No two ways about it. The market for “Certified Organic” is enormous. The worldwide market has grown from $27 Billion in 2011 to more than $50 Billion today. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that that term is little more than a well orchestrated organic marketing campaign.
Mythbusting the Organic Marketing Campaign
Now, there’s nothing intrinsically nefarious about the process of organic farming. It is okay, but organic farming practices are presented as the gold standard of healthy of agriculture practices. Unfortunately, there’s not much to support that claim.
A blog post that appeared in Scientific American in 2011 went through and busted so many of the widely held, but errant beliefs the general public holds when it comes to organic food production.
In fact, when studies were conducted in the UK about the efficacy of organic food, the results were pretty underwhelming.
Strong organic proponents also argue that organic food tastes better. In the same poll where 95% of UK organic consumers said they buy organic to avoid pesticides, over two-thirds of respondents said organic produce and meats taste better than non-organic ones. But when researchers had people put their mouths to the test, they found that people couldn’t tell the difference between the two in blind taste tests.
When they pushed further, experts weighed in.
“Any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.” – Joseph D. Rosen (Professor Emeritus in Food Toxicology at Rutgers University)
The Organic Marketing Campaign
It isn’t that we detest organic farming or organic food production. All things considered, there’s nothing inherently wrong with organic farming. What we have a problem with is the organic marketing campaign that is feeding consumers falsehoods that make it seem as though organic food is some kind of panacea.
That simply isn’t the case. Organic farming and organic production methods are but one of many responsible, healthy, and sustainable production methods. When it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Marketing is marketing. This is little different than “Where’s the Beef?” or “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”
When we say “we’re better than organic, and that’s on purpose.” This is what we mean.
It seems like everyone has fallen in love with all things “organic.” But why? The organic industry has convinced the average consumer that if a product is stamped with that “USDA Certified Organic” label, it implies that the product is healthy. That the product is somehow free of factory farming practices, chemicals, pesticides, and carcinogens. Is that really the case though?
It’s not that certified organic farming is bad. But its just not as pure as they’d like consumers to believe. We aren’t saying certified organic is a conspiracy theory, but marketers are marketers and in a 50 billion dollar premium based industry, facts are going to be presented in the best light possible.
Here are 4 little secrets the “Certified Organic” industry doesn’t want to get out.
1. Certified Organic Food Production can Include a Ton of Pesticides
Guess what? Even plants that are “certified organic” need pesticides. The impression that organic crops don’t require pesticides is entirely false. Organic production allows for the inclusion of more than 40 different pesticides. The purpose of pesticides is to kill. Doesn’t matter if it is applied in organic or non-organic farming. Obviously, they’re not designed to kill people, there’s really no guarantee they are any safer than their non-organic brethren.
Yep. You read that right. In short, most sizable organic producers also produce non-organic crops. Often of the same foodstuff. This can lead to sloppy record keeping and the unintentional blending or mixing of those organic and non-organic crops. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between an organic orange and a non-organic by sight alone. Good thing they have that sticker saying they’re “certified organic.” Right…
What’s more, the official definition of “certified organic” by the USDA seems to acknowledge some of this unintentional blending. After all, only 95% of contents must be organically produced to carry the certified organic label. 95% is pretty good, but even if the realistic blend is only 70% organic, it can be labeled “made with organic ingredients.” And again, you can’t tell just by looking at a piece of fruit or a bag of nuts and definitively tell which are organic and which are conventionally produced.
3. Organic Food Can Contain Non-Organic Ingredients
So, number two doesn’t really matter. Organic food production allows for the inclusion of 43 synthetic substances. In addition, there are 34 non-synthetic, but also non-organic, substances allowed in the production of something labeled “certified organic.”
The organic industry likes to imply that their food is pure, justifying the higher cost, but, that isn’t strictly true. It’s not as though all of these substances are nefarious, but when you’re paying a premium for organic cheese, you probably would like it to be free of wood pulp filler. Check the ingredient list. Take a look and see if there’s cellulose in that cheese. That’s wood pulp.
4. Certified Organic Food is Healthier
If a consumer is paying a 20% premium for certified organic food, ought it not be healthier? One of the central tenants of Native Soil is that it helps restore the soil nutrients. Those nutrients are then transferred to the plant and then to the food. If certified organic practices produced healthier food, we’d be on board. Problem is there is no evidence to show that certified organic is really any better.
