There is something mysterious about scientific research that can be intimidating for those outside the inner circle. The jargon used, the attention to minute and seemingly mindless detail, the statistics (especially the statistics – I hate statistics), all add up to the impression of a brotherhood into which only those knowing the secret handshake are allowed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Research is purely and simply a matter of asking a question and then finding a way to answer it. Now the answer to your question may be just another question – or two – or three. However, even if that is the case, the new questions will almost always mean that you have a better and deeper understanding of the subject.
Greenhouse growers are in a wonderful position to carry out their own research. And to some extent every greenhouse grower already does so; in some cases it is at a very simple level and you have to think very hard to realize that in fact it is a research project. For example, what grower has not read a pesticide label with the words such as “because of the large number of ornamental plants, not all have been tested for tolerance to this product. Test spray a small area first to check for spray damage.” This is practical research at its most simple. In other cases it can be quite sophisticated, with some growers building specialized facilities, applying for research funding and dedicating personnel to run the project.
Other research trials that I routinely see growers involved with include:
• New varieties. Growers will be trialling them alongside existing varieties looking for differences in growth habits.
• New crops that might involve very different production requirements to others in the greenhouse.
• Use of plant growth regulators to understand how various crops react to a range of recommended rates.
• Biological control of plant diseases and plant pests.
• New production systems such as sub-irrigation in a small area of the greenhouse.
No matter what level of sophistication you are aiming for in your research, there are some simple guidelines to follow that will improve the confidence you have in the results:
• Treat as large a number of plants as possible (within reason, obviously).
• Always leave at least an equal number of untreated plants to compare to the treatment.
• Repeat the experiment at least once to see if you get the same results.
• If appropriate, try it again in a different season. The tolerance of a plant to a pesticide or its response to a growth regulator may be very different in summer compared to winter.
• Keep it as simple as possible and try to answer one question only. For example, if you are looking at the response of different varieties to a pesticide or growth regulator, stay with one product and one rate. The more factors you build into the trial, the more complex it becomes and the harder it is to notice patterns and results.
• Keep all other factors (e.g. environment, nutrition, irrigation methods) the same or as close to the same as possible.
• If possible, work with an extension specialist, researcher or consultant to help you get the most out of your research.
• Keep extensive notes – you will very quickly forget what you did and your results without good notes.
I know of many growers who, in the course of carrying out their own research, have also benefited financially. Some have done so by claiming tax credits, others by applying for and getting research funding from organizations such IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program). You are probably carrying out your own research anyway; why not investigate whether there are any funding or tax-break opportunities.
Practical research in your own greenhouse is always relevant to your situation, because you are asking (and trying to answer questions) that affect your production specifically (and possibly only you). And you don’t have to know everything about the subject beforehand. In fact, in the words of a somewhat famous researcher:
“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” Albert Einstein 1879-1955
Graeme Murphy is the greenhouse floriculture IPM specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at Vineland. • 905-562-4141, ext. 106, or
Greenhouse Grower Notes: September 2007
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