Daily Archives: July 5, 2011

Time for a bit of head explodey

I’m a big fan of living miniature gardens, even if my ideas tend to go a bit…dark. Now, it’s easy to go dark, but I also enjoy adding a bit of natural history to the mix. This is why I have ambitions for a couple of new penjing projects. Dinosaurs can be impressive, but how many people design miniature gardens around the creatures of the Burgess Shale, especially as a way to keep garden gnomes under control?

Review: Eastern BioPlastics 4-inch horticulture pots

(A bit of context. This blog will feature regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

It all started innocently enough. The main newsfeed at Yahoo! tends to run all sorts of blue-sky notices and proposals on potential inventions and products, and I was intrigued by one that told the story of a company that promised to augment recycled plastics with chicken feathers for horticultural materials. That’s how I came across Eastern BioPlastics and its new horticulture containers.

It’s pretty easy to assume that the old Scot frugality struck again, and I only thought of the reuse of chicken feathers as something besides pillow stuffing and cattle feed. (Honest to Elvis, chicken feathers are used as filler for cattle feed, along with all sorts of other detritus. It’s a statement on the inefficiency of the bovine digestive system that only about 2 to 4 percent of a typical steer’s food intake goes toward body weight.) If you’ve ever had to pluck your own chickens for any reason, you can understand the horror, the horror, of one chicken’s output. The idea of encasing all of that in plastic takes care of a trauma nearly thirty years old.

What’s interesting about the process, though, is that the Eastern BioPlastics process doesn’t just chop up feathers and mix it with plastic to make the final product. Instead, it extracts the keratin, the natural polymer behind feathers, rhinoceros horns, and human fingernails, and mixes it at a 30/70 ratio with recycled horticultural plastics. Reading that, a thousand years of Riddells howled in glee.

The real proof of the pumpkin is in the squeezing, as a fellow countryman once said, and abstract discussion of the merits of these horticultural containers only goes so far without a test sample. That’s why I wrote to Eastern BioPlastics and put in an order. A case of 4-inch pots, equalling 240 of them, costs $24 US. Combine that with approximately $20 for shipping and handling, and my $44 got me a pretty damn impressive box full of pots.

The thing to consider with these pots are that they’re THICK. Specifically, they’re extremely thick-walled, which is a major asset as far as I’m concerned. I’ve gotten sick and tired of pots thin enough that they practically melt and deform off the heat from my breath. In Texas sun, this is not an abstract issue, as vacuum-formed containers won’t last for long under a typical summer assault from our daystar. This isn’t an issue with the Eastern BioPlastics pots, as I’ve had pots in full day and afternoon sun for the last two months that still look almost new.

Cosmetics aside, the real test is in strength and flexibility. In this case, these pots beat out just about every 4-inch pot I’ve come across before now. They won’t handle my standing on them, but that’s because I weigh 100 kilos. Squish them hard enough, and they will crack. However, since I need them to be filled with moist long-fiber sphagnum moss for Nepenthes propagation, I’m perfectly happy with their available strength.

At this point, I’m getting ready for a major Nepenthes repotting effort, so I’ll probably go through about half of my current stock of EBP pots before the end of next weekend. After that, I’m getting ready for a major hot pepper propagation effort, and that should take care of the rest. At that time, I’m definitely willing to pay a little extra for the bioplastics pots. As soon as EPB starts offering larger containers, such as hanging baskets and one-gallon propagation containers, I’m ordering without hesitation, and if EPB starts offering propagation trays with the same qualities, I’ll put in an order right now. As soon as EPB works out a method to use a larger quantity of keratin in its products, I guarantee you that my departed paternal ancestors will wave their claymores in salute. And so it goes.

July through October, in the heat

I know it doesn’t help, but I speak from experience. Earth hasn’t been launched into the sun, so things WILL cool off in the Northern Hemisphere. They’ll even cool off in Texas, as heretical the idea may seem. True, we won’t be down to temperatures conducive for carbon-based life for another three months, but it’s something. In the meantime, you can either complain about the heat, or you can sit down, take a nice deep breath of granite vapor, and think about something else.

Now, you could do something to distract yourself, such as watch a nice, tranquil art movie in an air-conditioned theater. Considering the source, though, you have plenty of options for gardening opportunities that don’t directly involve being withered into dust by the big yellow hurty thing in the sky. For instance:

Get in some reading. After you’ve come inside after a hard day at work, and slogged through the pools of molten concrete in front of the door, there’s a lot to be said about doing something that requires you to move nothing but your eyes. With that consideration, I could be self-serving and mention that Gothic Beauty magazine now offers digital subscriptions, and the print subscriptions are ridiculously cheap for the value. However, I’ll also point out that a lot of unorthodox publications tie directly to summer gardening, such as the article on natural vivarium substrates in the current issue of Reptiles magazine. And if your brain is frying in your skull, get into the shade and put in a few orders with Timber Press‘s extensive collection of horticulture books. That should cool you for a while.

Consider something smaller. One word: bonsai. A few more: penjing and Hon Non Bo. When you find yourself feeling like a character in Ray Bradbury’s story “Frost and Fire,” it may be time to reevaluate going outdoors to garden. In that case, consider talking to the folks at Dallas Bonsai Garden for tools and equipment, or peruse the Bonsai Bark blog for ideas. If you’re looking for something more encapsulated, there’s no reason why you can’t consider vivaria, either. (To friends in Massachusetts for various onerous reasons this coming weekend, I’d tell you to head out to Black Jungle Terrarium Supply in Turner Falls and stock up on vivarium goodies, but the whole Black Jungle crew will be at the New York Metro Reptile Expo in White Plains at that time. Do NOT let that stop you. I’ll be at the DFW Lone Star Reptile Expo in Arlington for the same reason.)

Get an early start on the fall season. While the summers are brutal, one of the best things about living in Texas is that the autumns go on forever. I’m only slightly exaggerating, as I’ve gleefully harvested tomatoes and Swiss chard out of my own garden for Christmas dinner, and most citrus, ranging from oranges to Cthulhufruit, isn’t ripe until the end of November. That’s why, when the heat threatens your sanity, start making plans for autumn and winter right now. Considering how well Capsicum peppers work as container plants brought indoors before the frosts start, take a look at the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and run that Mastercard dry. (I currently have a back growing area loaded with NuMex Halloween peppers that are getting big enough to demand UN membership, and Arioch help me when the Bhut Jolokias start bearing fruit.

Combining all of the above. And what’s wrong with Capsicum pepper bonsai? Add in a suitable recipe for jalapeno poppers, and you won’t be worrying about the heat outdoors. Instead, you’ll wonder about what happened to the time when New Year’s Eve hits and you’re up to your armpits in fresh potting mix.

Things To Do In Dallas When You’re Dead

About the only way to improve upon this weekend’s Discover Dinosaurs event at the Museum of Nature & Science here in Dallas would be to offer a matching Beer & Bones event, and that’s just discussing the prehistoric gardens activities. It wouldn’t be all that hard to set up a seminar discussing serious landscaping options with Wollemi pines and other Cretaceous flora survivors. Maybe next time, eh?