Ferguson Tree Nursery is based out of Eastern Ontario, not far from Canada’s capital Ottawa. It’s ideally located to serve the Sustainable Forestry Licenses (SFLs) reforesting large tracts of Crown land nearby. Not only is Ferguson the region’s largest forestry nursery, it forms the heart of the community: Ferguson Tree Nursery provides jobs for local people and funds the non-profit Ferguson Forest Centre, with its wonderful leisure facilities and much more.
Stephanie Oosterhof is Ferguson’s Greenhouse Grower. In this exclusive interview, we explore Stephanie's outstanding leadership, uncovering the secrets behind Ferguson's accomplishments, and understanding how its combination of sustainability and growth has positioned it as a formidable presence in the forestry industry.
Hi Stephanie, Ferguson grows a whole range of forestry species in Jiffy Pellets. What’s your main crop right now?
Yes, we’re quite unusual in growing several different species. In all, we grow over 1.5 million trees a year in the greenhouses, and the main crops are red and white pine seedlings in Jiffy 36s and 30s. But we also have clients who want red oak in the 50x100s. And we do smaller numbers of different native trees and shrubs in the 18mm pellets for field-grown transplant liners. Plus we use Jiffy Pots for our retail perennial production.
What are the main benefits of the different sizes?
Most of our nursery clients request the 36mm. This year, we switched some of the seedlings over to the 30mm just because our capacity limits were full, and this allowed us to fulfil most of the client requests. The 50s are more for the nut species, like the red and white oaks. We’re also trying out a couple of hickories in them right now.
How is your experience with the Jiffy Trays?
We use both Can Am and Air Trays. For the Can Ams, the pellets are preloaded in plastic inserts which keeps the Jiffies nice and stable. Seeding the pellets dry allows us to carry them around the nursery really easily because they’re so light.
The Air Trays are very cost effective thanks to the Reloader. One person can fill the whole greenhouse in a day or two. They have always worked fantastic in the greenhouse with the concrete floor. Where we have Geotextile, we’re raising the trays a little to help with the air pruning.
What does the production cycle look like for the pine seedlings?
This year, we started seeding our pines on March 1st with our Hamilton seeder. Jiffy’s people have modified the seeder over the years to help us get the best results. We’ll bring the pines out to harden them off in August when they’re at least 7cm (nearly 3 inches), and then do the root pruning. We’ll be using our new root cutter this fall. Again, Jiffy has adapted it to it can cut through the thicker roots. Usually we have six people pruning, where this should allow us to have about three people, so it will really help to make our labor costs more efficient.
And what about your bareroot program?
We use minis – the 18mm Jiffy Pellets – for our bareroot seedlings. It’s mostly native hardwoods and shrubs, like elderberry, button bush, and birch. The pellets give them that nice start in the greenhouse, before we harden them off after six to eight weeks. After that, we plant them in the bareroot beds with the Lannen transplanter. We find that the pellets really help prevent transplant shock, especially in drought summers. They grow so well we can lift them by the following Easter.
When do you lift the oak seedlings?
The oaks get lifted in the late summer when they’re 10cm (nearly 4 inches) to 20cm (nearly 8 inches) so they’re easier to pack and plant. We ship most of them right away, because they do best if they’re planted in the fall. We can do this thanks to the Jiffy Pellets protecting the roots and because we‘re located very close to the forestry companies. About 100,000 red oaks went out last year and the clients were super happy with the product and the planting.
Who are your main customers for the greenhouse-grown products?
We mainly grow for the local SFLs. They put in their orders the year prior so that we can make sure that we have the seed and everything prepared. If we have space left over, we do a little bit for private clients and on spec, but I'd say about 90% of our business is the SFLs as well as conservation authorities, and the municipalities and cities that are around.
How did a forestry nursery become the heart of the community?
Ferguson is a very, very public nursery! We provide local jobs and our profits go towards Ferguson Forest Centre which enhances the community. We also have leisure activities on our grounds, including a dog park and an arboretum with hiking trails and cross country ski trails. The local school is right next door, which allows the kids to utilize the grounds.
What’s next for Ferguson?
The nursery is expanding little by little. We’ve built two new greenhouses with roll up walls and we’re putting flood tables in them this fall. The tables are mainly for the red and white pine, but we’ll also be trying oak. It will probably do really well because we won’t be getting the foliage wet as much as with boom watering. We’re also hoping to up the production of our perennials and get into more local stores. And we’ll be growing trees for Canada’s two billion tree plant program. There's always reforestation to be done!