Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Blogger for Organic Gardening Magazine

Hey hey! Hope everyone is staying cool in the heat of summer! This next guest blog posting for Organic Gardening Magazine will have you thinking cooler thoughts about composting indoors this winter when its too cold outside to get to the compost pile!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Guest Blog Post for Organic Gardening!

Hey there! I am so excited to announce I have been asked to do some guest blog work for Organic Gardening Magazine! My first post topic I chose was "Nature Sounds in the Garden". This post was inspired by a talk I heard in June at the Millersville Native Plant Conference. Head on over to pause and reflect on the orchestral music of the garden.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


That's right. May is garden for wildlife month. The National Wildlife Federation is celebrating this concept by encouraging you to get your garden certified as wildlife habitat! Its not complicated, just a checklist. Do you have a place for birds to drink water and not be harrassed by cats? Check. Do you provide food to wildlife by planting trees, shrubs, and perennials that produce seeds, fruits, and berries? Check. Does your garden have areas where wildlife can find shelter and build nests? Check. Is your garden earth friendly? i.e. Do you make compost, avoid using chemicals, limit your turfgrass area, and use mulch to reduce watering needs? Check. If you were also checking these off as I went along, you should sign up your garden today!

Doesn’t it feel good to plant natives in the spring, and watch resulting wildlife visit your garden to eat, pollinate, or reproduce? OK…maybe not deer chomping on newly planted tulips, but caterpillars on leaves? Butterflies on flowers? Birds nibbling on mature seeds? Personally, I tolerate insect damage in my garden very well. I dont care if there are a few holes in some of the leaves on a plant. Why not? Because I value the contribution each insect makes in the food chain. Every protein filled caterpillar helps sustain a bird for a day...which is why we need our native plants serving as host plants for native insects. Healthy populations of native insects lead to healthy populations of mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, etc...quite frankly the entire food chain!

As gardeners we do good by planting green things and by voting with our dollars. Every plant in the ground makes more fresh air for us to breathe. Careful selection at the local garden center can result in more earth friendly purchases or help an important cause like the National Wildlife Federation, Check out the native plants from American Beauties to accent your garden and provide food for wildlife!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Organic Mechanic Moves!

Well, we're always making moves...but this time I actually moved. Why would I decide to move in the middle of spring you might ask? For a family of seemed better on paper than practice, but we had to move into a bigger place since we are adding to the family! We stayed local, only moved about 5 miles from our previous place, but we are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of downtown West Chester, PA.
We moved into a 200+ year old farmhouse! Between the natural area across the street, the wood stove on the first floor, the plant shelves built into every window, the perfect piedmont outside landscape, and the four floors of space...we had to say yes! So, this spring has all the usual busy times, plus housecleaning and gardening on top of all that, and you can probably guess why I havent been blogging like I thought I would!

We counted after moving all the plants...apparently we have over 200 square feet of plants in containers! I do love plants in containers, especially if moving frequently is your thing, since you can always take a container with you. We had a fair number of highly prized plants we had to dig and move, plants from such events as the Rare Plant Auction, Thankfully we had a small army of friends over to help dig! In return we offered divisions of anything people wanted, and of course, food and tasty beverages at the end of the day! We are now committed to getting most of them in the ground ASAP. The nice thing is we can move the containers around in the garden space for a while before finally deciding on a final landscape plan. We plan to use Burnout herbicide from St. Gabriel Organics, to knock back the areas we want to plant. Burnout uses food grade ingredients like clove oil and citric acid to combate unwanted plant guests in the garden. I'll post more on that project after it happens to show the results of using an herbicide without glyphosate as the active ingredient!
I am really looking forward to developing this property into a paradise. It has all the makings of an outdoor retreat for visiting friends (and ourselves). Now we just have to make it happen!

Its time for me to get out there and get my hands dirty! Until next time....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Organic Mechanics Planting Mix!

