When New Jersey-based startup Sunset Farmstead began their growth trial with 3,500 plants in a mix incorporating PittMoss®, they didn’t know quite what to expect. “We’re not a giant farm, we’re a startup business,” their lead grower said, requesting anonymity. “3,500 is a pretty good clip of a trial on a media that we really didn’t know would work and that we didn’t have a lot of experience with.” Though Sunset Farmstead previously worked with conventional media, they believe that “the philosophy of our company doesn’t fit a conventional mix.” That company philosophy emphasizes green practices as well as recycled and natural products. According to the grower, “We didn’t want to be using peat moss and a lot of other synthetics or things that really have to be harvested.” He concluded that PittMoss®, made with organic and OMRI-Listed ingredients, was a natural fit.
For the trial, Sunstead Farmstead grew ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials in containers using a 50/50 mix of PittMoss® and leaf compost. “We planted in June, and in 4 weeks’ time, we had a product that was rooted well enough to sell,” the lead grower said. “In six weeks’ time, we had a little bit more of a substantial top that we felt better at that time being able to sell those.” By week eight, “it was a beautiful, full top.”
Sunset chose PittMoss® not just for the fact that it contains recycled materials but also for its water-retaining abilities. “The water-holding capacity and the nutrient-holding capacity of the blending mix allowed us to only have to water, at the earliest, every third day,” the grower said. Throughout the trial, he found that the PittMoss® blend retained enough moisture in the soil to keep the irrigation cycle to three to five days. “A lot of times, we were able to get out towards the tail end of five days, depending on crop and weather conditions.” He knew from past experience he would have had to water more frequently if he used a more traditional planting mix without PittMoss®. “Running the durations we ran, we would at least have to be watering every day,” he said. “As the plants became more rooted-out, it probably would get closer to twice a day.”
Exceptionally strong root systems provided further evidence of how well the perennials and grasses grew in PittMoss® during the trial. “We had really good, white, strong root systems,” Sunset's grower attested. “I think our experience with PittMoss® this year and the leaf compost was really super positive for us. It allowed us to stay within the philosophy of the company...[and] we had really positive growth out of it.”
Sunset Farmstead’s experience winterizing plants with PittMoss® was no less successful. Last winter, they bedded Eupatorium, Schizharium The Blues, and Standing Ovation “kind of on the dry side, which is where we needed to be for our plants to make it through the winter.” They left the plants outdoors covered by a nursery blanket and overwintering film, anchored by hay bales to keep the wind from interfering with the plants. “When we were getting into them, the soil moisture was perfect — just a hair moist,” the grower observed. “We didn’t have any losses due to plants being too wet or the winter [conditions], and this was not an easy winter.” While they did have some losses due to rodents, those were minimal. “So the one crop we did (overwintered), we planted 500 and were able to get our customer 490.” The grower added, “I’m thrilled with that.”
After their successful trial with PittMoss®, Sunset Farmstead is increasing their production for the 2018 season to 10,000 plants using the same 50/50 ratio of PittMoss® and leaf compost. Due to varietal differences, the ratio might change slightly. “The tricky part is learning how to water,” Sunset's grower explained. “We might need to add a little bit more PittMoss® and less leaf compost for some of the things that might want it a little bit drier just because they both hold water.” They said that siting plants on the farm according to irrigation zones will be key to managing the watering needs of different crops.
Keep an eye on this blog—the team at Sunset Farmstead will keep us posted with updates and photos as the growing season progresses. Questions are welcome.
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