I Am Now Using Organic Fertilizers,
Are You? 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. where 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
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 con-firm 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 well-known 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
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 micro-organisms are also valuable
in facilitating the release of other nutrients that are pre-sent in soils,
but are normally tied-up.
Choosing an organic fertilizer line is not easy. A quick glance through
one of the horticultural trade magazines will reveal at least one or two
advertisements 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.
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
0-25-0 and sea-bird guano 12-12-2.5) 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
and they have written glowing reports on his products. For example, Ross
Idler, trades gardener and acting foreman, City of Grand Forks facilities
and parks department wrote: “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 (0-0-1) 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
Dean may be reached at 1-800-545-3745.