Working in a Plant Nursery – Working Holiday New Zealand

Greetings from New Zealand!

Are you thinking of applying for jobs in a plant nursery during your stay in New Zealand? In this post, I will be sharing the various job scopes and personal experience that I had while working in a plant nursery. Right now (as I am writing this post), I have complete 6 weeks of work and probably have another 6 more weeks to go, to fulfil the 12-weeks horticulture/viticulture requirement for 3-months visa extension.

To be honest, I haven’t exactly decided on whether I am going to do the extension or not cause its like $280 for just 3 months but I would like to have that option open rather than panic later when I don’t want to leave. To date, I would pretty much say that more than 75% of the people I’ve met so far have extended their visa or are planning to extend. There’s a certain charm in New Zealand where most people find it difficult to leave.

Anyway, sorry for the digress but yep it’s back to the plant nursery job scope. I’m not naming the company cause I’m afraid that it will be index-ed on google and they discover it some day but it is pretty much one of the larger plant nursery brands around. They mainly do B2B sales and their plants can be found in stores like warehouse and bunnings.

Working in a plant nursery is hardwork. On the first day, I felt like quitting after the first 2 hours as I was required to squat/kneel and I was doing one of the toughest job of it all – on my first day. After speaking to two other WHV girls who had already worked 3 months in the nursery, they said that this is their toughest job to date. I kind of penned down my frustrations and pain in my Week 3 update so you can read it here. Anyway, I had to press on for the job cause I didn’t have much options and looking for jobs in winter is super tough (I have another blog post about this).

The good thing about being in a large plant nursery is that you may get rotated around. This means that you may be reporting to different supervisors on different days of the week, working out different parts of your body but there’s also no guarantee that you may be stuck in the same job if you appear to be doing really well in it.

I didn’t think too much about it until my other friends told me that while they were working in a factory, they had to do the one same job every single day for 8 to 10 hours (e.g. picking fish bones or packing cookies or grading fruits). In my company, we kind of get rotated across the various supervisors and you will get to meet and know more people as well.

List of Job Duties

Disclaimer: I’m not sure of the actual name of the job that we are doing but its more like a common term that we use, or perhaps I could have invented some terms.

Unloading

This involves moving the planter trays (containing hundreds of seedlings) from a rack to the floor. Depending on your glasshouse, you may have different layout rules which may or may not work in your favour. By moving the trays from the rack to the floor, you will often have to squat down or bend down so you can align the tray properly. If you’re tasked to do this job, doing more than 500 squats in a day seems like a possibility.

Sometimes, you may be requested to bend your back instead of squatting down in order to be more efficient. I personally don’t like bending my back as it feels like a really bad posture whereas if you squat properly, it will be more of a workout.

One thing to note is that the trays may be a little heavy and your palm may ache. Always try to figure out how to position the tray on your palm, such that you can balance it on the center of gravity. Otherwise, you may find your palms or finger aching really badly. Then again, if you have to do this job the entire day, you will just ache everywhere no matter what brilliant posture you can find.

The good part of this job is that you can chat with your colleagues while you work but the bad part is that the squats are endless. If your posture of bending is good, you should be able to get a good workout.

Grafting

This is possibly one of the best job of it all (at the beginning) cause it is 80% a sitting job. The remaining 20% chance goes to you being selected as a runner or a cutter where you have to stand; throughout.

Prior to working here, my knowledge of grafting was limited to what was on my primary/lower secondary science textbooks where you take a certain plant and connect it to another plant’s roots or something. It’s usually done to grow stronger and bigger plants. Sounds fun? It definitely is for perhaps the first 30 mins and after that your fingers, hands and back will start aching as you do the same repeated action for many hours. It requires good hand-eye coordination as well and speed is the ultimate essence. The posture, similar to working in an office, is pretty bad for your back and neck as you have to look down most of the time.

Nevertheless, I still enjoy grafting whenever I don’t have to do the standing jobs. It’s really nice to do grafting after a tough legs day.

One thing to note: they will expect quality and quantity for this grafting job. If you do a terrible job (yes your work will be tagged, so they can identify who is doing badly), or if you’re too slow at this job, you may not be allocated for this job as the time goes by.

Transplanting

This job involves transferring the seedlings from the planter trays to an individual pot – which would eventually be sold. Depending on which part of the production line you are in, you may be involved in doing grading where you only pick out the good seedlings to be planted. Small/weak/rotten/Abnormal ones will be eliminated and not be planted to the pot.

