Friday, January 20, 2017

Q & A with Peter Schmidt from Compostwerks!

A Q&A with Peter Schmidt of Compostwerks! LLC, a company based in Westchester County, New York which provides products and knowledge to assist ecologically minded growers, transitioning green industry professionals, municipalities, colleges, institutions and composting operations.

Q: Please describe your business in 50 words or less. What is your business and who does it serve?

Peter Schmidt: Compostwerks is a wholesale supplier of many different organic land care supplies such as organic fertilizers, soluble amendments and natural pest controls. We also sell commercial compost tea brewers, sprayers and compost top dressing equipment. Compostwerks uses all of the materials it sells in their service division. 

Gregg Twehues and Peter Schmidt, co-owners of Compostwerks, LLC


   Q:What is the state of the organic gardening industry? Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it? 

Schmidt: We have seen growth every year since formalizing in 2007. The area of largest growth for us currently is in private higher education. This is followed by municipal business. Landscape contractors, arborists make up the balance of our clients, followed by organic agriculture.

Q: What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them?

Schmidt: One area is being competitive in the market place. We can help in this area because we sell strictly wholesale. The other challenge for the professional is the market being inundated with new products and unrealistic claims of efficacy. We always suggest keeping it simple: Focus on building soil biology, organic matter and sound cultural practices. 


            Q: What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?

Schmidt: First, stay abreast of new education opportunities such as becoming an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP)! Second, understate expected outcomes with your clients. Explain that restoring natural soil systems takes time and patience. Third, don’t overdo the ‘product approach’. Top dress with compost. TEST YOUR SOIL.

4.    Q: How do you consider your business to be part of the solution to environmental degradation and overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? How do you educate your clientele? 

Compostwerk’s biggest role is to help disseminate accurate information about organic land care and back it up with simple and easy to use organic inputs and equipment. We host periodic workshops, consult directly and have an extensive website with valuable information. Go to for more information.

Thanks Peter, for sharing your business and your approach with us today!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How to select an Eco-Friendly Ice Melt Product

by Jenna Messier
Jenna Messier

Recently, I bought an ice melt product which said it was eco-friendly and listed four ingredients ending in the word "chloride". No other chemicals were listed on the label.  I have stairs and steps which must be free of ice for the tenants living upstairs, so I was seeking to purchase a de-icing product which would not hurt my gardens or lawn and would not end up in the Long Island Sound via the storm drains on the street either.

I reached out to Joe Magazzi, President of Green Earth Ag & Turf, located in Branford, Connecticut, to ask him about how to select an eco-friendly product and how to differentiate among the products available. Here is what Joe had to say:

Joe Magazzi

Advertising environmentally-friendly in the ice-melt world is a bit sketchy…it is largely unregulated and ice-melts aren’t required to list their ingredients like fertilizers or most other products we put down on our plants, trees and turf.  Most ice-melts are made from rock salt (which is sodium chloride or common table salt).  So it can be organic or all natural, but it is also corrosive and can kill turf, trees and plants due to the salt toxicity caused by the sodium.  For that reason, our ice melts are potassium-based (made from food grade ingredients and in fact produced in food facilities).  

Potassium is actually a required lawn nutrient, so if anything, it will have a minor fertilizer value (although you wouldn’t use it as a fertilizer) instead of burning.  Potassium is also the best for pets…it does not burn their paws, and better for concrete as it does not freeze thaw as readily – which is what causes the damage.  Besides the burning, the sodium chloride would not be a huge environmental pollutant.  Some fertilizers, however, contain ammonia, nitrates or urea.  All of these molecules are basically nitrogen sources.  These ice melts will have the same environmental impact as over-fertilizing with nitrogen does.  In fact, more so as the nitrogen is less likely to absorb into the frozen soil or vaporize and is thus more likely to run into our water systems in the winter, thus becoming sources of eutrophication.  

For that reason, we suggest and sell the potassium-based ice melts as it has the least impact on people, animals, all things green and water and the environment in general.  There is  more information on our website here which may be helpful for you.

Thanks Joe! That was very informative!

AOLCP Snapshot - Kevin Wengernuk

Here is our new series, AOLCP Snapshot, where we ask a few questions to get the "word on
Kevin Wengernuk
the street" from professionals located in the 20 states where AOLCPs can be found.

We begin with Kevin Wengernuk, President of KW Landscaping Inc. located in Severn, Maryland.  Kevin has been an AOLCP since 2011 and he is also a Green Roof Professional. 

How was your business year in 2016?

KW: "2016 was a very busy year, especially in the end as I sold more projects then I could finish before years end. I did find that more potential clients were searching out organic alternatives to care for there landscapes but sadly there were still plenty that don't care or just don’t understand why its so important. Education is so important but unfortunately sometimes it falls on deaf ears. I also found that there was more acceptance and interest in native plants being part of my landscape designs, I hope to push this trend more in 2017."
Share something that you learned last year, whether about horticulture or the horticultural business. 
KW:"The coolest thing that I learned this year is how easy it is to bring that deeper side of nature to a client’s property because of these two experiences. 
After planting three swamp milkweed plants next to my bedroom window in 2015, this August, I had 10-15 monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalids. One of which I found on the ground with a broken wing, but after holding her for a few moments and allowing her to walk on my fingers she proudly flew away out of sight.
Just after thanksgiving, I was servicing a water fall that my crew had installed. Within minutes of it running, I had numerous honey bees collecting water off the rocks which were wet from the splashes of water.
Creating landscapes with specific flowers or even splashing water, attracts so much to a clients backyard giving them a closer connection to mother earth… I want to enable my clients to enjoy more of these types of experiences all season long…"

