The Guelph Organic Conference is an annual event that attracts organic minded people from across Canada and northern parts of the US. Much of the focus is on farming, producing organic food and smaller backyard operations. This year, I was an invited speaker and talked about Growing Food in Ponds. The publisher of my book, Building Natural Ponds, New Society Publishing, is a sponsor of the event and we wanted to find a topic that would interest organic gardeners and help promote my book. It was an extremely popular topic.
The conference also holds a large Trade Show which gave me the opportunity to speak to a number of vendors. I thought it would be fun and educational to review some of my discussions and observations.
If you are one of my regular readers you will know that I am organically minded, believe in the basic organic philosophies, but I don’t blindly follow all of the dogma that is preached. Unfortunately there are many snake-oil salespeople in the organic movement.
Numerous vendors were selling processed organic food, so I sampled several products. Most were some form of oats or grain made into a health food bar.
Why is it, that processed organic food all tastes like paper?
At the reception I happened to grab the last organic, white chocolate, cookie. I usually love these, but not this one. I wonder if organic processed food is made to taste bland as part of their branding effort. Would customers perceive it as organic if it tasted good?
I even found some ‘organic, vegan, black licorice’. I love black licorice so I had to try some. It did taste a bit like black licorice, but it had very little flavor.
I had to ask, what makes this vegan? The product used to be only organic until they stopped adding bees wax – that made it vegan. I am sure it also increased the price!
It boggles my mind that a bit of bees wax would add too much ‘meat’ and make the product unsuitable for a vegan diet, but there you have it.
Why would anyone make organic, vegan, black licorice? I associate organic with healthy eating and licorice with junk food. If someone is taking care of their body and only eating good things – why would they even put black licorice in their mouth? I’ll stick with the regular kind of junk food.
Vermicompost in my Backyard
My last post was on vermicompost, and the first person I met at the conference was a commercial producer of vermicompost, Annelid Cycle. We had a nice chat about the product and the owner was quite knowledgeable about their product and did not oversell its benefits. What really surprised me was that they are local and sell vermicompost by the truck load.
They produce the material in long bins and add new food beside the worms, which causes them to migrate out of their castings and into the new food. After a few weeks all of the worms are at the food end of the bin, making it easy to harvest castings at the other end, eliminating the problem of separating worms from compost. Long narrow bins in the home might not be convenient but a circular bin in the shape of a doughnut should work well.
Cow Pots For Starting Seed
A Cow Pot is a pot that is made out of pressed cow compost. They are very similar to peat pots which are made out of pressed peat moss, but the claim is that Cow Pots decompose more quickly. This is important since traditional peat pots decompose too slowly and don’t allow roots to enter the soil outside of the pot.
Unlike peat, which has almost no nutrients, Cow Pots are made of compost so you would think they would feed the plant as it grows, but no such claim is made by the manufacturer.
They do claim that they “retain shape and strength in a greenhouse setting for 12-16 weeks” and that “once planted, they break down in 3 to 4 weeks.” I asked them for data to support this claim but none was available.
In the Q&A section of the website they give this explanation as to why Cow Pot don’t always decompose. “Depending on the soil type and amount of rain Cow Pots may decompose at differing rates. They are very porous and will allow the roots to readily go through the pot wall even if they do not rapidly decompose. Slow decomposition of a Cow Pot that has been properly transplanted may be an indication of under watering after the transplant.”
So there are several reasons why they don’t decompose as claimed. Let’s see some proof the pots actually work.
You can’t have an organic conference without some rock dust. A product called Huplaso may be interesting. They claim to have data that shows the rock dust decomposes quickly, releasing nutrients into the soil – I have requested the data.
Huplaso is guaranteed to “add at least 57 macro, micro, and trace elements to your soil”. They don’t claim that these minerals will actually be available to the plants. Even if you bury some rocks you will be adding these minerals to soil, so I guess we can believe the claim. However, plants use at most 21 nutrients from soil, so there is little point adding so many.
The brochure claims that the product is a “liming product” and that it “balances soil pH”. How can that be? Liming increases the pH of soil, so it can’t also balance it? But they have an explanation for this, “Huplaso pH level is about 9.04,… but Huplaso only dissolves in the presence of acidity. As a result, it balances the soil’s pH up to a maximum of +/- 6.5, representing the optimum pH for the plants in most crops.” So…. Huplaso dissolves and limes the soil until the soil pH reaches 6.5. At that point it stops dissolving and there is no further pH change.
Lets assume the claim in the last statement is correct. This means that the product releases no minerals into soil that has a pH of 6.5 or higher, which means it only works in acidic soil. They don’t mention that fact.
It is extracted from a Canadian basalt quarry, so this rock dust may be different than the usual stuff?
I was not convinced about the product until I noticed that it also has ‘paramagnetic’ properties! Here is their explanation, “Paramagnetism is the space reaction that has no spontaneous magnetization, and that will develop one under the presence of a magnetic field. This will help different elements having a free electron and that normally do not have magnetism to be paired. A good example is H and O. Hydrogen and oxygen are not magnetic elements but both are missing electrons. With the magnetic field created by Huplaso, the two elements can hook to create H2O (water). This partly explains why Huplaso improves soil water retention.”
Yes – I am now convinced!
P.S. Marketing people should have chemists read their claims.
Lots of Compost Tea
Several companies were selling compost tea or compost to make tea. None of the ones I talked to had any research to support their claims, but they did have lots of testimonials.
I found this claim on one brochure interesting, “The humic acid chelates macronutrients and the fulvic acid chelates micronutrients effectively tying them up in the soil in plant available forms.” I wrote a post about chelation recently. Organic material is able to chelate, ie hold on to certain ions. The three most significant macronutrients are nitrate, phosphate and potassium. The first two are negatively charged, and the latter is positively charged. In fact potassium is chemically more similar to most of the micronutrients than the macronutrients.
How nutrients chelate has nothing to do withthem being a macro or micronutrient. It is based on it’s chemical properties. This is just more marketing gibberish.
Mouse Melon aka Cucamelon
I went looking for seeds of this interesting vegetable and found them in the Urban Harvest booth, a supplier of organic seeds. Melothria scabra (Mouse Melon aka Cucamelon) are the ‘in’ thing to grow.
I asked the vendor, “what are the benefits of organic seed”? I have written about this before in Organic Seeds – Why Buy Them? and the only reason I came up with is that buying organic seed supports organic farmers, and that is exactly what this vendor said. Good for her. The organic movement would be so much better if proponents were honest about it.
Then I found the water revitalizing product. You flow water through a metal tube and it gets all kinds of powers. The AquaKat uses no electricity, chemicals or magnets, but it emits “subtle information patterns which change the characteristics of water, causing it to resonate at a specific frequency (like a homeopathic reaction). This results in water’s crystalline structure taking on the attributes of natural spring water.”
It doesn’t go on to mention which attributes they are taking about, but who would not want natural spring water coming out of the tap?
If the mumbo jumbo is not enough to turn you off, I hope that the claim to be like a “homeopathic reaction” is.
Organic Conference Summarized
There are certainly honest people in the business, producing and selling quality organic products, but the industry also has a significant number of charlatans. It is an industry where the consumer is easily swayed by nonsense because of their blinding believe that anything marked organic and green, must be good for them and the planet.
This is really too bad. Our planet needs green solutions but they need to be solutions that are honest and supported by science. We are a long way from that happening any time soon.