The best part of this job is that it is not really tiring as you only need to work your hand-eye coordination, shoulders and your legs (stand the entire day but that’s bearable). Furthermore, you may be put on piece rate where you have a chance of earning more than your hourly rate. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to try this except for my last day where I probably earned $1 more for my entire day. If you’re good, earning $20-25/hour is a possibility on this line. Also, I’ve noticed that this department has a high tendency to work extra hours (starting at 6am) on busy day. So if you want to earn more, try to be good at it.

Spacing

This task is usually done for tomatoes and other glasshouse plants which require TLC (tender loving care). A lot of people don’t like this job as it involves a lot of bending and squatting. Basically, you will have to arrange plant cubes/sponge in a neat and orderly pattern on the floor. We are not talking about 10 to 100 plants, but perhaps 500 to 2000 plants and everything is done.. on the floor.

Pinching/Sticking/Clipping

The above 3 jobs are usually for tomatoes (damn, that’s why they are so expensive here). Pinching involves choosing the better growth shoots and cutting the bad/weaker/unlucky shoot away. All this is done when the tomato plant (15 to 30cm high) is on the floor and you will have to walk down the lanes of tightly spaced tomatoes, bend your back and cut them away. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even have space to bend down cause it’s just so tight.

Sticking – you go down the lines of tomatoes and put sticks into their foam. These sticks will serve as a creeper for the plants to grow taller.

Clipping – you add clips to ‘join’ the plant to the stick, allowing them to grow and creep with support.

Basically, I don’t fancy all the above jobs as it is way too back-breaking for me.

Loading

This is probably the job closest to my ‘Order Picker’ JD which I had applied for.

Prior to working, I thought that being an ‘Order Picker’ means going around the nursery, collating orders for customers. Of which I thought it would sound fun as I imagined myself packing like pots of strawberries, parsley, daisies in a bag and label them neatly for the customer. Guess what? I conveniently forgot that my company dealt with B2B and customer orders meant large corporations like bunnings, warehouse and countdown where orders came in hundreds and thousands.

Yea, we were doing order picking, just that few hundreds and thousands of the same species for our huge customers.

When dealing with tomatoes loading, it’s one of my least favourite job (in fact, this was the thing I did on my first day and contemplated quitting the same day – Week 3 entry).

You start off with kneeling/squatting/low-sitting on the ground and do a QC for the tomatoes. You need to check that they are healthy, of the same height and split them into tall/short groups. You load them up into a tray (3 by 3 or 4 by 3) and go down the rows with constant kneeling/squatting/low-sitting the entire hour(s) and it was so bad that my leg cramps up so often. After it is done, you will have to lift the heavy trays (dependent on how big the plants are) up to these carts and then cling wrap them for shipment. Yea, that’s it for my least favourite job of it all.

Washing & Dumping

This job is probably one of the easiest as most of the time, you do not have to use your brains or think. You basically put trays into a machine or retrieve the cleaned trays from the machine and place it on a pallet. Another job is that you will have to dip the trays into some concentrate to get rid of all the bacteria and viruses.

Dumping – is literally as it is. We slam the trays on to the skip bins to get rid of all the soil. Then, we will have to remove the sticker labels that are pasted on these trays. It’s a pretty decent job

Weeding

At times, you may be tasked to do senseless duties like removing weeds from the planter trays. While I was working on this job, I came to the realisation that weeds were really amazing. No matter how much we try to remove them, they always find a way to grow miraculously and sometimes even flourish better than the main plant. Weeds are really persistent and they kind of never die.

This is probably the slackest job of it all. You may get to be seated in an isolated corner where no one else can see you. It’s difficult to gauge how many trays you can complete per hour because no one can estimate how much weed there would be. You can listen to your music, talk to your colleagues or even.. not do anything at all. Usually, this job is more of a time-filler than being anything of importance. I never had a full day of weeding job before so I don’t think it is an actual scheduled job.

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Yep, that was how I survived my 9 weeks in this plant nursery. Right now, It’s already my week 13 here in New Zealand and I have since moved on to my next job which I should be blogging about if you continue to follow my updates.

Hope this post helps in your understanding of what it really feels like to be working in a plant nursery starting with ‘Z’ locating in Christchurch.

Good luck in securing jobs for your visa extension and do recommend me something if you have any in mind. I’m still short of 3 weeks ><

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