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Organic Flowers Next Step to Chemical-Free Gardening

Stett Holbrook, Special to The Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle


 
  Gerald Prolman (far left), Dave Smith (back) and Robert Ruggeri are celebrating their move into organic bouquets at the San Francisco Flower Market. Chronicle photo by Katy Raddatz


October 30, 2002 -- A Novato company is out to prove that flowers smell even sweeter when grown organically.

Organic Bouquet Inc. has contracted with more than 30 growers from around the world who are ready to give up pesticides and go organic.

As the nation's first distributor of organic flowers, the company is on the cutting edge. So are its farmers. The techniques these growers and others use offer a path for home gardeners to follow. If the big guys can do without chemicals, you can, too.

"This is history in horticulture," said Gerald Prolman, an organic industry pioneer who co-founded the company with Dave Smith, co-founder and former president of the upscale Smith & Hawken garden catalog and retail chain. "This is all about the earth and the farmworkers."

Two of the company's first growers, Wim Postema of Holland and Paul Sansone of Oregon, are not just organic, they're biodynamic.

Biodynamic agriculture combines chemical-free agriculture with a holistic, spiritual approach.

To the newcomer, biodynamics may sound like New Age hokum. Special soil additives are stored underground, away from electric currents. Planting and harvesting are done by sun and moon cycles.

But according to Sansone, owner of Here and Now Garden in Gales Creek, Ore., the techniques are simply a rediscovery of ancient knowledge that was plowed under with the rise of industrialized agriculture.

He was the nation's first certified organic flower grower and uses the biodynamic/French intensive method, techniques he learned from famed horticulturist Alan Chadwick at UC Santa Cruz.

Far from producing bug-chewed flowers, Sansone grows for high-end florists and wholesalers throughout the country. He grows more than 200 varieties of flowers but has kept quiet about his methods.

His customers want top-quality flowers but don't care whether they're organic, he said. But he's pleased that there's a market for organic flowers now. He's been fine-tuning his operation for 15 years but said it's not complicated.

"The longer an area is under biodynamics, the easier it is to grow," he said. "That's just the opposite with chemical agriculture."

CHEMICAL HAZARDS

Flowers grown conventionally indoors and outdoors are produced with a host of acutely toxic soil fumigants, including methyl bromide, chloropicrin and metam-sodium.

The chemicals are prone to drift and contribute to some of the greatest incidences of pesticide exposure in the state, said Margaret Reeves, staff scientist with the Pesticide Action Network.

By contrast, biodynamics places primary importance on healthy soil teeming with beneficial microorganisms, Sansone said.

"Compost is the key element," he said. "You're growing soil, not plants."

Biodynamic agriculture uses a number of "preparations," homeopathic compounds meant to nourish and stimulate the soil. These preparations, made from yarrow, stinging nettle, oak bark, cow horns and other ingredients, are cheap and simple to use.

To treat powdery mildew and botrytis, Sansone recommends a water-based spray made with equisetum.

Flower-bud-eating insects like cucumber and flea beetles are best combatted with a foliar spray of pyrethrum, a preparation made from painted daisies. Got aphids? A phosphate soap will get the job done, he said.

Even if you're not ready to plan your garden by lunar cycles, there are several easy organic techniques to follow.

ORGANIC TECHNIQUES

Humboldt County's Sun Valley Floral is the largest bulb flower grower in the United States. This year the company ventured into new territory -- organic flowers. "If we can actually grow without using these (chemicals) then, hey, why not?" said grower Jeff Moxon.

The company grows organic tulips for Organic Bouquet and is experimenting with sunflowers, stock, wheat and millet. Moxon's advice for home gardeners is simple. Choose the right flowers for the right conditions.

"I think site selection is probably the most important thing," he said.

A plant that gets too much or too little sun, for example, will weaken and attract pests or disease, he said. Doing your homework on the best flower varieties for your garden is the best defense.

Most flower starts for sale in nurseries are not organic. Tara Beeman, co- owner of Beeman's Blooms in Philo (Mendocino County), grows organic herbs, vegetables, annuals and perennials. She germinates seeds in organic sterilized soil to which she adds peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. Cuttings get a dose of fish fertilizer.

In addition to deploying ladybugs to gobble aphids and whiteflies, she sprays an oil-based mixture of raw garlic and cayenne pepper to combat chewing and sucking insects.

"It sounds strange, but it works," she said.

Prolman and Smith think they're onto something big.

"In the long term, I believe that organic floral production will become the benchmark for quality production," Prolman said.

The company sells to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Wild Oats, among others. It will soon offer direct Internet sales at www.organicbouquet.com. Smith estimates that the wholesale flower market could top $150 million by 2006.

Sansone predicts that the use of chemicals will become a thing of the past.

"In time, we'll look back and say, 'What a folly,' " he said.

To learn more about biodynamics or purchase biodynamic preparations go to www.biodynamics.com, www.appliedbiodynamics.com and www.hereandnowgarden.com.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle


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Sustainable Flowers Make The Perfect Gift For All Occasions

Organic Bouquet is the largest online provider of eco-friendly and organic floral gifts. All of our flowers are grown in a manner that is not only environmentally friendly but also provides outstanding resources for farm workers and artisans. Organic Bouquet partners with select flower farms in California, Ecuador and Colombia. All of our flower farms follow stringent growing practices which are monitored by multiple certification agencies and associations. When you purchase flowers from Organic Bouquet, you are helping to improve the life of a flower farm worker, their family and the local floral community.

Our eco-friendly flower arrangements include roses, calla lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, hyacinths, sunflowers, alstromeria lilies and blue iris. In addition to a complete line of flower arrangements, we offer gift baskets, fruit baskets, nut baskets, gourmet chocolates, gourmet cookies, plants and  wreaths. All of these products are certified eco-friendly and/or provide for environmental benefits through our participation in Carbon Offset programs.

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Whether you are purchasing online, or through one of our customer service specialists, you can be assured you are ordering the freshest quality of flowers and environmentally friendly gifts.