Recently, we interviewed Paul Sachs of North Country Organics in Bradford Vermont. His company has made high quality natural fertilizers and soil amendments since 1983. He has authored several excellent books. His philosophy is that agriculture and horticulture can be productive, successful, and more profitable without compromising the earth’s delicate eco-system with harmful chemicals.
As demand has grown for organics, Paul found he simply could not stock enough seasonal products. As an example, last year it took him 5 months to fill the warehouse and only 5 weeks to empty it. He now has three warehouses and is nearing completion on the construction of a fourth warehouse in order to meet the needs of his clients.
I caught up with Paul recently in Bradford and asked him a few questions while he was loading up the Compostwerks truck.
Paul, what do you think the soil in this country is lacking?
“The soil”, Paul said, “is substantially lacking in organic matter, particularly in areas that have been developed into commercial or residential sites. Sod has commonly been put down over construction fill, and, not surprisingly, the soil in and around theses areas has little biology to keep it healthy.”
What about adding biology to the soil, will that help?
“Yes, we certainly need to introduce the biology that’s missing, but before we even do that, we need to make sure the organic matter is in place. Even in cases where there is organic matter, much of it is compacted, or treated (often aggressively) with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Good organic matter has a healthy diversity of biology, so it can do what nature intended it to do.”
It is Paul’s conviction that soil biology is such a new and developing field that it is not entirely controllable at this point. “There are too many different variables, and too many different organisms we know little about at this point to micromanage them effectively and with any certainty,” he said. “It’s impossible to duplicate the ecosystem.” Paul feels adding robust organic matter to the soil will increase diversity and add much needed resources. Adding biology should be a second step, not a first.
What are your thoughts on soil testing, do you recommend biological or traditional testing?
Unequivocally Paul says, “Both”. “But a soil test is just a general idea, it really is just a general guideline as to what’s missing and what’s already present in sufficient quantity. Paul’s advice for testing, other than to have both biological and traditional testing done is to pay attention to the extremes. Both the very low and the very high results are red flags and need to be addressed.
“If you have the wrong plants in the wrong place at the wrong time”, Paul said, “It favors pests and weeds. I see it frequently – someone planting bluegrass will complain that it has brown spots – well, does Bluegrass grow as a native species in New England? No, it doesn’t so it will always be susceptible to various pests and weeds. What does grow successfully here? Clovers, plantains, and native grasses”.
What does he think about the new techniques like bio char and EM?
Basically, his advice in this regard is simple. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always the innovator however, Paul states that emerging technologies need to be investigated. “There’s always something being explored”, he said. For instance, Paul’s quite intrigued with a new soil amendment on the market called “Regalia”, actually an extract from the knotweed plant. “What’s so interesting to me about this product is that it’s not used as an herbicide or a pesticide. Supposedly it actually strengthens a plant’s immune system – it doesn’t kill or suppress anything, it just makes the plant it’s applied to stronger”.
As a footnote, it should be mentioned that Paul generates his own electricity with an on grid photovoltaic solar power system. In true yankee fashion, Paul is able to sell any surplus energy back to the utility through a process called net metering. Bravo!
North County Organics website can be viewed at www.northcountryorganics.com