Need Help?

Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

Entries in organic farming (2)


EcoCover: an Organic Alternative to Synthetic Weed Suppressing Textiles

Whenever I treat a garden for a serious weed problem, usually I begin by spreading a roll of weed suppressant fabric over the flowerbed. Although this non-woven, synthetic textile is effective in smothering weeds, it is not my favorite solution. I resort to it only because my clients insist that I use it. However, I detest this procedure because it adds a layer of difficulty to planting perennials. The fabric is so strong that spade and shovel cannot penetrate its surface.

If ever I should want to move a plant or redesign the garden, the impenetrable textile will always be in the way, making it challenging to do any further tweaking. Furthermore, because it is not organic, this synthetic fabric will not decompose over time. It will remain, eternally, a physical obstacle not only to my work but also to future generations of gardeners. No matter how efficient it is in suppressing weeds, it is definitely a frustrating destroyer of enthusiasm.

For that very reason, when the EcoCover people contacted me last summer to ask if I would report upon their biodegradable weed mats, my interest was piqued. I asked them to send me a sample length so that I might examine it and to decide if I should share information about it with my readers. It arrived too late in the season to be tested in my garden; nevertheless, I found that the product has merit.

EcoCover is an organic weed suppressant sheeting first developed in New Zealand. It was created there in response to that government’s legislation blocking contractors, including landscapers, from bidding on public works projects unless they intended to use environmentally friendly materials.

To meet the needs of the North American market, a manufacturing facility was also set up in Huntingdon, California. Because it is paper based, I was concerned about EcoCover's ability to withstand heavy rainfall that seems to accompany current climate change. I raised this matter with the American manufacturer who informed me that the product was made compatible with the climate of New Zealand which experiences rainfall ranging from an annual average of 600-1600 to a high of 10,000 millimeters.

The manufacturing process for EcoCover, aka EcoMulch and EcoCrop, is environmentally friendly because it uses low amounts of energy, and emits only small quantities of water vapor into the atmosphere. In essence, it is shredded paper waste sandwiched in between two layers of sheeting made from recycled paper. It is available in two qualities, Single Season and Extended Life.

The Single Season products have a typical life span of 6-9 months and are used in applications that require the product to last for a single growing season, such as the growing of tomatoes and peppers.

Extended Life products have a useful life of 18-24 months and are typically used with plants that will be around for more than one season, i.e. trees, shrubs and perennials.

Not only are these weed-suppressants available in rolls and mats, but growers and nurseries, and those who garden in pots in tiny spaces, might benefit from the disc-shaped weed mats that are suitable for containers.

This multipurpose product is also applicable to field and row farming, tree and vineyard farming, forestry, commercial landscaping, land restoration, and private gardening. In New Zealand, EcoCover is available impregnated with organic nutrients to help reduce the chore of fertilization.

The manufacturer claims that their product meets the criteria for sustainability, because it

…helps build soil carbon levels, is compostable and biodegradable, conserves water, by reducing evaporation, reduces plant mortality, suppresses weeds with reduced or no herbicides,  promotes plant yield and crop growth, moderates soil temperature, reduces soil erosion, sequesters CO2, reduces plant losses, and complies with organic certification requirements…..

In orchards, EcoCover Mulch Mats suppress weeds at the plant base, reducing or eliminating competition for water and nutrients. Moisture retention is increased by up to 80%, improving soil quality and aeration, and reducing watering requirements. For row crops, in a 2006 Massey University study, EcoCrop outperformed black plastic film, increasing yields 42.3% for bell peppers and 29.4% for tomatoes. EcoCrop also produced the largest peppers and tomatoes.

In vineyards, aside from the benefits to new vines, EcoCrop and EcoCover Mulch Mats reduce field maintenance. Costly and time-consuming hand, chemical and mechanical weeding are nearly eliminated and plants are protected from nutrient-stealing weeds.

In addition, the product may be used effectively on sloped landscapes where mulch or fabric might be disturbed by wind or water-runoff. This biodegradable weed suppressor is kept in place on pitched grades when it is secured with eco-friendly pins.

