Nursery Notes: Planting season means nursery busy behind the scenes

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Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.

So I’m at the counter again. The phone is starting to ring steadily. Year 15 begins. Farmers’ markets and growing your own food are still pretty popular these days. I love them both. Grocery store chains have “their” farmers’ photos on their produce. Advertising gurus call them their promotional heroes.

Also popular: telling your own story. Funny thing is that I’m not quite ready to write that column yet. At the start of my time in the nursery here, I’d already had 15 years of getting my hands dirty. However, I’ve learned a lot more since. This farm has a lot of really neat mature trees and shrubs. This lets one see what all the smaller plants in the nursery really become. I’ve learned how to grow better trees, shrubs and perennials.

Annuals out of the greenhouse have always been a strength of mine. A lot of hours go into their production every spring. We still grow about 75,000 seedlings every year, with thousands more annuals from rooted cuttings. Small perennial plants are potted up into larger sizes. Smaller trees are shifted into larger more appropriate sized pots. All this makes for a lot of activity behind the scenes. What you see in the store is the quiet end of the production.

When we started off, the Canadian dollar was roughly $0.65 US. A lot of B.C.’s nursery produce was exported to the U.S. wholesale. The dollar climbed higher and the B.C. exports really tapered off. Then we had the economic crash of 2008. There was a lot of nursery stock in production to supply the booming real estate market. This caused some difficulties as demand tapered off again. A few years later, the surpluses had been worked through the system and supply and demand balanced out once more. Shipping prices climbed, some with the price of diesel fuel and wages, but the last few years have seen a predictable and consistent business throughout the province.

There is now a bit more of a demand for fruit tree stock as farmers are eligible to take advantage of an orchard replant grant. This will make getting the right variety of fruit trees a little harder. Interestingly, fruit trees are shipped bare-root (without pots) while dormant. I like to sell them that way early in spring but if need be we pot them up, too. To do this, we make a compost mix from rotted bark. Premixed potting soil would work fine for a few trees, but this is not suitable for a commercial nursery.

The mix is something like two cubic yards of rotted softwood bark, a bale of peat moss, a couple pounds limestone and some of gypsum. The limestone and gypsum help to raise and balance the pH of the mix. We add phosphorus. When you plant in the garden you use bone meal for this, as it is slow-release and organic, too. It won’t burn your plants’ roots. We also add micronutrients as the bark won’t have any. Soil and compost do, so you will almost never have to do this at home. Lastly, to round it all off, we add some slow-release fertilizers to help feed the trees and shrubs. Water helps set them in place and time and nature take care of the rest.

Yes, I think spring is a little ahead of usual this year. I didn’t have to unload any trucks in the snow. Turning the water on in the nursery bathroom this year was easy enough. Most years, I have to clear snow away from the hole in the ground and reach through at least a foot of ice water to turn on the valve. We are off to a good start!

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.