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Non-organic input to an organic garden ok?  RSS feed

 
Mike Jay
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Are the following practices acceptable if I want to keep my garden "better than organic"?

1) Getting fish scraps from a local restaurant (non-organic fish) and making fish emulsion from it (3 week ferment) for fertilizer.

2) Using pee as fertilizer (diluted) if the person doesn't eat organic 100%.

3) Using pee as fertilizer (diluted) if the person has a prescription.

4) Adding the aforementioned pee to the compost pile instead of straight on the garden.

5) Using coffee grounds (non-organic) from local restaurants on the garden or in compost.

6) Using food scraps (non-organic) from local restaurants for compost.

Thanks! 
 
Tyler Ludens
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Personally I think "better than organic" doesn't bring in any outside inputs, but that's just my own conception of "beyond organic."  It would produce all fertility onsite with the use of growing plants and fungi.  So seeds, some plants and trees, and mushroom cultures might be the only inputs.

Biointensive is a method of growing which uses no outside inputs, to produce the most food from the least amount of space:  http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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You'd have to check with your local organic certification board, but in general in the usa if any non-certified-organic inputs are applied to a farm, it can't be certified organic for three years after the last application.
 
Mike Jay
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Shoot...  I was hoping that if it was composted or fermented it would magically make it good. 

I'd like to generate all my own fertility but I don't have critters and compost everything I can off of the property already.  Maybe I'll have to check into a flock of worms...

 
Craig Dobbson
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The only one of those things that  I might question would be the prescription.  Even then, I'd ask what the script was for and the dosage and how much pee you're dealing with.  For example, I would not be adding even a single drop of pee to my property from a person whose being treated with chemotherapy or radiation.  No personal offense to anyone on these medications, just that that's some rough stuff for the soil to deal with.   On the other hand, if you're given a prescription calcium or potassium supplement, I'd probably consider that a bonus for the compost.  So it really depends on what drug your talking about and in what proportion it is to the rest of your material.  If you want to say which drug it is, I can do some research to find out how it breaks down and what potential problems might occur with it.  It's cold and windy and snowy, so I'm staying inside today. 

As for the other things you've listed, if you're looking for a certification, you'll probably have to be a little more picky with your inputs as is mentioned above.  If you're just trying to grow a bit of awesome for yourself, friends and family, I say add it all in there.  Most restaurant food is going to be pretty decent, unless you're talking about chain/junk food/fast food (in which case I'd pass it by).   Composting food scraps is better than them throwing them away into a dumpster destined for landfill, in my opinion. At least you can recover those resources and make use of them towards a better end goal than where they came from.  Something about not letting perfect be the enemy of the good. 

And, yes.  Get the worms.  I've had a bin in my kitchen since October.  I've gotten about ten gallons of castings so far from them.  It's making my spring potting mix so awesome this year.  A good investment for sure.
 
Chris Giannini
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I would add everything you mentioned. I'm no medical professional so I don't know if urine from someone with a prescription of any kind could contain anything harmful to plants or soil. I'm inclined to think it wouldn't matter so therefore I would use all of what you listed for compost and soil that's in production.
 
O. Donnelly
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If you're just growing for yourself:

A lot of the statutory definitions of "organic" seem pretty arbitrary to me.  For instance, seed meals (cottonseed, soybean meal, et), feather meal and blood meal are allowed and yet there's a high probability those sources came from / were fed gmo seeds, treated with non-organic pesticides / herbicides / antibiotics, etc.
I don't see any difference between applying coffee grounds from Starbucks vs soybean meal from agway.

Even with strictly derived organic products there's a good chance of contamination.

So the question is what level of vigilance will make you comfortable?  100% site derived inputs guaranteeing quality?  Statutory compliance (with all its compromises)?  Or somewhere in between?

For me, the two tests are: (i)  is the method improving ecosystem health or degrading it and (ii) is the method creating a potential health risk for my family. how do I set up a system, that with a reasonable amount of effort, I can maximize ecosystem health while minimizing health risks. 

