Biocontainers For Long-Term Crops
The terms organic, sustainable, alternative and green have become part of our vernacular in a way we could not have imagined a decade ago. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of new products in all sectors fashioned to these ideals. Being the true “green industry” by nature, it is only fitting these products be incorporated – or, more accurately, reincorporated – into greenhouse production and marketing.
Although innovations like recycling are still taking place in the firmly planted roots of plastic containers, there are a number of alternative choices, collectively termed “biocontainers” or “biopots.” It is not uncommon to produce or market herbs and vegetables in these containers. Recent studies have focused on trialing biocontainers for use in bedding plant production, typically with a four- to six-week turnover. But growing and selling a long-term crop such as poinsettia or cyclamen in a container that has the tendency to “return to nature” is potentially more challenging.
A 2008 Purdue University survey indicates consumers would not only accept, but would potentially pay more for a poinsettia grown in a biocontainer. This prompted us to conduct a biocontainer trial with poinsettias grown in seven different commercially available biocontainers alongside the traditional plastic. Thus, we were interested to see how these containers would fare for a poinsettia crop, with a production cycle averaging 14 weeks.
It is important to note we successfully grew a poinsettia crop in all containers, as plant visual quality (i.e. height, color and bract area) were acceptable. However, both root and shoot biomasses were significantly influenced by container type. Plants with the highest shoot dry mass (stems, leaves and bracts) were produced in the fiber, followed by straw and rice hull, coco fiber and cow manure, then wheat starch and plastic. The highest root dry mass were also produced in molded fiber pots, followed by straw and cow manure, coir and rice hull, then wheat starch and plastic. Plants grown in the peat pots had the lowest shoot and root dry weight, likely due to the reduced substrate volume in the pot size available.