I tend to have something against the "Green" movement. Well, not really the whole movement, but more the "Greenwashing" or simply just showing off what environmental practices one does. I'm somebody of action - if I can do something to help, I just do it and often those things aren't really published. Some of our staff suggested letting everybody know what we have done to be more environmentally friendly in the past 10 years. So here it goes:
- Pesticides - Our field crops use about 50% less pesticides than they did 10 years ago. We add more organic matter and mulches to our fields and really concentrate on creating a healthy soil and root system in our plants. No, we're not "Organic", but we're probably using as few pesticides as we can and still maintain the best crop we can. We've also changed which pesticides we use to select the least toxic and most effective ones, regardless of the costs. We also use other cultural methods, like heavy cultivation and different spray equipment, to keep our pesticide use down as low as it can go.
In the greenhouse, it's the same. 10-20 years ago, it was common practice to setup a spray schedule and just spray once every week or two. Now we rely heavily on biological controls (good bugs eating bad bugs) and also using low toxicity and naturally derived pesticides when we can. Our poinsettia crop doesn't even get sprayed which is a real feat in itself.
- Plasticulture - Plasticulture is the use of a plastic mulch set down on the ground and field plants planted through holes in the plastic. We've been doing that for quite a few years. It helps the plants grow and keeps weeds under control with less pesticides. A few years back, we changed our plastic to a European formula made out of non-GMO vegetable starch rather than traditional plastic. This new compostable plastic breaks down completely within a year, though it is over ten times the cost. Unfortunately, we still need to use some traditional plastic when doing 2-3 year crops like perennials (since we can't have it compost), but about 20,000' of our plasticulture uses completely compostable films. Still, the traditional plastics allow us to use less pesticides so it is a trade-off.
- Plastic Bags & Trunk Liners - After our great success with compostable plastic in the fields, we've extended that product to our in-store use. All our carry-out bags are made from the same compostable film and we use kraft paper as trunk liners. That means you can re-use your Richmond Nursery Trunk Liner in your garden to help keep weeds down with no ill-effects, or use your carry out bag for your compost. Unfortunately, the City of Ottawa refuses to recognize our compostable bags so you can only use it for your own home-compost, not in the Green Bin (and I have tried discussing it with the City without success).
- Plastic Pots - It's still too bad there aren't good alternatives to plastic pots. We're still looking, but in the mean time, we're still doing our part. If you've shopped at the nursery over the years, you'll notice all our annuals are planted in far thinner plastic containers. This is not a coincidence, it's something we've been after for a long time. Thinner plastics mean less plastics. Since small pots and cell-packs are very hard to re-use, at least we select containers that use as little plastic as possible. Unfortunately, compostable pots aren't really ready for full greenhouses yet, but we're watching very closely and thinking of ways to reduce our plastic pot use.
- Re-Use of Pots - It's funny how recycling goes. When plastic has been in contact with soil, it is considered "contaminated" by local recycling centres and they will not accept them for recycling. Instead, we encourage everybody to bring their pots back to use for recycling. Those small cell-packs just can't be re-used since they are too thin so they get recycled, but larger pots can often be re-used somewhere. And don't forget those carry-trays since they're the easiest to re-use. It's not really a money-saver since sanitation of old pots probably costs more than buying new ones, but at least we're reducing land-fill space by using what we can.
- Recycling Pots - Richmond Nursery is considered the horticultural plastic recycling depot for the Ottawa area. Used pots you bring back get sorted and crushed, then get shipped back to make new pots. This is the only true full-circle recycling in Ottawa since the people that made the pots recycle them back into pots.
- Shipping - Shipping in plants it always expensive, especially annual plugs in the winter. Because of heavy patents and copyrights, many plants can't be purchased as seeds. Starting a few years back, we experimented with getting unrooted cuttings - effectively just small pre-cut plant stems. So how does that become more environmentally friendly? Easy, a box of rooted plants contains 288 to 2048 plants maximum and they need to be air-shipped in small batches. We've made many trips to the airport, sometimes a few a week, just to pick up air-shipped plants. Unrooted cuttings need much more work on our part in the greenhouse - special heat, light, and water conditions, but a small box can easily contain 3000-5000 cuttings and it comes via regular old courier and comes directly from the source (which can be anywhere in the world - Israel, Guatemala, Canary Islands, and Mexico are just a few). More plants, less packaging, regular shipping methods means less waste. Transporting them without soil also means less chance of soil-borne pathogens, though we do get regular visits from our local CFIA just to make sure things are all A-Okay.
- Local Economy - Though cuttings come in from around the world, plants grown in soil have to be shipped in. The vast majority of our plants are all sources from within Ontario. Ontario grown plants tend to be sturdier and have a root system more suited to our climate. Though plants grown in warm climates Western Canada or West Coast USA can be cheaper, they also require more shipping and go through more shock. Shipping plants as short a distance as possible and choosing plants that have a high survival rate makes sure the least amount of plants are shipped the shortest distance. This all costs more, but it's better for the environment and for us here in Ontario, and Canada. As we increase our in-house production, shipping gets reduced further since we become the source of the plants.
- Growing Media - Our soils and growing media are quite interesting. For the greenhouse, we use soil mixes that have at least 8% compost. Since compost is a renewable resource, it reduces the environmental impact or pure peat mixes. These greenhouse soils also originate from Ontario and Quebec, so less shipping again and supporting Canadians. We're also use massive "skyscraper" bales to reduce the plastic packing waste.
Outside, we accept ground tree waste and use it as a mulch for our trees and also as a soil ammendment to add extra nutrients and organic matter to the soil. With wood chips the process is very slow, but it's better than dropping them in the landfill.
- Transportation and Vehicles - We've done lots of work to reduce our carbon-footprint by changing our vehicles we use and how we use them, especially around the nursery. We have half the trucks we use to have and instead use smaller farm-vehicles with very manouverable trailers whenever possible. We can move more plants around the nursery more efficiently by chaining trailers together to move large volumes of plants using less fuel. The smaller farm-vehicles need far less energy to produce and maintain than a regular truck or car. We do the same at our berry field to transport berries out of the field. Our deliveries have followed the same principals and we now use larger trailers and better zoned routing to ensure there's less "empty" driving time.
- Tree planting - OK, this one may seem strange and not seem as relevant to the nursery, but it is. Every year we end up with not so pretty trees. Winter die-back, animal damage, or even somebody broke a tree and it looks ugly. Well, we usually plant those trees somewhere. If a plant is alive, we try and let it grow. A couple years back , we had a surplus of Ash trees, so we planted them in the field. Old cedars and spruce trees were planted out as windbreaks to protect other crops. Every tree matters to us. I never feel guilty if I need to remove a tree since I know I've planted far more trees in my life than I will ever remove. That, and we try to use the plants we cut. Good trees has been milled into lumber by a local portable sawmill, while "bad" wood gets turned into firewood and the leftover bits are chipped up and eventually become soil for our next crop.
Those are just a few things we've done to help our environment and none of it inspired by the "Green" movement. We as plant people love the growing world we live in and always want to see Mother Nature thrive and flourish. We don't need an environmental movement for things like that. We don't use it as an advertizing ploy. We do it because we want to.