Tag Archives: organic lawncare

One in 6 children in the United States have a developmental disability, including learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and other developmental delays. Cancer is the leading cause of disease related death in children. New Hampshire House Bill 399 restricts the types of pesticides allowed where kids play, thereby significantly reducing exposure to chemicals that can harm our children’s development, chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer, or disrupt the delicate endocrine system even at tiny levels. It is imperative that we move ahead in eliminating as much of these types of exposures as we can. 

Below is my testimony I have submitted to the members of the House in support of it. 

I am Steve Phillips, the owner of Heidelberg Farms, a New Hampshire small business started in 2013 to provide Organic solutions to our state’s families and businesses. I have worked in all parts of the horticultural industry and have found a good home in Organics.

I started my land care career mowing lawns, trimming shrubbery, and practicing the application of pesticides. I went on to attend the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and in the course of studying NH’s famed tree biologist, Dr. Alex Shigo, I began to pursue my own intense interest in the how and why of plant care.

Through Dr. Shigo’s tree autopsies, he was able to show us how trees responded to their environments and growing conditions. He then applied this knowledge to change our management of trees to better reflect their natural responses to the world around them. His work modernized tree health care and the arboriculture industry. It is in his spirit that I continue to examine how plants respond, and adapt my management practices accordingly, in order to provide my customers with the best care for their lawns and gardens. I now follow solely Organic practices, and formed Heidelberg Farms to promote the most effective Organic plant care strategies throughout New Hampshire.

Organic works on every scale. Large national projects all across our country – including the George W. Bush Presidential Library, NYC’s High Line, and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, as well as numerous college campuses, parks, athletic fields, and golf courses – have all moved toward Organic Management. I believe they made their decisions for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, because Organic offers better long-term solutions at a competitive price.

As with any new technology, there is always more to learn. However, by applying better cultural practices, and incorporating a more complete understanding of how plants respond and grow best, Organic simply makes the most sense. Fortunately, information, training, materials, and experience are all very easily obtainable to help in the logical transition to Organic land care.

Organic Lawn Care

Heidelberg Farms believes very strongly in following the practice of exclusively using natural, organic products—it is good for the earth, which is clearly not the case with synthetic products.

organic lawn careThe major difference with synthetic products is that they treat symptoms rather than solve problems. Problems with your yard or garden start in your soil. If you do not know what is in your soil, then no treatment plan is going to create a sustainable solution that is good for the environment.

Organic lawn care incorporates several key principles into its methodology. Grass height is a huge factor—and common cultural practices generally encourage people to mow as low to the ground as possible. Lower is better, right? Wrong. The opposite is true, as tall blades of grass have more surface area exposed to the sun. This surface area enables these blades to photosynthesize more sugars and starches for root growth. If your grass roots are healthy, they can absorb more water and nutrients, which makes for healthier grass blades.

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According to researchers at the University of Maryland, higher grass works better than
herbicides at suppressing crabgrass. It may also suppress low-growing weeds like dandelions. For lawn care treatment plans that use synthetic or chemical products, you generally see 4-step programs based on specific dates in a calendar. This sort of program misses the mark.

In a natural lawn care program, we pay attention to the seasons, but what we do is based on science. One of the mistakes we often see is trying to swap out a synthetic product for a natural one—that is not how organic lawn care works. In a natural program, we analyze your soil under a microscope and work out an understanding of the soil food web that exists there.

Heidelberg Farms implements incremental changes through products and process, analyzes the progress and makes adjustments. Organic lawn care is not a race to a finish line. It is a process that takes time. In as little as two years, though, you will have a lawn that can better take care of itself, which will result in you not needing to take as much time to care for it (and save you money in the long-term).

Invest in the soil beneath you and it will reward you. Have questions? Call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501-9919. Have a conversation with us—no obligations here—just great education.

 

As you probably know by now, Heidelberg Farms loves the fall and leaf color changes, which is why we wanted to talk about why you sometimes see what is often referred to as “green islands.”

The term refers to leaves that have not changed all the way, as they feature completely green spots. Why is that? Well, it has something to do with moth larvae on leaves. More specifically, it has to do with bacteria living on their bodies. According to researchers, bacteria interacts with leaf tissues and affect the production of cytokinins, which ultimately produces green islands.

How it works
When trees are preparing to go dormant for the winter, the leaves begin to shut down production of cytokinin, which eventually leads to color changes. However, bacteria help to increase the production of cytokinin. What this means is that the tissues around the larvae possess more photosynthetic life.

Photosynthetic life equals more food for the larvae, and so what we have is a symbiotic relationship between the larvae and bacteria. They both benefit—and the result are those green islands you sometimes see on leaves deep into autumn.

