Monday, April 22, 2013

Organic gardening, and how to celebrate Earth Day

May 2012 
Happy Earth Day!

Today I will give the terrace its first dose of organic seaweed emulsion (peugh!), in celebration. Fortunately, the smell dissipates in 24 hours.

I am increasingly mindful of the difference between organic fertilizers and synthetic chemical fertilizers. Recently I have been shocked (naively?) to the roots of my red hairs to learn that there are still serious gardeners and garden writers who see nothing wrong with using all-synthetic fertilizers on their gardens. Such willful ignorance of how gardens are tied to our environment floors me. The information is there at the click of a mouse, now. Not looking for it is like closing your eyes and saying, If I don't see it, it can't be happening.

There are chemicals in both organic and synthetic plant foods. But, very broadly speaking, synthetic chemical fertilizers feed the plant alone, and organics feed the soil, replenishing it and keeping minute soil life alive. The soil feeds the plant.

Organics also do not pollute our waterways and air in the way that synthetic fertilizers do, in terms of  run off and emissions. Those dead zones in the ocean, near river mouths? That's upstream runoff, often from farmland. Gardens and golf courses contribute to this water pollution (which is now thought to be killing manatees, as their sea grass diet is threatened by algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico). The process of manufacturing synthetic fertilizers is also very different, in terms raw materials used, and of the poisonous and greenhouse emissions that result.

May 2012

As a former blue crystal user I can assure you that there is new soil life and a beautiful garden at the end of the Miracle Gro tunnel. I have been gardening organically for years and the plants are very happy. The results are not as fast. With organics, soil organisms(often microscopic) must first break down the food to make it available to the plant. With synthetic chemicals, the "food" goes straight to the plant. The soil is also bereft of those tiny critters. They cannot tolerate such a salty environment. The soil is, for want of a less dramatic word, dead. And your plants are in constant need of a new fix.

Earth Day, 2013

In the beginning, I needed to exercise patience - always hard for me. But now my plants are rocking along. All you need to do is look at those yearlong strawberries and reblooming roses. Of course, my little garden makes no difference to the world. But if my little garden and the others like it are joined by your gardens, and your friends' gardens, then we have the beginning of the normalization of healthy living. So far, chemicals have been normal; I grew up with them.

We have begun to stop putting artificial ingredients in our bodies. Why? Because they can make us sick.  Now our gardens must follow suit.

May 2012

This evening, we will have supper by candlelight, as we usually do on Earth Day. Such a trivial (though gentle) act makes no difference, in and of itself, in isolation. But the gesture, especially if it is shared, goes towards that building of awareness, which is so important. The more people observe Earth Day, the more normal the conversation - and conservation - becomes...

Earth Friendly Fertilizers:

The key is to read: Ingredients, labels, and what you can about the source of ingredients.

Regarding brands, Espoma, (so far)
Compost - compost is the best thing you can do for your garden. Mix it with top soil and potting soil, and use it as a mulch.
Aged manure - check source. You do not want sludge, which is treated sewage (think heavy metals and tarces of antibiotics)
Guano - bird poo. Wonderful stuff. Check source, if you can.
Worm castings
Seaweed extracts
Fish meal

Please add your suggestions in the comments.

And what are you doing, this Earth Day?


  1. We just fed our soil some worm castings a few weeks ago and the plants growing in that soil couldn't be happier! Also we use compost and manure that feeds our plants.

    Today on Earth day, we'll be planting the pumpkin and watermelon seeds for the summer. Always fun to pick some pumpkins in the middle of summer to make some fresh pies.

  2. I have been struggling to keep a dwarf meyer lemon tree alive. Do you know of any organic fertilizer/food that might help? It's been indoors all winter with plenty of light and the right amount of water and seemed to be thriving. Then, all of a sudden, it began dropping leaves and looked like it was going to die, but now, I see some new growth. Still, though I've had it for a year and a half, no flowering or fruit.

    1. I have no personal experience of growing an indoor lemon, but Jobes does make a citrus food.

      In general when stressed, plants prefer not to be fed. Best to let it recover, first.

      Have you ever fertilized your tree?

      Leaf drop could be caused by drought, or by overwatering. Hard to know which, from a distance. New growth sounds promising.

      Also, rotate the pot so all sides get light.

    2. fwiw: my experience with citrus in pots (in California) is that my citrus would drop all their leaves due to lack of water. Was terrifying to see, but with proper water and attention, the leaves would grow back relatively quickly. Overwatering tended to lead to droopy yellow leaves, but not a leaf drop. Your mileage may vary however. If you're seeing new growth, that's a good thing.

  3. I've been using Espoma products for years- all with gorgeous results. I also use clean waste products from local waste water treatment plants. In Akron, Ohio the city offers the best bagged organic fertilizer you can use, plus clean mulch from tree chipping. When we're up visiting that neck of the woods, my husband will drive back a trunk full to use here in New Orleans. It's like a magic bullet!

  4. a lovely, gentle manifesto!

  5. My plants seem to like Espoma, and doses of fish fertilizer.

    The real trouble I have is with procuring a decent organic potting mix. This year I've tried my own mix, but we shall see how that turns out.

    I've considered adopting worms!

  6. Couldn't agree more. We use homemade compost from kitchen and garden waste and scatter organic chicken poo pellets that are very easy to buy at garden centres here. We are totally organic now, except, and it is a big except, we have areas of triffid nettles that we do nuke once a year with a chemical spray, handpulling (ouch!) the rest of the year. They are monsters, I wish we didn't have to spray them. (We do leave them to romp in more hidden areas since they are great for butterflies.)

    Love your honouring of Earth Day. It isn't an event well publicised here in the U.K.

  7. Llama poo, from my work buddy whose 77yo mom has 15 of them! Great stuff.

  8. I bought bags of bone meal, rock phosphate and a number of other organic fertilizers hoping to mix up a batch of all purpose fertilizer but couldn't find any good 'recipes' online. Can you help?

    1. You might want to look at the "square foot garden" website and see if he has a recipe, or Andre Viette. I think they both have shown recipes in the past.

    2. Sounds great leedav - the recipe depends very much on what else you have. I'll ask around.

      Do watch out for rock phoshate. It is strip mined and its processing is problematic (lots of toxic fluoride is released). Bonemeal is an alternative.

  9. Espoma is my main food, but i do also make compost year round. Hope to grow my own worms in a few years and add castings to the mix.

    And a once a year drenching with 50 gals of pond water! (When we clean out the pond!)

  10. Thanks for your great post, Marie.
    On Earth Day, my gardener friend and I planted 1700 bulbs in the green - mix of snowdrops, winter aconites and bluebells - 300 gladiolus acidanthera bulbs and over 100 young alliums. Had our appreciative hands right in it : )

  11. Great information.

    Thank-you !


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