Introducing biodegradable paper pots to SA

Shaun Biggs with the specially designed tray loaded with Ellepots.

We’ve all seen those little plastic seedling inserts scattered around planting sites and nurseries, or the piles of polystyrene and plastic trays that are used to transport seedlings and cuttings to plantations around the country. They are difficult to collect and clean up for re-use after planting, are easily broken and discarded, and are extremely unfriendly to the environment.

Well, those days will soon be gone, at least for Ixopo-based Sutherland Seedlings, where the biodegradable Ellepot system is being introduced. This system uses FSC certified paper pots to grow seedlings and cuttings in, which simplifies the logistics of getting plants from nursery to field, simplifies and speeds up the planting process, and biodegrades naturally, leaving no mess behind.

Shaun Biggs of Sutherland Seedlings is convinced that the use of biodegradable Ellepots will revolutionise the nursery industry in South Africa over the next few years, not just for forestry but also for the vegetable, fruit and nut and landscaping industries. So much so that Sutherland Seedlings is now the partner for Ellepot SA, and will be selling and supporting the Ellepot system throughout southern Africa.

Ellepot is an integrated system that includes the nursery machinery, biodegradable paper for the Ellepots and trays that ‘air prune’ the plant’s roots. The paper pot in which the seedling/cutting grows is a simple paper roll, a bit like a fat cigar.

The system was developed in Denmark some 20 years ago and has been widely adopted in the vegetable, landscaping and ornamental industries in Europe, and is now utilised extensively in the forestry industries in Asia and South America. There are other systems that are also based on biodegradable seedling tubes, e.g. the Jiffy system. However Shaun has done his homework and believes the Ellepot system is more cost effective and allows the nursery more flexibility in which growing media they use.

Some forestry corporates in South Africa have experimented with the Ellepot system, but Sutherland Seedlings is the first forestry nursery in South Africa to produce Ellepots commercially.

In looking for an alternative to polystyrene trays, Shaun Biggs visited several nurseries in Uruguay and Brazil that are using Ellepots, and visited the Ellepot factory in Denmark. He initially purchased a second hand Ellepot machine just over a year ago, and has been trialing different papers, trays and delivery methods to tailor the system to South African silvicultural practices.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Oct 2017

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