With the advent of the organic movement came 'product'. When I am out on a prairie or in a forest, any wild area really I often shake my head at what is offered as 'vital' to maintaining a healthy landscape. Just south of downtown Dallas is the largest urban forest in the nation and I never see anyone running down there to feed that system, Mother Nature takes care of her children just fine.
Think about this when you are attending a seminar listening to someone tell you about organic horticulture or in your garden center shopping. In almost every instance you are suggested to buy this product and that for various conditions that may or may not exist. How can a salesman know what your landscape needs or does not need without actually laying eyes on it? And bringing them plant samples for evaluation is rarely effective, most samples are worthless once removed from the plant, these things need to be viewed in situ. The environment in which the plant exists has a huge impact on what affects it both negatively and positively, the approach must be holistic.
Assessing true need is something that I approach deliberately. A great example of this is the wonderful aphid. Aphids are usually one of the very first 'pest' species we see in early spring. These are piercing/sucking insects and new, lush, tender tissue is perfect for them which is exactly what spring growth represents. They quickly multiply and will seemingly overwhelm your plants but there is a natural control that will soon appear and tip the scale in the other direction. Beneficial insects. Lady beetles usually come first followed by Syrphid flies and Brachonid wasps, green and brown lacewings too; there a numerous beneficial species that prey directly on aphids. Once these species find a food source they hang around and aphids rarely get so numerous that they do actual harm.
This brings me to practical application of my theme...... don't buy lady beetles. Number one, if you are organic and you have aphids they will find them, it's what they evolved to do. I like free, my lady beetles cost me nada except a few hundred or thousand aphids. Numero dos is that most lady beetles sold are native California species, unfairly harvested at their over-wintering sites (numbers and species are declining directly because of this) then shipped and bagged across the country. These belong west of The Rockies; it is estimated that the majority of lady beetle species east of the Rocky mountains are non-native. Brutal.
Nematodes. These can actually be very effective BUT there are many, many species of nematodes and not all are beneficial. Predatory nematodes are what you will usually need for fleas, grubs, ticks, thrips..... any 'pest' species whose life-cycle involves living underground. So, you have to trust that whoever is packaging these microscopic worms can identify their species and is not selling you root-knot nematodes instead. If you decide to take a chance on these always inspect the contents of the package, these guys have a shelf-life. A simple 10X hand loupe will spot them, they are thin glass-like worms and will be moving after they warm-up a bit if they are living.
Compost, compost teas and anything to do with earthworms is another subject more involved but very,very important and probably the most abused and misunderstood facet of this industry. I will be blasting this with vigor in a future post..... hard. In this post I will also address fertilizers and feeding both plants and soil biology, a woefully misunderstood topic and an area where they really hound you. Companies that produce and apply these products will also be discussed, the first thing I will say about that is NEVER sign any annual contracts FOR REGULATED OR REGULARLY SCHEDULED APPLICATIONS. This is where they hook and scam you BIG time........
The list of products sold as organic, necessary or essential is long and I barely touched on the subject but I want you to think slowly when shopping or being pitched-to, do you really need it and is the person telling you that you do really qualified to do so. A consultation by a qualified professional is a great investment to assess genuine need and to help you save your hard earned green.........