Organically Grown?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Diane J. Wandler
Posted on: April 19, 1998

I am interested in ordering some herbal plants from Richters. Can you tell me if your plants are pesticide/chemical free - in other words, organically grown?

Richters was one of the first commercial nurseries to advocate organic growing methods. As early as 1968 we were already growing plants, herbs and vegetables organically, both in our greenhouses and fields, and we were the subject of several television and radio programs because of our interest in organic methods. We also have an ongoing research and development program to search for better methods of pest control using natural materials. The R & D program has already yielded a special spray formulation we use on aphids which not only gives immediate control but gives a long lasting control.

We have learned that growing plants in the garden and growing in the greenhouse are very, very different. It is much easier to grow organically in the garden than in the greenhouse. There are many reasons for that. Probably the biggest reason is the effects of unfiltered sunlight and cool temperatures on garden-grown plants, environmental conditions which we believe result in plants that are better able to defend against pests. In the greenhouse, plants are noticebly softer, perhaps making them more susceptible to pests. Because of the demands of the marketplace, we must grow plants in greenhouses to have them ready to ship to customers in spring.

Growing in greenhouses requires special care to avert pest infestations. We do not use harmful chemicals on our sale plants. We use Safer’s insecticidal soap, nicotine, neem, pyrethrum, and various homemade sprays made with natural ingredients. We use beneficials such as ladybugs, Scanmask (beneficial nematodes), and mite predators and whitefly parasites. Some pests such as scale and mealybug are not adequately controlled with the above treatments so we throw out plants found to be infected with them. Fortunately, we have few problems because we are so vigilant, monitoring plants regularly, inspecting both the plants themselves carefully and yellow sticky traps placed throughout the greenhouses.

With our stock plants (plants from which we take cuttings) the situation is different. Throwing out large stock plants is usually not an option if they get infested. When natural controls do not work, we rely on more potent controls, but applications are selective and never indiscriminate, and stock plants are kept in areas separate from the sale plant areas.

We are investing thousands of dollars installing bug screens on all of our greenhouses. These barriers will reduce the chance of infestations coming from outside our greenhouses and reduce the need for spraying.

Our soil mix is a special organic formulation consisting of peat, compost, perlite and sand.

Until a few years ago we relied on a fish emulsion for liquid feeding. But the company that supplied the product changed their manufacturing process and the fish emulsion began to destroy our liquid injection equipment. We tried to reprocess the fish emulsion ourselves without success. The product is fine for home gardens (we still sell it), but it is not acceptable for commercial use. We are looking for an organic liquid fertilizer which will work with commercial injection equipment. For now, much as we dislike having to do so, we are using standard commercial liquid fertilizer on all our plants.

What about the seeds? Are they the same?

Many of our seeds are either organic or collected from the wild. However, not all herb seeds are not available in organic form. What we produce ourselves is organic, but we must rely on growers and collectors around the world and we cannot guarantee that their seeds are organic.

We do not sell treated seeds.

As for the dried herbs we sell, all are organically grown or wildcrafted.

I am interested in ordering slippery elm and turkish rhubarb plants. I live in North Dakota, USA. How soon would they be shipped if I get my order in in the next day or two?

We ship plant orders to the U.S. every 2-4 weeks during the shipping season, April to October. We ship to southern areas first and work our way north. By mid May, we will have shipped to all states except Alaska. Orders going to North Dakota will be shipped in May.

The above is for potted herbs. Plug trays are different. The shipping season starts earlier and commercial customers can request specific ship dates.

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