“Any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.” – Joseph P. Rosen (Professor Emeritus of Food Toxicology at Rutgers University)
So if it isn’t any healthier, why do consumers continue to throw money into the certified organic system with such enthusiasm? Marketing.
At the end of the day, just because something isn’t “certified organic” doesn’t mean that it isn’t an outstanding product. Certified organic is basically a marketing scam. Why buy certified organic fertilizer when all you’re paying for is someone’s enormous marketing budget. Kudos to that industry for getting their message out in such a successful way, but its just a marketing message.
Give Native Soil a whirl. Come find your soil mate.
The next question is almost universally is, why’d you get on board? Simply put the message is simple. Efficacy married with sustainability. That’s a rare combination when environmental benefits line up so squarely with an ability to work in private enterprise… so we jumped.
We thought this waste, going hundreds of miles away to sit in landfills was a shame. We know that certified organic is a scam. We think you will as well. We are on a nutrient revolution. One to replace the nutrients lost after the last century of factory farming. We are proud to be standing amongst those who don’t believe the certified organic hype.
No kidding. We’re trying to save the world with poop. Email us. Message us. Harass us on social media. We’re proud of the fertilizer we made here and we sincerely believe that products like this are going to save the world in the next few decades. Join us. Help us put waste to work and find your soil mate.
Let’s be honest. Superfoods are amazing when it comes to nutrient content, complete proteins, and what they can potentially do for your health. As amazing as superfoods are, they’re incredibly expensive. Just walk down the aisles of any Whole Foods or other health conscious grocery store, and you’ll walk away with a bit of sticker shock. Luckily, it turns out that garden superfoods are pretty easy to grow in your own home. Skip the high prices and learn to grow your own superfood at home.
Plan Your Garden Superfoods Accordingly
Not every superfood is created equally. Blueberries have different soil nutrient requirements than quinoa for instance. While you can probably get away with putting everything in the same bed, we recommend utilizing some of the balcony garden ideas we’ve laid out here to create micro beds that can target specific nutrient needs. Even if you have all the space in the world, sometimes keeping your grow on the small side has extra benefits.
But why go all out right away? Start with the easiest garden superfoods first and work your way up!
Start With Kale
Just start with Kale. It’s one of the easiest to grow, is very hearty in almost all weather conditions and is among the most robust of all vegetable superfoods. Add to the fact that Kale, especially heirloom varieties, is very attractive looking, there’s reason to grow it even if you don’t like the flavor. Do yourself a favor and get some recipes that mask the flavor.
Kale grows quickly, especially in spring and fall. Baby kale leaves can be ready in as little as three weeks. Mature leaves are ready for the largest salads in six to eight weeks. In more temparate climates kale can be grown year round, but even in frosty climates, kale can often be harvested well into the winter months.
Move to Oregano
Who doesn’t love oregano? As an herb, oregano is essentially a weed and grows like one meaning is near impossible to kill without serious, targeted effort. Oregano grows into a tall, wide bush that comes back each and every year, so it’s what’s known as a “garden anchor.” If you want to keep your garden on the small side, oregano, along with most herbs, will grow to accommodate their environment. Plant them in individual containers to keep them small, or in larger pots to have a big bushy oregano plant.
Moreover, oregano is a staple of basically all food Mediterranean. Italian sauces, roasted peppers, hummus and pita are all made more robust with oregano. Oregano also has the benefit of being extremely high in antioxidants.
Most of the rules for oregano apply to other herbs as well. Growing a small herb garden is a great way to get your feet wet in growing garden superfoods.
If you don’t know the joy of growing your own food because you’re short on space, don’t be alarmed. At Upcycle we think everyone should be growing their own food and that it can be done in the smallest of places. Now, you may have tried your hand at putting a few potted balcony plants out on your terrace in your apartment. Chances are that you may have a ficus tree, or a small palm or probably some flowers. I bet you didn’t know that vegetables actually make great balcony plants. They’re just as easy to grow in pots as they are in a sprawling backyard garden. The video below gives some great tips on getting started with container gardening. Welcome to the world of vegetables as balcony plants.
The best thing about growing balcony plants in containers is that you’re not limited to what you can grow based on your location. Use Native Soil to tailor your soil to your specific crops.
Think Outside the Backyard
Container gardening is becoming more and more popular as people appreciate the flexibility and extra growing space it provides. It’s not just about flowers either – you can grow your own tasty produce right outside your door and many specially-adapted plant varieties are now available. But growing in containers does come with its own special challenges and if you want to succeed it’s important to plan ahead. Let us take you through the essentials. Where to site your containers is the first thing you need to consider.
