological control of contaminants. Various pesticides and bacteriological agents are being developed, but viral agents, their fungal vectors and fungal pathogens are still a challenge."

The company's solution is irradiation. "Some of the products we regularly process include growing media - soils, substrates and sphagnum - along with fertilisers, growing mats, trays and pots," says Hunt. "Irradiation offers benefits to wholesale growers from an environmental perspective. By delivering an effective and safe method for eliminating any potential pathogens that may be harboured, the user can reuse their pots time and time again.

Transport options are reviewed on the stand of Container Centralen, as it asks growers whether they know they can register their trolleys into its pool for less than £12. "If your un-labelled trolley is of similar quality to those that we supply to the market, for just £11.48 plus the annual pool fee you can register a base with posts, plus five shelves, and add them to your repair and maintenance contracts," says the firm's communications and marketing co-ordinator Monika Kazlauskaite.

Fifty shades of container

As the choice of pots and trays continues to grow, colour is a strong theme at this year's show. On the Desch Plantpak stand, decorative containers in 50 colours commemorate the company's 2014 anniversary of 50 years supplying pots and trays to the horticulture industry. New to the E-PLA decorative pot range is the Melissa, an upmarket container available in three sizes. D-Grade biodegradable products are also on show, including a range of pots and bedding packs. The redesigned 3-litre deep rose pot, with three-level base drainage and label slots, is unveiled at the show.

More coloured pots are displayed by LS Systems. The company has exclusivity for planters from Bato. Colours include aesthetically pleasing lilac, aubergine and dark blue.

Approaching its 65th anniversary, Poppelmann is promoting its printing process, Teku Flex+, a new level of self-marketing, while H Smith Plastics celebrates its half-centenary with a new product launch. The first plastic vacuum-formed inserts for wooden seed trays - Vacapot 15 and Vacapot 24 - were designed and manufactured by H Smith Plastics 50 years ago. Today's introduction is a shallow Vacapot 60 in cut and uncut versions to be used as a cheap alternative to plug trays, a shallow seed tray to hold the Vacapots, and a carry pack to hold six round or square 9cm pots.

Fargro is showing its innovative new range of added-value containers and new styles of baskets and planters, offering growers and retailers products for both indoor and outdoor use, as well as a range of Christmas sundries.

As the industry continues to develop sustainable growing media, the Four Oaks Trade Show is the ideal place to catch up with the latest products. There are also new sources of peat to explore.

Fargro is introducing two new propagation composts - the only products to include T34 Biocontrol, a broad-spectrum biofungicide for the control of a wide range of soil-borne diseases. There is also an opportunity to discuss the latest innovations in biopesticides - including Prestop, for controlling disease on all protected edible and non-edible crops and outdoor strawberries; AQ10wg, a biofungicide to reduce powdery mildew on a range of protected edibles; T34 Biocontrol for the reduction of Fusarium oxysportum fsp dianthus on carnations; and Met 52, a granular bioinsecticide for controlling black vine weevil in soft fruit and ornamental plant production.

Vitax has new 75-litre and intermediate bulk containers sizes of Traditional grower composts, including Potting, Pot Bedding, Container, Primula & Pansy, Medium Coarse Potting, Modular Seed, Tree & Shrub Planting and the new Traditional Q4 Universal compost for all-year-round growing of bedding, pots, hanging baskets and tubs.

Exhibiting for the first time, Botanica offers the Professional Grower and Garden Care brand from Bathgate Silica Sand. For more than 60 years, Bathgate has produced silica sand for specialist use, including amenity, landscape and golf. Botanica's range has been formulated for the needs of professional growers, including crop-specific, and garden enthusiasts.

Peat and peat-free media

Now LS Systems, the exclusive UK distributor for Hawita, comes to Four Oaks to promote this Latvian-sourced peat growing medium. "Hawita's main products are blocked peat and milled peat, so we can mix different grades to customer requirements," says LS horticultural sales director Peter Wessel. "We design a mix bespoke, working with the customer's production schedule and supplying about three or four weeks from order." Hawita has sufficient peat supplies for 50 years.

The Melcourt Sylvamix range of sustainable growing media has met with such success that it is now market-leader in peat-free. The range is extended to include Sylvamix Hanging Basket and Sylvamix Seed & Cutting. "Incorporating Celcote for water efficiency, the moisture-holding Hanging Basket mix should appeal to local authorities - which will be mindful that the government target for publicly funded contracts to be peat-free by 2015 is fast approaching," says Melcourt technical director Catherine Dawson.

An easy-to-use open-structured blend, Sylvamix Seed & Cutting enables the production of peat-free seedlings, plugs and liners. "It has long been a criticism from some quarters that peat-free plants are frequently potted on from peat-based liners or cutting compost. This, together with repeated request received from customers, has encouraged us to develop a mix for use with vegetative propagation and seeds - other than the very fine, for which a prescription Sylvamix Special would be more appropriate," says Dawson.

