Organics are hot these days. More like the new religion, perhaps, which attracts converts who are often long on passion and conviction but at times distinctly short on logic and reason. This is not to say that there is not a great deal that is good and beneficial about organics. But we do not subscribe to the mantra that just because something is organic it is necessarily superior. A bit of rigour and enquiry never goes astray.
Regular readers will know that we have been advocating moving away from the use of chemical fertilisers and sprays in the home garden situation. The chemical arsenal that many people used routinely in the relatively recent past (the age of the 1960s to the 1990s) should be a cause of some shame in terms of what home gardeners inflicted on the planet, and still do with lawns. Such practices have been substantially tamed by modern advancements with safer chemicals and hugely increased controls on what is available over the counter. Inconvenient this may seem to some, but we regard it as a jolly good thing.
For those who prefer to avoid routine application of chemicals, there are two approaches. One is to try and continue gardening in exactly the same manner but substituting organic sprays to control pests and diseases previously managed with chemicals. The second approach is to take a much broader view (wholistic, the crystal gazers may call it) and to try and select plants which are more resistant to such problems and to manage their growing conditions so that they are less vulnerable. It is this latter approach to gardening which we have been advising as preferable and implementing ourselves (without the crystal gazing). But for those who wish to keep doing things the same way as previously, Tui have just brought out a range of certified organic products – an insecticide, a fungicide and a liquid fertiliser. They kindly sent me samples which had me whooping with delight. I notice that the wine writer for this paper has written about receiving samples and I am sure other writers must see samples but they are a bit lacking in the garden department.
Ours is an establishment which has more respect for science than many. While my own background is a little sparse, not for nothing am I the daughter of one scientist, the mother of another and married to someone who took science to a considerably higher level than I managed. So we tend to be a little analytical.
I looked at the label information on Tui’s Organic Eco-Fungicide. It is potassium bicarbonate. This necessitated a quick Google search followed by an email to scientist daughter to try and unravel the difference between potassium bicarbonate and sodium bicarbonate. The short answer is that the bicarbonated bit is the important part and that the potassium and sodium are generally interchangeable. Some of you will have already deduced what this means – Tui’s eco fungicide is 95% baking soda and the label does not say what the other 5% is. I did not do a price comparison between Tui’s product and the supermarket option. If you are serious, you can do it yourself. Baking soda is a bit of cure-all product and its anti fungal properties have long been acknowledged. The important information to know is that the recommended dosage is a level teaspoon per litre. The only downside is that to be effective, you will likely have to spray considerably more frequently than with the horticultural chemical alternative.
On to Tui’s Organic Eco-Pest to treat insect infestations. It sounds good – for the control of two-spotted mite, aphids, whitefly and scale and for helping control powdery mildew. I tried it out on whitefly which were infesting a container plant and it dealt to them. What is it? Canola oil, mainly. It is just over 85% canola oil in the form of an emulsifiable concentrate. I do not think you can concentrate the canola oil so the concentrated reference must be to the unspecified surfactant which enables the canola oil to be mixed with water. The label claims that Eco-Pest contains three powerful plant oils but the other two must be in very minor traces because they are not mentioned by name.
Purists may question the choice of canola – it is of course the food oil most likely to be the result of some genetic modification (lots of GE work done on rape seed production). As with the Eco-Fungicide, this product works but will need more frequent application than heavier duty non-organic sprays. It is not a magic bullet or a great new find. You can substitute with a home kitchen mix of a light cooking oil (there is no reason why rice bran or soya oil will not work just as well) with a squirt of dish washing detergent. Tui recommend diluting at 5ml per litre (that is about a teaspoon) for insects and 10ml per litre for scale.
Eco-Fert came as a little 100gram pot of concentrated seaweed extract which is mixed with water to make a massive 200 litres of liquid fertiliser. Recommended application is weekly or fortnightly. I haven’t tried this yet because liquid feeding is not part of our regular routine here so I will have to think what to experiment on. Liquid feed is the plant equivalent of human fast food. It does nothing to alter the soil structure but it will give plants an immediate boost. Seaweed has long been recognised as a good all round fertiliser. I can’t recommend a cheap alternative from the kitchen cupboard for this product but logically it sits alongside compost teas and worm farm liquids.
Tui’s products are marked as being registered with BFA Organic. Organic certification is a bit of shaky territory internationally (not all certifying bodies are of equal credibility). I had to Google BFA Organic. I had been guessing British Food Authority or similar, but no. It is Biological Farmers of Australia and I can not comment on credibility beyond noting that some might think that all farming is, by definition, a biological activity.
So Tui’s products are tried and true natural remedies packaged to meet the modern convenience market. There is nothing wrong with that but you are paying for convenience, not for extensive research or exciting new discoveries which are kind to the planet. The interesting aspect is the recognition by Tui of an important market which has emerged and the extent to which organics is becoming mainstream.