Dissolved Oxygen: Low cost solution for increased plant health and yield

Adequate aeration to the plant root system improves root development and helps maintain overall plant growth.

Studies have shown that supplementing oxygen to the root zone via the delivery of dissolved oxygen (DO) can improve crop yields while reducing the incidences of disease.

Yet, growers often overlook DO as a beneficial variable that can enhance plant growth.

Learn more about DO and how it can be delivered to the root system with low cost nanobubbler technology in this white paper I recently completed.

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Danger: Keep out!

In my latest article for Greenhouse Management magazine I share advice from the experts on installing protective insect screens that will reduce pest populations and ultimately, the use of pesticides.

Consumers’ desire for pesticide-free ornamental and edible crops, coupled with the increase of greenhouse pest populations and their resistance to traditional chemical pesticides, has led to many growers taking a different approach to their pest management plan.

With continuing advancements in insect screening, greenhouse growers can take a proactive step toward reducing insect pests and installing this technology over greenhouse vent openings.

“Screening isn’t cheap, there is an initial investment. But in the long run there is a savings in the reduction of pesticide applications, cleaner plants [and a] healthier environment,” says Dr. Raymond Cloyd, an entomologist, professor and extension specialist at Kansas State University. more…

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The “not my New Years Resolution” Resolution

We all know what becomes of New Year’s resolutions. No matter how resolute we are most of these resolutions to “exercise every day” or “lose 20 pounds in a month” go into the dust bin of good intentions before Valentine’s Day.

Yet, I still see the New Year as a new start and I like jotting down some goals for the year. Although, admittedly I don’t look at these goals again, at least not until there is a crisis of procrastination in the form of things like not paying my bills on time or not getting the freelance writing jobs I want to get.

But this year was different. Instead of writing down things like “climb Mt. Everest” or “read 50 books in a year,” both goals I’d never reach, I simply listed 5 things I want to do each day. My daily to-do list comes from things I already like to do, as well as a few I need to do, including reading, exercising (walk, bike, etc.), stretching/yoga, studying photography, and marketing for more freelance copywriting jobs (I already have pretty good writing habits, having spent years honing this skill).

Unlike the resolutions I’ve made in the past there is no pressure to do things for a certain amount of time, like “exercise for 50 minutes on a treadmill every morning.” The 5 things I listed are simply reminders to do these things. With all the distractions I encounter during the day and the incessant pull of digital news (my downfall) on my tablet and Iphone, it is easy to get away from the things I truly love and have neglected somewhat, i.e., reading and photography.

What I like about this approach is that if I don’t spend much time on any of these things on my list, such as, “spend time reading a book,” at least I’ll crack that book and read a page or two, and perhaps the next day I’ll read more. The same with the other “not resolutions” on my list, like exercise, stretching and photography. I think the problem with setting a goal of doing something for a certain amount of time is that if and when you get off track it is easy to just give up.

I started this routine before Christmas and I can say this–so far so good! I can’t claim perfection, but that’s alright. What I have is a reminder to engage in these positive activities during the course of the day. If I’m killing time waiting for my grandson’s hockey practice to get over, I go for a walk to get in my exercise. Waiting for a doctor appointment? I have an excellent photography book on my Kindle I can study.

I’m also developing some good habits, like taking a book with me when I leave the house and stretching most every day, which helps me with other activities, like gardening and exercising.  

If you’re not already practicing some good habits it’s hard to keep an unrealistic goal just because it’s a New Year. There is no magic dust. However, writing down some things you already like to do could lead to the real goal you’re looking to achieve. If you like walking the dog a couple of blocks perhaps you can gradually expand on this to “walking a quarter of a mile.” In other words, start with a small goal and see if it leads to achieving a  larger goal. At least I hope so, which is what I’m trying to do.

Maybe one year I will read those 50 books and at least climb a steep hill!

Happy New Years!


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CobraWeeder makes weeding a little easier

One tool I’ve found to be indispensable for my home garden and landscaping jobs is the CobraHead Weeder. If you’re not familiar with this marvelous tool it’s shaped like a fish hook with a patented “Steel Fingernail.” which describes the tip of the hook that makes it unique.

CobraHead Weeder

The long-handled CobraHead Weeder makes weeding much easier.

It’s ideal for removing weeds from difficult places, such as between the cracks in the sidewalk, between the stones in a stone walkway, and weeds crowding up against a raised bed. It can also be used to cultivate between plants, and is especially useful in tough clay type soils. The CobraHead Weeder is one of those tools, like a smartphone, that once you start using it, you can’t do without it.  

Now when I first starting using the CobraHead Weeder getting up and down from a kneeling position was no big deal. So I didn’t mind the short-handled weeding tool I was using, it sure beat trying to remove weeds with my hands! Now, quite frankly that hinge in my back for getting up and down is getting a little rusty, so I’d rather stand up and do this chore, if at all possible.

Luckily the CobraHead company has a long-handled weeder. Apparently, I’m not the only one looking to stay off his or her knees as much as possible. A little while after the CobraHead Weeder came out out the company made a long handled one, appropriately called the CobraHead Long Handle weeder.

This tool is a real gem. It’s built from solid ash and just at the right height to be able to comfortably hoe from a stand up position. Both the long handle and short handle weeder are manufactured by the  CobraHead company in Wisconsin with “environmentally friendly practices wherever possible.” The forged and tempered steel blade, and other materials that go into this product are 100% U.S. made.

