Photos © Ingrid Pullen
A permaculture plant nursery will contain the three ethics of permaculture design — Earth Care, People Care and the return of system surplus to the first two ethics. Part of earth and people care is the reduction and eventual replacement of non-biodegradable plastic plant pots, trays and bags.
The use of fossil fuel based plastic plant pots, trays and bags is the norm in the conventional plant nursery industry. Plastic pots and trays used in the plant nursery cause considerable work in their changing pot size, cleaning and time spent stacking for storage. Plants kept in pots for too long a period decline in health and have poor root development. The transplanting of plant seedlings from plastic pots into the soil can cause transplant shock and set back growth. The use of paper pots for vegetable and herb plants overcomes some of these disadvantages.
A paper pot maker kit consists of a dolly and a mould. A strip of paper is twisted around the dolly, the extended paper is folded down and the dolly is placed in the bottom mould. A twisting movement of the dolly tightens and compresses the paper, thus forming the paper pot. The paper pot is carefully removed from the dolly and filled with potting mix, up to a few millimetres from the top of the pot. Seed or seedlings can be placed in the potting mix in the paper pot. A mulch of vermiculite can be placed on top of the potting mix. This will protect the seed or seedling from any soil borne bacterial diseases in the potting mix.
The paper for the paper pot can be made on site from waste paper material. Soil conditioners, fertilisers and paper strengthening agents from natural material can be added to paper making mix. The treated paper will act as slow release fertiliser. The seedlings can be grown to a larger size than in plastic pots as the paper pots are directly planted into the soil.
Is the time and care taken to make paper pots well spent? Do plants have leaves?
The use of paper pots at Zaytuna Farm continues with lessons being learnt along the way. The first planting of paper pots containing vegetables has occurred at Zaytuna farm.
The type of paper used will dictate the durability of the paper pot. A supply of the defunct IPJ (International Permaculture Journal) magazine has proven to be the most suitable type of paper to date. Trialling paper suitable for paper pots will continue, as will the development of a propagation paper, a paper like substance that enhances plant growth.
The use of mulch material such as vermiculite on seed trays and seedling pots can reduce the death of plants. I have secured the safety data sheets and extensive technical information for the use of vermiculite. The base material for vermiculite, mica is obtained from small open pit mines which are rehabilitated after the extraction process is completed.
The death rate of seedlings from soil borne bacterial disease can be very high in plant nurseries. In some commercial plant nurseries very dangerous materials such as methyl bromide were used to sterilise soil potting mixes, tools and equipment.
The use of non-toxic materials and physical methods to greatly reduce seedling death in plant nurseries will be included in my book being written, Horticultural Skills for Permaculture Practitioners. One very promising ongoing line of research is the use of wood with anti-bacterial qualities as a substitute for plastic in plant propagation trays.