US20050138862A1 - Method and apparatus for packaging horticultural products - Google Patents

Method and apparatus for packaging horticultural products Download PDF

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Publication number
US20050138862A1
US20050138862A1 US10/998,743 US99874304A US2005138862A1 US 20050138862 A1 US20050138862 A1 US 20050138862A1 US 99874304 A US99874304 A US 99874304A US 2005138862 A1 US2005138862 A1 US 2005138862A1
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foam block
foam
container
method
liquid
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US10/998,743
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Jeremiah O'Connor
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Floral Transport Systems LLC
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Floral Transport Systems LLC
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Priority to US53302103P priority Critical
Priority to US10/866,147 priority patent/US7260914B2/en
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Priority to US10/998,743 priority patent/US20050138862A1/en
Assigned to FLORAL TRANSPORT SYSTEMS, LLC reassignment FLORAL TRANSPORT SYSTEMS, LLC ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST (SEE DOCUMENT FOR DETAILS). Assignors: O'CONNOR, JEREMIAH
Publication of US20050138862A1 publication Critical patent/US20050138862A1/en
Application status is Abandoned legal-status Critical

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    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D85/00Containers, packaging elements or packages, specially adapted for particular articles or materials
    • B65D85/50Containers, packaging elements or packages, specially adapted for particular articles or materials for living organisms, articles or materials sensitive to changes of environment or atmospheric conditions, e.g. land animals, birds, fish, water plants, non-aquatic plants, flower bulbs, cut flowers or foliage
    • B65D85/505Containers, packaging elements or packages, specially adapted for particular articles or materials for living organisms, articles or materials sensitive to changes of environment or atmospheric conditions, e.g. land animals, birds, fish, water plants, non-aquatic plants, flower bulbs, cut flowers or foliage for cut flowers
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A47FURNITURE; DOMESTIC ARTICLES OR APPLIANCES; COFFEE MILLS; SPICE MILLS; SUCTION CLEANERS IN GENERAL
    • A47GHOUSEHOLD OR TABLE EQUIPMENT
    • A47G7/00Flower holders or the like
    • A47G7/02Devices for supporting flower-pots or cut flowers
    • A47G7/06Flower vases
    • A47G7/07Guiding means for flowers in vases, e.g. perforated covers

Abstract

In a method and apparatus for packaging a horticultural product, especially cut flowers, for transportation, one or more stems are inserted through a flexible foam block formed from a low density, low compression force material disposed in an opening of container such that the foam is compressed. The compression of the foam forms a water-tight seal around each stem to prevent water or other liquid inside the container from leaking during shipment of the horticultural product and insulates each stem from each other stem. A tube may be placed in the foam block to provide fluid communication between an interior of the container and an exterior of the container.

Description

  • This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/866,147 with a filing date of Jun. 14, 2004, and this application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/533,021, entitled “Device For Shipment of Horticultural Products,” filed Dec. 27, 2003. The entireties of both applications are incorporated herein by reference.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • 1. Field of the Invention
  • The invention relates generally to horticultural products, and more particularly to a method and apparatus for packaging horticultural products such as cut flowers.
  • 2. Discussion of the Background
  • The market for horticultural products, particularly cut flowers, is large and continues to grow. In this industry, it is important that the horticultural product be fresh when it is presented to a consumer. The freshness of the horticultural product will determine both (1) how the product initially appears to the consumer, and (2) how long the product will last for the consumer. The product's initial appearance is particularly important in a retail setting such as a cut flower display in a store because consumers will often base their purchasing decision on the initial appearance. However, initial appearance is also important when pre-paid flowers are delivered to a consumer. How long the flowers last is also an important part of customer satisfaction—most customers will not be happy with flowers that wilt the day after they are received no matter how nice they looked the previous day.
  • The manner in which horticultural products are shipped plays an important role in both the initial appearance of the horticultural product and how long the horticultural product will last. Today, cut flowers are typically shipped from a grower by airfreight without water. Then they are either repackaged into an upstanding, open box with 1″-2″ of water on the bottom such that the ends of the stems can take up water to keep the flowers fresh, or they continue through distribution without water. With either method, the flowers are typically refrigerated to preserve their freshness. Both of these methods have obvious drawbacks. Shipping the flowers dry reduces their life no matter how well they are refrigerated. Shipping the flowers in an open container partially filled with water requires that the containers not be overturned during shipping, which increases shipping costs and distribution time.
  • Some attempts to provide a device that will allow flowers to be shipped such that their stems are in water have been disclosed in the patent literature. However, each of these alternative devices has drawbacks and, to the knowledge of the inventor, none of the alternative devices has met with any commercial success.
  • U.S. Pat. No. 2,453,906 to Hamlet discloses a device including tubular container with a “stopper” made in whole or in part from a “resilient material” inserted into each end. The stopper in the top end of the tubular container includes a bore sized to give an air-tight fit around a stem. The stopper is of a size to make it fit hermetically in the top end of the tube. The bottom end of the tube also has a stopper with a bore formed therein. The bottom end also includes a flexible diaphragm that stretches to fill the void created when water is taken up by a stem.
  • This device has several drawbacks. First, the requirement for the flexible diaphragm increases the packaging cost. Second, the “resilient material” illustrated in the '906 patent does not appear to be very resilient. The drawings show very little deformation of the material in areas where it is fitted into the tube. Given the issue date of the '906 patent in 1945, it is very likely that the “resilient material” is rubber. The problem with a material of such a resiliency is that it requires a relatively close match between the size of the bore in the stopper and the diameter of a plant stem inserted therein. Plant stem diameters can vary from as little as {fraction (1/8)} inch to as much as {fraction (5/8)} inch or greater. Thus, it is necessary to either make the bore to a specific size to match a particular stem, or provide a plurality of stoppers with different sized bores to accommodate cut flowers of different sizes.
  • This is not a practical alternative for two reasons. First, flower stems are not regularly shaped and often have protrusions (e.g., rose stems have protrusions where thorns are removed). It would be necessary to size the bore to accept any protrusion or other irregularity. However, considering the relatively inflexible material of '906 patent, the walls of bore may not contact the stem in areas other than the location of the protrusion or irregularity, resulting in a poor seal. Second, a requirement for matching stem sizes to bore sizes would be time-consuming, and therefore expensive, in a mass-production environment. This would be especially true in an automated mass-production environment in which thousands of flowers are packaged because stems would need to be measured, sorted and staged for insertion into pre-arranged stoppers of the correct size.
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,315,782 describes a device including a flexible walled pouch filled with a “moisturized gel” of a “fluid paste consistency” (col. 2, lines 46-66). The top end of the pouch includes a “puncturable insert” made from a closed cell foam plastics material such as a “medium density polyethylene foam sold under the trade name JIFFYCELL.” Applicants believe this is a rigid foam of the type that is commonly green in color and used in floral arrangements. The edges of the bag are adhered to this foam, and no compression of the foam is disclosed. The '782 patent teaches forming a hole for a plant stem in the foam insert by pushing a sharpened pencil through the foam.
  • The most significant drawback associated with the '782 patent is that it does not form a good seal around the stem. The '782 patent recognizes this when it states that “the tendency to leak is reduced by that fact that it is a gel material” in the pouch (col. 3, lines 49-50). If the seal around the stem were good, then it would not be necessary to use a “gel” rather than water. The poor seal is caused by the lack of compression and the use of a rigid foam. Another drawback associated with the '782 device is that, because the foam is relatively rigid, it is again necessary to size the hole to the stem that is to be inserted therein.
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,103,586 discloses a device including a rigid cup-shaped container, a first layer comprised of rigid foam, a second layer of a “penetrable elastomeric sealing elastomer . . . chosen to be sufficiently elastic to flow at about room temperature,” and an optional third layer also comprised of a rigid foam. The sealing elastomer is preferably an RTV silicone rubber made from a two part liquid silicone that cures into the desired flowable sealing elastomer. The chief drawbacks associated with this device are the cost associated with using multiple layers and the time required for the elastomer to cure.