The company also has a video on their website showing how to use the tool in an ergonomic way so you too can avoid some of the pain and strain of gardening.

Cheers to gardening and the Cobrahead Weeder!

Neil 


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Why add dissolved oxygen to your water?

In this article I wrote for Produce Grower magazine, Why add dissolved oxygen? , I researched the topic of dissolved oxygen and talked to the experts on the why and how of adding dissolved oxygen to your water for both hydroponics and substrate growing situations.  Explore the benefits of adding dissolved oxygen to your water.


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Is climate change driving sales of garden related products?

 

Gardeners spent a record $47.8 billion on lawn and garden products this past year, according to the Garden Media Group’s 2019 Trends Report. The effects of climate change could be driving up sales of garden related products as people increasingly see the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy planet.

According to the popular trends report “horticulture is essential to solve climate change, biodiversity loss and urban eco-system services.”  To this end people appear to be trending away from the “me” generation and more to the “she” generation, “she” meaning caring for Mother Earth. This can be seen especially with the purchasing habits of the Generation X group but also the Millennials, who now make up 29% of all households who garden. This age group is increasingly interested in sustainable products, i.e., “zero waste,” and environmental causes that include, you guessed it: planting more plants!

The annual trends report provides ample detail and information to help garden related businesses–from growers to landscapers and retailers–make business decisions for the upcoming year. For instance, they see an upward trend in the purchase of house plants for indoor gardening and native plants for sustainable landscaping. And more people are concerned with our dwindling insect population, which is emphasized in a popular book by Michael McCarthy, titled: The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.

We’re also glued to our “blue screens.” Technology is a double edged sword, offering a way for fellow gardeners to connect with other gardeners and share the joys of gardening. Unfortunately, it also means more time in front of a screen of some type, spending more time indoors instead of outside tending a garden. However, we are inherently drawn to nature, it’s in our DNA, the report seems to suggest.

“We are in a new awakening. People are getting off their devices, going outside, and getting back in touch with their roots,” Says Katie Dubow, creative director at the trend spotting firm. “And gardening is a natural fit.” This attitude should push sales of garden related products, especially those that appear to be supporting the natural world, such as native and other plants that attract pollinating insects.  

There’s much more to the 2019 Trends Report. So before you make plans for the New Year for your greenhouse, garden center or other green industry business, take a look at what’s ahead.

 

 

 

 


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Enjoy fall gardening (and get some work done!)

Gardening in the autumn is like no other time of year. The weather is cooler and you don’t feel the pressure of all the things there are to do in the spring; like getting the containers filled with flowers, mulching the flower beds and keeping up with the grass that seems to need mowing a couple of times of week; not to mention the other to-do things around the house, like painting and cleaning out the gutters. And if you do visit a garden center this time of year you won’t be bumping elbows or carts with the person next to you.

In short, you can take a little breather. Go ahead, take in a deep breath and smell the cool autumn air.

Now that you’ve caught your breath there are a few things you can and probably should do in the autumn to prepare for winter. This is one time you’re allowed to procrastinate a little. For instance, if you don’t get all of your perennials cut back, so be it, the seed heads will be food for the birds, and go ahead, leave the tall plants, like the grasses and sedges, they’ll add winter interest to your landscape.

Decorating for fall

Before we begin the work of putting our gardens to bed for the winter make sure you honor the season by doing a little fall decorating with pumpkins, corn stalks, containers of mums and anything else your heart and imagination desires. Enjoy the extended fall we experience around the Bay area.

Fall is also the time to plant garlic and some of your favorite spring flowering bulbs, like daffodil, tulip and hyacinth. Make sure if you’re buying bulbs that they feel firm. If you can crunch them with your fingers it’s an indication they’ve dried out. In fact, any bulbs that have been sitting on a store shelf for two or more weeks are probably going to be a little dried out. Purchase good bulb stock from a local garden center or mail order companies like the Netherlands Bulb Company, Brecks and Jung Seeds. Also, if it is getting a little difficult to bend over to plant your bulbs, consider purchasing the Proplugger (at proplugger.com).  

Fall chores

Sault Ste. Marie has a 24 hrs. a day drop off site now for non-woody plant material.

So we can’t put it off any longer, work that is. Remove all the dead or dying annuals and cut back the perennials to just a few inches above the ground. Cart the foliage from these plants off to the city composting site. Next spring you can return and get some well composted organic matter for your garden. Any diseased plant material should be kept out of the compost pile.

Spent flower heads on woody shrubs like Pinky Winky hydrangeas, spireas, and lilacs can be clipped back before winter sets in. You can do a light pruning of trees and shrubs to remove dead or dying limbs or stems, but leave the more extensive pruning for late winter. The Arbor Day Foundation has some good information and guidelines on their website on when and how to  prune.

Dividing and relocating perennials

Fall is undoubtedly the best time to divide and relocate perennials. Not all perennials are easily divided so you may want to do a little research before you start hacking away on your plants. Hostas are one of the easiest plants to divide. Other easy to divide perennials include asters and chrysanthemums, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, coreopsis, astilbe, goldenrod lamb’s ear and yarrow. Cut down the foliage first (do this with all the perennials you want to divide in the fall) and slice through a section of the plant with a sharp spade shovel. Prepare a hole like you would planting any plant by digging a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball. Water around the root system before refilling the hole you’ve dug.

