Friday, May 16, 2008

To Be Organic...That is the Question

What does it mean to be an Eco-Friendly Gardener? What does it mean if the label says ‘Organic, Natural, Natural Based, OMRI, Eco-friendly or Contains Natural Ingredients?’

Here are some simple terms to learn about:
'Fertilizers' are any product that contains a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (N-P-K). The number such as 10-6-4, or 5-10 is the percentage of nutrient in the bag. The numbers or percentage must add to at least five or 5%.
‘Organic’ means the ingredients must have been alive at one time. This could either mean plant or animal.
‘Natural’ means minimally processed ingredients, such as rock phosphate. It can also refer to something mined, such as perlite or vermiculite.
‘Organic Based´ means 50 percent or more of the guaranteed nutrients are from an organic source.
‘OMRI’ (Organic Material Reasearch Institute) listed means the product has been approved for organic production, processing and handling. OMRI products are the most desired by those that are true organic growers. The products are tested by an independent institute. For a product to display this seal, it must meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
'Microbes' in the soil are beneficial bacteria that help break down organic matter into more usable forms that plants can take up.
‘Compost Tea’ is not a fertilizer. A 'Tea' consist of beneficial microbes in liquid form added to the soil to assist plants to take up nutrients by breaking down the organic matter into smaller more usable forms. Soil Soup is a great source of microbes.
'Mycorrhizae Fungi' located on the outside and inside of roots help enable the plant to take up some essential nutrients. They are especially beneficial as a plant partner in nutrient poor soils such as new housing subdivisions. The absence of Mycorrhizal fungi can slow plant growth. Natures Creation Plant and Soil Booster is a fantastic compost that has Mycorrhizal fungi. Not only does it help loosen clay soils, it helps the plant take up nutrients.

Organic vs. Synthetic Fertililzers:
A plant taking up an ingredient such as nitrogen does not distinguish whether it is from an organic or synthetic source. Organic fertilizer generally breaks down more slowly within the soil before it is in a form available for the plant to use. This period can often last several months. So when you have healthy old plants and need to gently feed them, organic products work best. Synthetic fertilizers take a great deal more energy to produce than organic types. This makes ‘organic’ fertilizers the “green” choice. Organic fertilizers are beneficial to the soil and helpful to Mycorrhizae and Soil Microbes. Composted mulches and soil conditioners contain the organic matter microbes feed on. Organic fertilizers are the food that feeds the microbes. Synthetic fertilizers feed the plants and not necessarily the soil. Synthetic fertilizers can be fast acting when a plant needs a boost, such as annuals which are grown for one season. They will need to be replaced yearly if not bi-yearly depending on the time release built into the fertilizer. Organic fertilizers typically have a lower ratio of N-P-K than synthetic fertilizers. Therefore, if one was to use organic fertilizers, more may need to be used in order to achieve a significant improvement to an unhealthy plant.

Choose your products wisely to make sure they help your plants perform their best. Make sure you read the label of ingredients and not just the name on the bag. It goes the same when you food shop. And most of all ask questions. Fine garden centers should have the answers at their finger tips making gardening fun, exciting, successful and Eco-Friendly.

See you in the nursery...LG

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