Objective Proof for Organic vs. Non-organic?

chaoticutMay 2, 2014

I have always been in the camp of, "Feed the soil, not the grass" camp. But a recent discussion with my stubborn (for lack of better word) and profit-based neighbor has sent me on a search for research based information that proves any difference between the two.

Is there anything out there?

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Nope, Not really, unfortunately. It is difficult to find verification that the synthetic chemicals being sprayed willy nilly are harmful even though the pollinators are dying off in large numbers and "no one" knows why.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 7:01AM
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Ya I was amazed how little I could turn up searching online last night.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:38AM
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Not worth arguing with those that can turn a blind eye to the very likely dangers of using synthetics on their lawns, food, and just about everything these days. Every time a study comes out or a government like Canada (for example) either bans chemicals or shows a link between the use of them and health issues, big chemical companies either sue or threaten to sue.

It's the same thing with GMO's. Everyone knows there is something not right with it and there is a lot of correlation to suggest they are dangerous. But there is too much money to be made to allow the truth to come out.

Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint." - Edward Tufte

This is the study that first caught my attention.

Assuming you are referring to safety:
Purdue Study - Dogs Bladder Cancer

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 10:52PM
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Forget charts and graphs, percentages and decimals. The most objective proof you can present is to grow an organic lawn that will be as green as his envy.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 9:06PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

Speaking as a guy who grew up with an Organic Gardening Encyclopedia at my elbow, and later got a chemistry degree, there are too many label confusions between what was folk organic, later certified organic, and what is organic chemistry.

A chemist wants to dive down to the safety of a molecule, which may both be found in nature and made in the lab. The gardener relies on a rule of thumb, that "not lab" is safe.

It is all about that rule of thumb.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 9:21PM
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The organics have the potential to change the soil structure, over time. Increased organic matter will improve both the water holding capacity and the nutrient holding capacity of the soil. The biological activety in the soil can make the soil nutrients more available to the plant.

Modest applications of the chemicals can provide some of the missing minerals or those that are lacking in your local soil. Using the proper NPK fertilizers is also usually much cheaper than the organics and you have more control over when the nutrients are available.

Both approaches have a place in creating an outstanding lawn. Get a soil test and work up an application plan for the year, considering what grass you are growing and the soil you are given at your location.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 8:17AM
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Havard University Soil Restoration Project has done some very excellent analysis of Organic Lawn Care over the past 5 years. It's started out with a 1 acre test plot/proving ground. They were so impressed with the results that they now manage over 80 acres of the campus using organic methods.

There was a great episode of This Old House that visits Harvard Yards. It's pretty amazing what they are doing with organics on a very large, commercial scale. New York Times had a nice article as well.

Here are some quotes from Harvard on there findings:

"Root growth increased 3-5 inches over the control plot by late spring by using no synthetic fertilizers"

"By September, available nitrogen in the soil had increased from 20-50lbs all the way up to a healthy range of 100-150lbs p/acre."

"Irrigation in the test plot was reduced by over 30%, due to increased improvement in moisture retention. This saves 2 million gallons of water a year for Havard"

"Test plot only needed to be cut 1/2 as often, because there was no excessive amounts of nitrogen being applied"

"$35k a year is saved by composting, rather than paying to have waste trucked away"

“...And we don’t have to buy compost or fertilizers, so we’re saving an additional $10,000 in those materials.”

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:06AM
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LOL. Here's a couple things that help.

First, cut a clove of garlic into slices and let him stand on them barefoot for a few minutes until he tastes garlic. Yeah - you absorb stuff through your feets ;-) The A in MSMA is arsenic. ...great stuff to absorb.

I'm 'quiet' about my natural gardening. Nobody likes a lecture and nobody likes self-righteous a-holes. Rather than 'FINE! Use chemicals! Kill our beloved Earth Mother you warming denier SOB!' you may find that the best 'argument' is to kick the ever loving humanure out of your neighbor's property by having a better looking lawn. When I moved into my current property a year ago I noted that there was a 'competiton' for best lawn going on between the guy across the street from me and the guy next to me. They giggled when I scalped my lawn and started spreading compost because I went from 'a nice chem lawn' to utter crap in days but a month later they were asking what the hell I did and this spring one of them tore out half his front yard and put down new sod because my impossibly thick, dark green, 3/8" tall bermuda 'carpet' was just killing him.

...I don't preach or gloat, I show and tell and explain pragmatically and sensibly and avoid any sort of judgment.

...and OK, OK, I sneak out with my pump sprayer each night and apply that day's gallon of liquid gold to the grass with an ounce of molasses and a gallon of water and I never reveal that part of it because too many fools have no understanding that liquid gold is not the least bit unsanitary and would freak out but the proof is right out front ;-)

Had a funny one last week. Some service came by to pitch their spray program as three of us neighbors were doing what men do - chatting about the finer points of lawn care and beer and football. I actually felt bad for the pitcher because we were in front of my house and the guy had really picked the wrong place to pitch. "We fertilize regularly" - hmmmm... is my yard in need of fertilizer? (lawn is pine green, thick and lush). "We treat for broadleaf weeds and crabgrass!" Oh really" How? "We spray the entire yard" Hmmmm.... ok, but there aren't any weeds or crabgrass, doesn't that stuff knock the grass back a bit? What's in it - can I walk barefoot after you spray it? "we also spray for insects so you won't have any ants and spiders". Oh... other than the occasional black widows which don't live in the lawn, why is it good to kill spiders? Does the spray kill only the spiders and ants? What about ladybugs and flutterbys? My kid likes ladybugs and running through the yard barefoot. Would it be OK to run around barefoot after you spray?

