Crisp air and a clear morning sky. Overnight low temperatures in the -5 C neighbourhood. Hopefully everyone has remembered to drain all their outdoor water lines and dig up the last of their garden veggies. Recent rainstorms having blown in off the Pacific Ocean provided much needed soil moisture. Fall seems to be co-operating in putting the countryside to sleep this year.
There is always a variety of maintenance work to do at the nursery in the off-season — all the chores that there wasn’t enough time to get to during the growing season and then some. Once the water is shut off and the lines are blown out with compressed air, the fall cleanup begins. The plant material gets a quick once-over with the pruning shears, weeded and moved to a more protected holding area for winter. Plants in containers can get damaged in really bad winters, so the small potted material is all lined out in an unheated greenhouse, placed pot-to-pot in like groups. Larger material is placed in a similar fashion in a sheltered outdoor area. Mulched in for winter, mice become the only real concern, but that is later in spring. For now we stack up the benches and note which ones need replacing before next season. Signage is collected up. Leaves are raked away.
Before it gets too cold, the greenhouses need to be winterized, too. Wind can be really hard on the structures over winter so while the poly is dry, any small tears need to be repaired. The wind bracing needs to be tightened inside the structure and the side walls need to be positioned partly closed or fully closed before they freeze in place. The rope holding them down needs to be checked and replaced if it seems weak. Once the snow hits, it is too late.
Between the last sales of the year and before we start pruning the orchard, it is time to look at all the buildings and machinery. Are the sump pumps working? Do we need to oil and grease any of the fans in the greenhouses or the cooler? Keep in mind that a lot of the farm equipment has been there for decades.
We are scheduled to start pruning early December and the greenhouse seeding will start Jan. 4. Somewhere in there, all the stock orders that I sent in at the end of summer are being processed. The nursery industry completes its fall inventories, and the orders are either confirmed or declined.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when dealing with live plants anything can happen. The soilless greenhouse mixes are delivered around this time of year followed by all the pots and flats needed for spring production. For greenhouse operations to run smoothly, planning is essential. Late orders for items as basic as an under tray can run double the cost in spring and may cause a delay in production. The same goes for any small business, I imagine. Nursery items can be bulk shipped in spring for better rates. Late season orders can cost several times more per item on freight alone.
Last evening I was reading a small business consultant’s article on sales. Everyone loves a good Christmas sale. In the article it was pointed out that while sales can be great for moving older stock or just plain increasing the foot traffic to your store, they can also be troublesome in that if the average store offers a 25 per cent off sale they would need to sell twice the product to reach the same profit margin. In some cases this is achievable and in others it isn’t. Even a 10 per cent off sale requires the store to move 35-40 per cent more product to reach the same bottom line depending on margins. Forty per cent more sales to me seems like 40 per cent more work. Forty per cent of a semi trailer of nursery stock weighs about 12,000 pounds and needs to be watered and cared for on a daily basis. My, how the mind wanders…
Have a great holiday season!
Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.