19 February, 2010

As Organic Gardening Goes Mainstream, Snake Oil and Myths Return as Urban Legends Invade the Gardening World

As Organic Gardening Goes Mainstream, Snake Oil and Myths Return as Urban Legends Invade the Gardening World
Looking back over the last twenty five years of my career as a green thumb I now firmly believe history repeats itself. While the new rage is all about organic gardening, sustainability and going local it is really nothing new at all. Organic gardening and farming was the way everyone gardened before synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were developed. Homemade concoctions of bug juice, varying formulas and methods of making compost were in every back yard in America. As for shopping local everyone did that as little as thirty years ago. I grew up in Hyde Park and if you came across someone who lived by the Taconic Parkway they were always greeted with "You live all the way out there?" "Out there" was only eight miles from the village of Hyde Park. So why all the fuss about what was a way of life just a few decades ago? I have also learned that the only thing we as a society have learned from history is that we learn nothing from history.
Organic gardening going mainstream has done a lot of good for the legitimacy of the organic movement. When a movement or trend builds up enough steam and goes center stage there is an immediate benefit. Providers of such products make huge sums of money as new markets emerge. As well, the fly by nights drop like flies unable to compete   more savvy marketers.
However the door is opened to new a host of new fly by nights riding the coat tails of a movement gone mainstream. Just watch the infomercials for nutritional supplements if you don't believe this.
Gardening is not immune to snake oil, urban legends, and sheisters either.
Here is just a small list of urban legends invading our gardens:
#1  Although peat moss does acidify alkaline garden soil, this garden amendment is not environmentally friendly: Nothing could further from the truth. Peat bogs are dense deep storehouses of peat moss. Bogs are continuously renewing themselves faster than we can remove the peat. So dense are the bogs in fact that less than two inches of peat are removed from an average each season for the end use in our gardens.
#2 Termites are being transported from Katrina areas in mulch made from the wooden debris: Mulch in bags has been shredded. The resulting shredded product is not an environment favorable to termites to live in.
# 3 Some  believe  plants, which grow above ground, should always be planted in the morning.
Wrong again. And equally wrong is planting by the cycle of the moon thinking that gravitational pull of a full moon inhibits plants that grow below ground from growing properly. First off a full moon does not last long enough to have any effect on the germination of a seed. By the time the seed germinates the moon has most likely changed phases and any effect of gravity has been nullified. Radishes, beets, potatoes etc will not grow above ground when planted on a full moon. In addition every 28 days when a full moon returns, potatoes, radishes and beets are not suddenly lying upon the ground being pulled out by the moon's gravitational forces. While the moon has an affect on tides it will not harvest your root crops prematurely.
#4 Potatoes should always be planted on Good Friday:
Good Friday can be as early as mid March or as late as mid April. Just as there is no logical correlation between the resurrection and Easter there is no logic to planting potatoes on a date which can vary by as much as four weeks as well as straddle late winter and early spring.
#5 Compost tea is beneficial to plants: New research shows that while compost is safe compost tea is not. Horticultural researcher Jeff Gilman showed in a study that compost tea is full of bacteria that is actually harmful to plant growth. This makes sense in the fact that there are a lot of germs and bacteria in compost that when mixed with water  degrade and spoil. Kind of like curdled milk.
#6 Mychorrizae stimulates root growth and nutrient uptake: A new urban legend. Mychorrizae are naturally occurring fungi in forest soils. They are now added to planting mixes and fertilizers as a root stimulating product. The theory is that the Mychorrizae colonize on root hairs and begin linking to other root hairs thus creating a spider web like apparatus. Supposedly this web provides increased surface area for absorption of water and nutrients. Turns out this is not true. In addition, mychorrizae degrade quickly when packaged in commercial formulations. 
These are just a few of the new urban legends invading the garden world. Many of these are being incorporated into organic garden products.
The hydroponic world is full of high priced nutrient supplements whose claims would embarrass P.T. Barnum  For instance what would you think about spending thirty dollars for a pint of something that claims to improve how plants use light by 60%?  The placebo effect is alive and well in the garden world as well
What is not an urban legend but a legitimate local legend are Adams Garden Shows. Adams Poughkeepsie Garden Show is this weekend while Kingston and Newburgh are the following weekend. To complement the garden shows Adams  will hold their second annual Food show the first weekend in March!

No comments: