Beneficial Fungus, Really?

Posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When a gardener hears the word fungus, their first instinct is to head to the shed and collect a sprayer with an all-purpose fungicide product to quickly get a hold of the problem. Did you know that for hundreds of millions of years, a symbiotic relationship has existed between Mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots? It’s true! These are beneficial fungus and soil organisms that are found naturally in healthy soil. The fungus attaches to root hairs and colonizes the roots. The outcome is that roots benefit from the increased uptake of water and nutrients from the enlarged root system. It is estimated that a plant’s root mass may increase by 10 to 1000 times! Imagine how much healthier a plant is by having that much greater a root mass.

Why would this be important, you wonder, in a time when we have all the fertilizers, soil amendments and rooting hormones possible to supplement plantings and gardens? Man-made landscapes and elements can cause great detriment to natural fungi. Developed sites with concrete, asphalt, drainage fields, large cleared and machine graded and bulldozed areas are particularly stressful and manage to kill most of the beneficial fungi that would otherwise be in the soil. Compaction, erosion and topsoil loss result in the loss of natural organic material in soil making it hard for mycorrhizae to stay viable. Artificial landscapes present their detriment in a couple of ways as well. First by isolating the plant from beneficial mycorrhizae which is found in natural settings and second by increasing the plant’s stress and need for water, nutrients and soil structure which are naturally provided by the fungi in soil.

For about a decade, mycorrhizae have been in commercial production. This has led to great advances in the ability to begin rebuilding the natural soil elements that have existed for millions of years. The result is healthier, more vigorous, pest and disease resistant plants, shrubs, trees, flowers, veggies and turf. I began reaping the benefits of natural mycorrhizae supplements in 2005 when I first discovered the product. Since then, I have noted and recorded profound success in the greater portion of all of the plantings which have received the supplement. Besides having very little plant loss due to death or decline, the best attribute that I can tout is the lower water need for all of the plants treated. During summers when Georgia fought extreme drought and heat, the inoculated plant’s irrigation requirements were next to none. Not only have these landscapes survived and pulled through years of drought and heat, but they are thriving! Now with the extended periods of rain which have come over the past couple of seasons, they are also hardier to withstand root rot, pest and disease infestations.

I can also speak to the benefits of this added soil partner as it relates to inoculating existing trees and shrubs which are exhibiting symptoms of stress and decline in artificial landscape settings. New home or landscape construction sites are a prime example of where to consider investing in the inoculation of the plants. First picked up on largely by arborists and tree care specialists, deep root injections of the mycorrhizae have played a beneficial role in stress recovery in trees and plantings on these sites. Here are a few cited examples of improvement in various species which have been recovered by injections of the proper kind of soil fungi. Cryoptomeria trees planted on a new home site in a large, graded backyard landscape setting were experiencing tip decline and were exhibiting poor growth and color, interior die-back and general ill health. Once injected, within a few months these trees made fast-noticed recovery, flushing new interior and tip foliage and the color was restored to a lush, vibrant green. Another example has been noticed in American boxwood shrubs. These shrubs can be very hardy and long-lived in the landscape, but are susceptible to a vast amount of harmful fungus and insect pests. When injected, poorly growing, discolored and infected plants begin to turn around and show signs of immediate improvement. Seasons later, with the healthier and more vigorous root system, these plants have been much more resistant to environmental stresses than ones which have not been treated. A final example is one most people can relate to having observed the symptoms. Old oak trees on a property were showing a sign of stress and dieback since a new driveway was constructed through the root zone 5-6 years prior and there was little hope for survival, though without the trees, the yard and nearby house would be barren and hot. The dilemma was to decide whether there was enough value in these trees to inoculate or if it would be better to remove them and start with new, grossly smaller trees. We inoculated during the autumn and by the following spring season; these trees were flushing tip buds on branches that were believed to be dead! With specialized pruning done to remove dead branches, these trees went from the neighborhood hazard and eyesore to being the talk of the town about their success.

You can have the same results! In order to deep root inject, or even to install new landscaping with mycorrhizae supplements, it’s necessary to find a landscaper or arborist who is keen and knowledgeable about the use of different varieties of mycorrhizae as not each strain of fungi works the same for each plant’s needs. Not all modes of transportation into the root zone are effective for each type of plant, either. It is ideal to work with service providers who understand the relationship and importance of supplementing artificial landscapes with natural fungi to improve growing conditions and begin restoring the natural soil structure that nature intended. Regular use of synthetic fungicides, pesticides and fertilizers as well as over-tillage, leaving soil bare and invasion of non-native species can cause detriment to naturally occurring soil organisms. These soil organisms will thrive when provided with organic matter and nutrients as will your plants! There is an enormous amount of information that you can learn about the science, history and future of Mycor. Now that your interests are peaked, dig in and do more research. There are millions of years of evidence of benefit to support the claims in this article. If you are interested in developing a hardy, sustainable landscape and garden, I encourage you to learn and find out how you can inoculate! Your plants will thank you.

Getting Your Lawn off Drugs: Converting Conventional to Sustainable

Posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When it comes to treating lawns, I categorize expectations in one of three ways. The first is that the lawn needs to be finely manicured, weed free and green at all the right times of the year depending on the type of turf. It will be irrigated as often as necessary to maintain the lush carpet regardless of rainfall. The second category would be that the lawn should be mown on an appropriate schedule to appear kempt. There should be more desirable turf than weeds and that it’s generally fed and green throughout the growing season. Once in a while you may supplement rainfall with irrigation during the toughest of seasons. The final category is much more “granola-crunchy” than the prior two. To this Earth steward, there is no definition between what is classified as weeds and turf. Everything green is acceptable and as long as it’s mowed to keep the “meadow” from becoming too long, it is just fine. Fertilizer and weed control are not necessary because weeds everything existing grows naturally without supplemental means. There is never a reason to apply supplemental water because that seems like a huge waste of resources and is unnatural.

You probably have decided in reading these categories which you fall into. In this article, we’ll touch on the first two categories more than the last, as this is where gardeners tend to struggle the most with the change. When we say, “getting your lawn off drugs”, we are referring to working to make the switch from conventional (synthetic) fertilizers to using a more natural approach integrating organic fertilizers, natural growth hormones and soil builders amongst other things. You may say that it surely is impossible to gain the exact same results naturally as you would with synthetic products and that there is no reason to compromise your expectations for the sake of “being green” or environmentally conscious. To this end, there are ways to manage expectations and to also use appropriately timed products and approaches to gain outstanding results.

There are many reasons that consumers as well as agricultural crop farmers are being encouraged to use organics. I find myself compelled to make the commitment to this change because I recognize that many chemical fertilizer components are not held in the soil, rather are leached readily into our groundwater and into streams, rivers and lakes through runoff. It is very difficult and costly to decontaminate drinking water from the nitrate form that is shed from fertilizers. It is also known that phosphates cause terrible toxicity to aquatic life and also causes eutrophication. This is the process where algae and other phosphate-dependent organisms proliferate on the water’s surface. This in turn uses available oxygen and prevents sunlight from entering the water making quite an unlivable environment for many species. Besides the wastes that are directly from the compounds, the production of chemical fertilizers and the inert ingredient wastes that are created are highly toxic to plants, animals and humans. You can find pages of research studies and articles for more information by searching “chemical fertilizer toxicity” on the internet and decide for yourself whether the risks outweigh the benefits. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, as they say…

Now you’re wondering, how can natural products and sustainable practices achieve as great success as “once-and-done” fertilizers and weed control products and how can you make the switch. It’s as simple as stopping the use of chemical fertilizer and beginning to focus instead on the health of your soil. Soil microbes are the best defense against soil borne pathogens and pests as well as managing the fertility in the plant. A good step to begin with is a soil test. As many testing agents will focus merely on the chemical fertilizer residue that is available to plants, have the sample also tested for soil microbe species count and organic material. Once you commit to using organic fertilizer, a good start is in composting your lawn. You may be skeptical about the use and benefits of compost, but in short, healthy, decomposed compost that is spread and raked or swept over the grass onto the soil works beautifully to feed your microbes. Healthy microbes will, in turn, make healthy plants. Organic fertilizers come in various forms and generally need to be put out at a higher rate than chemical fertilizers and become effective and available to the plant after the microbes have processed the material. This usually takes a couple of weeks to see visible results.