Take care of the turf

Early fall is a good time to fertilize your lawn with an organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Fall Winterizer. This will help promote a healthy root system going into winter. Milorganite is a cheaper alternative when it comes to using an organic based product to feed your lawn. Milorganite can be spread on the lawn any time of the year.

According to turf experts I’ve talked to over the years, it is best to make sure your lawn is cut fairly short going into the winter. I’m not talking about scalping it, but rather cut it to about three inches high. This, they say, helps to prevent snow molds that can take hold in tall, wet grass.   

Checklist of other fall gardening chores:

  1. Put all tools in their proper place so you can find them next spring.
  2. Apply a thin coat of lubricant to pruning tools to prevent rust.
  3. Clean out the bird feeders
  4. Take power equipment in for repairs or maintenance in the fall so you’re not waiting on it in the spring when you’re ready to garden.
  5. Dump the potting soil from summer containers into a compost bin or otherwise find a place to store it so you can reuse it next year.
  6. If you have a riding lawn mower, take the battery out and store in a warm location. Some people charge up the battery before storing it away.

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Biocontrols offer alternatives to chemicals

For years I’ve heard organic gardeners talk about attracting beneficial insects to your garden. Preying mantis comes readily to mind, but there are many other beneficial insects. But can these insects be relied on to control insects in a commercial greenhouse? Should growers take the risk of loosing a crop if the “beneficials” don’t do the job when fogging a greenhouse with chemicals will surely snuff out the aphids, thrips and whiteflies?

One greenhouse grower, Dickman’s Farms took the risk. They wanted to get away from potentially harmful chemicals and also the viscous circle of spraying and the inconvenience of closing up the houses during the reentry interval, the time from when you spray until you can go back in.

Read how Dickman’s pulled it off, including how they used “banker plants” to feed their beneficial insects. more


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Watering tools worth singing about

I’ve always said, “show me a water wand worth its salt and I’ll sing its praises.” Well, the Dramm Corporation has shown me not one, but two water wands worthy of singing in the shower.

This lightweight water wand is good for day to day watering chores.

The first one I’d like to gush over is Dramm’s 30” One Touch water wand.This handsome maroon colored wand has only one setting. Lightweight and simple, the One Touch is probably best for day to day watering of hanging baskets and perhaps some plants like squash and pumpkin in a vegetable garden. I was impressed by how the nozzle fit tight and there was no leakage where it connected to my garden hose. I was also impressed with the overall solid, but lightweight aluminum construction. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

Multiple spray settings make this wand ideal for the commercial grower.

The 30” Rain Select water wand is significantly heavier and perhaps not the best choice for someone looking or needing a lightweight water wand. But it is excellent for the gardener or greenhouse worker looking for a heavy duty wand with more than one setting. The nine settings–fr0m a mist setting for fragile seedlings, to a shower setting for mature plants–makes it a versatile tool for using in a greenhouse where you might have seedlings to mist early in the year along with some pots to water. The jet setting allows you to quickly switch gears from watering to perhaps spraying down the floors or benches in the greenhouse. It also comes with a lifetime warranty and replacement parts, such as the nozzle. I’m looking forward to using it in my landscaping and greenhouse business.

Both of these tools have a smart turn on/off lever (the One Touch thumb valve) located just above the handle that controls the water flow and doesn’t have to be squeezed like other wands. This can be a real advantage for folks with a little arthritis in their hands, or for even preventing arthritis in the future. The comfortable, rubber handle is a bonus.  This wand also comes with a lifetime warranty and looks to be built tough to handle several seasons of watering.

This spray gun works great for cooling off on a hot day!

Lastly, I’ve been trying out Dramm’s Touch ‘N Flow Revolver spray gun. I’ve used it to was the car, clean the crud off the vinyl siding and have a little fun with my beloved cat who got a little too close when I was spraying! This is a heavy duty nozzle that no doubt will stand the test of time. When I have it in my hand I feel kind of powerful, like I could lift a big pumpkin over my head. When I got over my delusion of grandeur I was able to enjoy the 9 (yes, 9!) different settings this spray gun has to offer: fan, cone, center, jet, mist, soaker, flat, angle, and shower. This lightweight revolver has an ergonomic, insulated grip that is very comfortable to hold. Like the wands this heavy-duty metal spray gun comes with a lifetime guarantee and is available in six bright colors that they say won’t get lost in the lawn (but then they haven’t seen my lawn!).

If you’ve been sending too many water wands off to the landfill after a season or two, or are sick of them dripping water down your shirt when you’re  trying to water hanging baskets and pots, invest in these reasonably priced water wands that will last a lifetime–or your money back!

As a disclaimer, I got all three of these hose attachments upon request from the manufacturer, but I’m not paid to write this review.  

   


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High tunnel makes more sense for this gardener

A few years ago I was approached with an offer to receive a no-cost greenhouse via the NRCS. I thought at the time, “why not?” and applied for a 30’ X 90’ one and started making plans accordingly. A few weeks later I got a letter stating that I wasn’t high on their priority list for receiving a greenhouse.

Well go figure.

So then I got to thinking I wasn’t really sure I wanted a huge greenhouse structure in my backyard nor, quite frankly, the work and maintenance that would come with it. I was also thinking that if the darn thing caved in under the snow load, like many have in this area, I wouldn’t be out as much. So I started thinking about a simpler solution to extend our short season.

