Organic Gardens of Love and Healing
The philosophy of growing turf, or anything else, organically is simply that a healthy soil grows healthy plants. When you feed the life in the soil, those growing populations of microorganisms begin to accomplish many jobs that now consume great amounts of your time, money, and energy. For example, microorganisms serve to help fertilize, by fixing nitrogen from the air, mineralizing soil organic nutrient, generating carbon dioxide (the plant’s most needed nutrient), and dissolving mineral nutrient from rock; de-thatch, by decomposing thatch and other organic matter into valuable nutrients and humus, which in turn increase the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil; aerate the soil; and control many lawn pests and disease problems by competition and predation. These are only five examples, derived from a far greater list. It is widely accepted by researchers that many of the benefits we get from soil life have yet to be discovered.
Private residences and other developed properties hold a great potential for restoring quality, quantity, and richness of the plant and wildlife habitat that has been displaced. By maintaining a healthy habitat in our yards, we create healthier living. Plants in richly vegetated spaces absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, thus renewing our air supply. Plant foliage captures dust and other pollutants, purifying the air we breathe. Vegetated areas aid in erosion and soil conservation. Plant roots hold soils in place, while plants impede water runoff.
A diverse landscape containing many species of plants not only supports an abundance of wildlife, it is also less prone to large scale devastation from insect pests or diseases.
Organic gardening uses soil enhancements that really work, avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers which poison the environment. Inorganic fertilizers have a salt base, which causes imbalance in the pH of most soils. These fertilizers are causing a toxic buildup of nitrates and drinking water, wreaking havoc in streams, lakes, and even the oceans. Farmers are now aware of the problem and are looking to alternative methods and products, and we home gardeners should be doing the same. Chemical fertilizers also destroy the beneficial microorganisms in the soil.
A good application of organic mulch and a little compost worked into the top few inches of the soil should take care of the nutrients your plants require and therefore reduce the need for fertilizers. In fact, many native plants dislike chemical fertilizers and grow better without fertilizers of any kind.
The most important step in pest management is to maintain healthy soil. Good, healthy soil produces healthy plants which are better able to withstand plant diseases and insect damage. Practicing “green landscaping”, including efficient watering, planting, soil building, and reduction of rainfall runoff, will significantly reduce your pest problems.
Before considering what control measure to use, identify what is harming your plants. Insect infestations and diseases are often not the main problem, but rather a symptom of stress caused by poor growing conditions such as sterile or compacted soils, nutrient deficiencies, too much or too little moisture, or a poorly adapted plant for the climate or the particular landscape conditions. Simply correcting the stressful condition may control the pest and prevent further infestations.
Of the millions of kinds of insects in the world, less than 2 percent are harmful. Beneficial insects such as ground beetles, ladybugs, fireflies, green lacewings, praying mantis, spiders, and wasps keep harmful insects from devouring your plants. They also pollinate your plants and decompose organic matter. Chemicals harm these beneficial insects more than the unwanted pests.
Don’t run for a can of pesticide when you could pick off a few pests by hand. A blast of water can strip aphids from your plants. Use pruning shears to remove tent caterpillars in the trees. Pruning and removing diseased leaves, branches, or whole plants can stop the spread of disease. Use the least-disruptive and least-polluting protections against a pest before resorting to stronger controls.
Traps work by attracting a target pest into a container from which it cannot escape. Place traps away from your garden so the pests don’t eat your plants before they are caught. Electric “bug zappers” destroy many more beneficial insects than harmful ones. Use traps that attract only the insects that are causing you problems.
The least-polluting chemical controls are botanical pesticides. All pesticides are toxic to some living things and often indirectly affect other living things. The botanicals are derived directly from plants, and a few are even more toxic than some synthetics, but break down much faster than synthetics, and are not known to accumulate in the food chain as synthetics are.
Mineral pesticides are dormant and horticultural oils and powdered diatomaceous earth, which are lox-toxicity and safe to use.
