Saturday, November 28, 2009


While at the New England Small Farm Institute, I made my way around the farm to the equipment storage area and found this impressive lineup of slightly antiqued tractors...all of these are diesel beasts...ready and waiting for action!

It was summer in 1982 when I first got to drive my grandfathers tractor. I remember it was a John Deere (who can forget that green color), and my feet barely reached the pedals if I stood up and jammed down on them. It was my job to drive around the "back forty" while my Dad and grandfather picked up firewood and threw it in the trailer.

My next tractor memory was circa 1986...pulling out a stump in the front yard at the farm. I remember hacking on that stump for hours...finally hooking up a chain...and going for it with the tractor at full speed! That stump creaked and groaned for a second, then ripped free from the ground and bounced along behind me. I'm sure the smile on my face would have reached coast to coast.

Odds are, many people have similar stories...amazing how the farmers of the world tend to teach their children and grandchildren how to drive on a tractor before a motor vehicle. Hence the love of fall festivals & hayrides I suppose...

Most of the time you see older tractors gathering rust in fields or hedgerows...abandoned for the next leap of technology or from the lack of a crucial part. Its sad see such a piece of Americana rusting away in a field. Which is why I was so stoked to see these beauties fully operational and sitting ready, waiting for a trailer to pull or a field to plow!

Have a favorite tractor story? Share it with me next time I see you! Until then, have fun and dont be afraid to get your hands dirty and do some work!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum at Longwood Gardens

There it is. The mythical thousand bloom Chrysanthemum on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. Longwood is the world's premier horticultural display garden, and looking at this shining example of horticultural prowess, one can see how they achieved this title.

This particular plant had 718 blooms on it, a personal record for Longwood's talented team of horticulturists. One staff member in particular has travelled to Japan numerous times to see all aspects of the production cycle, to truly understand each step of production. She is amazing and extremely dedicated! This is all done by hand, with a keen eye for details.

Producing thousand bloom Chrysanthemums is "old news" Japan, where the method is said to have originated. Though, anytime you see one plant with this many flowers on it, I dont care how many times you might have seen is impressive and stops you in your tracks!

This second picture shows a little bit of the custom frame, fabricated by Longwood's skilled metal engineers. Each flower is held in place by a small circle of metal, which are attached to the main frame in a radial circular pattern.

How might they grow one plant to this gargantuan size and filled with blooms? As with all plants, it all begins with the quality of your soil or potting soil. They use Organic Mechanics Premium Blend to get this plant off to a great start and provide plenty of beneficial biology in the root zone. All that compost and worm castings helps product strong stems and big flowers!
The final picture is the closeup...a stunning addition to the always beautiful Chrysanthemum display at Longwood Gardens. If you missed it this year (as they have already begun the annual changeover to their Christmas display), never fear, as next year the thousand bloom mum will be back in another life, perhaps breaking a new record over 718 blooms. I know I cant wait to see if they do. Read more at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Garlic Mustard take 2

For those of you that read my posting on Tuscarora Beach Drops & camping, you may have read the bit about Garlic Mustard. Well, when I went camping last week I found some garlic mustard to take pictures of for all of you who may not have yet seen this plant up close and personal.

As you can see, the leaves are almost heart-shaped, and the edges have a toothed appearance. The veins are quite pronounced as you can see.

Picture #2 shows the entire plant after I pulled it out of the ground. You can see the bulbous base, which is the best place to pull from, to ensure you get all the roots and not just stems and leaves. These were growing in the parking area next to our campsite. Typical placement of garlic usually find it at the road edge or trail edge...where seeds were likely deposited by an unsuspecting camper, when dirt containing seeds falls off a tire or shoe.

The final picture shows me burning the garlic mustard plants in the fire. Destroying the plants is the best way to keep it from spreading, as these plants can make seeds even after being pulled from the ground and left for dead!

Garlic mustard is originally from Europe. This invasive plant does not play well with native woodland plants and is the bully next door...pushing its way into our forests with astonishing speed once established.