Lo and behold I came across an article in Mother Earth News about a “Moveable Modular Cathedral Tunnel.” The MMCT, is the brainchild of Eliot Coleman, a man who lives up in Maine and has never let a short season, or even a brutal winter, stop him from gardening. So in order to see what all the hubbub was about hoophouse and high tunnel gardening I started building the MMCT from the plans I downloaded from the Internet.

The MMCT is  fashioned out of 10’ long EMT conduit (approx. cost, $10 ea.), bent into curved pipes using Johnny’s Selected Seed’s pole bender (approx. cost $50). It took 15 of these pipes and some top rail pipe for the framing. I bought enough greenhouse film to cover three of these modular units at an approximate cost of $200. Assorted bolts, screws and nuts added another $20 or so to the cost. I also needed to purchase plastic clamps to attach the plastic to the pipes at a cost of about $75. Total cost for one 12’ by 10’ hoophouse was less than $400. I ended up building two of these units joined at the end for a 12’ by 20’ hoophouse, or high tunnel, if you prefer. Incidentally, you can make it as long as you want by simply adding more sections.

With the exception of bending the poles, this project can be done by one person. Make sure you have a good drill to drill through the conduit metal and a “chop” saw for cutting pipe.  

The thing I like about the MMCT is the size and the fact it is moveable. In time insects and disease will become a problem in the soil. When that time comes it’s simply  “adios flea beadles!” With the help of another person I can move the dang thing. Or maybe you’re just tired of seeing it in the same spot. Just move it like you would rearrange the furniture in your living room.

 

I didn’t get it all set up and ready to go until the last week of May. And I still have to add “doors” to each end, which will consist of greenhouse covering material attached to kind of a swing arm fashioned out of the EMT tubing.

So this season I’m growing a few tomatoes, cucumbers and a watermelon inside it. You might say I’m taking it for a test drive. Eventually, I’d like to grow some lettuces into the fall and maybe even through the winter. And I can’t wait to get an early start in the spring!

Hoophouse and greenhouse growing isn’t rocket science, but it’s a little different than growing straight into the ground. Stay tuned and I’ll share my trials and tribulations, and hopefully a few success stories!

 


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12 things I’ve learned in 12 months that could benefit green industry professionals

 

Over the last 12 months I’ve interviewed dozens of green industry professionals and listened to countless people tell their stories of success and challenges in this industry. Here is my take on what I’ve learned and how it may help your bottom line.

  1. The demand for bee related products will continue to  grow, according to an article in the balance, a digital personal finance and lifestyle magazine. This could create an opportunity for an additional revenue source while increasing the presence of pollinators to pollinate crops. 
  2. Consider growing microgreens. Because they mature so quickly, they can be grown in greenhouses between other crops.
  3. Shop around for LED lighting. There are many companies out their touting their products. Do your research, read articles in trade magazines, such as Greenhouse Management magazine.
  4. Think vertical. I believe one of the big stories going into 2018 is the potential for growing greens vertically in once abandoned warehouses in the city. Herbs, microgreens and flower petals can be sold directly to restaurants and retailers. Because fresh greens can fetch a higher price, there is an opportunity to profit from this trend.
  5. Speaking of trends, keep up to speed on the forthcoming trends. In a dynamic market it’s imporant to stay current on the trends in consumer preferences. Garden Media Group puts out a trends forecast each year. Cruize by and see what’s going to be hot.
  6. This one goes without saying: the cannabis market is hot! With states like California legalizing pot comes opportunities for growers and suppliers. Having said that, caution is in order as businesses grapple with the legal status at the Fed level and often complicated state regulations.
  7. Updating heating and cooling systems isn’t the only way to improve efficiency and ultimately save money. The newer bench systems make handling flats and trays much more efficient, saving time and labor.
  8. This bares repeating because I suspect not everyone is one board yet. Connect with customers via social media channels. Pick which ones are right for you and start engaging with your customers. Hire a copywriter to provide pertinent content via blogs, newsletters and white papers. A competent copywriter will know what “buttons to push” to get people interested in your product or service.
  9. Have a fluid website. A website that is no more than a glorified business card is just like a business card sitting in a desk drawer: nobody sees it! An internet marketer can help you get on a path to more web traffic.
  10. Take lots of pictures. Whether you’re a landscaper with award-winning designs, or own a garden center, it is a good idea to have a good stock of pictures that can be used on the social media channels, including Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.
  11. Take video clips of important projects or special events. You  can also hire a videoographer to produce a professional video. Like the above, it is a good practice to have these videos on hand you can use on a website, a Youtube channel, presentations, etc.
  12. The weather and climate is getting so unpredictable and extreme it has precipitated a need to plant hardy plants that can take cold, heat, wind, rain, you name it. Make sure you have a good selection of hardy and sturdy-stemmed plants,including natives, you can offer to your customers.   

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Managing diseases in microgreens

Microgreens could be described as the 100-yard dash of food crop production. Most are ready for harvest in less than 21 days. And because they have such a short shelf life, they’re sent off to restaurants, farmers markets and retail markets within days, if not hours, of harvest.

Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, things can go awry, causing you to veer off course. Here’s a few tips to make sure you cross the finish line in good shape.