The takeaway from green islands

In looking at the relationship between bacteria and larvae, it is important to consider the larger implications regarding plant, grass and tree biology in general. Nothing we do to care for our lawns and gardens is done within a vacuum. Everything affects everything else, and so when we use chemicals to treat the earth, we are destroying a balance between plants, grasses, trees and our environment.

The larvae needs the bacteria, which needs the moth just like we need healthy soil to produce healthy food for our families. Next time you see a green island, remember what it means. It means nature is working as intended.

Have questions about anything or need help cleaning up this fall, call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501-9919. 

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Fall Leaves

It is officially fall and leaves are starting to make their way to the ground. Here are three things to consider this season and you look to clean up and prepare for the winter.

  1. Mulch your fall leaves and leave them on your lawn.
  2. Build a leaf pile now for compost next spring. If leaves are mixed in with your discarded produce, it will help to balance the carbon and nitrogen for next spring as well as control insects and cut down on odor.
  3. Leaf piles placed toward a wood line or property line (away from the house) will provide a habitat for wildlife.

FALL LEAVESOkay, so you may be wondering about the first bit of advice. Well, honestly, there really is no scientific reason to rake all your leaves off your lawn. If you mow over them with a mower each week while your leaves are falling, they’ll break down over the winter and provide your soil with critical nutrients. The leaves will also shade the soil, which will result in fewer lawn weeds next year. Just be sure to set your wheels at the highest setting.

According to some experts, fallen leaves carry 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients a tree extracts from the soil and air, including carbon, potassium, and phosphorus. For garden plots, this means that a two- to three-inch layer of fall leaves spread over them will not only hold down weed growth and add organic matter, but protect garden soil from compaction caused by rainfall.

The takeaway here is that everything in your yard can serve a purpose—and fall leaves are no different. With a little bit of planning (and patience), using your leaves for compost or just leaving them in your yard after going over them with a mower can provide an important building block for a healthier lawn in the future.

Have questions about fall leaves? Call us at (603) 501-9919.

organic soil mixJust 15 years ago, experts talked about 29 nutrients that were needed for plants to thrive. Recent research, however, indicates that plants actually require 42 nutrients in the soil so they can perform a variety of different cellular functions necessary for their health.

Yes, 42 nutrients, which means they need a lot more than the classic nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium the ‘big box’ industry implies is all you need to worry about. Here is the interesting part, though. There is not a consensus among plant physiologists as to what constitutes the “essential” nutrients.

We recently talked to Dr. Elaine Ingham, and she rhetorically asked, “So do we count just those nutrients that plants have to have each day, disregarding the nutrients that are translocated into the plant at levels too low for human assessment tools to measure? Are these nutrients critically important at some juncture in the plants life? Having these conversations with people, I hold the attitude that probably all the elements in the periodic table are likely to be important. Just because no one has done the research yet to document it does not mean it is not so.”

Nutrient rich gardening

Just like people, plants cannot grow if they have a nutrient deficiency. However, the nutritional of food has been declining for years—and the cause is primarily related to depletion of our soil. When looking to create a nutrient rich garden, Heidelberg Farms analyzes your soil under a microscope and create a compost tea based on an ocean-based nutrient profile.

While more research is needed, we know that plants thrive on much more than nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. We look at the biology of what is taking place in your soil more so than the chemical. In your soil, there is a diverse complex array of soil food web characters. All these characters play a role in cycling different nutrients from the soil to the plant.

How does this process work? Plants communicate via exudates, which are plant sugars. Plants send these exudates to feed specific organisms in the soil and then they return to cycle the nutrients back to the plant. The takeaway here is that the research surrounding plant health directly relate to our health—and it begins in the soil.

There is a big difference between dirt and soil. Understanding the difference will not only help us create a beautiful yard, but help take better care of the earth (and ourselves) in the process. Stay tuned for more blogs that ‘dig’ a lot deeper into these issues. Call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501-9919 if you have any questions. Let’s talk soil!

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Small in size but with a large population, Holland is a nation with intensively farmed cropland, which led to a 6-year experiment with the results published just last month in the journal Nature Plants.

Healthy soilIn this experiment, Martijn Bezemer, a biologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology Netherlands, began to inoculate degraded soils with dirt from healthy ecosystems. The idea was similar to what doctors do when treating intestinal problems by transplanting gut microbes from a healthy individual into a sick patient.

The results from the experiment revealed that small soil inoculations from grassland/heathland could help determine which plants would thrive in the future. What the experiment also confirmed is that the soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. It is full of symbiotic fungi in plant roots, which help plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals and replenish the materials used by the plants.

One person’s soil may not be another

Other research has recently revealed, though, that microbial populations are actually hyper-local with soil varying wildly from location to location and at different elevations at the same mountain, for example. This is a development in our understanding no one could have anticipated.