Sylvamix Seed & Cutting is a free-flowing blend including coir, Sylvafibre, Melcourt's Propagation Bark and a low level of nutrients. It can be used in cell trays, plugs, root-trainers and open trays, where it is said to provide excellent air-water conditions for developing strong rooting systems.

Jiffy continues to develop its "Born Sustainable" principle with all product ranges now featuring peat-reduced and peat-free options, including Coir Growbags and Growblocks. New is "Jiffy Substrates - Powered by Tref". "Since the acquisition of Tref BV by Jiffy Products International, the ideal way of moving forward has been to integrate Tref into the Jiffy group - internationalising the substrates known under the Tref brand into a new series of Jiffy substrates - hence 'Powered by Tref'," explains Jiffy Products UK sales and marketing manager Stephen Godfrey.

He adds: "Customers can be assured that the changeover from Tref to Jiffy substrates in no way means that the Tref knowledge in substrate production isn't used any longer, or that the mixes have changed. The opposite is true. Jiffy uses the knowledge Tref built up over almost a century of producing quality mixes to 'power' their Jiffy substrates."

The range includes Container, Nursery Stock Premium, Peat-Free General Purpose, Peat-Free Large Pots, Pot Bedding, Cuttings Plus, Propagation Long Term and Seeding Plus.

Organic peat-free compost brand Vital Earth - products based on recycled garden waste - is being shown by Bord na Mona UK and offers a range of Container Nursery Stock, with or without controlled-release fertiliser.

The Vital Earth range comprises Peat-Free Container Nursery Stock - Summer and Autumn. Each product contains all essential base nutrients, mainly in slow-release/organic form, and handling properties have already been proved fully compatible with potting machines such as the Super Javo. The summer formulation contains slightly more green compost/less bark and more controlled-release fertiliser, added within seven days before dispatch. The summer version is also better for overhead irrigation. Added benefits include reduction in infestation by algae, liverwort, moss and other weeds, thanks to the surface properties of the products, while beneficial microbes are said to enhance both nutrient supply and resistance to some diseases such as leaf spot.

Patio appeal

Retailers looking for new lines for 2014 will find a host of ideas and new offerings at Four Oaks. Oriental Ornamental is launching several items, including traditional Japanese River Rock and Mountain Rock Lanterns from 50cm to 1.5m tall, granite and River Rock oil burners and solar lights, River Rock stone animals and traditional and decorative cast iron lanterns. On Jaukali's stand are life-size animal sculptures made in East Africa from recycled metal.

Aiming to boost sales in the grow-you-own market, See It Gro is introducing Mini Grow Bags made from coir. Measuring just 18x18cm, the bags can fit into any outdoor space and should appeal to gardeners with only a patio or balcony.

New additions to the Empathy range from Plant Works for this autumn include Bulb Starter and Afterplant Rose Food. Both incorporate rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi and carry the RHS logo on the pouches. Plant Works believe the products are ideal for linked sales.

Versatility in spraying systems

Targeting ornamental growers and nurserymen, Micron Group is showing its new 100-litre Tank System and Enviro shielded pressure nozzle sprayers for front or rear mounting, along with a mistblower, air-assisted Electrafan sprayer for glasshouses and a range of hand-held CDA weed-control equipment. Available in high-pressure nozzle and CDA atomiser versions, the Enviro sprayers incorporate a shield to minimise drift and a spring-loaded breakaway arm that allows users to spray up to the base of trees and containers. It comes in various dome diameters and can be ATV-, UTVor tractor-mounted.

Apps that integrate with your website and epos

Apps dedicated to garden centres are introduced by Garden Connect. Managing director Edwin Meijer explains: "Over 20 per cent of the visitors to garden centre websites aren't using a PC or laptop anymore, so it is time for the industry to move on and define a mobile strategy. We provide apps for independent garden centres that are available on iTunes and Android. And these can be integrated with the website and epos systems of the garden centre." A range of information can be added to the apps - offers, coupons, news, brochures, loyalty cards, gardening tips, opening times, directions and contact information.

Growers of hardy and protected ornamentals should visit the HDC stand to find the latest grower guides, crop-walker guides and fact sheets, and hear about research projects aimed at providing practical techniques to production.

Tested on vegetables, flowers and tree seedlings, Valoya lights have been developed with the cooperation of research institutes and growers. Producing a wide-spectrum light containing the right amount of different wavelengths for plant growth, these energy-efficient LED grow lights are offered in a complete range to satisfy various plant lighting needs.

Boasting 30 per cent less work, 10 per cent less waste and 50 per cent savings on water and fertiliser, The Erfgoed cultivation floor is already used by hundreds of growers in Europe. The ebb-and-flow system can be tailored to specific needs for maximum efficiency.

As well as seeding machines, Hamilton Design is showing a self-contained trimming machine for plants in pots. Specially suited to nursery stock, the unit comprises a conveyor and cutter deck that rotates around the foliage.

On the Everris stand, visitors can find out about PlantTrust controlled release for protection against phytophthora, and see newcomers such as Osmocote Bloom for bedding, Osmocote Topdress NT to get plant sales off to the best start, and Osmocote Exact mini for small substrate volumes.


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