Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Um, september got august's drought memo

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market, and this week we have the results of the big product trial.  Bur before we look into that here is the photo of the week.

Peucetia viridans – Green Lynx Spider
I happened to see this one on the flowers of the red Globe Amaranth just the other day. For note this is a mature female green lynx spider and typically they’ll hang out near flowers to catch pollenating insects or in this case she’s caught a Cicada Killer Wasp. It’s rare I have the camera near when I spot these spiders and so this picture of one was worth posting. Now before any of you freak out this spider isn’t venomous or aggressive towards humans and is rarely found inside unless it came in on a plant. These spiders perform some beneficial tasks as they become rather voracious just about when paper wasps become aggressive in general and as you can see a wasp for them is no challenge. This also means moths are at risk for becoming lunch too so fewer chances for horn worms or cabbage moth caterpillars. But enough of that, onward to the trials.

As some of you know every year LITFM performs a long-term trial of a given horticultural product to determine if the product’s claims are valid. Often in the process we end up learning a few new things about the subtle interplay of environmental and biological factors versus a given product’s usefulness. The Smart Pot trial was actually suggested by the folks at Flow & Grow in town and we figured that it was as good as any idea to test because the product unlike the normal things we tested didn’t make incredible claims instead what was suggested by the packaging was reasonable and scientifically plausible.  We also took the suggestion posed over at Flow & Grow to offset the pots because apparently the Smart Pot #7 pot despite being larger than a 3-gallon nursery pot was equivalent. I think the idea of offsetting may have been in the sales information provided by the company as a means of making the watering needs of the #7 equal to that of the 3-gallon pot. But anyway below you will find the photographic evidence of the trial and the particulars of how it was done and at the end is a summary and from this trial you can draw your own conclusion.

Product & Materials Trial: #018

A fiber-based growing container under the brand name Smart Pot claims on their packaging to encourage superior root formation because the fibrous walls of the pots allow superior airflow. As a result of this airflow yields are said to be greater with overall bigger plants. Additionally these pot due to their porous nature are said to have enhanced capillary action of moisture between the soil in the pot and the moisture in the ground if placed in contact with the ground.

The Trial:
A single #7 smart pot will be compared against an equivalent standard plastic nursery pot of the same color so that thermal efficiency is not an issue. The two plants will be placed with a facing so that each receives no less than eight hours of full sun and will receive identical fertilizer treatments.

The Plant Stock:
The plants selected for this trial are a pair of  Yankee Bell Peppers which were picked for the fact they were visually identical in number of leaves, height and initial vigor.

Soil Media:
Scotts Premium Topsoil – Scotts was picked because it is not enhanced with wetting agents, fertilizers or any other additives and is pine bark based making it resemble the standard growing mix of most nursery operations.

Alaska Fish Fertilizer – Used as a basic water-souluble liquid fertilizer.
Sunleaves Seabird Guano Pellets – Used as a long-term fertilizer and applied in pellet form to soil surface.
Black Hen Composted Poultry Manure – Added to soil when pots where half full to act as root stimulator.
Black Magic – Home brew Fertilizer, used in the early trial to offset transplant shock.

Duration of Trial:
The trial officially runs for 12 weeks ranging from June 13th through August 29th 2014.

Method of Recording:
Results will be recorded using plant height measurements combined with a weekly photograph of the subject plant’s progress over the course of the primary trial period. A follow up comparison of root development and fruit yield will be performed after the primary information is collected.

 Week Zero: 6-06-2014
Smart Pot:  10 ¼”
Conventional Pot: 10 ¼”

Note: The image was taken just after planting in trial pots. Both plants had their root ball split and were planted just below level ( ½”).

Week One: 6-13-2014
Smart Pot:  10 ¼”
Conventional Pot: 11 ½”

Notes: Plants in trial pots for 1 week at this point, 0.05” precipitation.

Week Two: 6-20-2014
Smart Pot: 11”
Conventional Pot: 13”

Notes: Fertilized with black magic, 0.375” precipitation.

Week Three: 6-27-2014
Smart Pot: 12”
Conventional Pot: 13”

Note: Fertilized with fish fertilizer, 2.0” precipitation.

Week Four: 7-04-2014
Smart Pot: 12”
Conventional Pot: 13 ¼”

Notes: Fertilized with Seabird Guano pellets, 1.1” precipitation.

Week Five: 7-11-2014
Smart Pot: 12”
Conventional Pot: 13 ¼”

Note: Heavy thunderstorms, possible atmospheric nitrogen in effect. 0.8” total precipication.

Week Six: 7-18-2014
Smart Pot: 12 ½”
Conventional Pot: 13 ¼”

Note: Conventional plant is producing flower buds and branching more than smart pot plant.

Week Seven: 7-25-2014
Smart Pot: 14 ½”
Conventional Pot: 16 ½”

Note: High temperatures and 1.2” of rain this week may have contributed to growth spurt.

Week Eight: 8-1-2014
Smart Pot: 16 ¼”
Conventional Pot: 18”

Note: Unusual rainy weather.