Allow me to introduce the third member of the Organic Mechanics family, our Planting Mix! Organic Mechanics Planting Mix (PM) is made for amending soil whenever planting a tree, shrub, bulb, perennial, annual...basically anything planted in the ground! We also recommend mixing Planting Mix with topsoil for building raised beds using a 50% / 50% blend of Planting Mix and topsoil for best results. Use your existing topsoil, or go get some at your local, independent garden center.

Our Planting Mix contains compost, aged pine bark, worm castings, and coconut husk fiber. Its the perfect blend of organic matter to help hold moisture in the root zone, giving plants a leg up during dry spells and helping reduce watering requirements. For every 1% increase in organic matter in soils, over one acre, the soil can hold an additional 16,000 gallons of water! Most garden soils have between 1% and 5% organic matter...less if your home is new construction...more if the soil was previously landscaped.

The other big benefit to using Organic Mechanics Planting Mix is the beneficial biology inside every bag. The microbes in compost and worm castings help to make a healthier plant by occuping the real estate around the root zone. Once present, beneficial microbes help to exclude or fight off potential diseases, and help break down organic matter into plant available nutrients.

Always wondering how to plant that tree or shrub correctly? No worries, there is a step by step guide on the back of each bag of Planting Mix. Most important thing is to plant at the same soil level as the existing soil line present in the container you brought home from the local garden center. Hopefully the "root flare" is showing on any trees you buy, and if not you can gently scrape away soil until exposing the root flare. The flare is the classic part of a tree trunk that flares out at ground level, away from the truck itself. An exposed root flare makes for a healthier tree. Ever see trees mulched with what looks like a mulch volcano? Ouch. Too much organic matter next to a tree truck only encourages fungi to attack the tree at its base...something all of us want to avoid on a newly planted tree!

If you're planting a raised bed for vegetables or herbs, remember to use untreated lumber so you dont have chemicals leaching into your veggie garden! Once you build your beds, a cheap trick to exclude weeds and block out grass is to put down cardboard or newspaper before adding your 50% / 50% mix of Planting Mix and topsoil. No real trick to placing the topsoil and PM in the beds, just add a bag of PM, then a bag of topsoil, and repeat until you have about half the bed full, then mix the two together with your shovel or digging fork, then repeat for the top half. Adding fertilizer at planting time to ensure banner harvests? Mix it into the planting hole just before you plant.

Want to read more about how to save water in the garden? Check out for helpful tips!

Getting planting fever from all this talk of planting? Get out there and get your hands dirty!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Organic Mechanics Container Blend Potting Soil!

The second product we introduced to the Organic Mechanics brand was our Container Blend Potting Soil. Launched in 2008, Container Blend (CB) was built for use in outdoor containers. It has increased drainage as compared to our Premium Blend Potting Soil, making it the natural choice for all your outdoor containers. CB has more aged pine bark and coconut husk fiber...less compost and worm castings...and was formulated for growing perennials, grasses, & woody plants.

We constantly hear reports of people using CB to grow native plants, especially perennials, without having to add fertilizer, yet still experiencing solid growth and flowering. However, if you are like me and jam a lot of small perennials into a giant container, you may want to give the plants a little bit of organic granular fertilizer, or liquid fertilizer like kelp, worm casting tea, or fish emulsion to ensure the container overflows with growth.

We pioneered Organic Mechanics Container Blend while working with The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, Their horticulture experts use Container Blend in all the big containers on campus. They add additional slow release fertilizer to get these containers reaching their fullest potential each summer. I love their use of mixed containers, sometimes planting tropicals, annuals, perennials in one big that plant exuberance!

Another difference gardeners will notice in our Container Blend...we replaced the perlite (little white stuff) with rice hulls to make the mix more earth-friendly. These OMRI listed rice hulls are produced in the southern US, parboiled to get rid of weed seed and plant diseases, dried, compressed, and packaged for shipment. Giving these agricultural byproducts new life in our blends helps to lower our carbon footprint and gives the mix a lovely, fluffy texture.

How does using rice hulls make our product more earth-friendly you might ask? Using them reduces the amount of perlite we use. Perlite is a silica ore, mined from the ground, shipped to processing facilities, and "popped like popcorn" by heating the crushed ore to tempertures above 1000 degrees fahrenheit! While rice hulls may not be ideal in all applications, it works wonders in our Container Blend Potting Soil.

