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
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
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."
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.
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
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
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle