Natural Area News

IPPS South African Exchange

Our Nursery Manager Bree, recently arrived back from a two week trip to South Africa courtesy of the International Plant Propagators Society Australia (IPPS). During this time she attended the IPPS conference in Tzaneen, toured nurseries and met some truly wonderful people. Keep reading for more insight into horticulture and nursery production in the region.

My journey started in Johannesburg at Pico Gro with the ever energetic Erika. At Pico they grow microgreens, salad leaves, elfin veges and edible flowers mainly for the local supermarket chain Woolworths (a more upmarket version of our Woolies!). They grow baby spinach, rocket, pea shoots, pansy flowers, borage flowers, amaranth, herbs, baby beetroots and baby carrots just to name a few! They have around 120 lines with some production times as short as 2 weeks. Naturally to get the product at the right size in the right amount of time they are grown in greenhouses with temperature and humidity control using fertigation (soluble fertiliser in the irrigation water) and quality control is essential.

After 2 days at Pico, I joined the conference bus with David (Natural Area’s founding Director) and headed to Tzaneen 5 hours north east of Johannesburg. This was a much different climatic region being in a more sub-tropical area of South Africa, and the landscape was dominated by mango, banana and nut farms with the occasional Eucalypt plantation.

The conference was great. As the majority of people were away from home, it was a fantastic opportunity to get to know people as we were all staying in the one lodge and no one had to race away to get back to work. The first day we had talks on using solar power for nurseries (amazingly we (Natural Area) were the only nursery to have a system in place), flower morphology and pollinators, sustainable irrigation, herbicide resistance in plants and sustainable production processes. That afternoon we visited Colorweis an ornamental plant nursery and Westfalia, a commercial producer of avocado trees.

Day two we had talks on variable speed drives (to drive the extractor fans in the greenhouses), heating methods, seed vigor and germination, and presentations from myself and the 3 nominees who were hoping to come out to Australia in May as an exchange student. The 3 students were all very passionate about their jobs and are involved in different aspects of the industry but after a vote Ziniko Mkiva, was chosen as their representative.

The following day we returned to Johannesburg and I said farewell to David who was heading back to Perth to look after the nursery in my absence. I was handed over to the lovely Sittig family – Hans, Carol-Anne and their 3 kids and headed up to Hartbeespoort 30 minutes from Pretoria to spend the next week with them. They made sure I got a taste of wild Africa with a game drive through Pilanesberg National Park and a visit to the De Wildt Cheetah and Wild Dog Reserve both of which were highlights of my trip away!

The second week of my stay passed so quickly! It included:

  • a visit the Botanical Gardens in Pretoria
  • spending a day quizzing Jimie and Margrietha about operations at Malanseuns (one of, if not the, biggest supplier of ornamental plants in South Africa)
  • attending the South African Nursery Association (SANA) Trade Fair
  • visiting Multiplant, a vegetable seedling nursery with their own vermiculture (worm farm) setup
  • visiting Bushketeers, a native plant nursery
  • visiting Flamingo Horticulture, South Africa’s largest producer of Chrysanthemums
  • visiting Semperflora, a cut flower nursery
  • visit the Sittigs’ own nursery
  • visiting various garden centers across different towns.

The nurseries varied in size and product. Each one had something unique to learn about from water recycling (both into dams and through filtration ponds), to the type of plugs used for cuttings, to vermiculture, hanging basket production, short production times to growing and maintaining trees and gave me a fantastic overview of the industry. In terms of size and production the nursery that will stay with me would have to be Flamingos! They produce a million chrysanthemum cut stems a week and have 22 hectares of greenhouses. With a work force of over 450 people, most of the flowers being produced are for the export market with strict size and quality requirements from the client, I am glad I am not managing that nursery!

I certainly saw a lot in a short period of time and Hans, Carol-Ann and extended family spent a lot of time answering all of my questions and driving me around. I have come back full of enthusiasm and have a few ideas to try and implement over the next few months. Thanks to IPPS Australia for allowing me this opportunity!

– Bree, Naturl Area Nursery Manager

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