The major reason why I really dislike garlic mustard is its ability to repel and discourage the growth of naturally occuring mycorrhizae (fungi that live in soil and form mutually beneficial relationships with plant roots). Seeds benefit greatly from these mycorrhizal synergies, and we need all the native plant seeds we can get to germinate and help reforest and repopulate our natural lands!

Next time youre out camping, or walking the dog, or just enjoying a walk in the woods, if you see garlic mustard beating up on some native plants...step in and be a hero! Rip it out and trash it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

National Recycling Day!

Did you know November 15th was National Recycling Day? is a fun website to explore and see how your personal recycling efforts impact energy resource conservation. While we are all familiar with recycling newspapers, aluminum and metal cans, glass and plastic bottles, many of us need to find a local place to take our small mountains of plastic accumulated each year from normal gardening activities.

Many independent garden centers are now setting up collection stations, like this one at Bucks Country Gardens. They'll take all those plastic pots and flats liberated from the plants you put in the ground this year. My small pile is shown below...I like to keep a small supply around for repotting...but I was able to get rid of a nice chunk of my stash this year as part of National Recycling Day.

I hope you treat everyday like National Recycling Day. It may not seem like an individual contribution matters, but will show you the exact impact you make as an individual. Then if you multiply that by just 25% of the US population, it makes a huge impact!
We recycle high-quality agricultural by-products back into Organic Mechanics potting soils, to make them more sustainable and decrease our carbon footprint. Compost is recycled agricultural waste products, made from farm waste & food waste. We recycle all the plastic we receive as packaging material. We also use recycled vegetable oil to heat our production facility. We like to think of it as resource these valuable products are not waste, but organic substances waiting for reuse and recovery.
To further decrease your personal carbon footprint, look for products and/or packaging made from recycled materials. Collectively, we CAN make a difference! How much will you recycle this year?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuscarora Beech Drops

The Organic Mechanic LOVES to go camping. Ever seen these before? They are known as "Beech Drops", (Conopholis alpina) emerging in spring through duff on the forest floor. A miniature conifer look-alike, these plants grow and feed on Beech tree roots...a parasitic plant used in earlier times as an astringent and for other medical uses.
They were so tiny we almost stepped on them! These were photographed in the Tuscarora State Forest...a great place for primitive camping. The forest floor felt like a trampoline on 1/4 mile walk from our parking spot to our camp site! It felt even more wild, secluded, and peaceful to camp in a forested area where the worms have not decimated the duff layer.
Taking a look around our campsite, it was on a northwestern facing slope, with mostly hardwoods, a few hemlock, and a healthy layer of undergrowth. Did not see any invasive plants, except garlic mustard - which was only around the parking spot for our campsite...go figure. We pulled every garlic mustard we saw...and burned them! Garlic mustard has a tendency to complete seed growth even if they are pulled and let on the ground to rot and die.
Did you know garlic mustard, like all plants in this family, do not form mycorrhizal bonds with plant roots? They actually repel mycorrhizal fungi! (Mycorrhizal fungi form mutually beneficial connections between plant roots and the surrounding soil. They help the plant absorb more water and nutrients...and the plants provide the fungi with carbon and other food sources) So...if garlic mustard plants repel mycorrhizal fungi, and yet they are starting to run rampant in the woods of North America...what does this mean for the mycorrizal species we need for all our native plants that exist in the forest? Yet another problem...only one solution...pull all the garlic mustard you can (burn it or trash it) when you see it in wild places. You know where the wild things are...
Amazing what you can see while enjoying a walk in the woods.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mo-Greena Foundry - Organic Mechanics Home Base

I love big machines. What can I say, I am just a big kid at heart when I see these awesome earth moving machines do work. You can just tell when a highly skilled operator is running a piece of equipment...when the machine is just an extension of what the person is willing the machine to do. Smooth movements that almost look computerized are the pinnacle of equipment operation!

These two monster machines were on our warehouse property to do some work! We graded the entire back 2 acres to get ready for further expansion efforts. What was once hilly, uneven terrain is now flat as a pancake. Can you say soccer field during break time! Well, not completly smooth, it is actually sloped away from the mid point for better drainage. Bioswales control water runoff along the edges. Native riparian plants placed along the bioswales help to absorb excess water. This area will serve as additional storage, as well as future greenhouse space!

