The top three horticulture-oriented articles of 2015

It’s always fun to look back and see which topics piqued people’s interest in the preceding year. You can never predict what will catch fire and what will fizzle. My partner in Sprayers101, Dr. Tom Wolf (@nozzle_guy) suggested we write a couple articles describing those high water marks. We chose to write two – I would cover horticulture and he would address broad acre field sprayers. However, this year-in-review doesn’t span the whole of 2015.

On May 29, 2015, Tom and I launched www.sprayers101.com. I like that sentence because it’s short and provides the reader with critical information. However, it really doesn’t convey the blood, sweat and tears that led up to that moment in time. For that, you have to appreciate what came before, so let’s step back a bit further.

On January 1, 2014, I launched www.sprayers101.com. Back then, the website was very different. It was more or less an online course for airblast applicators to learn how to calibrate, operate and maintain their airblast sprayers. My objective was to freely provide airblast sprayer operators with a convenient means to take my Airblast101 workshop on their own time, at their own pace.

I decided on the name “Sprayers101”. I thought it sounded like a first-year university course. I chose not to call the website “Airblast101” because I had an inkling it might one day include broad acre field crop sprayers, and perhaps, fixed and aerial sprayers. Being generic gave me room to grow.

After the launch, I lurked behind the scenes, addicted to Google Analytics (a diagnostic tool that let me assess how the site was being used). It was a thrill to see that people were using this new resource. I did notice, however, that they weren’t using it the way I had envisioned. I thought the user would start at the first page, following the course in a strict, linear fashion until they reached the end. They weren’t.

People were using it like a reference book. They searched out key words to get them to the topics they were interested in learning more about, and once they had what they wanted, they left. This told me that my audience was more interested in a sprayer library, not an online sprayer course. They were also interested in bite-sized morsels of information, not a long-term commitment. Videos were hot, and rambling was not.

Around that time, I’d been in communication with Tom. I proposed that we team up to re-create the website from the ground up. It would be easier to navigate, with more multimedia, and it would benefit from his considerable experience/research in field crop application. Happily, Tom agreed, and he brought a wonderful insight and creativity to the project. More than half-a-year’s work followed before we’d amassed enough content, and squashed enough programing bugs, to launch the new site.

Between January 1, 2014, and May 28, 2015 (17 months) I was pleased to have 31,500 page views on the website. In Ontario, approximately 10% of the sprayers in agriculture are airblast, so I’m assuming the North American ratio is at least that (although likely less). Not too shabby. Between the re-launch on May 29, 2015 and today (seven months) we’ve had 70,000 more! It would seem we’d done something very, very right.

Now that we’ve returned to present day, and without further reminiscing, I’d like to share with you the top three horticulture-oriented articles that received the most traffic in 2015:

Airblast101

It’s gratifying to see that my original concept is still popular. While technically, much of the website contains aspects of the Airblast101 course, this article is special. It contains links to download the new course Handbook as an eBook (tablet) or interactive PDF (computer). More than 200 pages, fully illustrated, it’s free to download and a limited number of hardcopies can be shipped for a modest fee upon request.

The sprayer operator – The most important piece of sprayer equipment

The popularity of this article surprised me. It’s one of the first articles I wrote when I started in 2008. It describes the many, many factors a sprayer operator must consider to achieve an efficient spray application. When I started, I researched and reviewed as many university and extension spraying articles I could. Each warned the reader to pay attention to one aspect of spraying or another, and it was overwhelming. This article collects all those factors in one spot, and while it doesn’t prioritize them, it does elevate the operator as the most critical part of the overall equation. I still like it, if only for the infographics that summarize and organize all the factors.

Spray Drift

I might be cheating to list this last article. It’s certainly not specific to horticulture, and it contains a number of videos and resources (kindly shared from many sources) that make it much more than a quick little article. I hope that its popularity is due to sprayer operators refreshing their understanding of how to reduce the potential for spray drift. Generally speaking, operators work very hard to keep spray on-target. Here in Ontario they are licenced, requiring them to complete regular training. There should be no secrets about pesticide drift, and when asked to speak on the topic I describe it exactly the same way to every audience, no matter their stake in the issue. Only when the topic is transparent and data-driven can it be properly addressed.

So, that’s it!
…I wonder how this article will rank in 2016?