Green Gang have been making lots of plant pots as part of the plastic projects and wanted to see how potted plants were grown on a commercial scale. We tend to think of plants as a hobby or a small scale hands on activity- which it can be but there is a bit more too it. If you want to buy a lovely bright chrysanthemum to say thanks to your mum or your friend at any time of the year at a cheap price then a lot of work must go into it.
"Mr John Hawkins is the Managing Director of Springfields which he built up from a small nursery in 1970 to one of the largest pot chrysanthemum, or pot ‘mums suppliers in the UK. The nursery comprises of an ultra-modern glasshouse, split into a 20,000m2 mobile bench growing area and a smaller 4,000m2 floor coverage section. From this 24,000m2 facility, Springfield produces up to 35,000 plants per week, all year round, supplying to major multiple retailers across the UK."
Mr Paul Morgan kindly showed us the nursery. As we arrived so did a large articulated lorry as it does every day, 7 days a week. A Forklift trucks was soon busy stacking the palates of 30 or so cardboard boxes each of which has 9 of the potted mums inside. The pallets have white labels on them showing the order reference and bar code so it can be tracked at any stage.
The orders arrive on the computer in the morning giving the numbers wanted and the colours etc. At present they produce 30,000 pots per week depending on demand, but during the week before Mothering Sunday they can double that producing 60-70,000 pots.
The plants we saw were destined for Tesco, who provide strict guidelines on what they expect of each plant, the height, width and number of buds. Springfields only produces 1% of seconds’ ie plants that do not meet these high standards. Tesco also want to ensure that the products are as environmentally sustainable as possible and even check on the treatment of the staff at the nursery.
The lorries take them to Spalding in Lincolnshire and then they get distributed to Tesco stores across the country.
Mr Morgan tells us that Springfields is a 20 acre site with 6acres under glass spread over the two buildings. They have their own water supply from a well. and a super efficient heating system. As we entered the building an alarm was going off telling Mr Morgan that the feed mix was too high and we were all surprised at just how computer controlled and high tech the growth of plants was. We saw the shades which would automatically come over and protect the plants if the sun got too bright. There were fans that circulated the air around the flowers and automatic vents which opened the panels if it got too hot.
We were shown the potting machine which could fill 3,000 pots an hour. These were then stacked on to the benches and 5 cuttings per pot were added. These cuttings came from plants in Kenya. And are shipped over by air to the UK. The suppliers visit and talk about the different varieties and developing new colours.
The pots are put on are in a large growing bench which is an aluminium frame with a polystyrene base on which is a layer of plastic and above that a special capillary felt sheet that transfers the waters to the pots.
The newly potted plants are covered in polythene sheet to keep the heat and moisture in to make them root easier. In winter its a clear sheet after Easter they use a white sheet which stops the strong sunlight scorching the delicate young plants.
In the natural environment the Chrysanthemum would bloom in Autumn so the whole nursery is geared to fooling the plants into thinking it is Autumn. Every 15 minutes throughout the night small lights come on (In the winter larger sodium lights are used).
After just 2 weeks the roots have developed from the cuttings and the plant has started to grow. The pots are then spaced out to give them more room and the shoots are “Pinched” to prevent them becoming too tall and keep them bushy.
Instead of pesticides the nursery had a number of biological controls in place to prevent pests damaging the hard work that has been done. Above the plants are blue sticky fly traps that help the staff know that there might be a problem. Thrips or thunderflies are a typical threat, these tiny little flies and their larvae can damage the leaves and foliage. The nursery also protects against disease by sterilising the growing benches. Any diseased plants are immediately quarantined. [FACT: Did you know that a variety of Chrysanthemum is grown in Kenya especially to extract a potent organic pesticides known as pyrethrins]
We could see the variety of colours they had on offer, some of the pale pinks are proving popular the lovely yellow is a perennial favourite. But they are always looking at new variations and ideas.
We all said a big thank you to Mr Morgan for giving up his time. And to Mr Hawkins for too, for his kindness in supporting our work. Of course thousands of mothers up and down the countryside thank them and all the staff for producing such lovely flowers that brighten up so many of our homes!