The role and performance of the microscopic soil organisms is pretty astounding. They are the decomposers and work to create humus out of plant and animal wastes. Other functions are enhancing soil porosity, increasing water filtration and reducing runoff, improving soil tilth and structure and shift the soil to a neutral pH. These little guys work wonders for landscapes and lawns and require very little to stay motivated. Provide your microbial life with lawn clippings, plant or animal protein and proper hydration and the transition will begin to take effect. It’s important to have patience, as these large scale changes do not happen instantly and will take a season or so to show visible improvement. Take heart in knowing that your persistence in this manner will result in much more disease, pest and drought resistant turf. In time, the healthy turf and roots will naturally resist environmental stresses and rebound much more quickly from them than lawns which are chemically treated. Your soil will be richer in color and texture and will cease to be bleached due to the high salts in chemical fertilizers.

Some maintenance measures should also be put in place to help you see maximum results in your turf. Each type of grass requires a little bit different mowing height for optimum results. Warm season lawns, such as Bermuda and Zoysia, prefer a mowing height of 1”-2.5” and cool season Fescue does best when mowed around 3.5”-4”. Ideally, you’ll cut off no more than 1/3 the blade height with each mowing and allow the clippings to fall into the lawn. As microbes get to work, there should be virtually no thatch to be concerned with. Also, mowing at the highest setting allows grass to grow thickly and shade out unwanted weeds.

This brings me to the next point about weeds. As there are no “weed and feed” organic products, it’s best to use good cultural practices and eventually your lawn will choke them out. Weeds are opportunistic and grow where there are voids and where there is little competition. So, in thin and weak lawns with poor pH and little microbial life, weeds essentially have a field day. To combat this, Corn Gluten Meal is an organic pre-emergent that can be ordered from local feed and seed stores. This natural protein takes time to begin working in the soil, but will build up residual in the lawn and also will act as a plant protein fertilizer. Timing is everything in getting this product to work right as it suppresses seed growth but will only work to feed weeds which have already germinated. And, while it takes a bit of time and effort, the best option, especially in small to medium sized lawns, is to hand pull the weeds. Combining proper mowing and hand pulling to keep weeds from producing seeds are two important steps to aid in detoxifying your lawn.

Lastly, be sure not to over water your lawn. Good cultural practices and avoidance of unwanted pests and disease are managed best when the soil is neither overly wet nor dry and cracked. If you irrigate, do so less often with longer intervals. This will increase the depth of water in the soil and will “train” your roots to go deeper for hydration. The results are more drought resistant plants and less favorable conditions for fungal pathogens to begin manifesting. Another way to see it is as a true savings in expense whether you’re on a city water system, rainwater system or pumping water system, you’re saving cost in water and/or electricity in becoming a low-water consumer. There will also be a savings in costs of products being purchased and applied to control unwanted pests and disease that occur during periods of turf stress.

Whether or not you have made the decision to get your lawn off drugs “cold turkey” method or are more interested in a weening approach, there is some level that can be achieved. If you begin with eliminating one round of chemicals or all of it at once, the efforts will make a difference. Contact a local sustainable landscaping professional in your area for assistance. Or, do a bit more research on your own lawn type and soil and begin a regimen that works for you and your budget. Even little steps in the right direction will propel you forward and eventually, with satisfaction and results, you will begin running, barefooted, with an organic program.

Soil Health and Conservation: Becoming a Good Garden Steward

Posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

There are so many directions to take when discussing the state of soils not only our backyard gardens, but also on a much larger scale. Many people don’t realize the far-reaching soil and water resource problems that cross international borders in ways hard to imagine. An example of this would be the soil dust blown to the Asia, Europe and the US over the Atlantic Ocean from Africa. This soil dust contains pesticides and chemicals like arsenic, plant pathogens, and even insects.

How does this relate to gardening and landscaping? To bring this down in scale, I want to discuss the importance of healthy soil and the critical role that it plays in maintaining overall plant health and vitality. I’ll focus on what we as stewards of the garden can do in the way of converting our land areas into sustainable and self-sustaining gardens.

