Getting Past the Hype: Is the Enki Watering System worth the money?

– Posted in: Miscellaneous, Tools and Equipment
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Image of author and scientist Jeff GillmanI like to try out new gardening gadgets and techniques as soon as they come out, but despite my best efforts I’m frequently blindsided by something new that I haven’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, I’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 it’s supposed to give you more flowers, more vibrant colors, and better growth. Not that different from any of the other miracle cures that I’ve looked at. If you’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 it’s supposed to do you need to identify how it’s going to do it. In the case of Enki it’s going to put oxygen into the water that you’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 it’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 you’re doing could help the plant. For example, in the case of Enki, could adding oxygen to the water that you’re applying to your plants be a good thing? And the answer is….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 you’re to the point where you think that something could help….but…. 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? It’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 plant’s roots so….

Testing . . . Testing

It’s time to either test or to find some research that investigates the contraption that you’re looking at. You have reached the point where mental gymnastics just aren’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. It’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. It’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 won’t find much, so it’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. Don’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 don’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 can’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 – 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 – Albert Markhart) so why not drop him a quick line to see if he really believes in the product? Don’t be shy. Most professors love it when people show an interest in the work that they’ve done.

So, there you have it. That’s a quick run-down of how I look at different products and techniques when I’m faced with them. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll be keeping my eye on the blog and will be happy to respond to anything that you might post.

Best Regards,

Jeff Gillman

About the Author

Jeff is an associate professor in the department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota where he teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in nursery management. He also conducts research and gives talks on the production of woody ornamental plants and the use and abuse of pesticides. Jeff has a loathing for information that is passed out without concern for the consequences. Hearing self-proclaimed experts spouting things such as feeding syrup to plants gets him so fired up that he decided to do the research on all those common household remedies and write the tell-all book. When not teaching, conducting research, or participating in numerous master gardener programs in Minnesota and nearby states, Jeff likes to spend time with his four-year-old daughter who involves him in her slug hunting and slug control research. Together they test lint, eggshells, coffee grounds, and other top-shelf ingredients. “But,” says Jeff, “that’s another book.”

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

David Wechsler September 19, 2013, 12:06 pm

As the author of a book on practical Electro-Horticulture and an active experimenter in the space, despite the product being discontinued (as far as I know), I’d like to say that I believe there was more to the operating principle than meets the eye.

Based on my understanding of plant electrophysiology, the effects that others have written about, e.g. brighter,flowers, increased yields, or reviving of wilting plants – are things that aren’t attributable to additional oxygenation alone. In addition to perhaps some form of superoxygenation, I think that the electrified water created a change in the plant root’s electro-chemistry. While things can get really deep from here, a build-up of charge on the roots from this type of water is capable of initiating a huge series of physiological changes within the plant ranging from increased metabolism, respiration, to the synthesis of growth hormones and more.

I wish this product were still around today as I would love to have one to experiment with! (If anyone knows of a source, please let me know)

Kathy Purdy September 19, 2013, 7:16 pm

I think I used mine as a regualr watering can and it eventually broke. I know I don’t have it anymore.

David Wechsler (@dwechsler) February 17, 2014, 1:06 pm

Hi Kathy,

Sorry for the late reply… Too bad – if you ever come across one again, be sure to let me know!

PupillaCharites June 28, 2013, 3:38 pm

This is an old review but the concept of electrolysis is definitely one worth investigating to oxygenate water and really wasn’t covered … except to say that this gadget has not particularly caught on since 2008.

Bud Markhart, can’t be contacted anymore, I found his obituary less than one year old, RIP. I just wanted to caution anyone in hydroponics about this idea. Passing an electric current through low ppm water would certainly work. Since the amount of oxygen and hydrogen disolving in water is so small, this is a much more subtile way than a bubbler to pt a few mg of oxygen in your water. Oxygen is normally disolved around 10 ppm, so if you have 100 liters (about 25 gallons), the total oxygen in well oxygenated water will weigh exactly one gram and take up about 750 mL (a wine bottle full of O2 gas). For that one gram of oxygen, there will be only 120 mg of Hydrogen produced assuming all the oxygen in the 25 gallon reservoir came from electrolysis (quite a liberal assumption). So there is almost no chance of a problem.