Even though we reduced the amount of compost and worm castings in this blend, you will still notice having to water much less as compared to peat-based mixes. Who doesn't love spending less time dragging hose around the garden!?! A story I always tell is from 2009 when my wife and I were out of town for a week in the middle of June. We left without finding someone to babysit our garden...don't know how that slipped my mind since we had about 300 plants in containers at the time...oh, yeah, that's right, its because we were going to get married! But I digress. 9 days out of town, only a passing shower or two, and everything planted in Organic Mechanics made it through...only a few new plants I hadn't yet repotted didn't make it. If you have similar stories from using Organic Mechanics, please share them with us!

Have beautiful containers planted up using Organic Mechanics Container Blend Potting Soil? Please share them on our facebook page,

Until next time, get out there and get your hands dirty!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Organic Mechanics Premium Blend Potting Soil - OMRI Listed!

Our Premium Blend Potting Soil began rolling off the line back in 2007. A handful of retailers picked us up and we were born into the world of local, independent garden centers and natural food stores. We have come a long way since then, thanks to all of you who supported Organic Mechanics! We now offer four distinct retail products, Premium Blend Potting Soil, Container Blend Potting Soil, Planting Mix, and Worm Castings. The next few blog posts will cover each of our products in detail, to give gardeners a better understanding of our products and how to use them.
As I was saying, it all started with our Premium Blend Potting Soil. Like all our mixes, Premium Blend (PB) is compost-based. It also contains aged pine bark, worm castings, coconut husk fiber, and perlite. How is PB different than our Container Blend Potting Soil you might ask? They are both potting soils for container gardening, but PB has more compost and more worm castings as compared to Organic Mechanics Container Blend. As a result, PB holds moisture even longer than Container Blend, making PB a perfect choice for houseplants, small windowboxes, hanging baskets, tropicals, or for growing food in containers (tomatoes, peppers, etc, etc).
Using Organic Mechanics Premium Blend Potting Soil for the first time, gardeners will notice having to water about half as much. Can you imagine! Dragging the hose half as much during the heat of summer?! It’s true. The compost and worm castings hold water exceptionally well. Even though PB has excellent moisture retention, the pine bark and coconut fiber create pore space for the all important oxygen to get to plant roots. Just like us, plants need to breathe.
Learning to water properly is a skill worth its weight in gold. Too often, people love their plants to death by over-watering. How can you tell if a plant needs water? Certainly, if it’s wilting, it needs a drink. However, most plants are better off when they do not wilt in-between watering. Until you build up the experience to just know if a plant needs water, the easiest way to check is to use your finger to dig into the soil root ball, about 2-3 inches down. If you feel moisture, the plant is OK. If it is dry to the tip of your finger, it’s time to re-water. Here is a tip on knowing if you are feeling moisture or not. Go to the sink, place a single drop of water on your finger, give a quick shake of your hand, then feel your finger with your thumb. That residual moisture will be similar to what you would feel in the container if the plant was still OK. Check our website for a video on this process!

Wondering about fertilizer choices? As with all potting soils, you will want to fertilize if you are growing vegetables or annuals in PB. You don’t want two peppers…you want a dozen peppers, right!?! We recommend organic fertilizers to go along with the exceptional beneficial biology inside each bag. Visit your local independent garden center for the best selection of organic fertilizers and ask them to recommend a brand. I like liquid fish emulsion & worm castings for feeding my plants (and the microbes around their roots!), but Bradfield Organics is a great granular fertilizer for that extra punch to get those plants growing!
Next post…all about Organic Mechanics Container Blend! Until then, get out there and get your hands dirty!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Organic Gardening Magazine's Seal of Approval!