Let’s start with some basic facts about soil. On average, less than one inch of native topsoil exists in the United States. There is an estimated 25 billion tons of topsoil lost each year. It takes between 200 and several thousand years to renew one inch of topsoil on Earth. These statistics are sobering reminders that as stewards of the land we need to be mindful of the conservation of this precious, slowly renewing resource that we have. We must be intentional with enriching the soil on our own properties and with ways we can become actively involved in maintaining what we’ve got.

A present day example of mismanagement of soil and resources is the land area known today as “The Little Grand Canyon” or Providence Canyon State Park in Lumpkin, Georgia. These huge gullies and canyons of sculpted soil do not result from rivers or streams, but from excessive water runoff from agricultural lands. Huge expanses of native forest had been cleared so the land could be farmed and early nineteenth-century farmers took no measures to protect the soil from runoff. In the first 50 years, 3-5’ wide and deep gullies had eroded and since then, the staggering results of this massive erosion developed a canyon in the southwest part of our state. Today, some of these small ditches have reached depths of 150 feet and are up to ½ mile long and 300 feet wide!

The GA Soil and Water Conservation Commission was formed to protect the soil and water resources of Georgia. Contractors in every industry are required to obtain certification in Erosion and Sediment Control in order to manage any soil disturbing projects in Georgia. Other organizations, such as the Upper Chattahoochee River Keepers, have worked to bring attention to and action against the serious damaging effects of things such as sedimentation, non-point source pollution and the overall well-being of the riparian habitat along the buffer zones of the river. With the urbanization of the metro and North metro Atlanta suburbs over past decades and with too few control measures in place governing contractors in the past, there is much damage to this environment that needs to be repaired and cleaned up.

Now you’re wondering, what is the goal and how do we begin working toward it. Sustainable Agriculture by definition is to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Additionally, this generally refers to practices that are viable over long periods of time, both environmentally and economically. In this, the garden tender strives to achieve soil that can produce crops reliably without nutrient depletion and with minimal amendments. Largely, this calls for a philosophical shift in the garden tenders away from control to cooperation and evolves the role from being a master over the garden to being a steward of the garden.

To be this kind of garden steward is not difficult, especially if embraced at the outset. This role can be most demanding during the planning phases as with deciding where to put the garden, which varieties to plant, when and where to plant them, how to feed the soil, where to put the compost pile if you choose to have one, what kind of mulch to use and, quite importantly, how perfect you want the produce or ornamentals to appear. These decisions help resist the urge to use quick fix chemicals later.

Recognize that in improving your soil is more about feeding the soil, not the plants. To improve soil tilth, understand the following and use them as guidelines.

  • Loose tilling reduces compaction.
  • Added organic matter decays and enriches soil with valuable nutrients.
  • Never work wet or overly dry soil
  • Avoid unnecessary traffic over the soil
  • Turn under “green manure” and clippings
  • Tilth relates to the texture, structure, permeability and consistence of the soil.
  • Tilth can be improved by improving the structure and avoiding compaction.

I’ll help to clarify some terms that are often associated with gardening, but may not be fully understood.

Organic – land use without the addition and use of synthetic and unnatural chemicals
Sustainable – add to organic, planning for least environmental impact and focuses on soil health
Self-Sustaining – an environment that supplies all of its own essential nutrients for balanced growth

To garden organically is simple but the results may take a few years. Begin with deciding to limit use of sprays and fertilizers or decide not to use them at all. An organic garden is an ecosystem, on large and small scales. Soil composition, air quality, water, birds, insects and weeds are influencing forces on the soil. Work with these forces, encourage balance to shift in your favor and do not dominate them with the goal of achieving perfection. Shift away from conventional soil amending practices toward organic methods. A good garden steward will work with the forces rather than try to control them by imposing an unnatural balance. Perfect ornamentals and produce can eventually backfire!

On farms where perfection is sought and imposed by use of fertilizers and other synthetic chemicals, commonly the grower’s land may not have pests, but also will not have earthworms in the soil, birds in the fields, or beneficial predatory insects. While this may seem benign, it is not. Non-sustainable practices used to obtain high yields of unblemished produce eventually promote the loss of three things:

  1. topsoil
  2. water penetration
  3. biologically available nutrients

These losses necessitate that the soil depend more and more on human-provided nutrients. Alternative and sustainable approaches will yield favorable results without harmful impact and environmental toxicity and no risk to human health or to future generations. Healthy soil provides a rich environment for beneficial soil microorganisms and earthworms which aid in feeding the ecosystem.

