Hartley Magazine

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Four great tips for an alternate approach

Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs makes this claim with a certain pride: “It’s always safe to walk in our greenhouses.”

Most owners of commercial establishments can’t say that. Routine chemical spraying or fumigation of indoor growing spaces means workers are forbidden to enter the area for specific times—from hours to days.

But not at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The third-generation Virginia-based wholesale/retail mail order company eschews chemicals in favor of organic practices. This month Brent shares with me his greenhouse management methods—easily adapted by home gardeners.

#1 Improve soil biology.

Healthy plants resist diseases; superior soil aids health. Brent says, “Getting the biology in good working order allows plants to develop good resistance.” He wants his growing media alive with bacteria and fungus. His company uses BioComp that features pine bark mixed with peanut shells and cotton seed hulls.

“It’s like us eating yogurt with lots of micro-biologic organisms to help assimilate the nutrients in our food,” Brent says.

Beneficial bacteria assist with the uptake of available nutrients at the roots. Fungus travel away from the roots, returning with nutrients in exchange for sugars from the plant.
If you can’t find microbial organic mixes locally, try online with Organic Mechanics or John & Bob’s Grow Green Soil Solutions .

#2 Serve compost tea.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also sprays compost tea for an added microbial boost. They use worm castings and their own compost, steeped in water and aerated in a brewer.
You can purchase home brewers — Growing Solutions is one company—but more retail nurseries are now offering fresh tea. Bring your own containers, mix the tea with non-chlorinated water four to one, and apply within 48 hours.

#3 Seek out minerals

Brent is always on the lookout for mineral amendments, such as volcanic Azomite. Investigate mineral additions for your own potting soil.

#4 Guard for pests.

The company also avoids problems by creating good air circulation and watering plants from the bottom up with Aquamats. They trap occasional pests on sticky cards for quick identification. For the rare infestation, they spray with refined soy bean oil or insecticidal soap. Be careful with the soap, Brent advises, “It can burn tender foliage.”

The company also turns to IPM Labs for beneficials, such as nematodes to control fungus gnats. Another source is Evergreen Growers Supply.

“It’s a great system for us,” Brent says. “The input is from nature—no chemicals involved at all.

Wouldn’t you like to say the same about your greenhouse?