Hammered in to the ground with a rubber mallet, they prevent the fabric from sliding or flying away in high winds. Since the pins are composed of a biodegradable material, they too are ecologically compatible.

As the product is uniform in color, gardeners who want a more natural look can camouflage it with crushed pebbles coir, or shredded cedar bark.

Readers who have attempted to garden in beds covered with impenetrable, synthetic fabric will appreciate the versatility of this organic, biodegradable product.

Here is a link to the companies product page.  For additional information American and Canadian readers can call this toll-free phone number:-1.877.636-2404


Nature’s Imperfections: “The Mottled Moments That Make Us Human”.

photo copywrite Urban Zucchini MamaAfter so many years of gardening, I have come to realize that sometimes we must adapt ourselves to nature’s whims and live with some of the imperfections that it delivers. Nothing in our gardens, or in life, is truly perfect. Even though the flower garden is a human invention, ascribed a predetermined character by a designer or landscape architect, each plant that contributes to making up the garden will ultimately perform and behave according to its predestined program, and the physical environment that it experiences. Therefore, fighting nature, i.e. fighting the preordained master plan, or The Master’s Plan, depending on one’s theological slant, is not realistic. The forces of nature are too powerful for human will to prevail. There are realistic limits to our mastery of our own little universe, whether it is a garden or the life we lead.

Here is an article from Shari B’s blog, Urban Zucchini Mama, where she shares experiences of raising healthy children while trying to avoid toxic chemicals and growth hormones. Recently, she wrote about imperfections found in organic produce, and how dealing with those flaws might help us better deal with the imperfections of everyday life.

Urban Zucchini Mama, Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Imperfection is Organic

There's nothing like apple picking in New England. For years, my family has enjoyed this fall tradition.

We've visited farms with train rides, hay rides, corn mazes, gourmet donuts and ice cream, petting zoos, pony rides, barbeques and playgrounds. These theme-park orchards provided great entertainment, but they could never provide us with one thing: organic apples.

They say that it is impossible to grow organic apples, pears and stone fruit on the east coast. They say these crops will quickly be devoured by molds, fungi and pests.  I've spoken to many vendors at my local farmer's market, and they all sing the same refrain: we do our best, we use as little spray as possible, if we didn't spray you couldn't eat these.... But that's not entirely true.

For the past two years my family has visited Old Frog Pond Farm, a 25-acre pick-your-own orchard owned by a local artist. Our first year there, it was sleepy and quiet. The trees were short and looked sparse. The apples were tiny, lopsided, disfigured and covered with black and brown splotches.

"Are these safe to eat?" I asked the young man who worked there. He smiled and informed me that these blemishes were a natural part of the apple, perfectly safe for human consumption. "Organic," he said, "is not perfect."

Still, we were a bit fearful, so we took them home and baked pies and cooked applesauce instead of eating them raw.

Over the course of the year, his words remained with me: "Organic is not perfect." It got me thinking about my perceptions of the world and myself. When I shop I seek out perfect products. I exercise in hopes of a more perfect body. I write aspiring to the perfect manuscript. I child rear with earnest desire to be the perfect mother ... wife ... citizen.  I keep searching for the aha! moment when I realize that it has all come together perfectly.

In a world of shiny, glossy, beautiful people, products and produce, it's hard to accept anything less.

This year, we decided to go back to Old Frog Pond Farm. My kids discovered hidden sculptures, designed by the owner, nestled between the trees and along the edges of the field. The orchard seemed busier, the trees seemed fuller, the choices seemed greater, and the apples seemed less blemished. When my kids asked for samples, I didn't bat an eyelash at the black mottled skins.

The apples were not beautiful by traditional standards. Not even close! But they were grown without toxic chemicals and they were delicious.

I've finally begun to understand that imperfection really is natural, organic and healthy. It's the mottled moments that make us human and the lopsided apples that give us something to write about.

Click here to read more anecdotes by Urban Zucchini Mama.