  • U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,941,572 and 5,115,915 to Harris disclose a device comprising a rigid container with a non-absorbent foam block that is either preformed of a rigid foam material adhered to the container or formed from a foamed-in-place foam dispensed from an aerosol container. Col. 6, Ins 43-58. The preformed block embodiment of this device suffers from the drawbacks of having to use an adhesive to secure the block to the container and, because the foam is rigid, the need for sizing holes in the block to match the stems. The foam-in-place embodiment suffers from the high cost associated with aerosol foams, and requires something to hold the stems in place while the foam is introduced.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • The aforementioned issues are addressed to a great extent by the present invention, which provides a method and apparatus for packaging a horticultural product, especially cut flowers, in which one or more stems are inserted into, and preferably through, a flexible foam block formed from a low density, low CFD (compression force/deflection) material disposed in an opening of container such that the foam is compressed. The compression of the foam insulates each stem and forms a water-tight seal around each stem to prevent water or other liquid inside the container from leaking during shipment of the horticultural product.
  • In some embodiments of the invention, the foam block is cut from a solid piece of foam or is molded to a desired shape. In other embodiments, the foam block is formed by rolling up a strip of foam that includes a plurality of V-shaped channels formed therein. In some embodiments of the invention, the container is rigid. In other embodiments, the container is flexible. In some embodiments of the invention with flexible containers, an elastic band is placed around the portion of the container contiguous to the foam block. The elastic band keeps compressive pressure on the block even if the block experiences “compression set,” which is a permanent deformation of a material after it has been exposed to compressive stress over a period of time.
  • In one aspect of the invention, the use of compression provides a significant advantage as compared to prior art devices in that it allows flower stems to be tightly packed during shipping. This reduces the amount of space required by an individual bouquet of flowers. Reducing space during shipping is very important for large-scale commercial operations in which multiple bouquets are shipped in a single package.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • The aforementioned advantages and features of the present invention will be more readily understood with reference to the following detailed description and the accompanying drawings in which:
  • FIG. 1 a is a top view of a foam block according to one embodiment of the invention in an uncompressed state.
  • FIG. 1 b is a perspective view of the foam block of FIG. 1 a in an embodiment of the invention in which the foam block is die-cut from a larger piece of foam.
  • FIG. 1 c is a perspective view of the foam block of FIG. 1 a in an embodiment of the invention in which the foam block is molded.
  • FIGS. 2 a and 2 b are top views of a non-integral foam block in rolled (uncompressed) and unrolled positions, respectively, according to a second embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a shipping assembly employing a foam block and a flexible container (shown prior to compression of the foam block) according to a third embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 4 is a side cross-sectional view of a shipping assembly employing a foam block and a rigid container according to a fourth embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 5 a and 5 b are exploded and assembled side cross sectional views, respectively, of the shipping assembly of FIG. 4.
  • FIGS. 6 a, 6 b and 6 c are perspective, side and side views, respectively, of a container for use in a shipping assembly according to a fifth embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 7 is a perspective exploded view of a shipping assembly incorporating the container of FIGS. 6 a-c.
  • FIG. 8 a is a perspective view of a packaged horticultural product according to yet another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 8 b is a side cross-sectional view of portions of the product of FIG. 8 a.
  • FIG. 9 is a side cross-sectional view of portions of an alternative product according to yet another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 10 a-c are perspective view of a packaged horticultural product according to yet another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 11 a-c are top, side cross sectional and perspective views, respectively, of a device for inserting stems into foam block according to still another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 12 is a side cross sectional view of the device of FIG. 11 in a second position.
  • FIGS. 13 a-c are top, side cross sectional and perspective views, respectively, of the device of FIG. 11 in a third position.
  • FIG. 14 is a side view of a portion of a bouquet of cut flowers arranged in a staggered presentation using the device of FIG. 11.
  • FIG. 15 is a perspective view of a light bulb disposed within a ballon according to still another embodiment of the invention
  • FIGS. 16 a and 16 b are side views of straws and plugs inserted into an opening of a foam block according to yet another embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 17 is a perspective view of a balloon stretching and water filling device.
  • FIG. 18 is a perspective view of a portion of the device of FIG. 17 showing the device stretching the neck of a balloon.
  • FIG. 19 is a side view of a Christmas tree stand incorporating a foam block according to an embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 20 is a perspective view of a pair of fulfillment devices according to an embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 21 is a perspective view of one of the fulfillment devices of FIG. 20 with a foam block through which a bouquet of flowers has been inserted.
  • FIG. 22 is a perspective view of a portion of the fulfillment device of FIG. 20.
  • FIG. 23 is a perspective view of a foam block loaded with flowers using the fulfillment device of FIG. 20.
  • FIG. 24 includes top and perspective views of a foam block with an oval cross-sectional shape according to an embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 25 is a perspective view of a conventional hand-tied bouquet.
  • FIG. 26 is a top view of a foam block suitable for use with a hand-tied bouquet according to an embodiment of the invention.
  • FIG. 27 is a top view of a foam block suitable for use with a pre-made bunch according to an embodiment of the invention.
  • FIGS. 28 a and 28 b are top and side views, respectively, of an embodiment of the invention using a foam block and a flexible container for a Christmas tree.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • In the following detailed description, a plurality of specific details, such as types of foam and amounts of compression, are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the present invention. The details discussed in connection with the preferred embodiments should not be understood to limit the present invention. Furthermore, for ease of understanding, certain method steps are delineated as separate steps; however, these steps should not be construed as necessarily distinct nor order dependent in their performance.
  • The invention is believed to have particular utility for the packaging of cut flowers for transportation and hence will be discussed primarily in that context herein. The invention should not be understood to be so limited and should be understood to be useful for packaging horticultural products for other purposes (e.g., display in a retail setting) and should also be understood to be useful with other horticultural products such as potted plants as well as other non-horticultural products having regular or irregular cross sections in the range of typical plant stems as described herein.
  • It has been discovered that the properties of the foam used in the foam block are very important to achieving a satisfactory seal around a plant stem. In particular, it has been discovered that a foam with a combination of low density and low CFD (compression force/deflection, which is a measure of the compressability, or softness, of the foam) is particularly well suited for the invention. Foams with densities between about 0.5 and 10 pounds per cubic foot (according to the ASTM-D-1667 method) and a CFD between about 0.5 and 10 psi (according to the ASTM-D-1056 method) are preferred. By way of comparison, a rubber stopper, which is believed to be the material used in the above-discussed '906 patent to Hamlet, has a density on the order of 15-20 pounds per cubic foot and a CFD much higher than 10 psi.
  • Within the above-mentioned guidelines, there are several types of foams that are believed to be suitable for practicing the invention depending on the expected fluctuation in temperature and elevation within a given distribution scenario, including: elastomeric foams (which includes natural rubber-based foams, and synthetic rubber-based foams including EDPM and nitrile rubber based foams and blends thereof with vinyl, PVC, and EVA), polyethylene foams (including cross-linked polyethylene foams), and polyurethane foams. One foam that has been found to provide a good seal in the context of the invention is a vinyl nitrile foam sold under the name SBE-41 Vinyl Nitrile 4, product designation F-06721. This foam is a nitrile rubber/polyvinyl chloride blend with a density of 4 lb/ft3±0.7 lb/ft3 and a CFD of 3.5 psi±1.5 psi. It carries a 2Cl rating and has been combustion-modified to meet the standards set forth in UL 94HF-1 and FMVSS-302. Another foam believed to be suitable for use with the present invention is a cross-linked polyethylene foam sold under the mark Voltex MM200.