Mighty microgreens 

Microgreens are edible seedlings grown to the first true leaf stage, according to Zachary Grant, extension educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms, University of Illinois Extension. Microgreens have been popular with growers and consumers for a number of years now. Demand for microgreens has increased since being identified as a national trend in haute cuisine around 2006, according to Cheryl Kaiser and Matt Ernst from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Health-conscious consumers and restaurant chefs are drawn to microgreens, which contain phytonutrients and plant metabolites, Grant says. They’re added to soups, salads, garnishes and smoothies and served at home and in restaurants. Because they have such a short shelf life, they’re typically not grown on a large scale and shipped for miles and miles like tomatoes, but rather sold directly to local markets, presenting an opportunity for smaller growers.

Because they are considered easy to grow by some and have such a short growth cycle, they can be grown between crops in a greenhouse. They can also be grown year-round in greenhouses and cold frames in warmer climates. Profit margins are fairly high as well. An ounce of microgreens costs about 25 cents to produce and sells for about a dollar per ounce at Whole Foods. Growers can expect to gross about $25 per square foot of microgreens, Grant says.

more…


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Making the most of greenhouse bench systems

In a recent article I wrote for Greenhouse Management magazine, I detail how growers can update their growing bench systems for increased efficiency and to save on labor costs: Making the most of greenhouse bench systems.


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Poinsettia trends: red & beyond

Read one of my latest articles published in Greenhouse Management magazine:

http://www.greenhousemag.com/article/poinsettia-trends-red–beyond/


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Are you telling your story? Ten topics to write about

 

An orchid grower I talked with recently told me about how she gave up teaching at a major university to go into the orchid business. She says it started out as a six week stint between teaching gigs, helping the 78 year-old owner of the business with the daily chores of caring for and selling orchids. Two weeks later the man offered to sell her the business and she took him up on it.  

Stories like this one can make you more endearing to your customers. If you’re a landscaper, greenhouse grower, or other green industry business you need to start telling your story, if you’re not already doing so.

Why? Because people like to hear a good story. Also, it’s the wave of the future when it comes to marketing. It’s part of the content marketing approach that seeks to attract customers, rather than interrupt them with in-your-face type of ads you see on television and other media.  In fact, recent research indicates that two thirds of marketers think branded content is superior to PR, direct mail, and print advertising.  

So what type of story do you tell? You can look at some of the big companies to see what type of stories they’re telling. For instance, Coca-Cola is talking about more than just soft drinks. They tell stories about how they’re helping veterans find jobs, how they’re promoting healthy lifestyles, and an “inside look” at a Coca-Cola sponsored game to help fight AIDS.

Choose your media

Your stories can be told on your blog, Facebook Page, YouTube channel digital newsletter, or print media. Here are 10 suggestions for stories you can tell your readers.

  1. The details of an event you had at your business and/or a special visitor. One story I recall from an interview I did had to do with a popular cook that showed up for a one day demonstration on the delicious things you can make with blueberries.
  2. Tell how your company participated in a local fundraiser, perhaps by donating some flowers and/or your time.
  3. Have you found new ways to use less resources, save money and help protect the environment? Don’t be shy, let’s hear about it.
  4. Employee stories. Have you ever hired a military veteran, future pro baseball player, or other interesting person? Tell their story.
  5. Do you have a plant breeding program? People will be interested in how their favorite plants came to be.
  6. Have you overcome adversity lately? This could be springing back from an illness, flood, tornado or some other calamity. It might be tough being so open, but people will probably relate to your story.  
  7. Your rags to riches story. Did you start out selling plants off a wagon, or with a wheelbarrow and pickup truck? We’d like to hear about it.
  8. Are you trying new things? One company I wrote about, Gotham Greens, is trying out rooftop growing for restaurants and other outlets.
  9. How about the holidays? Are you getting involved in charitable giving? A local event? It’s all fodder for a good story.
  10. Are you doing business in other countries? Attended shows abroad? You must have some good stories to tell, about the trip, the culture, the people, the event.

Five tips for telling a good story:

  1. Learn from others. Read stories other people are telling that seem to be of interest to readers and try to replicate them. If you don’t have a good writer on staff, hire one and write it off as a marketing expense.
  2. Use emotion. Emotion is what really draws people into a story. Not every story is going to have an emotional appeal, but some will, like holding a fundraiser for someone diagnosed with cancer.
  3. Keep it simple. A good story doesn’t have to be a dissertation. Try to get to the heart of the story fairly quickly.
  4. Be honest, authentic. In one story I wrote about a summer camp I attended with my daughters I had to come clean about my own insecurities spending a few days with strangers.
  5. Make it shareable. This might be the hardest thing. However, if you’ve told a good story, people will want to hit the share button!

 


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Why you need a white paper and a really cool infographic

 

Do you have a big ticket item to sell or want to introduce a new product to the market? Or perhaps you have an item that is simply too complex to summarize in a magazine ad?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you need a white paper.

Selling big ticket items such as greenhouses, fogging systems, fertilizers and software to growers in the green industry and especially the emerging cannabis market can be a challenge. The competition is stiff and it can be hard to reach potential buyers in a really meaningful way. Advertisements in magazines can be effective as can displays and demonstrations at trade shows.

But if you don’t have a detailed white paper for potential buyers you could be missing out on potential sales. Growers in this market are savvy entrepreneurs who want to be well informed before committing to a new product or making a large purchase that may require they see a banker.

