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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nature or "all-natural" products?

There’s a thriving market for organic lawn care in my town. These contractors offer periodic fertilizing and even pest control with certified organic products. 

Organic lawn service

Intrigued, I met with Jim Agabedis of Minuteman Landscaping in June 2013 to see about switching to lawn care on sustainable principles.

    Jim had a lot of sensible advice to offer. Some was about switching to better-informed practices, such as letting clippings compost in place on the lawn, changing mower blades frequently so they cut rather than tear the grass, weeding by hand instead of spreading weed killer, and aerating sections of lawn where telltale plantain indicates compaction. 

Could the lawn benefit from organic methods?

Another part of his advice was about “product.” That’s where I started to feel ambivalent.
    Jim had a compelling story of how he decided to switch from conventional to organic lawn care. He started his business while he was still in college and built it up to 360 accounts. Then an acquaintance shared a one-page article on lawn care without chemicals, and he had an epiphany. 

     Most of his clients didn’t make the transition to organic, but he fought his way back. He said it’s worth it to avoid practices and products that could make people or pets sick. 

Not the approach Jim was aiming for

The lawns his company cares for testify to the effectiveness of his method.

     I didn’t end up hiring Jim’s company. I was looking for weekly lawn mowing informed by organic principles. He was offering something more ambitious: a commitment to a beautiful organic lawn. For me, it’s not worth the money, and it's not the direction I'm heading.

    I could see that Jim’s approach was better than conventional lawn care, but I balked at the idea of a lawn, or any other garden area, depending on application of lots of purchased products for health or survival. Jim proposed to apply benign products such as compost pellets and compost tea. 

Spreading compost on a lawn

That’s the organic approach I’d pursue if I had enough time, motivation, and compost to get serious about lawn care. 

     Ideally, though, the compost I’d apply to our lawn would be made up of decomposed materials from our own yard. That way I’d be imitating the natural soil cycle, where organic materials such as leaves and branches decompose on the ground and build soil. 

Organic material cycles back into soil

    I have a problem with replacing chemicals from the garden center or big box store—weed killers, pesticides, synthetic fertilizer—with pricey organic products purporting to fill the same roles. It’s better than the old way, but it’s still a paradigm we should be moving away from.

     Now I see the garden as a community of plants and animals. I aim to enrich and protect it by letting natural processes do their work freely, 

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooming this week

rather than just by replacing synthetic products with store-bought “natural” ones.

This is SEG’s 100th post! Thanks for reading. It’s great to know that we share the same gardening pleasures and concerns.

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