I personally wouldn't use urine contaminated with prescription drugs directly on food crops. But I might fertilize a biomass crop with them, and then compost the biomass and amend a comfrey patch and use the comfrey to fertilize young fruit trees, hoping that successive biological processes cleanse the material stream. Or more likely I might just get someone healthy (like me) to pee on the compost pile and avoid the risk altogether...
 
Dawn Hoff
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:The only one of those things that  I might question would be the prescription.  Even then, I'd ask what the script was for and the dosage and how much pee you're dealing with.  For example, I would not be adding even a single drop of pee to my property from a person whose being treated with chemotherapy or radiation.  No personal offense to anyone on these medications, just that that's some rough stuff for the soil to deal with.   On the other hand, if you're given a prescription calcium or potassium supplement, I'd probably consider that a bonus for the compost.  So it really depends on what drug your talking about and in what proportion it is to the rest of your material.  If you want to say which drug it is, I can do some research to find out how it breaks down and what potential problems might occur with it.  It's cold and windy and snowy, so I'm staying inside today. 

As for the other things you've listed, if you're looking for a certification, you'll probably have to be a little more picky with your inputs as is mentioned above.  If you're just trying to grow a bit of awesome for yourself, friends and family, I say add it all in there.  Most restaurant food is going to be pretty decent, unless you're talking about chain/junk food/fast food (in which case I'd pass it by).   Composting food scraps is better than them throwing them away into a dumpster destined for landfill, in my opinion. At least you can recover those resources and make use of them towards a better end goal than where they came from.  Something about not letting perfect be the enemy of the good. 

And, yes.  Get the worms.  I've had a bin in my kitchen since October.  I've gotten about ten gallons of castings so far from them.  It's making my spring potting mix so awesome this year.  A good investment for sure.

I would have a problem with birth-control. AFAIK there will be hormones in the pee - and those hormones are already present in way to high levels in nature as a result of the use of Roundup and other herbicides that are estrogen like.

Persistent herbicides in eg. straw mulch - not a good idea either.

But I have fed my chickens veggie scraps from the local market (not organic), and according to geoff lawton after composting you cannot tell the difference between organic and non-organic compost.

But then I don't have an organic certification... and I don't think I will get one (and I don't think that the Spanish certification authorities will care actually, they will check my feed bill and if I use herbicides).

Other than that - I totally agree: Where would those food scraps go if not used as second hand inputs to chickens, compost piles etc.? Is that organic? When I went to the veggie market to get food scraps, we were three people picking up the leftovers - one took cardboard boxes that he took to a recycling mill who paid him for some of it, one took the best food an brought it to a soup kitchen, and I took the rest - except I didn't because there was SO much I couldn't find place for it in my car, and I didn't have enough chickens to process it... It made me able to raise my chickens completely without feed (and they were HUGE). 5 min after we finished up the local renovation company came and took everything we hadn't taken already. Such a waste... 
 
Craig Dobbson
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Dawn Hoff wrote:
I would have a problem with birth-control. AFAIK there will be hormones in the pee - and those hormones are already present in way to high levels in nature as a result of the use of Roundup and other herbicides that are estrogen like.
  That's a good one to point out because so many people are on estrogen for birth control and hormone therapy and they are on it for most of their reproductive life, so it adds up to a lot of "contaminated" water.  And now there's this surge of people taking testosterone for all sorts of reasons.  Who knows what that's going to lead to.

Before I write it off completely, I'd want to know the following things about any drug that may end up in my compost:

1. Is it radioactive?
2. Is it an antibiotic or anti-microbial agent?
3. How much of it is there present in raw (fresh) urine? 
4. How does the body metabolize or process the drug?
5. In what form and concentration is the drugs excreted from the body?
6. Are the breakdown products of the drug harmful to the composting process? and in what way?
7. Is the drug active or inert to the current soil chemistry?
8. How does the drug breakdown and how long does it take to be rendered inert?
9. What hazard does it pose to the food chain if I introduce it to my pile?
10. What do I do with it if I can't/won't use it?


