Are You Handling Quality Organic Fertilizers?
by Art Drysdale
Canadian Garden Centre & Nursery Magazine October 2002
Are you handling quality organic fertilizers? A new line is coming! The organic vs. synthetic fertilizer debate seems to be heating up. I think this is good. When I attended The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture in the late 50s/early 60s the schools’ superintendent at the time, C.H. ‘Bert’ Henning (an English graduate horticulturist), taught us about organic fertilizers. Cotton meal, blood and bone meal, fishmeal, kelp meal etc. were Bert’s recommendations. In our work in the school’s gardens we did use many chemical(or synthetic) fertilizers but that was mainly because most of the organic items Bert recommended were not available in the quantities that the gardens needed. We actually used mostly agricultural fertilizers such as 10-10-10 as a general purpose and super phosphate (0-20-0) for boosting root growth or flower/fruit development. In those years, there was very little development of long-lasting fertilizers except the Milorganite product made from sewage sludge in Milwaukee. At that time, that was too expensive for the school’s budget.
For the first 18 months after graduation I worked for one of the leading fertilizer manufacturers in Canada (Shur-Gain which became Nutrite), and within a few months I was even more knowledgeable about plant nutrition and fertilizers. I pointed out then that there is no research to prove that plants can tell the difference between nutrients from organic sources and those from synthetic products. None of that has changed even today though some of the not-so-knowledgeable proponents of organic-only products insist there is. Research does not prove that, even though many not-so-technical proponents have tried to ‘twist’ certain findings to make their work appear to show organic products are better for plants.
Ask most garden centre operators about the sale of organic products and they ’ll confirm that it’s easily possible to have various small lines of organic products take up major shelf space and yet the vast majority of sales are still for the wellknown synthetic products. This is likely due to various advertising that backs the synthetic products (not yet seen to any extent with the organic lines) as well as a reluctance by most gardeners to change their gardening practices. And yet, the organic industry has been growing at a rate of 20% per year for the last ten years throughout the world! Some garden centres, generally single-operations in smaller towns, have gotten on the organic bandwagon and are benefiting from it. Take the letter sent to Michael Dean, president of Gaia Green Products, by Nick Hodgkinson, owner of Sunny Woods Garden Centre in Crawford Bay, B.C., “Having used Gaia Green Premium Organic Fertilizers and specialty blends in our own market garden ….. we have chosen to recommend Gaia Green Premium Organic Fertilizers to our garden centre customers above all else with 100% satisfaction guarantee, money back--no questions asked.” In order to sell organic products, it’s necessary that the majority of sales staff be up on just what’s behind the entire organic gardening concept. Basically that concept is to feed the soil, not the plants. Synthetic fertilizers--all of them one or another form of a salt--feed the plants and may well harm not only the organic content of the soil, but will definitely reduce drastically the billions of microorganisms in the soil. Just a handful of soil can contain 25 billion organisms! Most such handfuls should contain up to 15,000 different species of microbes, 8,000 species of fungi and a small number of other little critters such as beneficial nematodes, protozoa and earthworms. Soluble synthetic fertilizers (whether applied as water-soluble or as granulated), over years, will damage and destroy many of these valuable organisms. So, recently we’ve had the concept of adding microorganisms to soils--products such as MYKE are coming to the fore. However, to add large amounts of synthetic fertilizers to soils where a product such as MYKE has been used is to reduce the effectiveness of the recently added soil mycorrhizal fungi. Specifically Premier Technologies, manufacturers of MYKE, recommend NOT using high phosphate soluble fertilizers (such as transplanter products) along with MYKE.
Unlike all the quickly soluble synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers require the efforts of various microorganisms to make them available to plants, thus they are naturally slow-releasing. As the organic fertilizers begin to break down they actually feed microorganisms and this in turn stimulates their population growth. The microorganisms are also valuable in facilitating the release of other nutrients that are present in soils, but are normally tied-up. Choosing an organic fertilizer line is not easy. A quick glance through this magazine reveals at least one advertisement for organic fertilizers. But there are many others. In addition, the major lines from companies such as Nu-Gro also have organic products. But, a complete line is what is needed. Each product in an organic line works together and enhances the others. Personally, I’ve spent considerable time with Michael Dean who started his Gaia (pronounced Guy-a) Green company a decade ago. He has a complete line (eight major products plus over dozen specialized ones--such as bat guano 0-15-0 and seabird guano 13- 12-3) and has marketed his products successfully in B.C. and Alberta for a number of years. He has involved municipal parks and golf course staff in those provinces who have written glowing reports on his products. For example, Ross Idler, trades gardener and acting foreman, City of Grand Forks facilities and parks department recently wrote as follows: “I have been using Gaia Green Products in all applications at the City since 1996. I use them to establish new plantings and to reinvigorate existing ones. The improvement to the soil structure and fertility are now obvious with more worms, healthier plants and fewer loses and disease in the landscapes. “Since the introduction of the Gaia Turf and Lawn Blend we have been fertilizing our premier baseball field, James Donaldson Park, exclusively with this fine product with great results. I get earlier green-up in the spring as well as richer colour during tournament time.” As this is written in early September, Michael Dean has just returned from Victoria where he was a delegate at IFOAM 2002, the 14th organic world congress and exhibit. In attendance were over 1500 delegates from 100+ countries--mostly scientists. He came back with strong interest being shown in his products/marketing from delegates representing countries as far away as Germany and Korea. Specifically, scientists from the Rodale Institute (US), Cuba and Germany expressed interest in conducting detailed research on his Glacial Rock Dust which is likely the superior source of minerals that feed microorganisms.
As a previous user of synthetic fertilizers exclusively, I have now switched a good part of my new garden to the Gaia Green products. I have to admit, I never thought the day would come that I would write positively about organic fertilizer products but Michael Dean has convinced me to try them, and I’ll be recommending that my listeners do the same.
Michael can be reached at
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