What is AquaLok? It’s a foam, originally developed to keep jet fuel from sloshing around in the wing tanks of F-16 fighter jets. But it also has almost magical powers for growing plants with very infrequent irrigation applications. Tests indicate it can cut watering frequency for some plants in half or more … down to once a month in some cases. And it cuts fertilizer use, too. Talk about a labor- and money-saver for growers, retailers and gardeners!
I talked to Joe Byles, an aerospace engineer and the developer of AquaLok, for the details.Along with being an inventor (he has 16 patents), Joe also happens to be a Master Gardener. While testing the aerospace foam, he found that, in a sealed situation (like an airplane wing) it was impossible to drive all the air out of it, even when it was saturated with liquid. Since they could control the pore size of the foam during manufacture, he got to wondering: If he made the pore size the same size as a sandy loam soil, and put it in an undrained container, could he grow plants in it? Turns out he could!
“So I took this [foam] matrix and put plants in it, and they were growing like crazy!” Joe says. “I was growing tomato and basil in the back of my pickup truck, in a liner, in two inches of the material.”
What’s revolutionary is that Joe says 2 in. of the foam holds the same amount of air and water as 2 ft. of soil! Yet because you can’t drive all the air out of it, it’s impossible to overwater the plant.
Sold on its garden potential, Joe formed a company, Freedom Garden Products, to commercialize the foam. It’s been sold on QVC and the Home Shopping Network. Enter our industry . . . .
Costa Farms is testing it extensively in their own production right now, on everything from Boston ferns to hibiscus, and have signed a deal with Freedom Garden Products for the exclusive sales and marketing rights for North and South America. Don’t worry about it becoming an exclusive to one retailer: It will be available to all growers in all markets, they say. They’re working on developing pot and basket liners as well as prefilled containers.
We asked Joe why he partnered with Costa.
“Because of their marketing expertise,” he replied. “Costa is trying to take marketing to the next level. It seemed to make sense. There needs to be marketing behind the products to explain the technology and let the people know the benefits, in a succinct way. I felt they could reach the consumer with a good message.”
Finally, I’ll mention that the stuff is made from recycled plastic, and it’s reusable—Joe said he’s got flat sheets of it in his landscape that have grown four turns of annuals for seven years and they keep on going—the annuals develop such small root systems, they never clog the foam.
Anyway, if you’re curious about this new miracle product, Costa is planning a product-announcement reception at OFA—stay tuned for details. It could be your chance to get in on the ground floor of a revolution.