  • Because the foam block is used to form a watertight seal, closed cell foams are used in preferred embodiments of the invention. However, it is also possible to practice the invention using an open cell foam provided that the open cell foam is sufficiently compressed to form a watertight seal (the amount of compression used with an open cell foam will generally be higher than with a closed cell foam). An example of an open cell foam believed to be suitable for use with the present invention is Low Perm polyurethane foam. Generally, an open cell foam must be compressed by at least 40% in order for it to act as a closed cell foam. Thus, when used in the context of the present invention, such open cell foams must be compressed by 40% plus an additional amount commensurate with the amounts discussed below, which are relevant to closed cell foams.
  • In some embodiments of the invention, a foam block 100 is die-cut from a solid piece of foam in the shape shown in FIGS. 1 a and 1 b. The foam block 100 preferably includes one or more holes 110 for receiving the stems of cut flowers such as roses. The foam block 100 of FIG. 1 includes 12 holes (as roses are typically sold by the dozen) 110, but the number of holes can be more or less as desired. The holes 110 preferably range from about ¼″ to about ⅜″ in diameter. For example, in embodiments of the invention in which the stem sizes range from ⅛″ to ⅝″ and the vinyl nitrile foam discussed above is used for the block 100, the size of the holes is ⅜″ when stems are inserted into the holes 110 without stretching the holes 110 prior to insertion of the stems. In embodiments in which fulfillment equipment (discussed in further detail below) is used to stretch the holes 110 prior to insertion of the stems, the hole size is ¼″. The foam block 100 also includes three smaller holes 120 with diameters of {fraction (3/16)}″. The smaller holes 120 are provided to accept greens (e.g., baby's breath) that accompany the bouquet of cut flowers in the holes 110. As with the holes 110, the number of smaller holes 120 can vary and, in some embodiments, no smaller holes 120 are provided. The holes 110 and 120 are typically spaced apart from other neighboring holes 110, 120 by {fraction (5/32)}″ to ½″, depending on stem size and the softness of the stems (generally, the more soft the stem is, the more room between stems is necessary).
  • Referring now back to FIG. 1(b), it can be seen that the vertical wall 102 b of the foam block 100 is concave. This is as a result of the die cut process by which the foam block 100 is formed. This shape is advantageous in that it provides a somewhat more secure mechanical bond when used with a band such as the band 320 described below. It should be understood that the invention is not so limited and that other embodiments of the invention employ foam blocks with non-concave surfaces, such as the foam block 190 illustrated in FIG. 1(c) which includes a straight side wall 102 c. The foam block 190 may be formed by molding rather than die-cutting from a pre-formed piece of foam.
  • The foam blocks 100, 190 of FIG. 1 are integrally formed. An alternative foam block 200 is illustrated in FIGS. 2 a and 2 b. FIG. 2 a is a top view of the block 200 rolled up into a cylindrical form. In this configuration, the block 200 includes a plurality of holes 210, each preferably having the same ⅜″ diameter as the holes 100 of FIG. 1 a. As shown in FIG. 2 b, the block 200 is comprised of a length of foam having a plurality of channels 211 that terminate in partially circular portions 210′. When the length of foam is rolled up, the opposite walls of the channels 211 are in contact with each other leaving no space between them, and the partially circular portions 210′ are closed to form the holes 210.
  • The foam blocks 100, 190, 200 illustrated above in FIGS. 1 and 2 each have circular cross sectional shapes. However, the invention may be practiced with foam blocks of different shapes (e.g., square, oval, etc.). For example, a ten-hole foam block 2400 with an oval shape is illustrated in FIG. 24. This oval shape and the hole pattern illustrated in FIG. 24 has been found to use less foam material while maintaining a minimum separation between holes as compared to a circular foam block with a similar hole pattern.
  • The foam blocks 100, 190, 200 of FIGS. 1 and 2 preferably have a height H1 of approximately one to two inches. However, in other embodiments, the heights of the foam blocks may be as short as one half of an inch or may be as tall as is desired, subject to the length of the stems and the container with which the foam block is used.
  • FIG. 3 illustrates a packaged horticultural product 300 according to an embodiment of the invention. The product 300 includes the foam block 100 of FIGS. 1 a, 1 b, but is should be understood that either the foam block 190 of FIG. 1 c or the foam block 200 of FIG. 2 could be used in its place. The foam block 100 is disposed in the opening of a container in the form of a flexible bag 310. The bag 310 of FIG. 3 is plastic, but rubber, latex or any other suitable material may be used in other embodiments. A band 320 is used to compress the bag 310 and the foam block 100 (which is shown prior to compression in FIG. 3) so that a watertight seal is formed between the foam block 100 and the bag 320, and between the foam block 100 and stems (not shown in FIG. 3) disposed in the holes 110, 120 of the foam block 100. The band 320 may be formed of any suitable material, and comprises a cable tie or nylon strapping in some embodiments of the invention. Such ties typically have a width of approximately {fraction (1/8)}″-1.5″.
  • In other embodiments of the invention, the band 320 is comprised of an elastic material. In one embodiment, the elastic material is natural Hevea crumb rubber, and the band 320 is 1.5″ wide, 0.06″ thick, and has a flat length of 1.5″ when used with a round foam block having a diameter between 2″ and 3.75″. Use of an elastic band 320 helps counteract any compression set that occurs in the foam block. Compression set refers to a permanent deformation in a material that occurs when the material is compressed over a period of time. When a non-elastic band 320 is used, reductions in diameter of the foam block due to compression set result in a decrease in compressive force exerted on the foam block by such a non-elastic band 320. In contrast, the use of a properly sized elastic material in the band 320 allows a more uniform compressive force to be applied to the foam block even when it undergoes compression set.
  • Compressing the foam block 100 (again, shown prior to compression in FIG. 3) is critical to making the product 300 watertight so that liquid inside the bag 310 does not escape during shipping regardless of the orientation of the product 300. The foam block 100 of FIGS. 1 a and 1 b should be compressed by an amount of at least 15% when included in the product 300 to ensure that a watertight seal is formed. Preferably, the amount of compression is in the range of 20%-60%, and more preferably in the range of 25%-55%. The aforementioned compression values should be understood to mean that the diameter of a circular foam block with one or more stems inserted therethrough has been reduced by the amount of the compression when the compressive force is applied diametrically around the circumference of the foam block. Thus, for example, if the diameter of the foam block 100 is 2.25″ prior to compression, compressing the foam block by 20% means that the foam block is compressed such that its diameter is reduced by 2.25″*0.20=0.45″. The diameter of such a foam block will be 2.25″-0.45″=1.8″ when the block is compressed by 20%.
  • The above-stated compression values can also be expressed as a reduction in cross-sectional area of the foam block in a plane corresponding to the direction in which the compressive force is applied. For example, compressing the block such that its diameter is reduced by 20% will reduce the cross sectional area by approximately 36%. When expressed in this fashion, the aforementioned compression ranges correspond to reducing the cross-sectional area by at least 28%, preferably between 36% and 84%, and more preferably still between 56% and 80%. The foregoing reductions in cross sectional areas are applicable to circular blocks as well as non-circular blocks.
  • The aforementioned values reduction in cross-sectional area do not include the effect of stems in the block, which do not compress. In a typical embodiment, a 2.25″ foam block includes a bouquet of a dozen roses with a stem size of 0.25.″ The area of such a foam block is 3.976 square inches (assuming the holes for the stems are also 0.25″), and the area of the stems is 0.589 square inches. Thus, the area of the foam in the foam block is 3.976−0.589=3.38 square inches. When the area of the block (including the stems and the foam) is reduced by 28%, its new area is 2.86.″ Because the stems do not compress, the area of the foam in the compressed block is 2.86″−0.589″=2.27.″ Thus, the foam in the block has been compressed from an area of 3.38″ to 2.27″, which is 2.27/3.38=0.67 or 67% of its original area, a reduction of 33%. Thus, a 28% reduction in cross sectional area of a 2.25″ inch block that includes a dozen stems with a diameter of a quarter inch translates to a 33% reduction in cross sectional area of the foam itself. The corresponding ranges of 36%-84% and 56%-80% translate to 42%-98.7% and 66%-89%.
