Nursery conserves resources and improves quality

By Trillium dollar

[Editor’s Note: This story is about Heritage Seedlings, a wholesale nursery started in 1981 as a family business by co-owners Mark and Jolly Krautmann. It remains a family-run operation today. Admired around the world, Heritage Seedlings has two goals:

1. Be among the top nursery firms in the country. Offer vigorous, healthy young plants to our customers, and a fun, rewarding place for our employees to work.
2. Be a leader in environmental stewardship of our property, soil, and water resources. Use our employee talent and profit to help other growers, neighbors, public resource managers, school children and legislators understand that resource conservation is in everyone’s self interest. It’s our professional obligation to future generations.

The OAN and many individual nurseries in Oregon are focusing on understanding and developing sustainable, responsible business, employee and production practices. Whitney Rideout is leading this initiative for the OAN. We thought you might enjoy reading about what one of our members is doing in this regard. You can read more about Heritage Seedlings’ stewardship commitment here. Now on with the story…]

Nobody looked at an espresso machine and said, hey, that will kill weeds at my nursery.
But the idea of using hot water and steam to clean nursery containers and potting soil was too good not to try at Heritage Seedlings Inc. The nursery has locations near Salem and Stayton, with 240 acres of field production, seven acres of greenhouses and 15 acres of cold frames.

Heritage, a wholesale propagator of woody plants and Willamette Valley natives, was looking for an efficient way to control weeds that survived in the containers it had been reusing for years. And while they were at it, the nursery tackled the “mountain” of used potting soil that harbored weed seeds.

“We needed a solution that could help us maintain our high level of product quality, save a realistic amount of money, and continue to stay comfortable from a ‘We’re doing the right thing here’ standpoint—in other words, sustainability,” said Heritage manager Eric Hammond.

Baristas they’re not, but they filled that grande order in three ways:

  • For thin plastic containers, they use an industrial-size (1,000 gallons) hot-water bath cooker.
  • For thick-walled plastic baskets and bulb crates, they converted an old refrigerated truck into a steam cleaner.
  • And for the used potting soil, they converted a large trailer into a steam cleaner.

The results were clear: The weeds died, their carbon footprint shrank, and they saved money on production materials and labor.

The impetus for steam cleaning came from the nursery’s participation in GAIP (Grower Assisted Inspection Program) run by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). GAIP’s basic objective is to assist nurseries to self-monitor for Phytophthora species and mitigate pathogen problems using appropriate management practices, according to the ODA Web site.

“Recycled container and soil steam treatment have been a big win for us—clearly—but more than that, they’ve led us to think more progressively about what else we might need to change,” Hammond said.

What’s next, a cappuccino machine in the lunch room? Hammond isn’t saying.