Here is where a white paper comes in. A white paper is a detailed description of a product that that goes far beyond a quarter page ad in a magazine. Information for a white paper draws from everyone in your company, from engineers to sales persons. A copywriter worth his salt will write one in such a way as to not to be a hard sell, but rather a gentle nudge to potential buyers, via persuasive writing, to purchase the product based on the features and benefits presented.

So when do you need a white paper? Use a white paper to promote products that are:

  • New to the market: (e.g., a pesticide, fertilizer, software system)  
  • Complex, has to be explained (e.g., scanning systems, security software, climate control systems)
  • Expensive, has to be justified (e.g., greenhouses, skids steers, LED lighting, automatic trimmers)

White papers are the true work horses in the advertising world, providing highly detailed information of a product so buyers can make an informed decision. They’re more cost effective than ads that may run one time in a magazine or on television. Once created, white papers can not only be embedded on your website, but moved about via social media, sent to potential buyers, bloggers and even freelance writers writing for trade magazines, such as Cannabis Business Times. They can also be re-purposed for blog posts, newsletters and press releases.

However, white papers don’t need to spend all their time online. Hard copies, with stellar graphics and illustrations, can be taken to trade shows and handed out to potential buyers. Potential buyers like them because they can be shared with  CEO’s, line staff and procurement before making a significant investment in the product.

If you’re interested in adding a white paper to your marketing program I can send you a free infographic (from the book White Papers for Dummies) that further highlights the benefits of a white paper and what they’re all about, written by a person who is considered in this field to be the go-to guy on white papers, Gordon Graham, aka “That White Paper Guy.”

Speaking of “That White Paper Guy,” I’ve recently teamed up with Mr. Graham to assist cannabis suppliers like yourself in selling your products. His depth of knowledge of white papers (he’s written close to 250 of these things!) and marketing and my extensive background in horticulture and copywriting is providing the 1-2 punch to help businesses like yours improve their bottom line in a big way. Together we can provide you with a targeted white paper and insider marketing tips to get these documents in front of your target audience. You can then sit back and watch more orders come in for your product.

If you would like to learn more about our services and pricing and/or want a free pdf file of the infograph, contact me via email or give me a call at 906-322-4264. We expect demand to be great for this service so contact me as soon as possible so we can get started.


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Pack a punch with a good lead

When it comes to writing a good blog post or article It seems like all the emphasis these days is on creating a snappy headline that will pull a reader into an article. While an effective headline is important to grab a reader’s attention, a great headline without an equally great lead is like putting whip cream topping over a stale apple pie.ext

The lead of a story has to pack enough of a punch to entice busy people to keep reading. This applies to any type of article–from one explaining the virtues of a particular potting soil, to one reporting on a breaking news story that will make national headlines..

So where do you find the lead? You should be able to find it in your research, the notes you’ve taken during an interview, or an event you’ve attended. If you don’t find it in your research and/or notes, go ahead and write the article first and then read through it. What you’re looking for is information that will answer the proverbial question, “what’s in this for me?”

In many instances you will need to use your imagination a little to spice up the lead to what might not be a particularly exciting topic. Consider this lead I did for an article for a horticulture trade magazine on utility vehicles, the ones used by lawn care and landscaping professionals:

“With more uses than a Swiss army knife and the versatility of a moon rover, utility vehicles (UTVs) are gaining popularity with landscape contractors wishing to improve efficiency, reduce labor, and make things safer for their employees. If you’re hesitant about making the 10K investment in a rugged UTV you may wish to hear what two landscapers have to say about their coveted UTVs.”

In one paragraph I was able to say that UTV’s are versatile and  popular with landscapers because they save money and make the workplace safer, two hot button issues with the readers of this trade magazine  I also addressed what could be hesitation on the part of the reader to make the investment and tried to entice them to read on to hear what two landscapers had to say about their UTV investment.

Another example would be attending an event. People in the green industry are always attending trade shows. If you’re writing about a trade show you attended, even in a short blog post, try to highlight the most important and useful news and information that came out of the event. Sure, it might have been a whiz bang event where you got to network with a lot of different people and perhaps even had a great dinner, but what will your readers want to know about the event? Try to find that golden nugget from the event; for example a new breed of plant that’s about to take the industry by storm.

Not all leads are alike, though. A lot will depend on the type of article you’re writing. Here are three types of leads, that if done right, will draw a reader into your article.

  1. Declare what the article is going to be about while summarizing the most important points.  This is a typical lead used in journalism and should read like this:

“Profits are up in the landscaping business for the first time since 2008, spurred on by marketing efforts directed at younger shoppers and an overall improvement in the housing market.”

Notice how much information is given in a short paragraph. This type of lead should draw readers in who want to find out the facts and figures that support such a statement.

  1. Describe a setting that will gently draw readers in while introducing the topic or making a point.  For instance, in another article I used the lead to tell a brief story that served to introduce the article and make a point about succession planting:

“When the farmer’s market comes to a close on Saturday in Saratoga Springs, Sandy and Paul Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm, give a call to a local restaurant to see if the chef wants to buy what they have left over. They supply the farmer’s market and local restaurants for at least 10 months out of the year, thanks to the succession planting they’ve been practicing the last 28 years on their farm in Argyle, New York.”

  1. Provide enough information to entice readers to read on by gleaming the most interesting elements of an event, such as a trade show. This type of lead is different from the ones above because you have to dig a little deeper to find interesting and useful information. It’s one that can be used with B2B type articles, like in trade journals. So you could say something like:

“The 4th annual AG Today conference featured plants that talk back, a driverless tractor, and new varieties of vegetables that don’t need watering.”