This is but a small phase of Operation Property stay turned for future visual updates!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Solar Decathlon and Living Walls

The Solar Decathlon places 20 university teams from around the world against each other to see who can design, build, and operate the most energy-efficient, solar-powered and good looking home. While I was there for the 2009 competition (without my camera, d'oh!), these pics are from the 2007 competition. I loved the German entry (lower picture), and apparently team Germany outdid themselves again this year, earning 1st place for their design. I also LOVED the living walls installed on the top picture. Beauty and function all in one place! The living wall helps keep the home cool in the summer, and insulates during the winter.
PNC bank recently installed a 2,380 square foot living wall at their headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA. They even sourced all the plants locally, and used many native plants in the design. Engineering comes into play when you have a 24 ton living wall attached to your building, but many smaller versions can be installed on the side of a garage or shed quite easily. Some companies are now offering modular systems that make it even easier. or doing a major project on your home, it is always a good idea to check and see if any permitting is required...usually attainable by working with a local contractor or landscape contractor. Who will be the first garden center to incorporate a living wall into their operation? The race is on!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local Farmers Markets Rock!

Ahhh, the local farmers market! West Chester, PA holds a Growers Market, simply to differentiate that if you sell it here, you must have grown it yourself...none of that buying potatoes from Idaho and passing them off as your own! I appreciate the local farms bringing in the freshest produce, fruit, flowers, meats, cheeses, mushrooms, jams, wines, prepared foods, perennials...the list just goes on!
Our market goes from May 1 to December...depending on weather most of the vendors make it each weekend. It is the Saturday morning ritual for my wife and I to enjoy our coffee, then get there nice and early. If you make it to the market early, not only do you get to see the beautiful displays created to entice passing shoppers, but you also get the best selection.
Don't know where the closest farmers market is to you? Check out to find out! Saturday is the day for farmers markets...although many are now open during the week to make it easy for people to pick up fresh food on the way home from work.
These pictures are from our local vendors....Queens Farm and North Star Orchard....two of the 16 or so vendors at the West Chester Growers Market each week. Love the oyster mushrooms from Queens Farm and those Asian Pears from North Star Orchard!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Burlap Deer Fence

Once again the good folks at North Creek Nurseries have outdone themselves in creativity. Check out this alternative to a traditional deer fence! In the Mid-Atlantic region, especially here in southeast PA, we have more deer than can be supported by the native vegetation (like most areas of the country), so the hungry deer set themselves upon our gardens with blissful intent...much to our dismay when we step outside in the morning only to find your lettuce patch or hosta collection eaten to the nubs!
Traditional deer fence is a black woven poly fence, available at heights from 6' to 10'. FYI...most deer are able to jump any 6' fence. There are tricks to planting hedges close to the fence, as research shows most deer are reluctant to make a double jump, as they cannot get up the momentum needed to clear a second hurdle that is taller than the next. Also, creating garden rooms where the deer cannot clearly see out, or an excape route, makes deer nervous and less likely to linger while nibbling on your prized perennial or veggie garden.

This fence was put up by sinking posts on 20' centers and running wire from post to post. #2 wire works great, the thicker the better to stand up over time. The wire was tightened up as much as possible, then nailed into the posts. Next, a 8' wide roll of burlap was unrolled along the length of the fence, and looped over the wire that stretches from post to post. To secure the burlap in place (here comes another genius moment) they used common nails woven through the layers of burlap, much like you pin a button on a shirt. Check out the close up to see how its done.

Need a door for that fence? Make one out of PVC and attach the burlap in the same way. When asked about deer encounters, I was surprised to here they did not have any deer problems this year, nor did they have any rips or tears in the burlap, due to animals or weather. This summer was particularly brutal in terms of constant rain and wind, but their burlap fence has remained intact all year. I will report back next year to see how it fares in year #2. Until then, if youre having deer problems and need a economical solution, try out the burlap fence! It probably would work on bunnies too! Although you might want to run another wire at the base to strengthen up the fence. Dont want to go to all that trouble, or have neighbors that would chastize you for putting up any fence? Try liquid fence products (

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our ingredients: Compost, Worm Castings, Rice Hulls, and Coconut Fiber

I thought it might be interesting for people to see pictures of our raw ingredients, used to make Organic Mechanics premium potting soils. On the right we have a picture of beautiful compost. Note the dark rich color and small particle size.