But for hydroponics, your nutrient solution is filled with perhaps 1000 ppm of fertilizer salts which are difficult to keep perfectly dissolved. So, as a component of a hydroponic system, this would be a bad idea IMO for two reasons – 1) electrolysis of nutrient solution will likely percipitate some things and maybe more importantly maybe react them rendering them ineffective since they are now acting as electrolytes… What the blogger (thanks) said … if your only option is poorly oxygenated water, this can help. Surely there are way easier options to get such a small amount of oxygen in the water as mentioned by a bubbler or flowing it…

Jen May 28, 2010, 8:53 am

THANK YOU so much for this post. I bought one of these on impulse yesterday (the same $20 sale; I needed a gardening can with a long thin nozzle anyway, so no big loss if it didn’t work) but even the company’s website that’s prominently featured on the box is apparently for sale. And with the exception of your article and one lone Amazon review, every single ‘review’ of this is just parroting what’s on the box and the brochure that came with it. Ugh.

Anyway, we do have soil with horrible drainage here (straight clay) and some sections have treasured plants I won’t be able to pull so I can work organic matter into the soil to help loosen it up… so what the heck, maybe it’ll be worth it.

Again, thank you. I was a few minutes away from trying to track down the professor myself.

Kathy Purdy May 28, 2010, 6:53 pm

I’m glad we were able to help. Please stop back. After the first couple of months I just used it as a watering can. The long thin spout was useful. Mine developed a leak and I don’t use it anymore.

Chet February 9, 2010, 6:23 pm

For what it’s worth – There is a store here (English Gardens) that has these items at a terrific price ($19.99 reg. $99.99). They have a store here in Ann Arbor, MI. and others in the Detroit metro area. BTW, I have NO connection to them and don’t stand to gain monetarily, just love a good bargain! I’ve read enough that I’m going to try one, especially at this price. Cheers.

Tom Piedmont March 28, 2009, 10:03 pm

Just add an air bubbler to a bucket of water & you csan indrease oxygen, its very cheap VS the ENKI and works fine.

Jenn April 8, 2008, 10:40 pm

Thank you Alan, that’s very helpful to me!

Jenn

Alan Springett April 8, 2008, 10:47 am

From the description of the product for fish holding tanks, yes, the electolosis would be more effective in that pure O2 is being created and would more effectively supersaturate the water than atmosphere bubbled through the water. I would strongly suggest not smoking around a tank that had been closed during use, however, since a hydrogen-oxygen mix can be rather highly combustive. Even a higher percentage of oxygen could make things interesting, since a cigarette in a high O2 atmosphere can burn like a torch!

As an environmental geohydrologist, I would ask if testing has established that the soil biota will not go too far out of favorable population levels. Ground water cleanup activities often use chemicals to increase O2 levels in ground water to encourage specific aerobic micro-organisms to eat pollutants. Overuse of any O2 production scheme might tip soil biota into unhealthy percentages. Has research been done on this issue?

Jenn March 29, 2008, 5:24 pm

Will, that last is my question, too.

will hunt March 29, 2008, 5:15 pm

When I saw electrolysis as the underlying process my thought was for the hydrogen also produced and whether it might be hazardous (Don’t light that candle!) or advantageous or fun (Watch this, class!)

My other question was whether the process was a more effective oxygenator than a mere bubbler, as in a fish tank?

Jenn March 2, 2008, 10:36 am

Hey Paul,

Thanks!

That is a very interesting product.

Paul Sjogren March 2, 2008, 9:59 am

Jenn, I can point you in a direction to answer your question regarding oxygenation for fish life. O2 Marine is a licensee of the same technology used in the enki system. Their market focus is in sport fishing and they have products directly related to keeping fish alive. In fact, their web site is http://www.keepfishalive.com.

Jenn February 27, 2008, 4:07 pm

So this contraption suggests to me another use.

I’m in the desert and have a pair of stock tubs (100 and 160 gallons) with pond plants. It’s necessary to have some fish in their to keep the mosquito population down – but the warmer the water is, the less oxygen it can hold. And fish need the water to hold enough oxygen for their gills to process it out of the water to breathe. It’s hard on a fish when the water is near or over 100 degrees, which happens when the air temp night and day is above 110. (Can’t believe I’m talking about this on Cold Climate. Hi Kathy!)

I wonder if a system could be put together to aerate the water through the Enki and then to the pond. It would depend on how constant the electrical charge is, and how long that change of free oxygen lasts in the water before it is again bound up. I suspect the revision to a more stable state is pretty quick.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting concept, and a product for me to investigate.

wiseacre February 26, 2008, 1:30 pm

I didn’t mean to sound so much like a luddite. I was thinking of my mother-in-law and her kitchen gadgets at the time. She can pull out more helpers to just make a sandwich and a couple hours later we eat lunch.