On the particular topic of hormones and urine, I think the biggest mistake we make is in diluting it with massive amounts of water and rinsing it "away" into a sewage treatment facility that doesn't have the ability to remove the hormones at all.  I feel like going through the soil, spread out in small doses, is probably better than me dumping it down the drain.  This borders on ethics to me.  Do I use it here and take responsibility for my waste or do I leave it to somebody else to potentially mismanage?   I also consider in this case that even people who aren't taking prescription hormones, are still excreting hormones that their body naturally produces.  The amount is lower but it's still in there.  Of course that's just one small subset of prescription drugs and chemistry is complex, so each drug will have it's own MSDS and disposal protocols.  It's a highly interesting topic for sure.   I'll bet the soil fungi work really hard on these issues in the soil.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:

On the particular topic of hormones and urine, I think the biggest mistake we make is in diluting it with massive amounts of water and rinsing it "away" into a sewage treatment facility that doesn't have the ability to remove the hormones at all.  I feel like going through the soil, spread out in small doses, is probably better than me dumping it down the drain.  This borders on ethics to me.  Do I use it here and take responsibility for my waste or do I leave it to somebody else to potentially mismanage?   I also consider in this case that even people who aren't taking prescription hormones, are still excreting hormones that their body naturally produces.  The amount is lower but it's still in there.  Of course that's just one small subset of prescription drugs and chemistry is complex, so each drug will have it's own MSDS and disposal protocols.  It's a highly interesting topic for sure.   I'll bet the soil fungi work really hard on these issues in the soil.

The best thing would be if people didn't take them right? I mean Paul has a "rule" that people who don't eat organic can't use his poopers, I don't have a rule like that in my house - but most people who come here are conscious enough about their own health to not take oestrogen based birth control or testosterone. I think the levels that we ourselves excrete, if eating a natural diet, ought not be a problem in nature. But what happens if we eg. eat loads of bread from wheat that has been sprayed with RoundUp?

Anyways - yes  I think that small concentrations that are more spread out, is better than concentrating it in a landfill or a wasteplant. Most toxins are mostly toxic if they are concentrated (most anything is toxic if concentrated...).
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Mike Jay wrote:Are the following practices acceptable if I want to keep my garden "better than organic"?

1) Getting fish scraps from a local restaurant (non-organic fish) and making fish emulsion from it (3 week ferment) for fertilizer.   Fish emulsion is allowed under the USDA Organic rules, this is set up for "commercially made" product so they are not using certified fish remains either.

2) Using pee as fertilizer (diluted) if the person doesn't eat organic 100%.  Huge No No by the USDA Organic certification, no urine is allowed because of the probability of contaminates.

3) Using pee as fertilizer (diluted) if the person has a prescription. see answer to #2

4) Adding the aforementioned pee to the compost pile instead of straight on the garden.  see answer to #2

5) Using coffee grounds (non-organic) from local restaurants on the garden or in compost.  Coffee grounds are allowed and very useful, I have never found a coffee plantation that was not at least almost organic, the coffee trees have requirements to survive that make this the norm.

6) Using food scraps (non-organic) from local restaurants for compost.  As long as you use the "Hot Compost" method you are allowed to do this.

Thanks! 


As of this moment, there is no official certification called "Better Than Organic", The USDA Organic Certification is costly and as my kola Joseph Lofthouse mentioned, any thing out of bounds and you are toast for a minimum of three years.

Redhawk
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Mike Jay wrote:Shoot...  I was hoping that if it was composted or fermented it would magically make it good. 

I'd like to generate all my own fertility but I don't have critters and compost everything I can off of the property already.


The things listed in the original post sound like great inputs to a garden. They aught to really bump up the fertility. Seems to me that "Organic" has basically become a legaleeze, a bureaucracy that is more about paperwork than it is about growing food.  My qualm isn't about using the materials, it's about calling them "organic", or "better than organic".
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
Mike Jay wrote:Shoot...  I was hoping that if it was composted or fermented it would magically make it good. 