Poor kid. I looked at him and said "OK, so you want to spray several gallons of poison to kill weeds that are not present and insects that are harmless for $500 and the benefit to me is that I can't run around in the yard barefoot with my toddler? No offense man but how does that sound like a good idea?"

I was nice about it but the lack of sales training was probably more annoying to me than the lack of cognition. If I had to sell a used Pinto I would probably not try to sell it at a Mercedes dealership and that's what this kid was trying to do. Worse - the neighbors were asking me how to get the same benefits without the negatives and cost.

That's how we win the debate and the key is not to over-reach. If someone asks me how to kill Nutsedge without chemicals I don't BS them. I pull the stuff until it eventually stops coming back. The best advertising we can do is to show results and avoid recommending anything that is iffy. I've read about how Nutsedge hates a good organic yard and that is just plain ...compost nitrogen of bovine origin.

If someone WANTS to go all natural then they will. The other 90% want something that works so pick our battles wisely. Rather than spray 1/4 acre with a quart of MSMA maybe you can help a neighbor see the wisdom of using one ounce in his sprayer to spot treat. Rather than spraying the whole yard for insects (God that is freaking moronic) how about a spoonful of fire ant bait right on the mound?

If we push hard to get people to go 100% natural we will fight like hell to win over 10-20% of those we argue with. If we are pragmatic rather than dogmatic we can probably get 80% of people to use only 20% of the bad crap they use currently and that has a MUCH greater impact. 32 ounces of MSMA targeted where indicated across 32 lawns is better than half of those lawns getting a full 32 ounces, right? Progress, not perfection. Show, then tell.

Who do you listen to? The guy who is kicking your ass at something to the point where you break down and ask him how he does it or the guy who tells you what you are doing wrong without first having shown you a reason to believe he knows his ass from his elbow?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 11:40AM
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Thanks for the replies! I got sucked in by ignorance and was able to step back and re-evaluate.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 10:57PM
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CHFIII, Loved your post. Had the same thing happen with a local company going door to door trying to sell their lawn service. The poor kid did not know how to react when I kindly responded to him in a similar fashion that you had. He then asked me why I didn't want to save time and money. By this time I was getting annoyed so I told him if he gets anyone to sign up for his program that he should come back and check later in the year on how that lawn is going vs how my lawn is doing. Well one of my neighbors signed up for the program, and needless to say my lawn is 100X thicker, greener and more lush than his. Guess I should have gotten that kid's phone number to have him come back.

I have been chemical free (except for one patch to rid the lawn of a lot of clover) for about 2 years now and my lawn is one of the best looking in the neighborhood. The chemicals were my last option to get rid of the clover seeing as how I tried to pull it up, etc but was tired of picking the blooms so the clover would not spread. That patch of the yard took a hit for a little bit but is now back to normal.

I have yet to get a soil test done in the 6 years that I have lived where I do now, maybe that will get done next year, but the lawn is thriving right now so I am not sure if that is truly necessary.

Either way, I like being able to not have to use chemicals on the lawn while still maintaining a beautiful lawn.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2014 at 1:21PM
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Where to begin, where to begin?

First, everything you add, and everything you eat is comprised of chemicals. YOU are chemicals! There are safe chemicals, there are dangerous chemicals. You probably used sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, aluminum sulfate, acetic acid, ascorbic acid in your kitchen every day. The element chlorine comes in several forms: sodium chloride is table salt, sodium hypochlorite is bleach (which is an effective killing agent), as is chlorine gas (a chemical weapon), and chloride is an essential plant nutrient.

Let's distinguish between herbicides and insecticides that are designed to kill and fertilizers that contain plant nutrients. Plants absorb nutrients in very specific forms, and very small quantities are absorbed through plant roots as organics. Instead, the organics decompose in the soil and release inorganic nutrients that are taken up by roots. These are indistinguishable from those supplied in fertilizers.

Everything plants need is contained in plant wastes and animal manures, and they can be used very effectively. There are a couple of caveats, however. Animal manures often contain large amounts of salt, and that can be toxic to plants (commercial fertilizers, applied in large quantities can also cause salt problems). Second, organics tend to contain very low levels of nitrogen, so you have to use a lot. Nitrogen deficiency is very common in organically produces plants. Animal manures contain a large amount of phosphorus relative to the nitrogen they contain, so if you use animal manure to supply nitrogen you will automatically be over-applying phosphorus. This is generally more of an environmental concern than a plant nutrition concern, however.

Lastly, there are a few studies that objectively looked at organic versus conventional grown fruits and vegetables. The biggest difference? The conventional produce contained more water (you can describe this as being juicier or more watered-down depending on whether you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty type of person). When nutrients, vitamins, etc. are expressed on a dry weight, there's no difference; when expressed on a wet weight basis the organic has higher concentrations. The other difference is nitrate-nitrogen, which is often higher in conventional. There's not much evidence about health effects of this. And it varies a lot by plant part and variety. Leaf petioles contain a lot of nitrate-nitrogen, so if you eat celery, organic or otherwise, you are getting a lot of nitrate in your diet.

    Bookmark   last Tuesday at 9:38AM
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