This type of lead demands an explanation, which people will look for in the coming paragraphs.

While headlines are important, you don’t want to drop the ball by offering a lukewarm lead. Experiment until you find the lead that’s right, then hit them with the one-two punch.


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How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life

Gardening as we get older can be a little more challenging, but no less enjoyable. At least that’s the premise of a smart little book called, Late Bloomer: How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life, by Jan Coppola Bills. Bills offers us older folks inspiration and practical advice for gardening in our later years. It’s more about adjusting our perspective on gardening than it is on finding adaptive tools and equipment to make the job easier, although she does offer a few tips on the latter as well.

Bills says if there is a Late Bloomer’s credo it would go, in part like this:

  • I will plant only what I can comfortably tend.
  • I will not give myself tasks beyond my ability to easily achieve.
  • I will ask for help, if necessary.

Instead of a drive for completion and conquering nature, Bills suggests we discover a “deeply soul-pleasing way of gardening.” The author defines her perspective of gardening, which borders on the spiritual, with these words: “simplicity, beauty and harmony, comfort and ease, celebrating life with food from your soil, and relaxation and letting go.” The latter directive may be hard for many of us who have lived a life defined by how much we can pack into an 8 hour day.

Bills, who runs a landscaping firm in southeast Michigan called “Two Women and a Hoe,” asks us first and foremost to garden in such a way that is both sustainable and manageable. We can enjoy gardening more if we practice a “right plant right place” philosophy that encourages the gardener to find the appropriate place for a plant so that it thrives in that location without having to be moved later because it was planted too close to the house or requires a lot of maintenance in terms of fertilizing, watering and pruning.

In Bills’ garden butterflies flutter about and beneficial insects help create an ecological balance that eliminates the need to use chemical insecticides. An added bonus: she can enjoy the comings and goings of these critters from a peaceful perch of her own choosing. The author believes in sustainable gardening that doesn’t require any chemical inputs, conserves resources while reducing the amount of work required to maintain a garden.

Proper watering will conserve this precious resource while saving on your water bill. Weeds and weeding can be reduced or eliminated by planting a full garden bed with flowers and shrubs. And those leaves that we spend so much time raking up or blowing away with a noisy leaf blower? Leave them for beneficial insects to burrow in over the winter and to break down and become rich humus for our plants. And how about that lawn that needs regular mowing and a lot of maintenance and chemical inputs? Let’s just say you can grow a lot of flowers and vegetables in this space!

The right tools will make gardening a little easier and more enjoyable and Bills offers up her favorites, including a good set of pruners, tine steel rake and loppers. A mini-D-handle shovel allows a person to get on their hands and knees to dig a shallow hole for planting, rather than working from a bending over position that is hard on the back. This is something I can appreciate as I tend to stiffen up when working from a slightly bent over position. A good set of knee pads are essential for those knees that “ain’t what they used to be.”

Recycling treasures from the past

In the second half of life most of us have accumulated enough stuff to fill up a football stadium. These items can become recycled art and used as part of an overall garden design: no need to buy more stuff. Bills keeps these forgotten treasures–potential art–out of landfills by recycling them and finding the appropriate place for them among the plants. In fact, she enjoys posting pictures online of her latest find.

Knowledge is power

Gardening, like any endeavor, requires a certain degree of knowledge to do it right. Bills provides the information gardeners need in this compact volume to be a successful gardener. She covers all of the basics of gardening, from plant selection to shade gardening. She also generously shares her experience as a landscape professional, admonishing the reader to choose healthy plants for your appropriate hardiness zone. The 6 basic design tips presented in the book will help the reader put together a garden that is both functional and appealing to the eye. She presents this information in a way that is easy to understand with color photos to illustrate.

Bills was inspired to garden and start her garden business after her brother Michael died. His untimely death provided a lot of the perspective she now has for gardening and life in general. She says after her brother died she replaced her corporate high heels for Wellies and never looked back.

Late Bloomer, like the magazine you’re reading, helps us find that perspective we need to live well in our second half of life, in and out of the garden.

Neil Moran is a freelance garden writer and blogger.


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Words and phrases that should rightfully be banned

Every year since 1976 Lake Superior State University, my alma mater, has published  a list of banned words and phrases, sent in from people from around the world, that are misleading, misused or simply worn out. Many of these words and phrases get into business marketing and apparently others adopt them to try to sound like they really get it. After awhile everyone is starting a sentence out with “So”…, or ending one with “I’m just saying,” both intended to convey the impression that the speaker has the final word on something.

Unfortunately, some of these words and phrases actually detract, in my opinion, from the actual substance of the message. One of my pet peeve phrases is “moving forward,” which I think is a little vague. Perhaps it would be better to say “in the future” this is the way we’re going to approach this subject. Or better yet, next week we’re going to get to work on this.

So, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon of “iconic” phrases. In fact, moving forward I’ll try not to be so critical…I’m just saying. I find a little amusement and hope for the Queen’s English after reading this tome’.

Have a Happy New Year!


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Grow your profits with white papers for the green industry

Learn why you should consider using white papers in your marketing and what it takes to write one

Are you selling pricey items to green industry businesses like landscapers, greenhouse growers, nurseries or garden centers? Do you have a white paper to explain some of these products?

If not, you’re missing one of the most cost-effective ways to generate leads, nurture prospects, and close sales.