This next picture shows our rice hulls, an ingredient in our Container Blend.

These rice hulls are parboiled to remove any weed seed and diseases that may have been on the rice. It is just the shell of the rice grain. These rice hulls come from Arkansas! They make Organic Mechanics Container Blend very fluffy and improve drainage. We use them in some of our mixes in place of perlite to increase the earth-friendlyness of our Blends. They will break down slowly over time and leave pore space for water and oxygen exchange.

Next we have a close up of pure worm castings! If you look closely you can see the individual castings! Worm castings are a plants best friend. Castings help retain moisture and are a vital source of beneficial biology. Check out how to make "worm casting tea" for your plants, instructions on our Products page. Organic Mechanics Premium Blend Potting Soil contains the optimum amount of worm castings, so no additional amending is required to grow perfect herbs and veggies.

Finally we have a picture of the coconut husk fiber. Coconut husk fiber is a by-product of the coconut industry. Each coconut has multiple products used to make many things from food to makeup to potting soil. The products are coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut shell, coconut fiber, and finally coconut dust/fiber. This amazing product is dried and compressed before shipping to us. Each block expands over 4 times its size, just like those sponges shaped like animals you put in water when you were a kid.

If you find a small nugget of coconut fiber or compost in Organic Mechanics, simply break up gently as you are potting your plants.

Next time you put your hands into a bag of Organic Mechanics, see if you can spot these ingredients!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

I was lucky enough to visit the triangle or Raleigh - Durham - Chapel Hill this summer, and fell in love with the Sarah P. Duke Garden on Duke's campus. How lucky are the students to have this treasure to enjoy! I saw about a dozen students tucked into corners of the garden, headphones on, studying away. The Yellow Flowers are Hedychium, or ginger. Looked for a name tag, but alas, it was either not there or covered by giant plants!

The landscape shot is in the heart of the garden, apparently the popular spot for weddings! There were wedding planners and brides-to-be walking the grounds when we were there! This shot represents only 1/20th of this garden space. I like how they designed garden rooms, so you have to explore to see everything.
Do you recognize this flower? Blooms in spring, white flowers, a beacon of hope in the understory forest, or a specimen tree in many a backyard, has red showy fruit this time of year that persists into the winter, birds love the fruit.....have you guessed it yet? Its a Dogwood...Cornus florida.

This last picture is in the water garden area. You can see hybrid water lilies on the pond surface, and a Tacca sp. (bat plant) in the center growing out of the water. These water lily pads are giant! These things are almost 3 feet across! These large pads originally came from the Amazon, likely selected for flower color, flower size, pad size, and WOW factor!
Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square PA also has a collection of these massive waterlily hybrids. Worth the visit if you have not been...though you will need to wait until August or so to see large pads...they get bigger as the summer progresses.
If you havent been to your local public garden in a while, check it out! This is the ideal time to experience fall in the garden. Between fall blooming plants, red, orange, and golden leaves, and berries galore...there is much to see and marvel over in the fall garden. Plus, what better time to get out and breathe some fresh crisp air! And, I bet they have lots of fun classes during the winter to keep you dreaming of spring....
My advice? Make up a thermos of hot chocolate to take along the way. Hot chocolate makes everybody happy...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Anyone know what species caterpillar this is?

I found this caterpillar on my Aster tartarica when I was cutting flowers to bring into the house. I nearly cut him in half! He was as thick as my thumb, and about 4 inches long. Look closely to see his teeth up front! (it is upsidedown in the picture) The flowers are of Aster tartarica. It is in full bloom now, and about 9 feet tall! Next year we plan to cut it back early in the season, before it sets flower buds, so it stays more compact in the garden. Hopefully we will see more of these guys eating it! This plant is so vigorous, I cannot even tell where the caterpillar ate! Thats my personal philosophy....plant enough so the caterpillars and insects can have their fill, in addition to harvesting enough for us to enjoy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

DC Green Festival!