  • The use of a low density, low CFD foam compressed in the amounts specified herein provides a water-tight seal without requiring the use of an adhesive or a sealer around the foam block, which saves time and money. The use of a low density, low CFD foam also allows use of the product 300 with plain water disposed within the bag 310. This is an important improvement over techniques employed in some conventional applications (e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 2,453,906) that depend upon using a thicker fluid such as a gel rather than water to hydrate the plant in order to ensure that leaks do not occur. However, the foregoing should not be understood to limit the invention to use with water. Rather, it should be understood that the present invention is not limited to use with water and may be used with liquids of various viscosities, including liquids with viscosities approximately equal to that of water as well as liquids such as gels with higher viscosities. Such liquids may or may not contain plant nutrients or other substances.
  • FIG. 4 illustrates a packaged horticultural product 400 according to another embodiment of the present invention. The product 400 includes a plurality of flowers 420, each having a stem 420 a inserted into a respective hole 110 of foam block 100. As with the product 300 discussed above, foam block 190 or foam block 200 may be used in place of the foam block 100. Foam block 100 is disposed in a container 410, which is preferably made from plastic and is partially filled with a liquid 425.
  • The container 410 is illustrated in greater detail in FIGS. 5 a and 5 b. The container 410 includes a generally frustoconical lower portion 411 of height H1 with a closed bottom 411 a and an open top 411 b. A ridge 412 is formed around the open top 411 b. A cap 414 is placed on the open top 411 b. The cap 414 includes a lip 415 that mates with the ridge 412 on the lower portion 411 such that a watertight seal is formed when the cap 414 is pressed onto the lower portion 411. The mechanical bond formed by the ridge 412 and lip 415 must be sufficiently strong such that the cap 414 will not become separated from the lower portion 411 during transportation of the product 400.
  • The cap 414 includes a funnel shaped portion 416 and a generally cylindrical portion 417. The cylindrical portion 417 includes a lower lip 419. The lower lip 419 functions to retain the foam block 100 as illustrated in FIG. 5 b. The cylindrical portion has a diameter D sized such that the foam block is compressed by an amount in the ranges discussed above. When the foam block is compressed in this range, a watertight seal is formed between the foam block and the stems 420 a and the interior surface of the wall of the cylindrical portion 417 such that water or other fluid in the lower portion 411 of the container 410 will not leak regardless of the orientation of the product 400.
  • In practice, it is preferable to insert the stems 420 a into the foam block 100 first, next place the foam block 100 into the cylindrical portion 417 of the cap 414, and then place the cap 414 on the lower portion 411. The amount of air that is trapped and compressed in the lower portion 411 as a result of fitting the product 400 together in this manner is less than if the foam block 100 and stems 420 were fitted into the cap 414 after it was in place on the lower portion 411. Keeping back pressure low can be important when the product is shipped by air in a partially or wholly de-pressurized cargo hold at high altitudes.
  • A container 600 for use in a packaged horticultural product according to yet another embodiment of the invention is illustrated in FIGS. 6 a and 6 b. The container 600, which is again preferably formed from a flexible material such as plastic, has an open top 620 and a closed bottom 630. A protrusion 610 is formed on one side of the container 600 such that the diameter D3 of the container 600 is wider in the area of the protrusion 610 than the diameter D4 of the bottom end 630 of the container 600. The protrusion adds to the volume of water that the container 600 can hold. When the container is filled with a liquid to a level 640 c near the top as shown in FIG. 6 c, and is then laid on its side as shown in FIG. 6 b, the water level 640 b extends at least partially into the protrusion 610 such that the bottom 630 remains filled with liquid (provided that something is disposed within the open top 620 to prevent the liquid from escaping). This ensures that any stems disposed within the container 600 remain submerged in the liquid when the container 600 is laid on its side. In contrast, the liquid level in a container without the protrusion 610 would drop far lower when placed in its side, which would likely result in one or more stems being situated above the liquid level rather than remaining submerged.
  • A packaged horticultural product 700 incorporating the container 600 is illustrated in FIG. 7. The product 700 is preferably fitted together in the following manner. First, one or more stems 710 are inserted into corresponding holes 722 in a foam block 720. The foam block may be of any of the types illustrated in FIGS. 1 a,b,c and FIG. 2.
  • When all of the stems 710 have been inserted into the block 720, and any holes 722 in which no stem 710 has been placed have been plugged, the block 720 is inserted into an opening 732 in cap 730. The opening is sized such that foam block 720 is compressed by an amount in the ranges discussed above.
  • Next, one or more side walls of the container 600 are depressed inward and, while the one or more side walls are depressed, the cap 730 is inserted into the open top 620 of container 600. Depressing the side walls a small amount prior to insertion of the cap helps to prevent and/or minimize the amount of back pressure that is created when the cap 730 is pressed into place over the open top 620. That is, when the force creating the depressions on the side walls is removed, the side walls return to their original position and the volume inside the container is increased, thereby providing additional room for the expansion of any air compressed as a result of placing the cap 730 on the top 620.
  • The cap 730 is securely held in place over the open top 620 by a tear away strip 740 of the type that is commonly used on consumer beverage containers, especially plastic milk containers. Ridges 622, 623 formed around the circumference of the open top 620 aid in the formation of a mechanical bond between the top 620 and the cap 730 and tear away strip 740, respectively. When the consumer wishes to remove the stems 710 from the product 700, the tear-away strip 740 is torn away and the cap 730 is then removed from the top 620. The consumer can then push the foam block 700 upward out of the cap 730 so that the block 720 decompresses. At that point, the stems 710 can be removed from the foam block 700.
  • FIG. 8 a illustrates a packaged horticultural product 800 according to yet another embodiment of the invention. The product 800 includes a foam block 810 through which a plurality of flower stems 801 (shown in phantom in FIG. 8 a) have been inserted. The foam block 810 is held in place by a cap 820, which is attached to a container 830.
  • Referring now to FIG. 8 b, the cap 820 includes a threaded surface 822 that mates with a corresponding threaded surface 832 of an opening 831 of container 830. The cap holds an insert 840 (into which the foam block 810, not shown in FIG. 8 b, is inserted) in place in the container opening 831. The insert 840 includes a lip 844 that rests on an upper surface 834 of the opening 831. The insert, which is preferably formed of a flexible plastic, includes a plurality of slits 842. The slits 842 allow the portion of the insert 841 between the lists to flex, which facilitates the insertion of the foam block 810. A band (not shown in FIG. 8 b; preferably similar to the band 320 discussed above in connection with FIG. 3) is installed around the portion of the insert 841 in the area of the slits 842 to compress the foam block. The lip 849 on the insert 841 hold the band in place.
  • Although the rigid containers of the embodiments of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 4-8 include removable caps, other embodiments of the invention use rigid containers that do not include any removable cap. In such embodiments, the foam block is placed directly into an opening of the container. The container may be a glass vase in such embodiments.
  • FIG. 9 illustrates an alternative assembly 990 that includes a container 930 with a threaded surface 932 that mates with a corresponding threaded surface 942 of a combination cap/insert 940. A foam block (not shown in FIG. 9) is inserted into the opening 941 of the insert 940 and held in place with a band (not shown in FIG. 9) as discussed above in connection with FIG. 8 b. When the cap/insert 940 is screwed onto the container 930, the cap/insert 940 and the foam block disposed therein are held in place on the container 930.
