Friday, June 26, 2009

Could Rocket Science Revolutionize Gardening?

Check out Chris Beytes' article about Costa Farms' new AquaLok sustainable watering system in Acres Onlin: I rarely hype new products in Acres Online—“Let ‘em buy an ad!” about sums up my philosophy. But if it’s cool enough, or revolutionary even, I’ll bring a new technology to your attention.AquaLok looks to be one of those hype-worthy products.

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.


ShirleyBovshow "EdenMaker" said...

Joe Byles is a genius!

Joe contacted me six years ago and flew out to California where I designed a test garden with his "Freedom panels" made of this revolutionary foam.

I was amazed at the claims but absolutely blown away with the results!

We planted climbing roses (5gallons), ornamental grasses (1-g) statice, verbena and more in the4"inch thick foam panels on top of a concrete patio.

Without removing the concrete, we created a complete landscape above it. The best part is, we can take the garden with us if we want- it is totally portable.

I presented Joe's "Freedom Panels" at Walt Disney World's Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and the audience was blown away. I showed slides and did a live presentation.

I look forward to seeing Joe succeed with his revolutionary products and please contact me if you need a designer to work with you on some great demonstration gardens and presentations.

Joe knows I'm his biggest fan and have been rooting for him for many years!

Shirley Bovshow
Garden Designer,Television Host and Blogger

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