I'd like to generate all my own fertility but I don't have critters and compost everything I can off of the property already.


The things listed in the original post sound like great inputs to a garden. They aught to really bump up the fertility. Seems to me that "Organic" has basically become a legaleeze, a bureaucracy that is more about paperwork than it is about growing food.  My qualm isn't about using the materials, it's about calling them "organic", or "better than organic".


I'm with you Kola, why bother when those who actually do the inspecting are from the private sector and not under Federal supervision?  I view the Organic certification as a marketing tool, since it wouldn't be that hard to cheat the system.

It isn't hard to have items tested if you are in need of that.  Most pathogens can be killed with heat in a compost pile, fungi can do a lot of cleaning up of just about any contaminant there is.  As long as you know and prepare your amendments, you are going to have great produce.

Redhawk
 
Steve Sherman
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I had a long conversation with a local guy who makes commercial compost a few years ago. He sells organic and regular finished compost. He pointed out to me that the organic label in NO WAY means that the inputs to the compost were organic. You can take manure from feed lots, and other very "non-organic" sources, compost them, and voila the compost is now organic. This meets all the labeling requirements and is perfectly legal.  Same is true for fertilizers and soil amendments. They can take toxic waste as an input, mix it into some other stuff put it into a bag and voila it's now fertilizer not toxic waste (this guy didn't do that, but others do so regularly).

Hate to burst anyone's bubble, but unless you are making your compost yourself, or you know the people who make it well enough to trust them, commercial organic compost can have a bunch of less savory ingredients.
 

 
Tyler Ludens
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Beware of ingredients which might contain the herbicide Aminopyralid.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Steve, unfortunately I think that "local guy" was trying to pull some wool. check these links if you like.


Want to really understand USDA Organic ?  Here you go, all the right links are listed below.

The Code

Percentage of Non Organic materials

GMO's Allowed?

Each of these pages has even more links which explain every aspect of what USDA Organic means.

Redhawk

 
David Good
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Beware of ingredients which might contain the herbicide Aminopyralid.



Yes - this. Very important.

This gal shared her story on my site regarding a batch of purchased compost that wrecked her garden beds:

http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/compost-will-destroy-garden/

You are safer making your own, for sure, but inputs like hay, straw and manure should be avoided unless you are 100% sure they were from a farm that does not spray and does not buy in hay that may have been sprayed, as the herbicide can be consumed by animals and come through in the manure, which can then be composted... and still be toxic to your garden!
 
Steve Sherman
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I've scanned the links you posted, and I don't see anything which contradicts what that compost maker told me.

The Fed guidelines seem to speak mostly what you cannot put into an organic product. There is nothing I saw which would prohibit feedlot manure, the GMO corn that goes into those steers yes, but not the manure they produce from it. Similarly for many other secondary by-products from commercial ag. The inital feedstocks would not be considered organic, but the waste product they produce can be an organic ingredient (because there is no definition of "organic manure").

If I missed these definitions, please let me know where they are, but I did not see anything which would changes any of this...

 
O. Donnelly
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Steve, unfortunately I think that "local guy" was trying to pull some wool. check these links if you like.


Want to really understand USDA Organic ?  Here you go, all the right links are listed below.

The Code

Percentage of Non Organic materials

GMO's Allowed?

Each of these pages has even more links which explain every aspect of what USDA Organic means.

Redhawk



I believe Steve is correct, at least part of what he said is correct. Soil amendments, such as soybean meal and blood meal can be non-organic and derived from or fed gmo seed.

This is from an Omri publication that summarizes NOP standards:

"Materials and products produced from genetic engineering may be used as soil amendments and crop nutrients with exceptions. See the OMRI Genetically Modi ed Organism (GMO) decision tree for more information about how OMRI reviews GMOs used in inputs."

"Animal products used as compost feedstocks are not subject to source restrictions."

"Wastes from crops that have been treated or produced with prohibited substances are allowed for use as soil amendments."