My first blog post of the year mentioned the award we received from Organic Gardening magazine, their newly created Seal of Approval! We are so honored to be the first company to receive this award. Why did OG give it to us? They were impressed by our commitment to organics, the environmentally sound composition of each blend, and the sustainable production practices we employ to get the job done each day.
What’s in Organic Mechanics Potting Soils and Soil Amendments?
If you have not yet tried a bag of Organic Mechanics, you might not know our products contain compost, aged pine bark, coconut husk fiber, worm castings, and finally, rice hulls or perlite.The compost is locally produced in Chester County, PA. The aged pine bark comes from Delaware (it says forest products on the label, just in case another type of bark gets harvested…birds will drop seeds in the midst of a pine field), and the coconut husk fiber comes from India. India you say? Seems like quite the distance…but when you dig deeper, one realizes this coconut husk fiber is compressed 5:1 before shipment and it is shipped by boat. Shipping by boat is very fuel-efficient, as compared to shipping by tractor-trailer. Also, the fiber dust we receive is the final by-product of coconut harvesting. You get coconut meat, oil, water, shell, fiber, and finally, the dust that gets dried and compressed before shipment to our production site.
Other ingredients include worm castings, rice hulls, and perlite. Worm castings are a nice way of saying worm poop…natures perfect soil amendment. They are chock full of beneficial biology to populate the root zone, breaking down organic matter and helping plants stay healthy. Rice hulls are the shell surrounding each delicious rice grain. The rice is grown in Arkansas and Louisiana, and the hulls are parboiled before packaging to remove any weed seeds or potential pathogens. Rice hulls replace perlite in most of our blends. Perlite is added to increase drainage in potting soils, but rice hulls also provide good drainage and make the mix nice and fluffy for plant roots. Perlite is very energy intensive to make, and since the rice hulls were available, we chose to use them in most of our blends to reduce our manufacturing carbon footprint.
Production Practices
When I started Organic Mechanics, I knew environmental sustainability had to be a core value of the company. For this reason we use recycled products whenever possible. Most of our ingredients are by-products of agriculture that we “upcycle” into our products. We use recycled pallets for shipping, 100% post-consumer recycled paper for all printing needs, and we purchase wind power for our electricity.
I also wanted us to use the most energy efficient methods of production. For this reason we chose an electric forklift (which is also better for employee health), and chose used diesel equipment when deciding on machines – so we could run them all on bio-diesel. All our diesel machines also have “scrubbers” on them, to clean the air emitted from the engines. We also have a waste-oil heater for our shop. Collected vegetable oil is filtered and burned in a very efficient heater that has kept the guys warm even during the depths of winter’s chill.
Speaking of the guys, I’ll have to dedicate an entire post to them later this summer. We could not do so much without “the dream team” in the shop. We have five full-time staff in the shop each day during the busy season. The guys make potting soil, keep everything stocked, load trucks, unload trucks, process orders, flip compost piles, bag up worm castings, and all the while make each other laugh and listen to great music. It’s a dirty job, but they do it with a smile. I did it for the first three years…and now I spend all my time behind a computer, on the road visiting garden centers, or at conferences and workshops educating people on the joys of organic gardening.
We hope you’ll join us on this sustainable gardening journey. If you don’t currently have a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine, pick up the current June/July issue at your favorite bookstore or retailer…you can read more about Organic Mechanics in the Profiles Department, and great topics like Container Gardening, Chanticleer (one of the most stunning public gardens around), delicious recipes, OG’s Farm-to-Fork tour of Italy, The Rodale Institute’s 30th anniversary of its Farming Systems Trial, and much, much more. Pick up a copy or get yourself a subscription! I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Side Trip To My Grandparents Farm

In August of 2010 each year we attend a trade show in Chicago called the IGC show, which is short for the Independent Garden Center show. To gain admittance into this show you must provide products to Independent Garden Centers only…no big box products for sale here, and no big box store reps attending. Only locally owned, independent garden center owners, managers, and staff walk this show floor. We love this show each year as it provides an opportunity for independently owned garden centers to come together in one place to review thousands of products. These IGC representatives place orders and bring these great products back to your home town. Plus Chicago is a fun town with great food and beautiful gardens.