This weekend is the DC green festival! A 2-day celebration of all things positively earth-friendly. Its a great chance to come see over 300 vendors with everything from home building products, to grocery products, original artwork, acclaimed speakers, and lots of non-profits making a difference everyday. Check it out at

These pictures show the size of the show and the awesome recycling centers set up around the show & stationed by volunteers. I do love a festival that actually walks the talk!

Saturday 10-7, Sunday 11-6. Washington Convention Center. While youre out and about, if you havent been over to the US National Arboretum or the US Botanical Garden in a while...check them out! The Botanic Garden has rotating exhibits in addition to their beautiful garden collections.

Need a bite to eat while in DC? Check out the Good Stuff Eatery for burgers & housemade ice cream and milkshakes!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Plastic Pot Recycling!

Plastic pots. Love em or hate em, there is no other cheap alternative for many nursery growers. Even though there has been much progress made in recent years with biodegradable pots, plastic will remain king for quite some time. As an earth friendly gardener it hurts my soul to see a dumpster or trash can full of nothing but plastic trash generated by gardening activities. Which is why I got so excited the other day!
I was out and about in Bucks County visiting customers, and look what I found at Bucks Country Gardens! I think the bin is new this year, but look how easy this garden center made it for their customers to recycle unwanted plastic pots. The message on the sides of the wire bin is simple and effective. All you need is a banner to wrap around the bin! Whenever possible, I think garden centers should accept and recycle plastic pots. Not only is this a benefit for your customers, and a reason for them to come back to your business, but also a benefit to gardeners, so we do not have to look at a small mountain of plastic in the garden or garage.
In case you were wondering, any and all plastic pots and flats can go into the bin. In some cases, garden center staff will have to sort the plastics before a recycler will come pick it up. My advice to you garden center managers out there, ask your local recycling center what they require. My advice to you gardeners out there, if your favorite garden center doesnt yet have a plastic pot recycling center, request it! Dont forget to remind them it will mean you will be there more often, dropping off old pots and buying new plants!
Until next time...Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and love your garden!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

American Beauties

Recently I was at North Creek Nurseries for their open house. North Creek is a wholesale nursery pumping out great plants all year long. Their most recent passion has been introducing native American Beauties into the garden center trade. With garden designed for butterfly gardens, bird gardens, moist sun or dry shade.

These pictures are of monarch butterflies, part of the butterfly release they did with over 75 local elementary school students. The kids loved it and learned a lot about butterfly host plants! The plants featured in these pictures are Echinacea and Phlox.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Millenium Park in Chicago

Millenium Park in Chicago might be considered the crown jewel of the parks and green spaces that intertwine with the urban city landscape. I was blown away at the flowing drifts of native plants and perfectly placed ornamentals. Intimate garden spaces emerge around every corner. Being there transports you from city to prairie in a matter of seconds...even if the city is still just a backdrop away.

First Picture is of Eryngium yuccifolium, or Rattlesnake Master, with various prairie plants...Echinacea sp., Amsonia sp., and many many grasses.
The second picture is Agastache...likely Acapulco Salmon & Pink, cultivar name is 'Kiegabi'

This Calmagrostis 'Karl Forester' in the background combined beautifully with the pinkish-purple flowers of Eupatorium dubium 'Little Joe'.

The city through the "trees". Unidentified Pancium sp.

Chicago Pictures & The Field Museum

Chicago has so many was hard to choose where we would spend our one free afternoon, but we decided on the Field Museum after getting a recomendation to check out the Underground Adventure exhibit on display...these pictures do not do the exhibit was so dark my camera only picked up on the bright educational displays, but was a great primer on the soil food web for kids of all ages 8-80.

I just LOVED this combination of Phormium (New Zealand Flax) and the Erogrostis (Love Grass). Really brought out the blue in the Phormium!

The totem pole was so cool....I only wish I could have seen the relief artwork at the top of the pole! Binoculars next time!