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Gayle Smith Care & Handling: February March 2012

Checklist for Working Smarter

Written by Gayle Smith
Guilty as charged! Who hasn’t told the driver from your wholesaler to “just drop the flowers in the back room. We’ll process it after we get our first delivery run on the road.” Have you ever dug through a just-delivered order to snag the rose colour needed to complete a design and used it directly out of the box? Florists aren’t careless – these actions happen because most shops don’t have the luxury of employing a person dedicated solely to processing, cleaning, stock rotation and solution management. With so much diversity in job roles, it makes sense to develop systems that clarify and simplify procedures.

Train staff to follow guidelines on daily actions, such as receiving flowers, that help reduce waste and maximize quality.

Let’s start with the number 1 factor impacting flower longevity: temperature. When product arrives at your location, get it into a cooler ASAP, whether it arrives wet-packed or dry in boxes. Stack boxes on pallets and at least 10 inches from cooler walls to maximize air flow on all sides. Set point in cooler is 0-4 C. Keep floors dry to reduce excessive moisture, which is the tipping point that Botrytis spores (fungal disease common to flowers) need to start germinating.

Coolers drain more energy than anything else in your shop, so regular servicing is good business. Keep the door closed whenever possible or consider using plastic strips to reduce air leaks. Tracking the temperature lets you know the efficiency of the refrigeration system(s). Attach a clipboard on the cooler door and assign someone to read and record the temperature every morning first thing. Do not rely on wall thermometers; measure the temperature of a bucket solution in the farthest corner away from the door. A simple kitchen thermometer works. To calibrate it, stir it in a cup of ice water (filled with lots of ice). It should measure very close to 0 C, or 32 F. If not, buy a new thermometer. Have compressors serviced regularly to maximize efficiency. Nothing costs more than a cooler of frozen flowers.

Use temperature advantages in solution preparation as well. Prepare clean buckets with cold water and flower food. Even better, set up buckets a day ahead and pre-chill them. Cold solutions travel faster through stems than warm, which matters if your window is short between hydration and designs use. Cold solutions reduce condensation development inside sleeves and on petals (reducing Botrytis potential). Flowers harden up fast but buds don’t pop open. Don’t be beguiled into thinking hydration happens with a quick dip. Allow at least two hours for cells to recover and fill fully for top quality and maximum vase life.

Ready to start processing? Not quite. Spray your worktable and chopper cutters (with sharp blades, of course!) with ready-to-use bucket cleaner solution. Then remove from cooler only as many boxes as you can process in 30 minutes. Inspect blooms as you go and use correct terminology when reporting problems for fast response. Count bunches against the invoice amount and note any discrepancies. Set aside bunches that have disease problems and record the amount, the grower name and the reason on the dump list so buyers can respond accordingly. Quality checks also include inspecting the cut-point of all the blooms in a bunch. The cut point should be consistent. Are all stems even at the bottom or is a shortie hidden inside?

What about the colour assortment? Measure stem length using an indicator on the processing table. If the invoice says 70 cm Freedom roses and you are unpacking 50 cm Freedoms, let your supplier know you need a price adjustment. Is flower head size consistent with stem length?

When you unpack delphinium, wax, agapanthus or limonium, shake the sleeve to see if an excess of florets falls out. If so, your product has likely suffered exposure to ethylene. Any damage not directly related to disease, cut-point, ethylene exposure or uneven stem ends is referred to as mechanical damage, including smashed noses, broken stems and/or crushed heads. Never underestimate the value of a photo! Note the grower name, box details and the percentage of the problem in relationship to overall amount of same item received. Before tossing problem flowers in the trash pail, check to be sure the supplier doesn’t want the product back to verify the credit. If flowers look exceptionally dehydrated, alert supplier with the variety ID, the farm ID and a description of the extent of problem. That way the supplier knows you are accepting the product under protest and if the problem persists after flowers have been in hydration solution overnight, you have alerted them within the 24-hour period required for credit requests.

Think of ways you can work efficiently. When processing a full box of mini carnations, take 10 bunches in your arm, even the stem ends, and chop off one to two inches. Place the entire load into bucket at one go – same thing with roses. Don’t stuff the buckets, as good airflow is important. Let flowers stand out of cooler for 30 minutes to allow condensation to evaporate and then move them inside. Develop a list of handling protocols and processing solutions for different flower types so your staff knows how to deal with each variety.

In the back stock cooler, position shelves with ample room so flower “noses” don’t get bent out of shape when pulling from below. Display disease-sensitive blooms up high to avoid constant drips when stems above are pulled from buckets. Develop and post checklists at various stations around the shop so everyone knows correct procedures. Working smart at every step helps prevent excessive handling, reduces temperature stress and minimizes mechanical damage, all of which establish top-quality product for customers and money falling to the bottom line.

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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