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What an organic program is NOT

October 30, 2008

Over the last year, I’ve done a lot of research into organic lawn programs. That’s also caused me to research “standard”, synthetic fertilizer-based programs, which I haven’t really dealt with since my days as a groundskeeper for a research facility in southern California. While there’s some great information out there, there’s also some that’s confusing or misleading.

  • A good organic program is not simply doing what you did with the big bag of Scotts NPK fertilizer from Wal-Mart, but substituting a bag that says “organic.” And doing a blanket spraying with a pesticide labeled organic is not necessarily better, either- a broad spectrum organic insecticide kills beneficial insects as dead as a synthetic one. A fantastic resource is Jeff Gillman’s “The Truth About Organic Gardening.” He walks the reader through a number of organic and synthetic products, and gives a pretty objective analysis of the pros and cons of each.
  • An organic program is not something you start on blindly. It should always start with a soil test. Here in Culpeper, you can pick up the sample boxes from the County Extension office on West Street. The samples get sent off to Virginia Tech, and you get the results a few weeks later. To be honest, a synthetics-based program should start that way too, but how many companies just use a one-size-fits-all approach?
  • An organic program is not a magic bullet. You’re rebuilding the web of life in the soil, which takes time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • An organic program is not a mystery. Middle school biology class probably taught you everything you need to know to understand the processes at work here. Plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) for life, but we’ve also learned that they need a lot more in terms of trace nutrients and minerals as well. You won’t get that from a bag, but you can get that from good compost and compost tea.

I like organic lawn and garden care not just because it’s better for the planet, but because it provides a far greater benefit to my homeowners: healthier plants, less inputs, and no little yellow placards telling you “stay off the grass or you’ll get sick.” If you’re interested, a great place to start is with Paul Tukey’s book “The Organic Lawn Care Manual.” They have it at the Culpeper Library. After that, if you need help, send me an email and we can get you started.

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