  • FIGS. 10 a-c illustrates a latex bag (sometimes referred to as a stuffing balloon) 1010 that may be used in place of the bag 310 of FIG. 3. The bag 1010 is comprised of latex that will flex and stretch. This allows the bag 1010 to expand with changes in atmospheric pressure such as those encountered in an airplane cargo hold, thereby relieving pressure exerted on the foam block 1020 by air inside the bag 1010 under such conditions. More importantly, however, the use of a flexible bag 1010 allows the bag to conform to any available space in a shipping container. This is very important in situations in which a plurality of packaged horticultural products are shipped in a common container as it minimizes the volume required for the common container, which reduces shipping costs.
  • The neck 1011 of the bag 1010 may be pulled open as shown in FIG. 10 b by a balloon stretching device (or other equipment known in the art) so that a foam block 1020 may be inserted therein. A plurality of stems 1040 are inserted into corresponding openings 1022 in the foam block 1020 prior to insertion of the foam block into the neck 1011 of the bag 1010. After the foam block 1020 has been inserted, a band 1030 (which may be similar to the band 320 of FIG. 3) placed around the outside of the neck 1011 is used to compress the foam block 1020 as shown in FIG. 10 c.
  • A balloon stretching device 1700 suitable for use with the bag 1010 is illustrated in FIG. 17. The device comprises a flat surface 1710 on which a plurality of radially disposed, movable arms 1720 are mounted on slidable tracks 1721. A stretching projection 1722 is attached at a distal end of each of the arms 1720. In operation, a bag 1010 is placed with the stretching projections 1722 disposed inside the neck 1011. In those embodiments in which an elastic band is used, the elastic band is placed around an outside of the neck 1011 (not shown in FIG. 17).
  • Referring now to FIG. 18, when the arms 1720 are slid along the track 1721 such that they move outward and away from each others, the stretching arms 1722 stretch open the neck 1011 of the bag 1010. With the neck 1011 stretched open, a liquid (preferably water) may be introduced into the bag through water tube 1730. In the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 17-18, the water tube 1730 is mounted to one of the arms 1720 to simplify positioning of the water tube 1730. However, in other embodiments, the water tube 1730 may be mounted apart from the arms 1722. Referring now back to FIG. 17, the supply of liquid through tube 1730 is controlled by a solenoid operated valve 1740 connected to a supply line 1750. The valve 1740 may be controlled manually by an operator using a foot switch 1790 so that a desired volume of liquid is released into the bag 1010. Alternatively, a circuit (not shown in FIG. 17) may be configured to open the valve 1740 for a period of time sufficient to release a pre-determined amount of liquid into the bag 1010 when an arm 1720 travels a certain distance outward along track 1721 and activates a switch (not shown in FIG. 17). After the liquid has been released into the bag 1010, a foam block (not shown in FIG. 17), preferably with stems previously inserted through the passages thereof, is placed in the enlarged, stretched neck 1011. The arms 1720 are then moved toward each other until the neck 1011 closes around the foam block.
  • An exemplary fulfillment device 1100 that facilitates insertion of stems in a foam block by stretching the passages in the foam block is illustrated in FIG. 11. The fulfillment device 1100 may be used with the balloon stretching device 1600 of FIGS. 17 and 18, but may also be used independently of the balloon stretching device 1600 (e.g., in embodiments of the invention in which a non-elastic plastic bag or a rigid container are employed). The fulfillment device 1100 includes a plurality of upstanding tubes 1110 with positions that correspond to holes in a foam block (such as the holes 110 of FIG. 1). Each of the tubes 1110 has a slightly larger diameter than the corresponding hole of the foam block. Each of the tubes 1110 has a corresponding finger 1120 disposed therein. The device 1100 also includes four stages 1150, 1160, 1170, 1180 that are movable with respect to each other, except that stages 1150 and 1170 are always separated by supports 1155.
  • The fulfillment device 1100 is used as follows. First, the stages are manipulated as shown in FIG. 12 such that stages 1160, 1170 and 1180 are contiguous to each other. This results in the upper edge of tubes 1110 being even with a top edge 1151 of stage 1150 and the upper portions 1121 of fingers 1120 extending above stage 1150. The upper portions 1121 of the fingers are tapered such that they are narrower than the holes in a foam block (not shown in FIG. 13) with which the device 1100 is used. At this point, the foam block is set in place over stage 1150 such that the fingers 1120 are within the corresponding holes. Next, stage 1160 is moved toward stage 1150 such that the tubes 1110 extend beyond the upper surface 1151 of stage 1150 as shown in FIG. 13. In this position, they are inserted into and stretch a corresponding hole of a foam block. Next, stage 1180 is moved away from stage 1170 as shown in FIG. 11 such that most or all of the tubes 1110 are empty and can accept a flower stem. After flower stems have been inserted into each of the tubes 110, the tubes 1110 are removed from the foam block. This allows the holes in the foam block to close around the stems and the foam block is ready for compression.
  • Because the fingers 1120 are of differing heights, flower stems are positioned in the foam block such that they are at different depths. Thus, the fulfillment device 1100 allows stems of cut flowers 1410 to be inserted through a foam block 1420 by varying amounts, which allows a plurality of equal-length cut flowers 1410 to be staggered in the manner illustrated in FIG. 14. This is important because staggering the flowers reduces the size of a packaged horticultural product, which reduces shipping costs. In the prior art, staggering was accomplished by arranging the heads of cut flowers in a staggered pattern, and then cutting all of the stems evenly. This sacrifices the length of some of the stems, with the result that the individual stems of the flowers in the bouquet are of unequal length.
  • Alternative fulfillment devices 2000, 2100 that facilitate insertion of stems in a foam block are illustrated in FIG. 20. As with the fulfillment device 1100 of FIG. 11, the fulfillment devices 2000, 2100 may be used with the balloon stretching device 1600 of FIGS. 17 and 18, but may also be used independently of the balloon stretching device 1600 (e.g., in embodiments of the invention in which a non-elastic plastic bag or a rigid container are employed).
  • The fulfillment devices 2000, 2001 include a base 2010 supported by feet 2011 such that the top surface of the base is at an acute angle, preferably approximately 25 degrees, with respect to the work surface 2099 on which the base 2010 rests. An upstanding rod 2020 is perpendicularly attached to the base such that it is offset approximately 25 degrees from vertical. A pair of arms 2022 are attached to the upstanding rod 2020. As shown in FIG. 21, the arms 2022 form a rack that supports a bouquet of flowers 2098 as the flowers are inserted in a foam block.
  • Referring now back to FIG. 20, also attached to the base is an upstanding cylinder 2030 which accepts a foam block 2050 (the device 2000 is shown with a foam block of a smaller diameter that accepts approximately 12 stems, while the device 2001 is shown with a foam block of a larger diameter that accepts approximately 20 stems). In embodiments suitable for use with foam blocks having shapes other than circular, a correspondingly-shaped receptacle is used in place of the cylinder. The cylinder 2030 is illustrated in greater detail in FIG. 22. The inside diameter D of the cylinder sidewall 2031 is sized to accept the foam block 2050 without compression. The cylinder interior sidewall 2031 includes a shoulder 2032 that supports the foam block 2050 when it is placed in the cylinder 2030.
  • An insert 2035 is attached to the cylinder interior sidewall 2031 below the shoulder 2032. The insert serves two purposes. First, studs 2036 protruding approximately one quarter of an inch from the top of the insert 2035 provide support for the center portion of the foam block 2050 when it is placed in the cylinder 2030 while keeping the bottom of the foam block 2050 spaced apart from the top of the insert 2035 (the studs 2036 are preferably positioned such that they will not correspond to any hole in the foam block 2050 regardless of the angular orientation of the foam block 2050 in the cylinder 2030). Second, the insert 2035 regulates the depth to which stems can be inserted into the passages of the foam block 2050 that align with the insert 2035 when the foam block is placed in the cylinder. The insert 2035 has a circular central portion 2035 a that aligns with the center seven holes of the foam block 2050. The insert also has a straight portion 2035 b and a flared portion 2035 c connected between the central portion 2035 a and the cylinder interior sidewall 2031.