What are you looking forward to in 2017, and what do you plan to do differently?
KW:"I am looking forward to continuing to push the envelope of my creative brain to create landscapes that mother earth would be proud of and will allow my clients to come even closer to nature…
The biggest thing that I plan to do differently is review my numbers more often so I can make sure I reach my set financial goals for my business…"
Thanks Kevin, for taking time to share your perspective with us! -JM

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Landscape Heroes Conference Agenda January 31, 2017

NOFA MASS, CT NOFA, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, Ecological Landscape Alliance, and NOFA Organic Land Care Program are coming together to energize all who work with and care about the soil and the health of our climate and to discuss soil carbon sequestration.  The collaboration has resulted in our upcoming conference:

Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity and will take place at UMASS Amherst on January 31, 2017.  

Please register at ELA's website at and use our promo code for CT NOFA and NOFA OLC members - carbon-conf-2016-nofa-olcp-members The cost is $79 for members, $99 for non-members and all walk-ins.

 Special thanks to our Sponsor -   Rincon- Vitova Insectaries, Inc.! Additional exhibitors will be present: Visionworks Books, Conway Landscape School, Perfect Earth Project, Green Earth Ag and Turf, Sodco and Pearl's Premium

Detailed Agenda with Speaker Pics

8:00 – 8:30am – Registration

8:30-8:35 Welcome and Overview

Morning Session Focus – Understanding Carbon in the Landscape.

Courtney White

8:35-9:30am – Keynote: Courtney White – “2 Percent Solutions for the Planet”

Human activities have impacts. With better understanding humans can be positive agents for change as they choose how to manage their small corner of the world. Mr. White will delve it the soil carbon connection, carbon cycle and how soil, plants, animals, and the soil food web (diversity and complexity), and will show how human activity fits in.

T. Fleisher
9:30-10:00 Eric T. Fleisher – Understanding Compaction

Severely compacted soil has poor structure and soil food web diversity which results in poor carbon  harvesting. T. Fleisher will explain compaction causes and cures (across all managed landscapes).

10:00-10:30 Bryan O’Hara – Digging Deep into Soil Practices

Continuing the compaction discussion, Mr. O’Hara will focus on boosting soil biology with no-till farming, cover cropping, and Korean Natural Farming practices. The common thread is the focus on beneficial fungal growth and the role that Fungi play in carbon sequestration.

10:30-11:00 – Eric Toensmeier – Building Biodiversity
Eric Toensmeier

Mr. Toensmeier will concentrate on biodiversity above ground to enhance carbon sequestration below ground in the form of diverse exudates and their effect on biological diversity in the soil food web. Toensmeier looks at perennial additions to conventional systems (herbaceous and woody) to further enhance soil food web complexity. This process results in greater carbon below ground and also results in carbon stored above ground in woody structures – in shrubs and trees.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:00 Moderated Panel with Morning Speakers White, Fleisher, O’Hara, Toensmeier

12:00- 1:15pm LUNCH (Organic lunch is included with registration)


Afternoon Session Focus – Humans as Agents for Positive Change Speakers offer their “Top 5 List” of what YOU can do!

1:15-1:45 – Paul Wagner – Understanding Soil Biology
Paul Wagner

Learning to understand soil biology (the trophic levels) and how to make sure that at least the first three levels are present to build landscape health. Mr. Wagner will discuss specific techniques for making sure that they ARE present. Beyond the basics of bacteria and fungi, Mr. Wagner will help us to understand the third trophic level (the shredders, predators and grazers).


1:45-2:15 – Bruce Fulford – The Importance of Compost  

 Mr. Fulford explains compost from multiple feedstock streams and how to apply it for best long term soil stabilization. We will learn about the carbon release of traditional compost applications and how different feedstocks have different long term effects. Every plant pulls in carbon and we learn how to maximize the results.

Hugh McLaughlin
 2:15-2:45 – Hugh McLaughlin – Biochar’s Role in the Landscape

 Creating biochar is an ancient technique brought forward in time to keep carbon both stabile and active in the soil for much longer than compost. What does it take to access and use modern biochar – and what is needed to inoculate it before large scale application. Dr. McLaughlin will help us to understand net Carbon – carbon sink, carbon neutral, carbon emitting – and how we can work toward the goal of becoming a carbon sink

2:45-3:15 – Chip Osborne – Turf – Ecological Options

 Mr. Osborne takes a close look at how grass roots and their seasonal surging (expansion and
Chip Osborne
contraction) can help to create soil. We learn to increase biodiversity by allowing broadleaved plants (weeds!) to mix into conventional turf and how this can heighten the quality of soil life supported by root exudates. With lawns covering large expanses of the landscape, even small changes can have a big impact.

BREAK (3:15 – 3:30)

3:30- 4:00 Moderated Panel with Afternoon Speakers Osborne, Wagner, McLaughlin, Fulford

4:00-4:30 – Wrap-up with Courtney White

One person makes a small contribution but many people, acting with intent and carbon awareness,
can make a much bigger contribution to carbon sequestration and global climate stability. Take the information from today and work it into all of your land management decisions – whether you’re managing (or helping to manage) a back yard, a farm, or an institutional land management program.

CEU Processing and Networking (4:30-5:00)

 To find this agenda online, go to