Ways you can enrich your soil are to invest in a first colony of earthworms, set up bird houses and bat houses and add compost and organic matter before your garden produces it for you. Other steps to take would be to install irrigation soaker hoses and to plant row-covers to protect your land and soil from runoff. This step may take several years to establish an ecosystem that operates in your favor.

a healthy ecosystem will have earthworms, insect-eating birds, beneficial predatory insects, soil with organic matter sufficient to drain well and retain water to prevent runoff, and soil nutrient levels that support healthy plant growth. In several years, these investments should reward you with a healthy garden that doesn’t require lots of imported materials or time-consuming pest controls.

Basic Guidelines to follow:

  • Apply mulches to dress topsoil to prevent runoff and washing out.
  • Till minimally
  • Avoid heavy doses of chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers can harm soil microorganisms and decrease earthworm activity. Excessive N fertilizer – no matter the source – harms the soil and USDA shows it can reduce vitamin C content in some vegetables. Use compost instead to provide slow-release food to the soil and plants.
  • Water regularly, but not in excess, flooding or overwatering and drought or drying can all kill soil microorganisms and earthworms. Properly irrigate plants and landscape to maximize the water efficiency avoiding runoff and erosion
  • Minimal tilling will cause less disruption to earthworms and other microorganisms through mechanical abrasion, drying out, and disruption of their environment.
  • Shallow tilling – no more than 3” is best. Tilling up to 6” may be needed to expose the eggs and cocoons of some insects to hungry birds.
  • Avoid uncomposted manure – as it contains seeds and possible disease pathogens. Spread compost over several seasons.

Going Green begins with a plan

Protecting soil in your own landscapes is where you can make a difference. Identify areas of your land where there is runoff or erosion occurring. Have your irrigation system assessed for efficiency and coverage – oftentimes old system parts need to be updated. Are your plantings WaterWise? Check into the Georgia Waterwise program for recommendations for your landscape. Is the soil mulched to maintain moisture? Start a composting pile. Commit to not using synthetic chemicals. These are some things that you can begin with to work toward being a better steward of your land and soil. I suggest consulting with a landscape professional that is skilled in the areas of Sustainable and/or Organic Gardening and Landscaping to help you identify any problematic areas in your landscape.

Usually people cannot take on the commitment of changing all of their habits at once. You may be a person who utilizes a chemical program for their turf, or perhaps, you are someone who sprays every now and then in the landscape for unwanted seasonal pests like aphids, whiteflies and japanese beetles. Maybe you have an irrigation system that is inefficient and, by design, irrigates landscape areas with mixed plantings even though the plants require different amounts of water. You might think it would be ideal to convert all of these ways to the most green, sustainable ways all at once. Sure, but in reality, these can be time-consuming and costly conversions that you are not able to revise at one time. I suggest beginning with one area and working your way through as your time and your budget allow.

Remember: whatever steps you begin taking will, day-by-day, get your landscape and gardens closer to being sustainable. The results of any efforts will positively impact your soil and the ecosystem that it supports.

How Gardeners are Fighting Back Against the Dirty Dozen

Posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Some years ago, I became aware of the harmful effects of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that are applied to food crops, product crops and also in our landscapes. Once aware, I began researching ways that I could “beat the conventional system” and provide healthy meals, products and outdoor environments for my family, friends, clients and community. There are going to be things that are probably unavoidable, in some circumstances and certainly can be budget-busters if allowed to be, but as a home gardener and professional, I have found ways to manage the least of the worst.

What are the Dirty Dozen you ask, and how does it relate to a gardening magazine article. Simply, this list covers the twelve fruits and vegetables conventionally grown that have been tested and proved to come to market with the most pesticide residues. This is a hot debate between conventional farming advocates, including the USDA, and organic farmers and supporters like the Environmental Working Group. Some research calculators show that there is little probability of pesticide toxicity to humans through normal consumption of pesticide laden produce. However, there is also evidence and research showing direct correlation to health and behavior disorders, particularly in children, from pesticide consumption. Be this as it may, consumers have the choice to research and to make their
own decision and ascertain a threshold that they feel is suitable for themselves and their families. Certainly, it’s best for anyone’s health to include a wide variety of assorted fruits and vegetables in their diet; this is not debatable. However, there are options to produce your own fruits and vegetables organically with abundant success thereby limiting your exposure to harmful pesticides.