Last year we arrived in Illinois a few days early to meet with a potential partner company (more on that in a future blog post). We held our meeting and then proceeded about an hour north through the IL countryside to Boone County, IL, or more specifically, Capron IL. While the downtown area was nothing like I remember, the old tank that sat in front of the bank was still there, still green, and still cool.However, the town of Capron was only a marker on the way to the final destination – the family farm my grandparents owned while I was growing up. As we passed the corn fields that stretch from horizon to horizon, I felt the farm drawing close as familiar signs appeared…small bridges, neighboring barns, and finally the farmhouse appeared where I spent so many summers growing up.While some things had changed, most of the surroundings were still familiar like an old friend. The vegetable garden was still there, though moved from its original placement nearest the chicken coop. The majestic Bur Oaks still stood as welcoming sentries on the walk down to the creek where I spent many days fishing with my grandfather. The walk to the creek had changed…where there were once simple hillocks of native grasses, there was now an entire native meadow planted by nature and nurtured by time.
While the new view is certainly beautiful, it’s my memories of riding in the back of the tractor, listening to my grandfather laugh as we went over the bumps on the way to the creek that will stay in my memory bank. I remember bringing tiny bass, sunfish, or brim we caught back up to the farmhouse, filling the kiddie pool with water, and turning them loose to swim in circles until the farm cats finally noticed there was sushi on the menu and all they had to do was fish for their dinner.

The outhouse was removed thanks to the joys of modern plumbing…but it made a great garden folly back in the day. I remember it being covered with honeysuckle vines each summer. I suppose the spot on the property that gave me the most satisfaction to see unchanged was the size of the vegetable garden. The Organic Mechanic was baptized into gardening in her veggie garden. My earliest memories of my Grandmother were from moments in the garden, when she would teach me about eggplants or asparagus or garden insects or how to fertilize. Once I was tall enough (which, if you know me was when I was 5), it made me so proud to be able to reach into the 50 gallon drum of cow poop soaking in water (from the neighbors dairy cows), pull a bucket back out (I was strong like bull!), and go down the rows of veggies, giving each one a drink in turn.
The rest of my farm memories are from hours in the kitchen, snapping beans or peeling potatoes while she canned, froze, preserved, or made delicious baked items from the garden bounty. All in all, it was a successful trip back to Capron IL to relive summer memories on the farm. We came, we saw, we took pictures, we experienced place and time to make new memories.

The best part of my farm memories came not from the farm landscape, but from the family who experienced it with me. Moments like those make you acutely aware of the present and heighten your sense of family, togetherness, sharing, fulfillment, and love. I loved being in that garden with my grandmother. I loved being in the tractor’s trailer getting pulled to the fishing creek by my grandfather. Those real memories will persist past the point when I am making similar memories with my grandchildren.
Do we underestimate the impact we have on young children when gardening with them? I hope not, because they are the next generation of gardeners…they just don’t know it yet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back in action...

I know...I know... 13 months in-between blog postings is way too long! But I'm back in action! So what was occupying my time so fiercely that I could not break away to write about the life and times of The Organic Mechanics? I suppose I stopped posting for a number of reasons. The most immediate being our small company had a lot of growing pains in 2010…and there always seemed to be a machine to fix, compost to flip, trade shows to attend, phone calls to make, or emails to send. It was a time to make things happen.

I also spent quite a bit of time travelling the Mid-Atlantic giving talks on Organic Gardening. I spent thirty-five days giving talks on subjects such as composting, vermicomposting, organic soils and potting soils, organic fertilizer, and sustainable landscapes. Between the multi-day conferences and single talk events…I was a travelling man.

All the Organic Mechanics helped to make things happen in 2010! We are proud to announce Organic Gardening Magazine has chosen Organic Mechanics Potting Soils to be the first recipient of their new Seal of Approval! This honor was bestowed on us for our commitment to making environmental sustainability a core value at our company.

While 2010 was a great year for gardening, we hope 2011 continues the backyard transformation from boring underused spaces to gardens that feel good, do good, and look good. More on gardening subjects in weeks to come. This year I hope to share “A year in the life of The Organic Mechanics” with you all. It will undoubtedly be filled with stories of plants, people, events, and the object of desire that brings us together, the garden. I hope you will join me on the journey.