Synthetic pesticides are chemical compounds invented in a laboratory. Some are more toxic than others, some are longer-lasting than others, and some release compounds that are more toxic than the original pesticides when they break down in the environment. Some accumulate in the environment and cause harm far removed from the original site or purpose of application. Others do not break down for long periods of time and remain in the soil or water.
Create a haven for beneficial insects in your yard.
They will come to the landscape if they are provided the following:
Water ) this could be as small as a bowl or bird bath or as large as a pond, just as long as it is available and filled with fresh water all year. Be sure to keep the water fresh; stagnant water attracts mosquitoes and other insect pests.
Shelter ) grow a variety of plants, including annual flowers, perennial flowers, bulbs, grasses, small shrubs, large shrubs, and deciduous and evergreen trees. The beneficial insects will find their niches.
Food ) pollen and nectar sustain some insect predators when insects are not available to eat. Birds and squirrels enjoy fruits, grain, and seeds, especially during the winter. Once beneficial insects, birds, and animals get to know a particular landscape as a place to find food all year, they will come back.
How to water correctly
Much of the water applied to lawns and gardens is never absorbed by plants. The greatest waste of water results from applying it too rapidly or too often. Water applied too rapidly is lost as runoff, which may carry polluting fertilizers and pesticides to streams and lakes. Some water evaporates when applied to bare, unmulched soil, or is lost into the air when applied as a spray, especially on hot afternoons.
Apply water infrequently yet thoroughly. In the absence of rain, most trees, shrubs, and ground covers will benefit from this watering schedule. With regards to lawns, this will create a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses water stored in the soil. Watering early in the morning prevents mildew diseases and minimizes evaporation.
Your soil type will determine frequency and duration of watering necessary. Clay soils require more frequent, less thorough soaking. Sandy soils won’t hold much water without humus. All landscape needs more watering the first three years of life, and can be put on a less intense schedule after that.
By using the natural characteristics and tendencies of your landscape, you can reduce the required water use and expense. The word xeriscape is often used to describe this landscaping philosophy, describing water-conserving landscaping techniques and practices. This includes the use of native or well-adapted plants, mulching, and efficient irrigation systems.
Use water discriminatingly and efficiently. Create watering zones to accommodate plant groupings, and avoid watering walks, pavement, and walls. In-ground systems that are properly installed, maintained, and monitored allow efficient use of water resource. The water flows under low pressure through emitters, bubblers, or spray heads placed at each plant. Use timers and/or moisture sensors to prevent over-watering. Drip irrigation is also a water saver. Soaker hoses deliver water directly to the base of the plant, reducing moisture loss from evaporation.
If using sprinkler irrigation, make sure heads are properly adjusted to direct the water towards plants, not sidewalks. A sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water instead of a fog or fine mist, which wastes water by evaporation and wind drift.
Mulch is a material spread on top of the ground to benefit soil and plant health, and make landscape maintenance easier. It is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most effective things you can do to improve your yard and the environment. Mulching benefits are as follows:
- Prevents soil compaction
- Prevents erosion
- Suppresses weeds
- Captures rainwater and irrigation water and retains soil moisture
- Protects roots from the sun’s heat
- Protects plant crowns from winter cold
- Protects and stimulates healthy microbial activity in the soil
- Adds nutrients to the soil as the mulch breaks down
- Mulch all areas that are not in grass or thick ground cover
- To prevent diseases and pest infestation, avoid piling mulch against tree trunks.
- Use a layer of coarse mulch 3″ or more in depth for weed control.
- Cover perennials with several inches of loose mulch to protect from winter cold.
- Spread mulches under annuals after they are 4″ to 6″ tall.
- Water the ground thoroughly before and after applying a mulch cover.
Some good mulching materials are: compost, grass clippings (dried), shredded leaves, old straw, wood shavings or bark chips. Avoid using plastics, fabric, or gravel. They are unattractive, and don’t break down into humus for the soil.
The Organic Method from Dr. Earth, Inc.
