We had a tiny bit of snow in the night, but not enough to stop anyone going anywhere. I was keen to get to work, since I had a feeling the potting was due to arrive today. I missed last week's, and I enjoy potting, besides which it's one of those jobs that requires many pairs of hands to get it done. They have to be skilled hands, though, and the manager let slip that one of my colleagues is not allowed to pot, being deemed hopeless at it.
The lorry from our supplier arrived with thirteen Dutch trolleys on it, all for us, though not all things to be potted. Some were plants ready for sale, in 2L and 9cm pots, then lurking behind them in the back of the lorry were cardboard boxes of roots, waiting for us to put them into 2 and 3L pots. We set the trays of 9cm pots down on the mypex fabric in front of the tunnel on The Other Side, passing them from one to another in a chain to get them moved as quickly as possible, and I mused that it must be possible to model a bucket chain mathematically, in terms of how far every member of it has to walk, and how the congestion point where someone is standing holding a tray of plants and waiting to pass it to someone else shifts up and down the length of the chain over time.
The ready-potted 2L plants had to be unloaded from the Dutch trolleys individually into our silver trolleys, which will hold 18 2L pots, to be carted over to the mypex. Most wholesale growers follow the convention that they don't bother labelling each individual pot. Instead one pot will have a label with the variety name and the information that the consignment includes thirty plants of that variety, or fifty, or eight, and pots containing the same variety are stood together on the Dutch trolley. Fifty 2L pots take up more than one shelf, so as you unload you have to be careful to keep like with like. Some plants are so distinctive even at this time of year that you couldn't confuse them, but one dormant hosta looks very like another. There was a year we managed to get ourselves in a thorough muddle with some grasses, but today we were very systematic and disciplined. It helps if the people doing the unloading have a keen eye for plants, and can see at a glance when they are mixing up dormant hostas and dormant rheums.
Having unloaded the lorry in super quick time we then discovered it was stuck on the grass. The driver initially sounded optimistic, and said we needed some cardboard under the wheels. Cardboard was duly fetched, and I waited to see whether, as I expected, the lorry was going to shoot the cardboard under the back wheels in the same way as our ex-builders' Transit did, the time we got it stuck. It did. The manager said we must push. I was fairly sure you don't push lorries, since if you had done a risk assessment you would have concluded that there was a risk of someone slipping and ending up under the wheels, but I was fairly sure this lorry wasn't going anywhere. I helped push, and as I expected all that happened was that the back wheels dug in a little further. We needed the gardener to tow the lorry out with the tractor, but unfortunately the boss had sent both gardeners on an errand to Ipswich, so all we could do was give the lorry driver some coffee and wait for them to get back. They returned, and tried towing the lorry out with the Landrover, which was not up to the job. Eventually the big tractor came from the farm, and towed the lorry out, and the gardener quickly smoothed out the worst of the ruts with a garden fork before the owner could see them.
The owner was having a horsebox crisis, needing it to go to some big meeting in Lincolnshire on Saturday, and having discovered last night that the MoT expired last October. He therefore needed to get it to the garage as soon as possible, except that it wouldn't start, so one of the gardener's jobs was to get the horsebox to go. I suggested helpfully that if the owner set off now on the horse, he would be in Lincolnshire by the weekend. The gardener, who is talented with machinery, did get the engine to fire up, and drove the horsebox away to the garage, while we all waved him goodbye.
The trays of 9cm pots, that had been set down in rows in a hurry and in no order whatsoever, had to come into the polytunnel out of the rain in alphabetical order, or at least with all the As together, followed by all the Bs. Last year they went into the tunnel in a complete jumble, and the woman who was trying to stick price labels in them wasted an inordinate amount of time and went quite mad with frustration wandering around trying to find each variety. I was given the job of locating them in the right order, which was initially desperately slow as the only way to do it was to work systematically along every row looking for A, and then looking for B, and so on. By the time I got to E and F I'd got a better idea of what was there, and we speeded up. The trays filled the space the manager had allocated to them before we were more than half way through, and the rest had to stand along the aisles in the tunnel, reducing them to little tracks no more than 50cm wide. By the time the potting is finished the tunnel will be filled to bursting.
We didn't finish the potting. There was no way we were going to, in one day. It amazes me the way that herbaceous plants can survive when their roots are out of the soil for so long. Apart from those with the most fibrous roots they reach us with very little soil attached. The grower must have a system to wash them, otherwise he'd have sold all the topsoil out of his fields by now.