Nature West was organic when organic wasn’t cool.
Today, it seems everybody has jumped on the green bandwagon. Most nurseries and “big box” stores now carry organic products in one form or another. This is a trend we are very excited to see, but we want to be clear about our reasons. To us, it just makes horticultural sense to use organic methods.
Here are the most important reasons for us:
1. Slow release– In our arid climate the last thing we want to encourage is flushes of growth. This creates weak branching and increased water dependence. Organic fertilizers provide slow and continual release at a rate the plant requires. Because it requires soil organisms to activate it, it is perfectly timed to the active growing season. Chemical fertilizers are notorious for forcing growth at inappropriate times leading to winter die-back.
2. Long Term Soil Benefits- Every gardener knows that healthy soil is important to grow healthy plants. Organic fertilizers actually feed the soil and the beneficial organisms that directly affect the health of the plant. Plants form symbiotic relationships with many soil organisms that provide increased water and nutrient uptake, protection from soil borne pathogens, and drought tolerance. Chemical fertilizers do nothing for the soil, and in some cases can damage the soil by tipping nutrient levels into unhealthy balances.
3. Environmentally Beneficial- Chemical fertilizers are water soluble, which means they are dissolved by irrigation water and rainwater. The problem is they are easily leached into groundwater and surface waterways. Groundwater contamination is a big concern for landowners who pump their water from private wells. Organic fertilizers, when used properly will not leach from the soil and remain in place where they can benefit the plant.
4. Safety- Organic fertilizers do not contain any of the harmful ingredients typically found in chemical fertilizers, so they do not pose a hazard to our kids, pets and wildlife.
From the owner…
“It just makes sense.
I know, I know… you’re thinking you are about to get a lecture about the dangers of carcinogenic chemicals leaching into our groundwater, or the health risk to our kids, pets, or wildlife. Well… believe it or not, that’s not why I chose to go organic in the beginning. I would like to share a story about the day my eyes were opened to the organic method.
It was the summer of my last year of college and I was working for a garden center in southwestern Colorado. My job was to use chemical warfare to ensure that the plants were maintained in perfect bug-free condition right up to the point of sale. Each morning I would patrol the nursery for any signs of pest or disease and promptly spray the appropriate chemical to take care of the problem. I really enjoyed my job and I felt so important walking around in my white protective suit and my backpack sprayer, man I thought I was I cool. I loved my job and would have enjoyed it more had it not been for Francois (pronounced frahns-swah). He was this overly-cheerful, peace-loving, ponytail-sporting hippie who showed up each morning in his rusty old VW van smelling like he was protesting bodily hygiene or something. He would plug his nose and snarl his face in disgust as he ran past me as if I was the one who smelled. On more than one occasion I was very tempted to “accidently” douse him with a little Ortho Bug-B-Gone but restrained myself.
Francois was in charge of maintaining the lawns and landscape planters throughout the nursery. He did all of this without using any chemicals whatsoever and would only fertilize occasionally with an organic product that smelled like dead fish…really old dead fish. I would of course run past him with my nose plugged and my face snarled in disgust. I guessed at the time he was using that as some sort of odor deterrent for rabbits!
It was hard to accept, but I began to notice the plants he was responsible for looked pretty good despite his lack of intervention. This bothered me. I began looking for flaws in his methods. I would actively seek problems that he might have missed, like mildew or aphids on his roses. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any. I figured he had some secret he wasn’t sharing, some sort of systemic preventative chemical mixed in with his smelly fertilizer.
One day I thought I found proof of this. It was a Monday morning and I was making my rounds when I discovered that we had an aphid infestation on a particular variety of roses. These particular roses were arranged in a display adjacent to one of Francois’s rose beds. So I expected they would be infected as well since they happened to be the same variety of rose. To my disappointment they were not. In fact, I could not find a single aphid anywhere on them. So I immediately tracked him down and demanded he share his secret with me. After all, it was in the best interest of the nursery to keep all of the plants looking their best, and if he knew something I didn’t he was obligated to tell me.
He just looked at me and smiled and said, “No secret my friend, my roses are just healthier”. “What?” I replied, “Are you kidding me? I give my roses a continuous slow-release fertilizer, root stimulator, vitamin B1, and a systemic insecticide to boot.” Francois again smiled at me and said, “Well, that’s great! How come you still got aphids and I don’t?” I was getting a bit annoyed at this point, and replied, “because you’re using something that you won’t share!”
“My friend, I am not using anything. I am just very mindful of my soil, “ he said. “Well, so am I, we use only the best potting mix available and we always make sure it drains properly and…” He interrupted me, “ But it’s not alive. You kill the soil every time you spray for aphids or grasshoppers, or fungus or mildew. You do nothing to help the soil organisms that are so beneficial to your plants.” “But I can’t just let the plants get eaten! Nobody wants to buy a half eaten plant.” He smiled, “Yes, I know but they will buy one that is chemically addicted and dependent on them for meeting its every need. Makes no sense to me, but I do know why the nursery likes it, it means more money for them.” “ What do you mean?” I replied. “Well,” he said, “as long as the plant continues to need bug sprays, or fungus powders, the customer keeps coming back. In the end, the plant will most likely die and the customer returns for a new plant. Maybe they even spend more money this time on chemicals to ensure the success of their new plant.”
I wanted to argue with this point, but I was remembering my days as a nursery salesman, where we were constantly reminded by the owner to push “companion products”. He would tell us, “remember, we don’t make money on plants, we make money on shelf stock!” Shelf stock was the trade term for sprays, vitamins, root stimulators, fertilizers, etc.
Francois continued, “The sad part is, customers come to this nursery to learn how to be successful in their gardening ventures and the truth is, they are taught to buy products. It’s kind of like going to a used car lot and asking the salesman which car would be the best fit for you. Chances are he will recommend the olive green Ford Pinto that has been sitting on the lot for too long.” He continued by explaining how organic methods will never be promoted by the nursery industry because they don’t make as much money. That coupled with the fact that the nursery industry would have to admit that they have been either wrong, or even worse, lying to their customers. That would never happen!
We continued that discussion over the rest of the summer during our lunch breaks or over an occasional beer after work. I really grew to appreciate this man I had once despised (although I never did get over the persistent smell that exuded from his pores, like a mix of garlic and dirty socks). Over time, I slowly came around to his way of thinking and even began seeking him out for advice from time to time. This was quite humbling for me, after all, I was supposed to be an expert there at the nursery. I knew the names of every plant we sold, proper NPK ratios to fertilize with, bug identification, weed ID, pruning methods, planting methods, the whole deal. I even thought I knew my soils. I could tell you what products to add to your soil based on the results of a soil test, and I could tell you how to amend your soil to improve drainage. I had a basic understanding of bacteria and fungi, but had no idea what mychyrizae was, or what role nematodes played in the soil except causing occasional root problems.
As I learned about the various soil organisms and their roles it soon became very clear how important they were to the plants. I also began to understand how synthetic fertilizers and pesticides interrupt the natural balance in the soil and provide an environment where pests and pathogens thrive. It also became clear to me that this balance could never be achieved with conventional chemical methods.
From that summer forward it became my desire to share my newfound knowledge with others. I wanted to change the world! I would start my organic landscape company and spread the word about the benefits of going organic and people would just listen. How naive I was. Instead I found most people to be resistant to the idea. They were skeptical of any advice that differed from what their local nursery told them. Admittedly, it was a bit awkward when they asked me to show them my track record and they found out I had none. Well, not an organic one anyway.
I did manage to find a willing customer here and there and slowly built enough clientele to establish Nature West as a legitimate landscape company. Today, I find it easier to convince people to go organic than ever before. I attribute this mostly to the increased awareness of the dangers associated with pesticides. A growing number of people suspect that fertilizers and pesticides are unhealthy, but don’t know a better way. Once they find out they have a healthier choice they are anxious to sign up.” -Robert Vastine