There is nothing mysterious or magical about organic gardening. It is simply a way of working with nature rather than against it. The objective is to recycle organic matter back into the soil, to maintain soil structure and fertility, and to encourage natural methods of pest and disease control, rather than relying on chemicals. It is, in fact, a lot less mysterious than the methods employed by the chemical grower. Organic gardening is much more than just growing plants without chemical fertilizers and artificial sprays. It is a lifestyle. It recognizes that that the complex workings of nature have been successful at maintaining life for hundreds of millions of years, so the sound organic cultivating principals closely follow those found in the natural world. Do not be fooled into thinking that these principals will have a detrimental effect on yield and quality. In fact, you are likely to increase both, and in doing so, you will be providing an alternative habitat for wildlife, while being certain that the fruits and vegetables you have produced in your garden are safe, nutritious and chemical free. You will also be reducing the possibility of the harmful side effects from pesticides that are on the increase in infants and young developing adults. Of the approximately 50,000 home pesticide poisonings each year, 17,000 are among children under the age of 4. Pesticides can remain active for years. They are poisonous and designed to kill. The organic gardener uses a more constructive approach based on the awareness that there is a balance in the natural world which allows all species to co-exist without any one gaining dominance. By growing a wide diversity of plants, the organic gardener will attract and build a miniature eco-system of pests and predators so that, provided the balance isn’t upset by killing them with chemicals, no species will be allowed to build up to an unacceptable level. The soil is teaming with millions of microorganisms which, in the course of their lives, will release those nutrients required for healthy plant growth from organic matter. So, rather than feeding the plants, the organic method is to feed the soil with natural materials and allow the plants to draw on that humic reservoir of nutrients as they need them. Plants grown this way will be stronger and more able to resist attacks by pests and diseases. Dr. Earth Pro-BioticTM is built on this sound principle. It works and lasts for years as it becomes a part of the living soil.
The Chemical Method
The purely chemical gardener uses soil simply as a means of anchoring plant roots and of holding artificial fertilizers to provide plant nutrients. This approach seems to have good results, but only in the short term. In the long term, it has disastrous consequences. Because organic matter is not replaced, the soil organisms die out. Without them the soil structure breaks down and the soil becomes hard, airless and unproductive. Attempts at “force-feeding” plants result in soft, sappy growth, which is prone to attack by a host of pests and diseases. When a plant is forced to grow with a chemical, high NPK fertilizer, it becomes weak. As plant cell walls are developing they do not have enough time to produce two important compounds, cellulose and lignins. These substances give the cell wall its structural integrity. As cells are forced to duplicate and grow quickly, the amount of cellulose and lignins are decreased, making the plant tissues much softer and more appealing for pests to attack. Think of it this way. It is like chewing on a piece of butter lettuce for us as opposed to chewing on a piece of wood. The same is true for insects. They prefer that tender soft growth. In order to control insects, chemical pesticides are used, often with short term success. But, in killing the pests, pesticides also kill their natural predators. Eventually, the problem gets worse. Stronger and more poisonous pesticides have to be resorted to, and so it goes on. It is a vicious cycle that, once started, is difficult to break. We at Dr. Earth will help you to grow all plants and control those insects naturally without the harmful side effects of chemical products. This is our lifestyle and contribution to all gardeners and our environment.
Milo Lou Shammas
Dr. Earth, Inc.
Clean Water, Clean Lakes
The connection between fertilizer & water quality
Water quality starts at home
Clean Water in our lakes, reservoirs and streams starts at home with basic practices you can incorporate into your lawn and garden care program. Water quality begins at home. There is a pipeline from your garden to a body of water. Regardless of where you live, you are a part of a watershed – a region where water flows across or under on its way to a lake, river, stream or ocean. Year-round lawn and garden care practices impact water quality even if you don’t live near a body of water.
The problem: Water-soluble Phosphorous
Thanks to modern science, we now understand how the Phosphorous contained in fertilizers contributes to poor water quality. Phosphorous is the middle number on the ”NPK” analysis printed on a fertilizer bag. It is present in all living things including the soil. Too much Phosphorous however, can disrupt nature’s delicate balance. Runoff carries excess Phosphorous from fertilizers across lawns, roads and woods into ditches and streams which eventually run into reservoirs, lakes, bays or the ocean. Water soluble Phosphorous is ”junk food” for the algae present in all these waterways.
