Care & Handling

Care & Handling: November December 2012

What is it about change of routine that triggers a universal employee response of “No!”?
What is it about change of routine that triggers a universal employee response of “No!”? Huge strides forward have been made in flower formulas and handling practices in the past 20 years, yet industry colleagues resist new protocols, refusing even to test new products and insisting flower solutions make no difference. At a recent training workshop, I asked a designer what she used to fill containers and she haughtily responded, “Just water. My first manager didn’t believe in that stuff so I never use it.”  We are a society of experts thanks to Google searches, Facebook and social tweets. Technology forces us to constantly change the way we do things. 

Change is scary for some, exciting for others and resisted by many. Regardless, change results in growth so why let naysaying employees hinder forward motion on implementing best handling practices? Customers gauge flower value by a bloom’s longevity, so if changes result in longer vase life and reduce waste, what are you waiting for?

Check your system
Start by checking cooler temperatures. Buy a needle type kitchen thermometer and compare the temp of a bucket of cooler water with the thermostat. Take temperatures first thing every day before the cooler door is opened and closed to get a real reading. Chart the info to track trends. If temperatures start creeping out of range (the set-point for all flowers, except tropicals, is 1-4 C), call the company to tune up the cooler. Have the unit’s compressor coils vacuumed in January to reduce cooler issues over the holiday.
Sanitation is everything
When bacteria block their vascular systems, flowers flop fast. If bleach is the cleaning solution of choice in your shop, think twice. Bleach is aggressive, but bacteria are more aggressive! It’s almost impossible to kill bacteria once it gets inside stems. If a flower gets a drink of polluted water and then goes into solution, whatever is inside the stem remains basically unchanged. If bacteria is inside, it stays there regardless of what solution is introduced later. 

Use a flower-friendly cleaner to get more bang for your buck. Detergents lift grease, soil, bacteria and scum out of gouges and scratches in buckets, so cleaning efforts give 100 per cent results. Unlike bleach, cleaners are formulated to provide a residual effect, too. Position a spray bottle of ready-to-use cleaner at each design station and spray tables and tools through out the day.

Improve performance with solution
University testing has proven that flowers last 50 per cent longer in food versus tap or bleach water. There are a few notable exceptions such as gerberas, zinnias, tropicals and foliages that don’t require sugar to open, but they absolutely need clean, bacteria-free flow into stems. Treat these with a slow-release chlorine pill that checks bacteria for up to three days (much longer than the six to eight hours of efficacy bleach offers).

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Any bloom that comprises many florets (hydrangeas, bouvardia, lilac, etc.) runs out of the internal energy reserves it needs to maintain turgidity or open florets. Augmenting reserves with flower food ensures blooms reach the inherent longevity genetically stamped in their cells. Flower food won’t make an iris last as long as a carnation, but it will ensure both flowers stand tall in the vase.

Some flowers are downright sugar lovers. Lisianthus, tuberoses and protea thrive on high glucose so process these blooms in the same solution used to fill vases.

Information reported by G. Slootweg at an international post-harvest symposium several years back indicated that “experiments with gassed and degassed water showed that after a dry period the most fast water uptake occurred in cold (0 C) water. The water uptake was slowest in water of 20 C. The effect of water of 40 C on the uptake was variable; sometimes as fast as in cold water, sometimes slower than in water of 20 C. Apparently it is not the temperature, but the extent of saturation of the water with air that is responsible for the differences.” The take-home message? Use cold water or pre-chill flower solutions, especially at holiday time when fast uptake is critical.

Best practices mean working smarter, not harder. Education is an effective means of implementing change and banishing the negative attitudes that sabotage forward motion.

When employees know the “why” behind various procedures, resistance diminishes. Implement codes of practice today that will ensure product quality, consumer satisfaction and successful holiday sales.

Gayle Smith draws information from more than 30 years of floral industry experience. She currently works as the technical manager for Pokon & Chrysal, USA.


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