“With Kratiste’s support stick, we hit two targets with one arrow: CO2 is sequestered in the stick itself and, thanks to the stick, the plant – that also absorbs CO2, grows. So, a truly sustainable alternative.”
We speak to the Dutch grower Bart Janssen, co-owner of tropical plant nursery CoBaplant about Kratiste. Kratiste is the name of the company he set up with partner Mikel Olierook. With his company Ruplex, Mikel specializes in developing biodegradable materials and is considered the inventor, so to speak, while the idea for the application comes from Bart. Because this application is unique and because it seems to have even more potential applications in store for specific horticulture – think of picks, pots, plugs, etc. – they decided to start a separate entity.
Potato peelings and elephant grass
The climbing stick or pole is inserted into the pot of climbing plants so that they grow vertically. The climbing poles are a replacement for the PVC and coconut varieties. These raw materials were replaced by potato peelings and Miscanthus Giganteus (Elephant grass). The rough texture provides extra long moisture as well as a good structure for the plant to grab onto.
The ideal climbing stick has quite a list of requirements: it is industrially compostable, is sufficiently durable to allow the plant to grow against it, and also provides the plant with sufficient opportunity to attach to it (and therefore preferably has a ‘tree bark structure’). All these properties are united in the Kratiste climbing vine, but from the other side, this comes at a price. “Currently, it is about 50% more expensive than a standard moss stick. That’s a lot, but if we could scale up further, it should definitely be able to be cheaper. Besides, we are helping the farmer, elephant grass is good for his land, and we are taking a residual product. Besides, being a bit more expensive is probably not a problem. Consumers are quite willing to pay for it.”
The first prototype was made in 2020, and now, the product is commercially available. It is an extrusion product, and the machine is at Ruplex in Geldermalsen, the Netherlands. Both the grass and the peelings come from Dutch soil. Apart from CoBaplant, there are already several growers who also see an opportunity in it, including Zeurniet, Fachjan, and Plantanious. The task now is to build more brand awareness, especially in the garden center and among consumers.
CoBaplant grows a range of green plants, including philodendron, scindapsus, epipremnum, and schefflera. Until recently, the range also included Thunbergia alata, also known as Suzanne-with-the-pretty-eyes, a plant that Bart says always fitted in nicely with the rest but which has now been discontinued because the grower had his hands full for nine weeks of the season, seven days a week. The greenhouse itself is still fine, cultivation-wise, but aged. The plants can grow with almost no light but do need a bit of temperature. Luckily, the underfloor heating, dating from the days when tomatoes were grown in the greenhouse, makes maximum use of low-grade heat, the water that has already gone through the minimum pipe.
In cultivation, the brothers have been working with biological control agents for some time, which are doing their job, CoBaplant has had very little trouble with thrips. “With chemicals, I sometimes had to go around several times a week while hardly touching those critters at the bottom. Now I only have to correct them now and then, which is no longer a comparison with what it was. Besides, those bugs could resist just about anything. The resistance is a lot less again now, in my opinion.”
The old-school moss stick is made of PVC and coconut
Step in the right direction
CobaPlant is confident that the introduction of the new climbing stick is another step in the right direction for a sustainable future. “Horticulture is not facing an easy time, but it has an important role to play in terms of energy. With solar panels in the glass, with geothermal heat, and in many other ways, we are playing a role in energy supply. Maybe one day it will even come to the point where we become net energy producers.”
However, the uncertainty regarding the high energy costs is high for now. “The certainties of the past are gone. On the one hand, we used to cultivate on a four-lane highway, and now we do it on a string. Turning the knobs a bit won’t get you there. You have to hold everything up to the light. But now entrepreneurs are being forced to tweak their formula, and the government is killing the healthy sustainability of our business.”
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