I like to try out new gardening gadgets and techniques as soon as they come out, but despite my best efforts Iâ€™m frequently blindsided by something new that I havenâ€™t researched. Such is the case with your intrepid blogger, Kathy, who caught me without a quick answer to her question about Enki, that electric watering-can that many of you have seen on TV. So Kathy asked me to do a little how-to section on how I go about figuring out whether a gadget or practice will work or not using the Enki watering system as an example, and, since I need to get up to speed on this contraption anyway, Iâ€™m happy to oblige.
What is it supposed to do?
The first thing I do when confronted with a new technique or gadget is to strip away the BS and get to the point. What is this thing supposed to do? In the case of the Enki itâ€™s supposed to give you more flowers, more vibrant colors, and better growth. Not that different from any of the other miracle cures that Iâ€™ve looked at. If youâ€™re the adventurous sort, or if you like to cut to the chase, you might just go directly to the testing phase. But I like to go through these other steps first because they help me to understand the whole process behind the technique or gadget.
How is it supposed to do it?
Now that you know what itâ€™s supposed to do you need to identify how itâ€™s going to do it. In the case of Enki itâ€™s going to put oxygen into the water that youâ€™re going to water your plants with. This oxygen is supposed to be good for plant roots. This is pretty unique.
Does it actually do what it claims to?
So, now you know how itâ€™s going to deliver. But can it do what it says that it does (In other words, can it put oxygen into water)? For Enki the answer is yes. By running an electrical current through water the water will break down into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen will indeed dissolve into the water. So yes, water in Enki should be full of oxygen if the system is working properly.
Does that actually help the plant?
Now you need to establish whether what youâ€™re doing could help the plant. For example, in the case of Enki, could adding oxygen to the water that youâ€™re applying to your plants be a good thing? And the answer isâ€¦.well, sure. A well aerated soil or planting medium is definitely a good thing. A root system that has plenty of oxygen available is generally a healthy root system.
Is this the best way to accomplish the objective?
So, now youâ€™re to the point where you think that something could helpâ€¦.butâ€¦. will your plant be able to get what the gadget or technique promises without using the gadget? This is where a lot of soil amendments fall down. For example, adding mycorrhizae to soil is often a waste of time because most soil already has all the mycorrhizae it needs and can handle. But what about with the Enki? Itâ€™s a prime candidate for getting caught up here because a well aerated soil should provide plenty of oxygen to a plants roots. But the truth is that few of us know exactly how much oxygen reaches our plantâ€™s roots soâ€¦.
Testing . . . Testing
Itâ€™s time to either test or to find some research that investigates the contraption that youâ€™re looking at. You have reached the point where mental gymnastics just arenâ€™t going to cut it. Be warned, at this point you may be willing to accept a testimonial on a website as research. Do not accept testimonials as research, I don’t care who writes them. Testimonials are generally crap written to sell a product or technique. Sure, some are true, but I have seen so many exaggerations and even outright lies that I do not trust them, period. Itâ€™s a rule that you should never break.
The scholarly search engine
So, where do you find trustworthy research? My favorite place is Google. But not the regular search engine, I prefer Google Scholar. Itâ€™s one of the options on the Google site (you could just type in http://scholar.google.com/). Google Scholar provides mostly reliable sources of information whereas regular Google gives you lots of useless stuff. For the Enki you wonâ€™t find much, so itâ€™s not particularly helpful in our current quest. Without this trustworthy published research you need to either a) test the thing yourself or b) Find someone who has. Preferably a researcher.
Test it with the scientific method
To test the thing yourself you need to set up controls. This is where most research falls apart. Donâ€™t just water your geraniums with the Enki. Water some with the Enki and some without (these are the controls). Only by comparing the treated plants with the untreated plants can you reach a valid conclusion. And donâ€™t just do one plant of each, you should really do five each of exactly the same plant treated exactly the same way (except for the watering of course). It sounds a little complex, and maybe it is, but without replication you canâ€™t reach a very firm conclusion.
Contact the researcher
For the Enki, though, I was lucky. Bud Markhart is a professor who I work with here at the University of Minnesota who has investigated the Enki. When I called him up to ask him about it he gave me a pretty clear cut answer based on his rigorous research. His conclusion was basically this: In conditions of poor aeration (poor drainage) the Enki does help the plant and can lead to significant benefits in certain plants (geraniums, petunias and peppers are examples of plants that have benefitted from this contraption). In conditions where aeration is already good (a well drained soil or media) you may still see some benefit, but probably not as much as with conditions of poor aeration. Now the question becomes â€“ could you ask Bud the same thing that I did? Sure! Why not! His name is on the home page of the Enki site near the bottom (they use his full name â€“ Albert Markhart) so why not drop him a quick line to see if he really believes in the product? Donâ€™t be shy. Most professors love it when people show an interest in the work that theyâ€™ve done.
So, there you have it. Thatâ€™s a quick run-down of how I look at different products and techniques when Iâ€™m faced with them. If you have any questions please donâ€™t hesitate to ask. Iâ€™ll be keeping my eye on the blog and will be happy to respond to anything that you might post.