Monday, August 1, 2011

The perfect hair "do" for your garden?

I’m not very squeamish when it comes to adding things to my garden for nutrients. Rotten fruit, critter poop, dead hornworms and huge baseball size balls of lint that I pull out of my dryer, all look like possible fertilizer, to me.

But I have to say that when I first heard about SmartGrow products, the idea kind of creeped me out.

From their website:

SmartGrow is an all-natural organic plant-growth supplement. Our organic plant growth mats are an economical way to achieve lush, healthy plant growth. Your plants will grow thicker more robust roots and stems, have healthier greener leaves, and more and longer lasting buds. All this while reducing watering time, the need for fertilizer, and helping to prevent weeds. SmartGrow makes it easy to grow strong, healthy plants organically. SmartGrow promotes enhanced root growth, replaces herbicides and the amount of traditional fertilizers - saving you time and money.

Wow. As an eco-friendly gardener, determined to help keep chemicals out of the Bay, that certainly sounds like a great product to me. But I think even the manufacturers must realize that the material for these mats is at least a little bit troubling. If you just poke around on their website without clicking on any of the videos, it takes quite a bit of digging to find out what these mats are made of. Even though I had heard what they were made of, I didn’t see it in writing anywhere on the site until I clicked on the link for the Material Safety and Data Sheet (pdf) hidden down a few levels. Ahh. There it is. “Composition / Information on ingredients: 100% human hair.”

The creep-out factor got a little stronger after I watched their videos and saw the photos of warehouses full of hair just waiting to be turned into garden nutrients.

But creep-out factor aside, I guess the big question is, how well does it work? Although there are some testimonials on the website from various farmers and gardeners, I couldn’t find any actual research to back up the claims for either weed prevention or fertilizer potential. There is a vague document pertaining to some research done by the University of Georgia on the water retention capabilities of the product. It wasn’t clear to me what the research was proving so I’ll have to go by my own research on that one. My own hair doesn’t really retain water for very long, especially if I am out in the sun.

A light bulb did go off in my head when I was thinking about another possible benefit of using human hair in the garden, but it was quickly turned off.

Human hair has long been touted as a home-solution for keeping deer away. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U. S. National Arboretum both list human hair as a possible deterrent for deer. So placing woven-hair mats around our plants might seem like the perfect solution.

I didn’t receive any reply in my attempts to contact the manufacturers of SmartGrow products and could not find any research online about the possible deer deterring benefits. But a little further reading led me to believe that it probably wouldn’t work for that problem.

Deer deterrents usually work in two ways, either by smell or taste. Human hair is thought to deter deer by the smell. So the thing that takes much of the yuck factor out of the thought of using human hair in the garden – a 120 degree bath – also probably takes away any remaining smell.

SmartGrow relies on two hair brokers — in China and India — to procure the hair, which is boiled in 120-degree water, dried, loaded onto 40-foot boats and shipped via waterway to a port city in China. Then it is transported to the small town of Zhaoyuan, home of the SmartGrow factory. (source)

(If you want to be really grossed out, the source for the paragraph above also said that imported human hair is used to make pizza and bagels.)

In any case, I think I might try one of their hairmats, at least in some of my potted plants. They certainly can't be as gross as my homemade hornworm plant supplements.

For More Information: Deer Repellents, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm . . . also a factor in whether I'd buy this product is the use of all those fossil fuels to process and ship this product. Wondering if some American entrepreneur might get the idea to collect clippings from Hair Cuttery and other hair dressers and sell the product locally. I have asked my hair dresser for bags of clippings to use as a deer repellant. My only concern would be about using hair that has been dyed, etc.


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