Many gardeners are familiar with peat pots, those square, grey pots you can start seedlings in and plant right into the ground. A new product on the market for gardeners who like to start their own seedlings is "CowPots", which are similar to the peat pots, but they are made from composted cow manure. This friendly company sent me several pots to try out, and they'd like to let you try them too! Leave a comment before June 10 for a chance to receive your own CowPots to try. (The winner will be selected randomly.)
Biodegradable pots are the best type of pot to use for plants that you want to start early but that don't transplant well, such as cucumbers or squash. Because the pot does not need to be removed, the roots are not disturbed and transplant shock is minimized. The simplicity of planting seedlings without removing the pot is ideal for children. And they provide convenience for gardeners who don't want to clean and store plastic pots. However, they are more expensive than plastic pots, and they cannot be reused.
|CowPot with roots already growing out of pot|
CowPots have some advantages over other types of biodegradable pots. The composted manure is more permeable to the plants' roots than other types of pots, such as peat. Many gardeners recommend tearing the peat pots off before planting, as roots are not always able to easily penetrate those pots. The CowPots I used, however, actually allowed the plant roots to grow out of the pots before they were even planted in soil! CowPots are also a good alternative to peat pots for gardeners who are concerned about the effect that peat harvesting has on fragile ecosystems, and the manure adds nutrients to the soil. Peat is also notorious for repelling water once it dries out. Because of this, gardeners must be extra careful to keep these pots well watered and make sure the edges of the pot don't stick out of the soil after planting, acting as a wick that dries the plant out. The CowPots did tend to dry out a little faster than plastic pots, but they absorbed water easily.
There were a couple downsides to these pots. Although the manufacturer claims that they are completely odour-free, I found that they did smell a bit like manure when I first planted in them and watered them. The smell was not strong, but it was distinctive, and it lasted for two or three days. After that, I didn't notice anything. Since I was growing them in the basement, it didn't bother me, but anyone using these might want to put them in an out-of-the-way place for the first couple of days, or until they germinate. The smell also may have been less if I hadn't put them on a heat mat. The other problem I experienced was in a flat that I had covered for a week or two while I was waiting for some seeds to germinate. I found some white mould grew right on the pots, but better ventilation may have prevented this.
Despite these small problems, I liked using these pots. One of my plants actually grew a root out of the side of its own pot and into the pot beside it, although most of my plants were better behaved than that. This made me feel comfortable planting the pots right into the soil without removing the pots. They also seemed to experience very little transplant shock, beginning to grow well only a couple of days after I planted them. I started some plants for my kids in them, and they were very easy for them to plant "all by myself". Overall, I was quite happy with the performance of these pots, since they did not break down before I wanted to plant them, but they appear to allow roots to easily grow into surrounding soil.
CowPots are available in Canada by mail-order from Vesey's, and will probably be available in stores next spring.