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Organics in a Commercial Nursery, Part Two, by Ben Gaia.
Thinking of going organic? What are you growing?


Re-think your product.

In a market hopelessly over-saturated with cheap pines and pittosporums living on chemical granules, you will need to find a special organic niche for hardy, productive species: designed to thrive with few inputs, and in all weathers. You need solid experience and observation from the end users to back up your confidence in your product. You, and your customers, need to know it will survive and produce. Hopefully better than the conventional competition.

To make the leap from conventional to organic production, you may have to utterly re-think which species you are growing and why. Your conventional product may have been chosen for reasons other than plant health, like historical habit or a guaranteed buyer. Your expensive grafted tomato nursery may fail dismally due to lack of nutrients or a water problem. “Fail-safe” planning is necessary. Reaction to sudden appearances of disease, caterpillars or weeds must be swift and decisive. Too many problems needing to be fixed can ruin your entire lifestyle! So for example, consider quitting tomates altogether, and instead grafting kiwifruit, or growing cape gooseberries or tree peonies. Perhaps your niche fits another species better than tomatoes. Maybe your greenhouse is too hot and will work better without a roof as a walled garden.

organic macrocarpa nursery

What's your climate?

Working within the climate you live is important in an organic system, as shown by Permaculture. Permaculture production encourages perennials (trees) that produce each year rather than having to be replanted. This long term land management can produce a wide variety of fruit/flowers/timber over the long term. Of necessity organic growers find their area's species makeup is largely restricted or enabled by the local climate. Frost and rain are the two big variables, although heat and drought can be major influences. For example: a lavender nursery would be more successful plant health wise in dry warm Canterbury than in wet cold Fiordland. Or an avocado nursery would do better in Northland than in Southland. (Much better.) Trying to find a niche too far removed from its natural area is a challenge, particularly when your organic plants are not going to be artificially pampered through their troubles or sprayed for every spot that appears. There is a difference too, between growing a few lemons in the mountains as a hobby, and producing a commercial scale product to live on. If your lifestyle block is in the country's best area for blackcurrants, an organic currant and berry bush nursery would be the first thing to try commercially, leaving your hobby goji and soapnut trees round in the back orchard for your own entertainment.

It has to actually grow!

Your choice of what to grow should be led by the real world physical success of the species, not only by market indicators and parallel conventional demand. Obviously it helps if there is an existing local market for conventional apples, when your product is a commercially popular organic apple. And if there is a sudden spate of food articles in all the magazines and chef shows focussing on cranberries, your organic cranberries are going to tempt people to move beyond their normal purchases to try a premium organic product. But you won't be making a living growing, say, red delicious apples organically, because that variety gets every black spot and scab that's floating around. And your flooded pond cranberry harvest won't do very well if you are in a drought autumn in a Canterbury Norwester with water restrictions.

To convert from conventional to organic production, you may have to change which species you are growing and for what market.

organic apple

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