Week Nine: 8-8-2014
Smart Pot: 18 ½”
Conventional Pot: 20”


Week Ten: 8-15-2014
Smart Pot: 21 ½”
Conventional Pot: 23 ½”

Note: 4.51” average inches of rain this week spread across numerous types of precipitation events

Week Eleven: 8-22-2014
Smart Pot: 24 ½”
Conventional Pot: 25 ½”

Note: 0.8” of rain this week from a mix of thunder showers and regular rain showers.

Week Twelve: 8-29-2014
Smart Pot: 25 ½”
Conventional Pot: 26 ¼”

Note: 0.2” of rain this week from rain showers.

When one considers the factors of the unusually wet weather, the lack of an August drought and the fact that at points the temperature was for days in a row well below seasonal averages the trial paints a picture of possible performance issues. While it is true that the pictures tell the progress of the story the lack of hot sunny days proportionately speaking did likely hamper the normal progress of the plants in the trial. The final three images in the series do indicate however that the conventional nursery pot produced a more vigorous plant. Over the course of the trial the conventional plant had a standing lead of at least an inch of height at all times and in some points far more. To that one could say that the smart pot plant had a more steady growth pattern while the Conventional grew matured and set fruit sooner. The rapid growth may have presented a new form of problem in that the Conventional Pepper suffered a calcium deficiency whereas the Smart Pot plant did not. This calcium issue resulted in blossom end rot on the conventional pepper which has made fruit size comparison not possible in the time frame of the trial. It could be that due to greater amount of soil in the Smart pot the calcium content in the soil is not yet depleted. Due to this unofficially the trial continues until the end of the warm season as a whole so that the fruiting factors can be compared.

In summary it seems as though the conventional plant has won the trial by successfully doing what one might ask of it faster and earlier than the comparable Smart Pot plant. The additional Costs of growing a plant in a smart pot* is a factor that cannot be ignored for the purposes of the trial. From a production perspective there isn’t a justification for the smart pot economically or for efficiency purposes. If Smart Pots were available in directly matching sizes to their nursery pot competition at a price that was competitive the two greatest factors in keeping solid-wall nursery pots in production would be rendered null. The results of the productivity aspect of the trial is still pending and in both plant’s cases their most developed fruit has been removed so that two new fruit can grow side by side to see which produces the largest. For now the smart pot isn’t the smart investment but this study will be revisited before the end of the year.

*Smart Pots cost an average of $10.00 to prepare for growing crops whereas nursery pots are at best $3.00 -$5.00.

With the 2014 primary Garden trial discussed thoroughly it’s time to talk Market! That’s right this Wednesday (2:00-6:00 pm) and Saturday (9:00AM – 1:00 PM) I will be at the Fayetteville Farmers market selling aloes galore for the last week of Sparklitis month. This is your last chance to lay hands on the rare and unusual aloes before they are taken off the sale racks for a few months. Some of the plants may return during the holiday months but I wouldn’t bet money on that one!  The Fayetteville Farmer’s Market is located in downtown Fayetteville in the Fayetteville Transportation Museum Property on 326 Franklin Street.  Without further delay here is this week’s plant list which polishes off this week’s LITFM post, I hope to see you at the Market.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

3x Artemesia, 3.5” pot ($2.00)
1x Sage, 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Baloon Flower, White 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Nicotina, Flowering Tobacco, 3.5” pot ($2.00)
6x Rudbeckia, Irish Eyes, 3.5” pot ($2.00)

House Plants: (By Price)
2x Aloe x hybrid ‘Fauxgave’, 6.0” pot ($12.00)
2x Peperomia orba, Teardrop Peperomia - Gift pot ($9.00)
2x Aloe glauca, Cosmetic Aloe - Gift pot ($9.00)
3x Adenium obesum, Desert Rose – 6” Pot ($8.00)  < Limited Supply!
1x Aloe Hybrid, Hydra Aloe – 6.0” pot ($8.00) <NEW>
1x Aloe glauca, Cosmetic Aloe - 6.0" pot ($8.00)

2x Aloe x Gasteria, 'Night Sky' Aloe - 6.0" pot ($6.00)
3x Aloe dorotheae,  Sunset Aloe - 4.0" pot ($6.00)
3x Aloe deltoideodantes, Checkerboard Aloe - 4.0" pot ($6.00)

2x Peperomia orba, Teardrop Peperomia, 3.5” pot ($5.00)
3x Aloe nobilis ‘Gator’, 3.5” pot ($5.00)

Perennial Flowering & Fruiting Vines:
2x Passiflora incarnata, Passion Vine – 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Muscadinia rotundifolia, Muscadine Grape Vine (Copper) – 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Coming Soon: (September 13th)
Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce
India Mustard Greens
Georgia Collards

Hopefully I’ll see you at the market on Saturday or next Wednesday.  The weather may have some rain in the forecast but I always suggest you check the local forecast the night before or the day of for the most accurate readings so you can plan accordingly.

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