  • These straight and flared portions 2035 b,c will correspond to one and two holes, respectively, of the 13 holes along the outer periphery of the block 2050. Thus, the insert 2035 will align with a total of ten of the twenty holes in foam block 2050. Stems can only be inserted to a depth of one quarter of an inch (the height of the studs 2036) past the bottom of the foam block 2050 into the ten holes of the foam block 2050 that align with the insert 2035. In contrast, stems can be inserted to a depth equal to the distance between the shoulder 2032 and the base 2010 into the ten holes of the foam block 2050 that do not align with the insert 2035. This will result in the stems of the flowers being staggered as shown in FIG. 23. When this arrangement is used with cut flowers having stems of equal length, the flowers will be correspondingly staggered. Preferably, the insert is shaped such that half of the holes in the foam block will be aligned with the insert. More preferably still, half of the holes in the foam block will be aligned with the insert regardless of the angular orientation of foam block with respect to the insert.
  • In some embodiments (e.g., those illustrated in FIG. 4) it may be necessary or desirable to relieve any back pressure caused by compressed air in the container. To relieve such back pressure, the straw piece 1630 shown in FIGS. 16 a and 16 b may be inserted into a hole of a foam block 1600—preferably prior to compression of the foam block 1600. As the foam block 1600 is compressed, the foam squeezes around straw piece 1630 but the straw piece 1630 prevents the hole from being squeezed closed, thereby preventing back pressure by providing a means for air in the container to escape as it is compressed through insertion of the foam block into the opening of the container. If the straw piece 1630 is removed after the block 1600 is compressed, the hole in which the straw piece 1630 was positioned will squeeze shut.
  • There are some circumstances in which it may be desirable to have the straw piece 1630 in the foam block 1600 even in the absence of a concern for back pressure. For example, it may be desirable to provide the ability to add water and nutrient to the container after a packaged horticultural product has been fully assembled (e.g., when the packaged horticultural product is being displayed in a retail store or when the packaged horticultural products are shipped in bulk to a distribution point and then are held for some period of time before final distribution). Straw piece 1630 may be used to inject water and other nutrients into the container. A plug 1631 a (FIG. 16 a) or 1631 b (FIG. 16 b) is then inserted into the top end of straw piece 1630 to seal the same and prevent water from escaping from the container. (In alternative embodiments, a cap—with or without a tab which can be grasped between a thumb and forefinger to facilitate removal of the cap—is used in place of a plug.) The plug 1631 a or 1631 b may be removed as necessary in order to add additional water or nutrient to the container and then be replaced. It should be noted that the diameter of plug 1631 a or 1631 b is preferably slightly larger than the inside diameter of straw piece 1630 and deforms when forced inside straw piece 1630 to create an excellent, water tight seal. This may be accomplished through ridges 1631 a 1, 1631 a 2 extending from the body of plug 1631 a as shown in FIG. 16 a, or through a bulbous portion 1631 b 1 in the body of plug 1631 b as shown in FIG. 16 b. In addition, the friction cause by deforming the plug 1631 a or 1631 b prevents it from inadvertently being dislodged from the straw piece 1630 and allowing water to leak from the container.
  • In other embodiments, one or more of the openings may be filled by a plug (not shown in the figures) or left vacant, in which case the compression of the foam block will close the opening.
  • In the embodiments discussed above, the stems are preferably inserted through the passages formed in the foam block such that the ends of the stems extend past a lower surface of the block and are submerged in liquid in the container. However, in alternative embodiments, the stems are inserted into the passages such that the ends of the stems are near, but do not extend beyond, the lower surface of the foam block. Because of the proximity of the ends of the stems to the lower surface of the foam block, the ends of the stems will remain exposed even when the foam block is compressed. Thus, if the container is filled with water, the stems will be able to take up the liquid. The container is such embodiments is preferably a balloon-type container that will collapse as liquid is taken up by the stems such that the ends of the stems will remain in contact with the liquid.
  • In still other embodiments, a block of conventional floral foam of the type that passes water may be placed adjacent to the lower surface of the water-tight foam block of the present invention. The stems may extend past the lower surface of the water-tight foam block and into the block of conventional floral foam such that the stems may take up water in the conventional foam.
  • Embodiments of the invention may also be used in conjunction with a type of bouquet known in the art as a hand-tied bouquet. In a hand-tied bouquet, such as the hand-tied bouquet 2500 of FIG. 25, the stems of the cut flowers in the bouquet are arranged such that they are at an angle with each other and are tied together at a “cinch point” 2510 with wire or some other suitable material. A foam block 2600 suitable for use with such a bouquet is illustrated in FIG. 26. The foam block 2600 includes a plurality of arms 2610. The foam block 2600 may be inserted up into the bouquet 2500 in the direction U to a position below the cinch point 2510 such that each stem of the bouquet 2500 is disposed in one of the channels 2620 formed by the spaces between the arms 2610. With the stems so disposed, the arms 2610 may then be twisted in a counter-clockwise direction CCW such that each of the stems are surrounded by the arms 2610. The foam block is then compressed in the ranges discussed above to form a watertight seal. The foam block 2600 is then preferably inserted into the opening of a rigid container or a flexible opening surrounded by a band and compressed by an amount within the ranges discussed above. If a bag with a flexible opening is used, a band, preferably elastic, may be used to compress the foam block as described above.
  • The invention may also be used with what is known in the art as a pre-made bunch, which is a group of cut flowers (typically a group of 10) tied together with an elastic band. Unlike the hand-tied bouquet of FIG. 25, the stems in the pre-made bunch are not spread apart in a tee-pee shape but rather are grouped together and generally parallel. A foam block 2700 suitable for use with a pre-made bunch is illustrated in FIG. 27. The block 2700 is used as follows. First, two of the stems are pulled apart from the bunch (without removing the stems from the elastic band) and inserted into the holes 2730. Then, with the elastic still around the bunch, each of the remaining eight stems of the bunch is fitted into one of the passages 2720 formed by the arms 2710. This may be accomplished by spreading apart the stems with one's hands and sliding the foam block up into the pre-made bunch in the manner discussed above in connection with hand-tied bouquets. Of course, it is also possible to separate the flowers in the pre-made bunch and insert them, one at a time, into the passages 2720; and it is also possible to use the foam block 2700 with loose stems. After all of the stems have been inserted into the foam block 2700, the arms 2710 are twisted in a counter-clockwise manner as indicated by the arrow CCW such that the arms close around the stems to form a water-tight seal. The foam block 2700 is then preferably inserted into the opening of a rigid container or a flexible opening surrounded by a band and compressed by an amount within the ranges discussed above.
  • FIG. 19 illustrates an application of the present invention to packaging a cut tree such as a Christmas Tree. A conventional Christmas tree stand 1950 includes a container 1951 having support legs 1952, a peg 1958 inside the base on which the trunk 1949 a of a Christmas tree 1949 stands to steady it and to keep a portion of the bottom of trunk 1949 a out of contact with the bottom of the container 1951 so that the trunk 1949 a can take up water, and turn-in screws 1953 that engage the side of trunk 1949 a to hold it upright. Surrounding the trunk is a foam block 1956. The foam block is disposed in, and compressed by, a holder 1954 with a funnel-shaped portion 1954 a and a cylindrical portion 1954 b. The cylindrical portion 1954 b has ridges 1957 that secure the foam block 1956 in place. The holder 1954 is fastened to sidewall of container 1954 by a plurality of supports 1955. When a tree 1949 is to be mounted in the stand 1950, the screws 1953 are backed out most or all the way, the foam piece 1956 is wrapped around the trunk 1949 a and the tree 1949 and foam piece 1956 are then forced into funnel piece 1954 a, which compresses the foam 1956 as it passes into cylinder piece 54 b. Screws 1953 are then screwed against the sides of tree 1949 to steady it in an upright position. Foam piece 1956 preferably has at least one hole 1956 a therethrough that permits water and nutrient poured into funnel piece 1954 a to pass through the bottom of the holder 1954 to the container 1951 and be taken up by the trunk 1949 a of the tree 1949.