A white paper is different from an ad, flyer, or web page that merely sells a product. A white paper is a 6- to 8-page document that uses facts and logic to explain a B2B product or service. Buyers read them to keep up with the industry and research the details of a big-ticket item they’re considering.

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Photo courtesy of Stano Landscaping

Items worthy of a white paper represent a sizable investment for these companies and include things like the latest UTV’s, skid steers, greenhouses, automated trimmers, fertilizer injection systems and tracking software.

How can you tell whether your business could profit from a white paper? Ask yourself these questions: are you selling something relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive? If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you can likely benefit from a white paper.

White papers may also be used to detail products that would represent a significant change (and a sizable investment) in operations for a green industry business, such as switching to a different fungicide, fertilizer, growing medium, or even a new type of growing container.  

“No other marketing tactic works as hard or lasts as long as a white paper,” declares Gordon Graham, a copywriter who has specialized in this format since 2005. “Unlike the short lifespan of an ad in a magazine or on TV, a white paper can be embedded in your website, where it remains available for prospective buyers around the clock for several years.”

White papers don’t have to stay on a website and collect dust: they can be distributed by e-mail, around the internet, and to your targeted audience via social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. They can also be sent to a printer so you have them to offer at trade shows and conferences.

And a white paper is fairly easy to recycle into other forms: a press release, blog posts, opinion piece for an industry journal, slide deck, presentation or speech.

White papers need not  be dull affairs. The writing can be lively and studded with facts and quotes, just like a magazine article. These documents can be produced by a graphic designer who gives them a slick look, with your company logo, colorful graphics, and product photos.

The Essence of a White paper

White papers are for informational purposes only and are not a sales letter, advertisement, sales pitch, or case study. If there is any hint of a sales pitch in a white paper it may actually have a negative effect on the prospective buyer. An effective white paper walks a thin line, making a persuasive argument to sell a product, service, or solution without actually making a sales pitch to buy the item.photo-1438262267532-2db13fcceca2

At the top of the sales funnel, a white paper can draw in fresh prospects interested in your product and prepare them to take the next step in the sales process.

If you think it may be hard to stay impartial when writing a white paper, or you might be unduly pressured by your superiors, you can farm it out to a professional copywriter who can remain more impartial. A copywriter experienced in writing white papers knows the ins and outs of producing and marketing a white paper.

There are three approaches to creating a white paper, as explained by Graham in his easy-to-understand book, called (you guessed it!) White Papers for Dummies.

The backgrounder

This is a cut-and-dry description of a product. It details the benefits of the product, such as using a UTV to save labor costs. Features, such as carrying space, size of tires, and horsepower would be covered in a pretty matter-of-fact way with only a hint of persuasion. A backgrounder for a greenhouse would delve deep into its construction, including the bows and purlins, covering, heaters, and fans. Likewise, a backgrounder for an automated trimmer for cannabis growers would detail the strength of the blade and specs of the motor and other moving parts.

The numbered list

A numbered list is just what it suggests: a list of points, tips or questions about some issue or product. A green industry white paper of this type could list the features of a piece of equipment, such as a skid steer. Or it could list the pros and cons of using a fungicide or insecticide on a particular plant or crop. A numbered list is easy for a reader to skim through, catching the most important details in an accessible way. A numbered list is best for nurturing existing prospects, or simply generating noise and getting your company recognized. The only shortcoming: a numbered list may lack the deep details the reader is looking for, details those folks in procurement want to see before making a recommendation.

The problem/solution

A problem/solution white paper shows how a green industry business can solve a common problem. For instance, if accurately scanning shipping carts has become a problem, this type of white paper can describe the problem and then detail how their software provides the solution. Or perhaps there is a new insect in the environment that is hard to control, such as the emerald ash borer. This type of white paper could detail how a new trunk injection product can eradicate this insect.

A problem/solution white paper is best for generating fresh leads.

What is takes to write a white paper

There are three stages of putting together an effective white paper: Planning, production, and promotion.

Your own marketing team should handle the first and last stages. The middle stage is where the research is assembled, the content is written, and the final document is produced. This stage is often outsourced to a professional writer who can work without  “writer’s block” or procrastination, and can avoid the most common pitfalls in these complex projects.

To succeed, every stage takes cooperation and collaboration. The challenge is to get everyone on board to offer their expertise. This could include engineers, product managers, and sales reps working in the field. A professional writer will help facilitate this collaboration.

There is no set page count for a white paper, although most contain 6 to 8 pages of content, plus front and back matter like the cover, table of contents, conclusions, about the company, and sources that can push them to 10 or 12 pages.

The important thing is to include all of the pertinent information the potential buyer needs to make their decision.

A white paper can contain photos, charts and graphs. Because the product you’re selling represents a sizable investment for your buyer (you’re not just selling a few shovels) many prospects will be willing to spend time reading a fairly lengthy white paper.

Bottom line? A white paper is a hardworking, cost effective way to introduce new and/or pricey products to green industry businesses.

Stats: White papers are the favorite source for 64 percent of B2B buyers during the early stages of decision making, higher than any other type of marketing collateral.–Sirius Decision, 2010.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter for the green industry and a graduate in horticulture from the University of Guelph.  To grow your profits with a white paper or other written communication contact him at 906-322-4264, via email at nrmoran188@gmail.com , or fill out a contact form on his website.


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