Lawns – a big contributor to the problem
Lawns and plants are not usually able to absorb all of the water soluble fertilizers in chemical fertilizers, so some of it becomes the source of water pollution. As algae grow out of control (known as algae ”bloom”) it reduces the clarity and visibility of the water. This in turn reduces photosynthesis by oxygen-producing aquatic plants, therefore reducing the oxygen in the water. Some forms of blue-green algae can even be toxic. Repeated algae blooms can create green-colored lakes with low oxygen often resulting in fish kills or depleted water habitat for fish, wildlife and humans. Additionally, such conditions may degrade drinking water supplies and create other environmental nuisances. Many cities have put a ban on the use of chemical fertilizers in close proximity to lakes and rivers for this very reason.
The impact of algae
As watersheds are adapted from their natural state to residential, commercial or industrial uses, the amount of Phosphorous runoff into lakes may increase up to five to ten times. Algae-impacted lakes affect a community in several ways. Poor water quality significantly impacts the recreational value and use of the waterway and may reduce the value of the surrounding properties.
My personal concern
I am personally affected in this manner. I live on a 45 acre walnut farm which also serves as a testing ground for a wide variety of plants and trees. There is a good-sized creek running through the property. From time to time, I personally witness algae blooms in the creek’s water as the neighboring farms apply chemical fertilizers and sprays to their crops. I enjoy fishing and eating a fresh-caught trout or bass once in a while, but I am genuinely concerned about the quality of the creek water which directly affects the quality of the fish in this creek. Of course, I only use organic fertilizers on my farm, but I cannot control what the other farmers use. This is a good illustration of the importance of using water-insoluble fertilizers such as Dr. Earth in our homes, farms and communities.
Pollution from runoff
Runoff of agro-chemicals during storm and irrigation events is a significant concern from the standpoint of surface water quality. The delivery of phosphorous and pesticides into the surface water via runoff may contribute acute or chronic eco-toxic effects. Numerous studies have documented that the transport of agro-chemicals via runoff to streams is facilitated primarily by sediment movement. It has been observed that concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen are often richer in the deposited sediment than the source soil. Fine soil particles if not blended with coarse organic materials tend to move quickly during irrigation or runoff events. This becomes even more critical in times of heavy rainfall as sediment-laden runoff moves from the land to the waterways.
There is a Solution to phosphorous runoff. Dr. Earth organic fertilizers contain only water-insoluble forms of Phosphorous and will ensure that the fertilizer applied remains in the soil. The Phosphorous will not leach into the water table and travel into waterways. Dr. Earth contains Pro-BioticTM beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizae. A vital mechanism for nutrient transfer by plants lies in the microbial process of the soil. The microbes’ ability to breakdown organic matter quickly then release it as plant nutrients slowly and continuously over time increases yield and builds the humus reserve in the soil. Humus conversion increases the soils ability to absorb and retain water, further reducing runoff and fertilizer loss caused by water or other erosive forces.
Be part of the solution!
Apply fertilizers only when they are needed, during the proper season and in the correct amounts. Avoid getting the fertilizer on driveways, sidewalks and in storm drains. Above all, apply carefully, especially when using chemical fertilizers.
Don’t let your fertilizers get into lakes, streams or ponds. On lawns, use a mulching mower and cut no more than the top third of the grass. Keep leaves, grass clippings and soil out of streets and gutters. Clean up after your pet, pet waste contains phosphorous. Prevent soil erosion by covering the ground with vegetation or mulch. Use Dr. Earth organic fertilizers to feed plants in your yard, garden and lawn to avoid applying water soluble Phosphorous.
We all share the same pool of water. Be conscientious in your gardening habits to ensure that future generations will enjoy a healthy, toxic-free environment. Poor water quality can impact the ability of fish and other wildlife to reproduce, feed and survive in the dynamic aquatic environment. It all starts in our own backyard and ends in a large body of water. Please act as a responsible steward of our environment.
Milo Lou Shammas
President and Chief Scientist
Dr. Earth, Inc.