  • FIGS. 28 a and b are top and side views, respectively, of another embodiment of the invention suitable for packaging a cut tree such as a Christmas tree. A strip of foam 2820 approximately 2 inches wide and having a thickness T of approximately {fraction (5/8)}″ is wrapped around the bark 2802 of the Christmas tree trunk 2801 as shown in FIG. 28 a. In embodiments where the foam strip is less than ⅝″ thick, the foam strip 2820 is wrapped around the trunk 2801 several times so that the total thickness of the foam is approximately at least ⅝.″ As shown in FIG. 28 a, there may be a small area O where the ends of the foam strip 2820 overlap.
  • After the trunk 2801 is wrapped with the foam 2820, the trunk 2801 is inserted into an opening of a bag 2810, which is preferably made from latex or rubber and preferably has a thickness on its bottom of several millimeters so that it can withstand having the tree stood on the trunk 2801. Preferably, a fill tube 2850 is passed through a hole (not shown in FIG. 28 a) in the foam strip 2820 so that water (or other liquid) can be added to the bag 2810 as the Christmas tree takes up the water. The fill tube 2850 is preferably provided with a plug 2851 or cap (not shown in FIG. 28) to keep water from escaping from the fill tube 2850 when it is not in use. A band 2830, preferably made from an elastic material, is placed around the opening of the bag 2810 and foam strip 2820 such that the foam is compressed. Preferably, the compression reduces the cross sectional area of the foam 2820 by at least 28%, and more preferably between 36% and 84%, and more preferably still between 56% and 80%. The foam is preferably made from materials discussed herein.
  • FIG. 15 is a perspective view of the use of a foam block 1510 with an inflatable balloon 1520 to form a decorative light fixture 1500. The foam block 1510 includes two passages 1511, 1512 through which pass wires 1534, 1535 for a light socket 1530 holding a light bulb 1532 disposed inside of the balloon 1520. A third passage 1513 is provided in the foam block 1510 to allow for a needle (not shown in FIG. 15) to be inserted through the foam block 1510 to inflate the balloon 1520 (a plug is disposed in passage 1513 to prevent air from escaping after a filling operation). A band 1522 (similar to the band 320 of FIG. 3) is placed around the neck of the balloon 1520 to compress the foam block 1510 so that air in the balloon 1520 does not escape. A plurality of light fixtures 1500 may be strung together in the manner of party lanterns.
  • Preferably, flowers and other horticultural products are placed in the shipping assemblies of the present invention as soon as possible after they are cut in order to extend their life as long as possible. In some embodiments of the invention, flowers are packaged at the grower's location and shipped directly to a consumer, preferably via a common carrier such as UPS or FEDEX. Alternatively, the flowers may be shipped to a retail location, where they can be displayed and sold while still in the packaging. This is particularly advantageous for retail establishments that desire to sell flowers but do not have the staff to repackage received flowers for retail sale. In such embodiments, the container (whether rigid or soft) preferably holds enough water such that the retail establishment does not have to add water to the container before it is sold to the consumer.
  • It should also be understood that the present invention is not limited to use with water and may be used with liquids of various viscosities, including liquids with viscosities approximately equal to that of water as well as liquids such as gels with higher viscosities. Such liquids may or may not contain plant nutrients or other substances.
  • Obviously, numerous modifications and variations of the present invention are possible in light of the above teachings. It is therefore to be understood that within the scope of the appended claims, the invention may be practiced otherwise than as specifically described herein.

Claims (75)

1. A method for packaging a horticultural product comprising the steps of:
providing a foam block;
providing a container, the container having an opening defined by a flexible wall, the container having a liquid disposed therein;
inserting a stem of the horticultural product into a passage formed in the foam block such that an end of the stem is exposed to the liquid;
placing the foam block in the opening of the container;
placing an elastic band around the flexible wall such that the foam block is under compression;
wherein the foam block is positioned such that the stem can take up the liquid and wherein the foam block forms a watertight seal around the stem such that the liquid is prevented from escaping from the container.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block includes a plurality of passages formed therein, and wherein a stem is disposed in each of the passages such that each stem of each horticultural product is insulated from each other stem.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 28%.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 36% and no more than 84%.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed by at least 33%.
6. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed by at least 42% and no more than 98.7%.
7. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block is a rubber-based foam.
8. The method of claim 7, wherein the rubber-based foam is a vinyl nitride foam.
9. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block is polyethylene-based foam.
10. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block is polyurethane-based foam.
11. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block has a circular cross sectional shape.
12. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block has an oval cross sectional shape.
13. The method of claim 1, wherein the container comprises a flexible bag.
14. The method of claim 1, wherein the liquid comprises water.
15. The method of claim 1, wherein the liquid consists essentially of water.
16. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block has a density between 0.5 and 10 pounds per cubic foot (PC).
17. The method of claim 1, wherein the foam block has a compression force/deflection (C.D.) between 0.5 and 10 pounds per square inch (PSI).
18. The method of claim 1, wherein the elastic band comprises rubber.
19. The method of claim 1, further comprising the step of placing a tube through the foam block such that fluid communication is established between an interior of the container and an exterior of the container.
20. The method of claim 19, further comprising the step of passing a liquid through the tube after the foam block has been compressed.
21. The method of claim 1, wherein a bottom of the stem extends past a lower surface of the foam block.
22. A packaged horticultural product comprising:
a container at least partially filled with a liquid, the container having an opening defined by a flexible wall;
a foam block disposed in the opening, the foam block having at least one passage formed therein;
an elastic band positioned around the flexible wall such that the foam block is under compression; and
at least one horticultural product having a stem, the stem being inserted into the at least one passage such that an end of the stem is exposed to the liquid;
wherein the foam block forms a watertight seal around the stem such that the liquid is prevented from escaping from the container.
23. The product of claim 22, further comprising a plurality of horticultural products, wherein the foam block includes a plurality of passages formed therein, and wherein a single stem is disposed in each of the passages in the foam block such that each stem of each horticultural product is insulated from each other stem.
24. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 28%;
25. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 36% and not more than 84%.
26. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 56% and not more than 80%.
27. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed by at least 33%.
28. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed between 42% and 98.7%.
29. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is a rubber-based foam.
30. The product of claim 29, wherein the rubber-based foam is a vinyl nitrile foam.
31. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is polyethylene-based foam.
32. The product of claim 22, wherein the foam block is polyurethane-based foam.
33. The product of claim 22, wherein the liquid has a viscosity approximately equal to water.
34. The product of claim 22, wherein the liquid consists essentially of water.
35. The product of claim 22, wherein the container comprises a flexible bag.
36. The product of claim 22, wherein the elastic band comprises rubber.
37. The product of claim 22, further comprising a tube, the tube being disposed in a second passage formed in the foam block, the tube having a first end outside the container and a second end in fluid communication with an interior of the container such the tube provides fluid communication between an inside of the container and an outside of the container thereby providing a path through which liquid may be added to the container.
38. The product of claim 37, further comprising a plug inserted into the first end of the tube to seal the first end.
39. The product of claim 37, further comprising a cap placed over the first end of the tube to seal the first end.
40. The product of claim 22, wherein a bottom of the stem extends past a lower surface of the foam block such that the bottom of the stem is submerged in the liquid.
