dirt under your nails :: what is organic?

| gardening | organic gardening

Hello!  I hope you have all had a lovely week and are feeling excited about your gardens  - hopefully they are bursting with new growth.....and not too many weeds!  This past week has been a fun one for me.  I've been meeting with lots of new clients, and I'm thrilled that more and more folks are choosing an organic approach for their landscape.  With such a heightened awareness and demand for organic gardening products, I am seeing a huge increase in the amount of products labeled organic.  I wanted to spend this week, in honor of Earth Day, talking about the marketing and labeling of organic products, as well as trustworthy sources for organics.


A quick Google search will show that there have been many instances of non-organic products being marketed and sold as organic. Calling something “organic” is currently a very powerful marketing tool and many companies are bringing out “organic” versions of their products.   I strongly recommend you do some due diligence before buying any product labeled “organic”.  There are not enough regulations in place to effectively challenge and remove inappropriately labeled products. Indeed, some of the “organic” fertilizers contain ingredients I would never willingly handle. There is a well known and organically marketed product out there that is basically dried sewage sludge.  Under no circumstance would I put this in a garden, especially one that contains edibles.  Yet it is marketed as “organic”.


This is a brief lecture break:  Be careful when using any fertilizer or pesticide. Even if it IS organic, it does not mean the product will not create harm if not applied or disposed of properly.  Always, always, always follow manufacturer's recommendations and also be sure you are wearing your sunscreen!  Now back to the topic...


So what kind of due diligence do I recommend?  Well, first of all learn more about what is truly needed in your landscape.  Yes, that means a soil test! Then start to look around and compare the organic products out there.  I personally always look for a product to be OMRI listed, especially if I am using it on edibles.  I also tend to trust products manufactured by companies that support local and sustainable agriculture.  A great resource for products and ideas is Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.  I adore these guys – seriously.  They have great prices on organic products, and as much as I have problems with the cross country shipping, before organic was a marketing tool, they had the products I needed at a price that was reasonable.  I look to them first and refer most of my clients to their site.


Another great resource is your local farmer's market.  Go and talk to your local organic farmers.  Ask them where they buy their organically certified fertilizers.  Ask if you can tour their farm, or even volunteer.  Not all farms will be open to this, but many will appreciate the extra help, especially around planting and harvesting time.  Become involved in your community and the resources will appear.  Last year we had buckets and buckets of chicken manure in the garage thanks to a random conversation while taste testing at the farmer's market.  We used that manure in our gardens, saved ourselves money and met some pretty interesting people.  Food coops are another great place to become involved and find great local resources. Do you have any other resources or ideas you can recommend?  I would love to hear from you if you do!


For the next week, at least, celebrate Earth Day everyday!  Celebrate your life and your soil and all your blessings, great and small!  Make a conscious choice to educate yourself and connect with your community.  Treat yourself with compassion and extend that compassion to those around you. And most importantly, from an organic gardening point of view, love your soil, love your earthworms and embrace the perfect imperfection of nature's chaos!!  See you in the comments!!!

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


  • Caroline…I am quite curious about the product “that is basically dried sewage sludge”…maybe you can get “in trouble” for saying, but I would really like to know! Maybe I’m using it, yikes!

    Also, thank you for the links…can’t wait to read up!

  • we use newspaper about 4-5 sheets, overlayed on the the edges, as weed mat! our local newspaper and coop’s newsletter use soy based inks so it is safe for the soil and keeps weeds away and moisture in for a growing season. by the time the new season planting starts the newspaper has broken down to improve the soil and we add new. the worms love it, too!

  • great idea…I have a little area I am going to try this in!

  • Great post! My friends and family always wonder why my garden plants grow like crazy every year. My secret: free compost I get from the city each year! I layer it on in the spring, and my plants love it. No crazy chemical fertilzer needed!

  • fantastic info, bonnie. thanks so much for sharing :) i can’t wait to get some dirt under *my* nails! ;) haha too cheesy?

  • Hello! Jes, I would Google fertilizer, sewer sludge and find out the name…there are actually a couple fertilizers that use this, and I’m not comfortable “naming” them, but it is easy to find. Funnily enough I called an Agway this morning looking for last minute bulk cottonseed meal and they recommended this product to me. At least he was upfront about it not being organic!

    Jen – I looooove newspapers under my mulch. I’m infamous for leaving weeding too late in my own garden (landscaper’s curse) and I newspaper away…the worms do love it and it makes my life so much easier! I will be making a weed post and I’m certainly including this tip!

    Laura – I use free compost from my parent’s local dump when I need more than what I can produce at home. I mix in some chicken poop and my plants grow and grow and grow. It’s a great resource – thanks for sharing!

    Anna – there is no such thing as “too cheesy” when it comes to looking forward to getting your hands in the soil!

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