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Landscape Now: Organic Landscaping + Taking Care of Soil

Saturday, March 02, 2013


Can the principles of organic land care be used in your own backyard? From soil care to lawn care and landscaping, Frank Crandall will show you how.

The Green Movement has found new momentum the past few years, especially with the escalation of energy prices, local regulations prohibiting pesticides and chemicals on public athletic fields and school grounds and the increased awareness of the effect that excess nitrogen and phosphorus can have by polluting our fresh and salt water ponds, streams and oceans.

The resulting “Going Green” initiatives include reducing the use of pesticides, using least toxic and non toxic alternatives for insect and pest control, adopting organic lawn care, composting, recycling plastics, bottles and paper, using rain barrels and in-ground cisterns for reusing water runoff, installing landscapes with sustainable plants, brewing and applying compost tea, exploring wind, solar and alternative power sources, expanding use of bio-diesel fuels and building with nontoxic materials.

In a three part Organic Landscape Series, I will examine the basic principles of organic land care, components of an organic lawn care program and steps you can take to become more eco-friendly in your landscape, at home and in your office, and ways you can obtain an organic education through workshops, conferences and land care programs.

Introduction to Organic Land Care

My introduction to organic land care principles began in January, 2005 by attending the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) 5 Day Land Care Training Course in Wellesley, MA. The comprehensive course; taught by experts in the fields of soil health, organic pest and disease control, composting, organic lawn care, native plants, invasive plants and numerous other topics, changed my life. I have adopted many of the Organic Principles into my business and personal life. I teach at the Land Care Courses and serve as Educational Chair of NOFA’s Education Committee. For more information about NOFA’s Educational workshops and courses go to www.organiclandcare.net or www.ctnofa.org.

Basic Organic Land Care Principles

The four basic principles are:

1. Work to improve the health of water, soil, air, plants, animals, humans and the planet.

2. Ensure that ecology, the relationship between living things; plants, animals and the environment, are in balance and working sustainably.

3. Care for social, ecological affects in our environment by doing no harm and restore and remediate disturbances.

4. Exhibit fairness in our Stewardship of the Planet Earth including our creatures, plants, environment and extending this philosophy to our employees and business philosophy.

Organic landscaping means not using any synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or soil amendments and following standards set forth by NOFA (or other organic organizations) including using only organically approved pesticides, appropriate cultural practices and landscaping for water conservation.

The Basics of Soil Health

Healthy landscapes, gardens and crops begin with fertile soil. Healthy soil is free of compaction, pesticides, toxins or excess salts and possessing a degree of organic matter, humus and balanced, available nutrients. Soil can be nourished with compost, manures, organic fertilizers and cover crops. The first step in the soil improvement process is to conduct a soil test! A basic chemical test will reveal the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil, nutrient levels (phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium), the amount of organic matter and recommendations to improve your soil. For soil testing contact http://www.umass.edu/soiltest for specific information on how to take a soil test and mail it to UMass for results and recommendations.

Along with the soil chemistry, knowing the level of biological activity in the soil (fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoans) is important to understanding the soil food web. The soil food web is the community of organisms that inhabits soil including worms, insects and countless microscopic creatures like bacteria, fungi, flagellates, amoeba and other protozoans that indicate a healthy soil. Bioassay testing for living organisms in the soil is expensive but if the yard is large or the project is a commercial or public property then more detailed biological soil testing may be in order. Contact http://www.soilfoodwebnewyork.com for detailed information and costs for bioassay testing.

Enhancing Soil Fertility

How do you improve soil health organically? Soil fertility is managed by feeding the soil, not the plant. Carbon, nitrogen and organic matter are added to the soil as rotted manure, finished compost, organic fertilizers and compost teas. The soil food web then breaks down the organic materials into nutrients that plants can use to grow, flower and remain healthy. Horticultural methods that short-cut this natural process by supplying synthetic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium directly to plants can lead to damaged soils and weak root systems...leading to a greater susceptibility to insects, disease and drought. Repeated application of excessive amounts of synthetic fertilizers may inhibit the development of mycorrhizae...symbiotic fungi that help plant roots gather nutrients in the surrounding soil. (NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care, 5th edition, January 2011.)

Soil Building Program Benefits

A carefully managed soil fertility program that increases soil organic matter and humus can provide numerous benefits: It recycles nutrients, improves water retention, balances minerals, and buffers pH. Your soil is the key to successful gardens, landscapes and lawns! The first step to improving your soil is by taking a soil test and following the recommendations on the test results to enhance your soil fertility and increase your soil food web.

In the second part of the Organic Landscape Series I will detail the steps you can take to transition from a traditional lawn care program into an organic program!

“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.” Lady Eve Balfour

Frank Crandall is an RI resident specializing in coastal landscaping, organic land care, small business consulting, writing, speaking and photography will be submitting articles about Landscape Solutions. With over 40 years in the horticultural field Frank will write about pertinent, seasonal landscape topics including effective solutions. Comments about Frank’s articles are welcome by contacting him at [email protected].Frank Crandall, Horticultural Solutions


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