Date of Award

2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Horticulture

Advisor

Stephanie Burnett

Second Committee Member

Lois Stack

Third Committee Member

Marianne Sarrantonio

Abstract

Organic, sustainable, and locally produced products form a rapidly growing segment of the green industry. My goal was to address the issue of sustainable production from both the consumers' point of view and from the growers' point of view—in particular to explore the issue of consumer interest in organic, sustainable, and locally produced bedding plants and to attempt to solve one of the production challenges (using organic fertility and substrates) of bringing organic and sustainable plants to market. In order to determine consumer interest in organic, sustainable, and locally grown plants, we developed a survey which was distributed at four venues frequented by gardeners. The survey sought to identify gardener interest in these plants as well as how much money they would be willing to spend on them. Median interest in organic and sustainable vegetable and ornamental plants was comparable to each other and was a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 = low interest and 10 = high interest. Gardeners were willing to pay a premium for organic and sustainable vegetable and ornamental flowering plants, however they were willing to pay 15% and 10% more for vegetables and ornamentals, respectively. Interest and willingness to spend money on organic and sustainable plants was positively correlated with previous annual expenditures on plants; income was also positively correlated with a willingness to spend. Greater education was positively correlated with willingness to spend on organic and sustainable vegetables; age was negatively correlated with interest in sustainable vegetables and ornamentals. Finally, females were more likely to have higher interest in both organic and sustainable vegetables and ornamentals. To address the fertility/substrate challenge, we evaluated seven New England region composts that were mixed in a 1:1:1 ratio with equal parts peat and perlite. Basil and marigold plants were grown for six weeks in these compost treatments or a commonly used conventional substrate and were given no supplemental fertility. Four composts produced unmarketable plants; three of the composts produced marketable plants based on final morphological results. Marketable compost treatments had lower dry bulk density; higher total carbon; higher dissolved organic carbon (DOC); and generally higher amounts of total nitrogen, total [NH4]+ nitrogen, and total [N03]" nitrogen. Nitrogen dynamics played a large role in the success of compost treatments, however DOC results suggest that leaching of nutrients may be responsible for why some of our compost treatments performed poorly. Compared to the commercial control treatment, compost treatments had significantly lower amounts of certain micronutrients—Zn, Mn, and Fe. EC and sodium content of the composts treatments were in some cases exceptionally high, leading us to believe that EC may not be as effective of a diagnostic tool in compost substrates. In conclusion, some composts seem to be able to provide comparable fertility to the inorganic starter charge that accompanies many commercial substrates.

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