Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tagro - Organic By Who's Standard?

Be the change you want to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Often people ask me if I use Tagro. My short, politically correct answer is ‘No, it’s not organic’.  What I would really like to say is ‘I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 100 foot pole.” Even better, I love it when people press me further as to why I won’t use it so I can extol the virtues of organic gardening to yet another person wanting to care for their little part of the earth. 

Tagro is the municipality’s solid waste division’s solution on what to do with human waste.   Some communities call it ‘sludge’ and residents fight to keep the counties from spraying a liquefied version into the forests and woodlands.  The city mixes it with sawdust and sand to give it a crumbly, compost like texture so it looks kind of like compost.  The city then advertises it with lots of tax paid advertising as a “Natural Yard Care” alternative to be used to amend your soil or raked across your lawn instead of fertilizers or natural compost.  Does your community have such a product?

The city touts it to be organic.  Understand there is more than one definition of organic.  Webster’s dictionary has several definitions of organic, two of which are “1. as relating to, or arising in a bodily organ; 2. derived from living things” which is how Tagro can claim a semblance of organic status.  Agricultural practices define organic as “a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.  To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests”.  Research shows organic practices result in regeneration of renewable resources in the soil whereas chemical practices result in dead soil, incapable of feeding plant life without further and continual chemical replenishment because the chemicals kill the living biology of the soil.

In reality, Tagro, sludge and its counterparts are all comprised of chemically treated human waste.  Organic only by a dictionary definition, not mine and certainly not the definition of healthy soil practices. Tagro has the most foul, sour acrid odor which I can smell blocks away if I have the misfortune to be down wind.  It smells nothing like the sweet, earthy smell of real compost or even composted steer manure.  Nor does it have the nutritive value or the tilth building qualities of real compost. 

What it does do is give a huge shot of nitrogen to what ever it touches, so if you rake it across your lawn you must mow your lawn twice a week to keep up with the out-of-control growth. I use a mulching mower which gives a nice shot of natural nitrogen to my lawn which I only have to mow once a week during Spring’s growth spurt.  Spring grass is naturally high in nitrogen so leaving the mulched (more finely chopped than regular mower blades chop) clippings on your lawn to decompose is all the fertilizer it needs.

Because Tagro is chemically treated human waste (along with everything else that gets flushed down the commode, for example pharmaceuticals) I believe it also kills the living organisms in your soil, and the worms.  Dead soil can’t support plant life so you have to buy and use a lot more fertilizer or Tagro. I want living soil microbes and worms in my garden soil. Living soil is what supports plant life, which supports bug life, which supports avian life and on it goes.

Recently I’ve seen Tagro’s potting soil mix experimented with in greenhouse growing operations. In pots it is very heavy in structure, not giving the plant’s roots a good air/water mix for healthy root growth. Also it is physically heavier so lifting pots is more difficult. More importantly the plants growth was stunted and the leaf’s color was off and splotchy. After planting with it for an hour, one of the staff (that would be me) complained of headache. All in all it got a bad report from the commercial growers.

If you want to support your community and utilize its in-house programs, better alternatives are Zoo Doo manure programs and community supported composting businesses. My city collects garden waste and it goes to a business that composts it, then sells it to consumers by the bag or truckload. It is always certified organic. The nearby Zoo Doo program is so popular with gardeners they always sell out quickly every spring. If your local zoo doesn’t have this program perhaps they’d be interested in your suggestion in their inbox.

There are so many healthy ways to organically amend your garden soil. Tagro should never be an option.

In Bloom in My Garden Today:  Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum,Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’, Begonia ‘bonfire’,Borage,Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’,Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea pallida,Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s), Green Beans, Lavender, Lobelia, Nepeta, Oregano, Perovskia ‘little spire’, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme ‘foxley’, Zucchini, Tomato

Author’s  photo