Most vegetable plants like lots of sun, so it’s important to choose a place which will provide 6 hours or more of direct light – south or west facing locations are the best. Placing them as close to your house as you can will mean you have easy access to your plants – great for harvesting and easy for you to take care of them. Choose a sheltered spot for your pots so your plants are kept out of cold, drying winds. Walls, fences & hedges are good locations, or try to screen the pots.
Using your window ledges and balconies is a great way to get started if you don’t have a garden but make sure your pots are properly secured to prevent them from blowing off when the weather gets windy. Watering is the number one priority for containers as the plants won’t have access to moisture below ground. On a hot sunny day they can dry out within hours and plants might not recover from serious wilting. On hot days giving plants a thorough watering in the early morning and evening will be required, making sure that you don’t just wet the surface, but allow it to soak down to the roots. For added convenience, drip irrigation can be installed – particularly useful if you’ll be away from home during part of the summer.
Planning Ahead is Key
Containers come in all shapes, sizes colors and materials. Plastic and wood are tried and tested materials, but you can unleash your creativity. Just make sure they are clean and won’t leach harmful chemicals. Large pots can also be used to grow plants that aren’t native to your area. For example they can be filled with special soil for blueberries, which like acidic conditions. And for heat loving plants such as dwarf citrus trees, containers enable the plans to be moved to a warm conservatory or greenhouse during winter months, protecting them from the worst of the winter weather.
There are plenty of options available for using vertical space too, and if you have a warm sunny wall which absorbs heat during the day this will radiate the warmth during the night, protecting the plants from cold snaps. It’s essential to provide good drainage. Plants are easily killed if their roots are waterlogged. Make sure there are adequate drainage holes and that they’re free from dirt or blockages Adding a shallow layer of stones or broken pottery to the base of the pot often helps to improve drainage.
The aim is to cover the drainage hole so the soil doesn’t leak out while still providing gaps for excess water to drain through. Fill the container with a purchased potting soil or your own homemade compost. Don’t use soil from your garden, as this is likely to be heavy and to contain weeds and soil-borne pests. Using a lightweight and moisture-retentive mix is the best for containers, and it will need topping up each season to replenish nutrients which have been used up.
Choose the Right Container for Your Balcony Plants
Which container is best to use will depend on what sort of crops you are growing, so let’s take a look at some of the best veggies to grow in containers. It doesn’t get any easier than growing salad leaves. They only need a shallow container a few inches deep. If summers are hot in your location, choose an area that gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade to avoid the plants bolting (running to seed) before they’re ready for harvest. Cut-and-come-again type salad leaves often come in packets with several different varieties, providing an exciting mix of leaves that will only take weeks to grow.
Tomatoes can be grown in several different types of containers, but they’ll need plenty of soil to supply the nutrients they need right up to harvest. Many varieties, such as Tumbling Tom, can be grown in hanging baskets, and look great as they trail towards the floor. Other varieties can be grown in grow bags or soil bags, or you can use large pots at least 10 inches in diameter. Make sure you use a stake and tie the plants to it to keep them upright. Tomatoes are very thirsty so will need lots of water – at least twice a day in hot weather.
Potatoes can be grown in large pots, or bags and sacks designed specifically for the job. The seed potatoes are layered with potting mix and left in a sunny spot, watering as required. As they grow you can layer more soil around the stem of the shoots. Gradually the soil builds up until the top of the container is reached. Balcony plants can be vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. Take a look at our extensive Grow Guides for more information. Our Garden Planner has a range of specially designed garden objects to make planning and managing your container gardening easy. With the basic outline of your space, you can then view garden as a whole.
Mix and Match to Suit your Tastes and Your Crops
As you add the different containers that you’ll use to your plan make sure you leave enough space so you can water and harvest your balcony plants. The Parts List will provide a useful summary of all the containers and other objects, such as drip irrigation, for the plan. Adding plants is as simple as clicking to place them in the relevant containers with the colored area around each plant indicating how much soil space the roots require.
For example, we can easily see how many tomatoes will fit into this grow bag and hanging baskets. Add potatoes into the potato sacks, and choose which salad leaves to include in the grow frame. The Plant List then shows you a complete summary of what you were growing including when to plant seeds indoors and outdoors, and when you can expect the harvest, specific to your location. Twice a month you’ll also receive email reminders so you know what jobs need doing and when. Gardening in containers is an easy way of growing your own and you can expand with more containers to fill the space you have.