The 2011 Dirty Dozen list in order of most toxic to least is as follows:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Imported Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Domestic Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale

If you are already a home produce gardener or have dabbled with the idea, let me congratulate you! You’ve already begun the arduous process of learning what does, and maybe doesn’t, work for your home garden space. If you’re new to this concept, you may decide to start slowly with only a few plants or to go “all-in” and till up the backyard!

I recommend starting with simple plants that you generally purchase a lot of from the grocery like basic fruits. Fruit trees and vines can be purchased online or locally at garden centers on a seasonal basis. You may choose to plant a container plant that is two-three years mature which will yield fruit much more quickly than a whip, or bare root plant. Do some research. Depending on the planting zone where you will garden, some varieties of fruits will grow and produce more successfully than others. When choosing fruits like apples, peaches and grapes, you’ll need to investigate the average of how many “chill hours” your region experiences on an average year. In order to bear buds, flowers and fruit, certain selections require much longer periods of cool weather than others, so this is fairly important in your selection process. You’ll also do well to find out which varieties have been grown and
chosen for disease resistance and drought hardiness, as these factors weigh heavily on how easily you organically maintain your plants.

The next suggestion depends largely on the amount of space you want to commit to planting and tending through the growing season. Some fruits and vegetables require more space to spread out and vine, so understanding the habit of the plants is important, as well. This understood, decide which plants you will purchase large quantities of from the grocery or market. In our house, for instance, we eat salad nearly with every meal during the spring
and summer and lettuces and greens are fairly easy to grow. Spinach has proven to be a little bit trickier, though, I think the timing of setting the seeds in the garden along with the right mix of sun and part-shade makes the difference here. During winter, substitute a crop of kale and even collard and turnip greens for delightful hot and cold dishes.

One of my most favorite vegetables to grow is potatoes. With proper deep root soil preparation, sunlight and adequate moisture throughout the summer, the long, heart-shaped runners produce pounds of delectable potatoes underground. New gardeners especially will be thrilled with their first dig to find the bounty which has been produced underground!

You may have heard some old-fashioned gardening tips which suggest using garlic and hot pepper sprays, dish soap, oil and water mixes and crushed up egg shells as methods of pest control in the garden. Let these ideas not be forgotten. Many home remedies are effective and safe at treating a wide variety of pests and diseases. Sure, it takes a little more effort to mix up your concoction than to use a once-and-done knock down spray, but think
how much healthier your produce will be at harvest without the chemicals. Unsure of how well these would work and whether they’re worth the effort? Not to worry, there are many varieties of OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed pesticides which are safe for food crop use and are highly effective for their intended purposes which you can purchase at local garden centers and home improvement stores that carry gardening products.

Of course, successful organic growing happens when the ecosystem is in balance. This includes a healthy soil teeming with microlife, birds and bees for pollination and insect control, flowering plants to attract the pollinators and beneficial insects, as well as a water source from which everything feeds. Likely, you’ll find that as you learn more about organic gardening and how to get it going for yourself, you’ll adopt the concept of the healthy outdoor living space as a whole. What may have once been a conventionally treated lawn and landscape will transition to thriving off of homemade compost, supplemented organic manure, organic fish emulsion and other naturally-derived products. It doesn’t take a long time or extensive effort to make this work, but does take a mindset that you’re willing to commit to follow. Once in place, sustainable and organic gardens largely manage themselves and require less control by the gardener. Also, when plants are placed in locations with proper sunlight, water and moisture, the balance is much more easily achieved.

There are entire books about how to plan, begin and execute new gardens and spaces. This article is intended to enlighten you and encourage gardeners with some direction and motivation. In the end, if you love the idea but simply cannot commit to the efforts of personal food production, look for these twelve foods in your grocery or market labeled Organically grown. Conventional foods have a four-digit code and Organic foods will always begin with a 9- and will have five digits. Remember, organic foods are not only good for you and your family, but they are also good for the environment and for the farmers, too. And, of course, whenever possible, support your local growers!