41. A method comprising the steps of:
providing a container, the container having an opening;
providing a foam block;
inserting a stem of the horticultural product into a first passage formed in the foam block such that the stem is exposed to a liquid in the container;
inserting a tube through a second passage formed in the foam block such the tube provides fluid communication between an inside of the container and an outside of the container;
placing the foam block in the opening of the container such that the foam block is under compression; and
passing a liquid through the tube to the inside of the container;
wherein the foam block is positioned such the stem can take up the liquid and wherein the foam block forms a watertight seal around the stem.
42. The method of claim 41, further comprising the step of, after the passing step, placing a plug into an end of the tube to seal the tube and prevent fluid communication between the inside and the outside of the container.
43. The method of claim 41, further comprising the step of, after the passing step, placing a cap over an end of the tube to seal the tube and prevent fluid communication between the inside and the outside of the container.
44. A device comprising:
a plurality of arms, each of the arms having a balloon stretching projection attached thereto, each of the arms being movable between a first position in which the balloon stretching projections of each of the arms are in close proximity to each other and a second position in which the balloon stretching projections of each of the arms are spaced apart from each other, whereby a neck of a balloon in which the balloon stretching projections are inserted while the arms are in the first position will stretch and become enlarged when the arms are in the second position;
a fill tube, the fill tube being positioned to supply a liquid through the neck to an interior of the balloon; and
a valve connected between the fill tube and a supply of the liquid, the valve being operable to establish fluid communication between the fill tube and the supply when the arms are in the second position.
45. The device of claim 44, wherein the fill tube is connected to one of the arms.
46. A method for preparing a packaged horticultural product comprising the steps of:
placing a neck of a balloon around a plurality of balloon stretching projections, each of the balloon stretching projections being in close proximity to each other and being attached to a corresponding movable arm;
moving the arms apart from each other such that the balloon stretching projections are spaced apart, thereby stretching and enlarging the neck of the balloon; and
activating a valve connected between a supply of liquid and a fill tube, the fill tube being positioned such that the liquid is deposited in an interior of the balloon when the valve is activated.
47. The method of claim 46, further comprising the steps of:
placing a foam block in the neck of the balloon while the arms are spaced apart; and
moving the arms toward each other such that the neck closes around the foam block.
48. The method of claim 46, further comprising the step of placing an elastic band around an outside of the neck of the balloon such that the elastic band is stretched and enlarged when the neck is stretched and enlarged.
49. The method of claim 46, wherein the fill tube is connected to one of the arms.
50. A fulfillment device comprising:
a base, the base having an upper surface;
a receptacle attached to the base, the receptacle having a shoulder for supporting a foam block having a plurality of passages formed therethrough;
an insert disposed within the receptacle, the insert being sized and positioned to prevent stems from being inserted through a portion of the passages in the foam block such that a bottom of the stems reach a bottom of the receptacle; and
a rack attached to the base and sized and positioned to support a plurality of cut flowers whose stems have been inserted into the passages of the foam block.
51. The fulfillment device of claim 50, wherein the insert is aligned with approximately half of the passages of the foam block.
52. The fulfillment device of claim 50, wherein the upper surface forms an acuate, non-zero angle with respect to a surface on which the base is placed.
53. The fulfillment device of claim 52, wherein the receptacle has an interior wall with a cross sectional shape corresponding to but slightly larger than a cross sectional shape of the foam block.
54. A method for packaging a hand-tied bouquet including a plurality of stems, the method comprising the steps of:
providing a foam block, the foam block having a center portion with a plurality of arms protruding therefrom;
providing a container, the container having an opening, the container having a liquid disposed therein;
inserting the stems into the foam block such that each of the stems is disposed within a space between adjacent arms of the foam block; and
placing the foam block in the opening of the container such the foam block is compressed,
wherein the foam block is positioned such that the stems can take up the liquid and wherein the foam block insulates each stem and forms a watertight seal around the stems such that the liquid is prevented from escaping from the container.
55. The method of claim 54, wherein the opening of the container is defined by a flexible material.
56. The method of claim 55, wherein the foam is compressed by placing an elastic band around the material defining the opening of the container.
57. The method of claim 55, wherein the opening is defined by a rigid material and is smaller than the foam block such that the foam block is compressed when it is placed in the opening of the container.
58. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam block has a density between 0.5 and 10 pounds per cubic foot (PCF) and a compression force/deflection (CFD) between 0.5 and 10 pounds per square inch (PSI).
59. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam is compressed by at least 28%.
60. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam block is compressed by at least 36% and no more than 84%.
61. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed by at least 33%.
62. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam in the foam block is compressed by at least 42% and no more than 98.7%.
63. The method of claim 54, wherein the foam block is a rubber-based foam.
64. A method for packaging a pre-made bunch including a plurality of stems, the method comprising the steps of:
providing a foam block, the foam block having a center portion with at least one hole formed therein and a plurality of arms protruding from the center portion;
providing a container, the container having an opening, the container having a liquid disposed therein;
inserting one of the plurality of stems into the at least one hole formed in the center portion of the foam block;
inserting other stems of the pre-made bunch into a respective space between adjacent arms of the foam block;
folding the arms of the foam block over the stems; and
placing the foam block in the opening of the container such the foam block is compressed,
wherein the foam block insulates each steam and is positioned such that the stems can take up the liquid and wherein the foam block forms a watertight seal around the stems such that the liquid is prevented from escaping from the container.
65. The method of claim 64, wherein the arms of the foam block are curved.
66. The method of claim 64, wherein the opening of the container is defined by a flexible material.
67. The method of claim 64, wherein the foam is compressed by placing an elastic band around the material defining the opening of the container.
68. The method of claim 64, wherein the opening is defined by a rigid material and is smaller than the foam block such that the foam block is compressed when it is placed in the opening of the container.
69. The method of claim 64, wherein the foam block has a density between 0.5 and 10 pounds per cubic foot (PCF) and a compression force/deflection (CFD) between 0.5 and 10 pounds per square inch (PSI).
70. The method of claim 64, wherein the foam is compressed by at least 28%.
71. A method for packaging a cut tree comprising the steps of:
surrounding a portion of a trunk of the cut tree with a layer of foam;
placing the portion of the trunk into an opening of a container, the container including a liquid disposed therein, the trunk being placed into the opening such that a cut end of the trunk is exposed to the liquid; and
compressing the foam such that the cross sectional area of the foam is reduced by at least 33%;
wherein the foam forms a watertight seal around the portion of the trunk such that the liquid is prevented from escaping from the container.
72. The method of claim 71, wherein the opening of the container is flexible and wherein a band is placed around the opening to compress the foam.
73. The method of claim 72, wherein the band is elastic.
74. The method of claim 71, wherein the opening of the container is a rigid opening and has a diameter larger than a width of the portion of the trunk but smaller than a width of the portion of the trunk and the foam surrounding the portion of the trunk such that the foam is compressed when it is placed into the rigid opening.
75. The method of claim 71, further comprising the step of providing a fill tube in fluid communication with an interior of the container and an exterior of the container such that liquid may be added to the container after the compressing step has been completed.
US10/998,743 2003-12-27 2004-11-30 Method and apparatus for packaging horticultural products Abandoned US20050138862A1 (en)

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US10279936B2 (en) 2015-06-19 2019-05-07 Telebrands Corp. System, device, and method for filling at least one balloon
USD793485S1 (en) * 2015-11-20 2017-08-01 Telebrands Corp. Device for filling multiple water balloons
USD793483S1 (en) * 2015-11-20 2017-08-01 Telebrands Corp. Device for filling multiple water balloons
USD793484S1 (en) * 2015-11-20 2017-08-01 Telebrands Corp. Device for filling multiple water balloons

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WO2005065217A3 (en) 2009-03-19

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