The Suffolk-based nursery began using the system from Netherlands-based machinery manufacturer Visser, supplied by Brinkmans, earlier this year. Bowman has found that the greater efficiency means that three seasonal workers previously employed during the potting season to load trolleys and stand down outside are no longer needed.
The Visser production line incorporates a conveyor belt leading directly from three Javo potting machines, past a bark topper and onto a wide belt.
A control panel on the belt calculates the spacing needed for each pot size and manoeuvres the pots into evenly spaced rows, which are staggered to form blocks of plant. They receive targeted watering from a spray bar, prior to being picked up by a forklift style vehicle.
The Visser Space O Mat II outdoor model has tines that can pick up a block of pots from the belt and place them down on beds.
Bowman said: "The system's been running well. The best thing about the forklift is that it can be used to go back and lift a block of plants from a holding bed so they can be taken to another area and spaced by adjusting the forks."
The forklift was adapted for John Woods Nurseries' needs by adding wide tyres to spread the vehicles' weight on the beds and by adding stabilisers to the tines.
Bowman said the potting process now only needs one person on potting, one operating the forklift and one feeding. He said adding a second forklift dedicated to outside beds would be ideal.
He plans to hone the production line by adding a transplanter, "as long as I can get a standard plug size as they vary considerably", and a hoist to drop in bark bales for the bark topper.