In fact, Noah Fierer, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder has been quoted as saying, “Yet 80 percent of the soil microbes in Central Park are still undescribed. There’s a lot of diversity to reckon with.”

What this means is that two different ecosystems, even if they are close to one another, could have vastly different microbes in their soil. Plants could survive a drought because of the unique mix of symbiotic microbes in the dirt around it. Plant that same plant in the wrong soil and it just might die.

Other findings

In Bezemer’s experiment, he found that the transplanted soil also prevented weeds and other non-desired plants from overtaking the new system before native species could take hold. Another result was that it was discovered that just small amounts of healthy soil could get a system reoriented onto a new path. For the experiment to work, the old topsoil had to be removed, too, which researchers say is because it ensure that existing microbes do not compete with the ones in the transplanted soil.

Soil is life

While concerns remain that to revive an ecosystem might require an incredibly large amount of soil, recent experiments in microbiology are quite clear in their findings. Complex and fully alive (and still quite mysterious to scientists), soil is critically important for ecosystem health.

XeriscapingFrom an environmental standpoint, we invest an incredible amount of resources into our lawns. This investment yields a return that goes well beyond our (unnaturally) green lawns.

Here are some stats that will surprise you:

• Lawnmowers account for about 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution.
More than 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled annually refilling lawn and garden equipment—more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
• Homeowners typically use 10 times the amount of pesticide and fertilizers per acre on their lawns as farmers do on crops.
• Thirty to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used on lawns.

To make matters worse, most of the chemicals that are used are wasted due to inappropriate timing and application. These chemicals consequently become a major source of water pollution. Lastly, most of this water is also wasted due to poor timing and application.

How much is too much?

This question is more than rhetorical. It is a battle cry that should involve all Americans. How badly do we want our green lawns—and must it be right now?

Sure, building an organic program for your lawn and/or garden takes time. Frankly, it might take an entire year before you see a noticeable difference in the appearance of either. However, what is taking place beneath what you see—the soil—will make a difference for years and years to come.

Alternative to traditional lawn care

It is sometimes referred to as “revolutionary,” but your approach to lawn care can in fact require very little maintenance. From beautiful, low-maintenance groundcovers like creeping thyme to native trees, shrubs and grasses, your lawn does not need constant tweaking or work.

Xeriscaping is another way to rethink and reinterpret your lawn. Promoted in regions that do not have easy access to water, xeriscaping is landscaping that reduces or even removes the need to irrigate from supplemental water sources altogether.

If you have questions, call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501-9919. Together, we can make a difference.

LawncareWe’ve talked before about the importance of using compost for your garden. Instead of using store bought, chemical-laden products, you can create your own compost — one man’s trash is another plant’s treasure! But before we dive into creating your own compost, let’s take a peek into why it’s so important for your garden and why you need to be using it.

Compost: What is it? 

Your soil is so much more than just plain dirt. Think of it as a workplace. The soil is the boss, and all of these different workers come to do their individual part — where, in the end, it will create a dynamic environment for growth. The dictionary defines compost as ‘decayed organic material.’ In the simplest sense, this is true, but the benefits of compost range far beyond that. Over time, your compost pile — which is a smorgasbord of things you’d normally throw away, like table scraps, egg shells, vegetable skins, etc. — will begin to form together to create a powerhouse of nutrients that will be beneficial to your garden.

What does it do? 

After you’ve put all of these throwaways together, the entire mass will break down to what many garden experts refer to as Black Gold. The plants in your soil require nutrients to grow, and adding compost will vastly improve the overall healthiness of your garden. Along with things likecompost nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — three key components to any garden — compost will add others like copper and zinc. The living microorganisms found in your throwaways, like bacteria and fungi, are things that we tend to shy away from putting in our own bodies. But just like yogurt adds healthy bacteria to your body, compost works the same for your soil. When we have a solid combination of all of these microorganisms in our soil, plant life will thrive.

Why You Should Be Using It: 

Think about your body. When we eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, those organisms provide us with a ton of things beneficial to our overall body structure. If you pack your body full of junk food, then it’s not going to respond very well! The same goes for our soil. When we take the easy route and use products with tons of chemicals, it won’t respond well. (You may be thinking to yourself — I use MiracleGro and my garden looks great! Give it a couple weeks, and you’ll be heading back to the store to keep buying it.) Taking a little bit of time to create a compost pile will work wonders for your garden in the long run. Natural compost will help deter pests from overtaking your garden. And with a greater variety of throwaways in your compost, the more enhanced the overall nutrient number will be.

Sure, building a compost pile takes time and a little bit of effort. But after a couple of weeks, you’ll have Black Gold — and that will transform your garden into a vibrant, healthy piece of pride.