 
Tyler Ludens
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"Wastes from crops that have been treated or produced with prohibited substances are allowed for use as soil amendments."


And there's your Aminopyralid in the compost.  Perfectly legal.

 
O. Donnelly
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Page 84 of this document explains Omri 's decision tree regarding when a gmo product can be used. In general, pgs 81-85 are worth a read.

http://www.omri.org/sites/default/files/app_materials/OMRI-GML-2015small.pdf


This document contains the quotes I used above:

http://www.omri.org/sites/default/files/app_materials/13CORNOPComparison1F_0.pdf





 
Mike Jay
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Wow, thanks for all the feedback!!!

I realize "better than organic" is just a made up phrase with no official definition.  I used it too glibly this morning.  But I do intend to sell my excess veggies to people with the understanding that I'm at least meeting or hopefully exceeding the spirit of the "organic" label.

Sounds like pee is out.  Unfortunately I generate that nearly every day.

I'll start by chasing down fish guts and coffee grounds.  Then I'll work on food scraps and/or worms.

So if I'm following the most recent comments, store bought organic potting soil might possibly have a tiny chance of maybe having Aminopyralid in it? 
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You are right Steve, The USDA sets standards for what organic means but not how to grow healthy foods.
It doesn't make sense to me that they leave out how composts and fertilizers should be made for "Organic" farms.
The thing is, do you want to buy fertilizer, manure or compost that is "Legal" or do you want "healthy". In the USDA world, those are totally different things. They cow tie to the Industry more than they regulate it.

Mine is more of a morals stand I suppose. But it is hard for me to trust any government agency saying they are looking out for the consumer.

Mike, don't be afraid to use anything you know to be good on your gardens.
Also I wouldn't get hung up on any part of the organic thing, it is mostly hype from my view point.

We label our produce by how it is grown, list what is used and how it is used. That way customers can decide if they want to buy our products.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Since it sounds like non-organic, potentially GMO soybean meal can be used even on certified organic production as a fertilizer, I've decided to go ahead and use animal feed grade soybean meal as a fertilizer; it seems to me less risky then importing non-organic manure or bloodmeal, which are my other options. But in the long run I will be switching over to legume cover crop for nitrogen.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I happen to live in Arkansas, huge soybean, rice, SRW and cotton production farms here.
Currently there are No farms that Grow GMO free, all the Soybeans planted are GMO (roundup ready).
Most of the SRW is not GMO but some is, Cotton is now Roundup Ready and there are two major rice seed producers that either already have or are developing roundup ready rice.
Any Corn grown as seed is now available to farmers as roundup ready, and I am fairly certain that means any corn planted for feed or ethanol is GMO, this would be both flint and dent corn.


Redhawk
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Yes, probably GMO. I figure that if people eat the stuff and don't immediately drop dead, it is probably safe to add to soil, where it will be broken down into constituent elements by soil organisms and only then taken up by plants.

But I definitely want to get to the point where I don't need nitrogen inputs.
 
Steve Sherman
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@Mike,

I would not rule out using pee, at least not on the organic standards alone. Read the "Humanure" book. Pee is sterile, unless the donor has a kidney or urinary track infection. Kidneys are a sort of reverse osmosis filter. Those infections make themselves known pretty obviously. So if you are using your or family members' pee who all have no symptoms, you are very likely safe. (I believe the book mentions the the Air Force handout on wilderness emergency medicine suggest washing surgery knifes in pee instead of water as it is more sterile.)

But hey, it's your garden/soil, you can do whatever you think is best. Just know that a standard for large scale agriculture may be overly protective to what one can do safely in a small family setup.



 
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Steve,  I wouldn't be worried at all about using pee on our food.  The worry comes in when I sell it to other folks and want to tell them that I'm following organic practices (without the certification).
 
O. Donnelly
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Mike Jay wrote:Thanks Steve,  I wouldn't be worried at all about using pee on our food.  The worry comes in when I sell it to other folks and want to tell them that I'm following organic practices (without the certification).


I personally wouldn't use pee ON my food...
 
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