Technology is a good thing, it’s just how we use it that sometimes makes me wonder. The ‘process’ might prove more benefical than anyone might imagine. Who knows what it can lead to? If it has to go through a ‘commerical’ phase to get there then thats the price I’m willing to let others pay. If it results in more people using less chemicals then I’ll buy one myself. If it leads to large scale use in irrigation systems for commerical growers and cuts down more chemial use – I’d buy two

Paul Sjogren February 26, 2008, 12:51 pm

It does sound like a paradox when we talk about using technology to achieve something natural. Although, if we can achieve better plant results without using any additional fertilizers or chemicals, it seems to be a trade off that’s worth looking at. I don’t suggest plants can do without fertilizer, rather we’ve proven that we can get an extra bump of performance without adding more. Using natural soil amendments in conjunction with the enki might be an interesting direction to take.

wiseacre February 26, 2008, 11:26 am

I’m a bit of a luddite. I prefer to do things without technology. I can’t imagine using more electric power to enhance the growing conditions of potted plants. It may be beneficial but at what cost? A 100 bucks ?
I’ll use good growing methods and be satisified with a little less growth (maybe)

Robin at Bumblebee February 25, 2008, 6:40 pm

Good post, Kathy. Very thoughtful.

Regarding this product, I was very skeptical when I saw the ads. Still am. But I did see a blurb somewhere that, as I recall, said adding oxygen to well water, in particular, was beneficial. I can’t recall where I read it, but it seemed to add some fuel to the product’s claims.

Still, I haven’t tried it. And although I have a host of houseplants, most of my plants are outdoors.

Robin at Bumblebee

Paul Sjogren February 24, 2008, 8:06 pm

Kathy, your are correct. I would not suggest one would want to use the enki to water an outdoor garden…we have some thoughts about future products to handle that. For now, deck gardening and indoor house plants are what we are focusing on.

Kathy Purdy February 24, 2008, 6:56 pm

I think Curtis’s point is a good one: it’s not really practical to water one’s entire vegetable garden with it. It seems to me to be practical only for container plantings (indoors or out).

Paul Sjogren February 24, 2008, 6:47 pm

I’m delighted to hear folks discussing the science behind enhancing oxygen at the root level. I’m the CEO of Ovation Science, the company that developed the enki. I can tell you that when I was first approached to start the company I too was skeptical. So much so that I spent five months investigating the technology and plant response data before I agreed to take on the venture. You will find lots of data regarding dissolved oxygen in hydroponics applications, but not much out there for soil media applications. We knew we needed more data. The first thing I did was to link up with Dr. Albert (Bud) Markhart, plant physiologist from the University of Minnesota, to conduct our plant response testing. Bud’s area of expertise is in natural gardening methods. The first series of tests confirmed that increasing the dissolved oxygen in water resulted in a positive response with several species. We’ve continued testing additional plants and expanded the tested to a larger scale at an organic farm…we’ve conducted tests there for two years now. We also concluded a test last fall at a commercial grower of plants used in hanging baskets. I’ve been very vocal about making sure we employ “good science” and quite frankly, the test results really surprised me.

Nancy Bond February 24, 2008, 10:55 am

This was a pleasure to read — clear, concise and useful.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens February 24, 2008, 10:44 am

This is a very helpful and informative post. There are so many new products and “cures” for whatever ails the garden that it is difficult to sort through them all and figure out what is for real and what is strictly for the profit of the person selling it. I can think of so many things to do my own research on… all kinds of fertilizer concoctions, hyrogels for watering, different potting soil mixes, products to keep rabbits out of the garden…

Curtis February 24, 2008, 10:34 am

If it adds O2 to the water, it will be better. Too me I cant see paying for something that has very limited use. I can’t see having to fill it up for everything in my garden.

Ellis Hollow February 24, 2008, 8:29 am

Just to be clear, I was not referring Enki in my generic and perhaps unfair opening line about ‘marketing departments’ above. I don’t know anything about their products.

And in all fairness, I shouldn’t lump all marketing departments together as playing fast and loose with the facts. The very best marketers know their products and do a good job of finding customers who will reap benefits by purchasing their product. Even if you have a great product, you still have to market it, and that takes people with the special skills to do that.

Ellis Hollow February 24, 2008, 8:20 am

Even with rigorous testing, it’s incredible what the folks in the marketing department will do with those results sometimes. I recall a story told to me a long time ago about a particular product that was tested by a research organization with a pretty good reputation.

The tests showed that there was no statisically significant difference between treatments using the product and the controls. In other words, it was very likely that the product was ineffective, at least under the test conditions.

Not wanting their investment in the research to be all for naught, the products’s marketing folks came up with an ad campaign to the effect of, “Unbeaten in tests at [research organization]!”

That was technically true, I guess. But a closer look at the numbers might have led to the headline, “Not any better than doing nothing.”