Whether you have one simple pot for herbs, or a mini farm full of plants, its easy to get hooked on the taste of growing your own fresh produce and the convenience of having it right outside your back door.
Grow a Ton of Food in a Tiny Space with a Balcony Garden
At Upcycle we really enjoy growing food with Native Soil. One of the concerns we hear most often is that many people don’t have enough space for a big home garden. It is a problem especially among the young, or those living in cities where tiny apartments and condos are the norm. That’s where the concept of balcony gardens, or vertical gardening comes in handy. With a balcony garden anyone can take a tiny amount of space and create huge amounts of food.
All it takes is a little planning to know what to build, what to buy and what plants to grow to make the most out of your balcony garden. The video below does a great job illustrating some easy tips to grow more in a balcony garden.
When space is at a premium and you’ve got nowhere left to grow there’s only one solution – reach for the skies! Given the combination of the right crops, vertical supports, and wall-hugging planters you can pack a lot more into the space you have available. In this video we look at how to plan a vertical vegetable garden so you can get the most from your plot. Climbing plants offer a logical way to begin growing skywards. Suitable vegetables include pole (or climbing) beans, climbing peas, sweet potatoes, vining tomatoes plus sprawling types of zucchini, cucumber, melon and squash that can be trained up supports. Allow plants to find their own way up supports or tie them in at intervals to encourage them upwards.
Many structures can offer support for skyward plants. From simple rows of bamboo canes to more complex or decorative structures. Arbors and arches look complete with climbers such as passionfruit or a grapevine, or how about climbing squashes or beans with colored pods or fruits. The pods or fruits will then dangle down to create a feature that’s both delicious and attractive.
Upcycle Old Furniture to Create Growing Lanes
Wicker or bamboo wigwams offer a space-saving and arguably more attractive alternative to the usual rows of canes, while obelisks and pergolas present decorative solutions to growing upwards. Our Garden Planner features many support options that can be selected and dropped into your garden plan. Many tree fruits can be trained into a vertical plane, either against a wall or fence, or along freestanding wire supports. Apples, pears and cherries are just a few examples.
These trees may be trained to produce single-stem cordons, fan shapes, parallel-branched espaliers, or other fence-hugging forms. Use sturdy horizontal wires strained between fence posts to create the necessary supports for wall-trained fruit. Cane fruits, such as raspberries and blackberries, naturally grow tall. Left unsupported, the canes have a habit of flopping over to smother neighboring crops. Parallel wires secured between upright posts will keep them in line. Our Garden Planner has a range of space-efficient plants to choose from – for example, this apple cordon. The Planner also helps you to select and place supporting structures. Take these pole beans for example – they need some bamboo canes to climb up.
Use Many Little Niches to Maximize Growth
Make you garden work harder for you by including any number of wall-mounted or stepped planters, planting pockets, tower planters and hanging baskets. Fill them with herbs, salads and strawberries, then watch a blank space take on a whole new life. The Garden Planner has lots of ideas for suitable containers. Simply click the Information button for a description of each and its suitability for your garden. Recycled food tins make great wall mounted planters.
Old pallets are widely available, and turning them into vertical planters is a great way to reuse them. Check they are safe for re-use by looking for the pallet stamp. It will have stamps displaying the IPPC logo and/or the letters EPAL, plus HT or DB. Hammer or hang your recycled containers into position before filling with potting soil.
Don’t Forget to Water, or Better, Automate!
Wall-mounted planters are likely to require regular watering because of the rain shadow cast by the wall. Micro or drip irrigation systems deliver water efficiently. Automate water delivery by coupling irrigation with a cheap timer. Walls or fences must be strong enough to hold the considerable weight of damp potting soil. In most climates you will also want to make the most of sunshine but picking a surface that faces the mid-day or afternoon sun. Reflected heat from the day speeds growth time and shortens harvest time. It’s the right combination of vertical- growing crops, supports, and the correct containers that will help you to get the most from a small space.
Of course, there are plenty of other ideas out there for vertical vegetable gardens. If you’ve got one, don’t keep it to yourself – share it by dropping us a comment below. And with seed sowing beginning in earnest, now is the ideal time to subscribe to enjoy more great gardening videos.