Monday, February 25, 2013

Gear Review: EcoSMART Safe Plant and Garden Value Bundle

Sometimes, "going green" is an obvious choice.  Sometimes, it's actually a short-sighted idea.  The latter is clearly not the case when it comes to garden-scale application of pesticides, now recognized to be a significant source of chemicals that kill stream insects.  In fact, chemicals banned for use by commercial farms decades ago are still showing up in streams, which suggests that gardeners and homeowners are inadvertently putting them there.  The logic, which could use some scientific testing but seems reasonable enough, is that gardeners buy chemicals to solve a problem at a certain time.  The chemical solution is relatively cheap ($10-20), and the gardener does not expect the problem to return, so "why not use it all?"  In theory, this is not the case with farmers, who buy chemicals in bulk and expect to have to use the same chemicals repeatedly.  Overuse, in theory, means wasted profit.  Hey, I like the theory.   Enter, the importance of organic (or at least less dangerous) chemicals for gardeners, and companies like EcoSMART that focus on that market.

In August 2011, I was contacted by EcoSMART's  to test out their "Safe Plant and Garden Value Bundle," which includes four pre-mixed organic formulations:   Weed and Grass Killer, Garden Fungicide, Garden Insect Killer, and Insect Repellent.  The combo is available from EcoSMART's website for $26 + shipping, which is about a 30% discount from buying the products individually, or buying the comparable conventional chemicals.  The fact that organic chemicals now cost the same as, or less than, conventional chemicals is an amazing thing - that is, if it can be demonstrated that the organics are as effective as the conventional chemicals in the control of "target organisms."  I tested the four chemicals in Fall, 2011 (a tough season to really evaluate their effectiveness) and then throughout the first half of the 2012 growing season.  Here's how the individual chemicals fared:

Insect Repellent.  Out of all four products, we were most satisfied with this one.  It comes in a mist-spray bottle and smells pleasant, the way most other organic repellents do.   I kept it in my garden bucket and occasionally in my fishing pack, and it never failed against freshwater mosquitoes and minor cases of black flies.  I did not test it against thick deerflies or blackflies on the outer coast, where the most brutal conventional formulations even seem to fail.  I used the EcoSMART insect repellent on my three-year old, and it was fine on his (somewhat sensitive) skin and seemed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Grade: A

Weed and Grass Killer.  This is a tall order in my garden, which is constantly beset by bermudagrass, nutsedge, henbit, and a variety of other dodgy weeds common to this part of the world.  I applied EcoSMART Weed and Grass Killer in a variety of different ways to the whole Scoundrel's Row of weeds.  The two active ingredients, 2-Phenethyl-Propionate and Eugenol, both plant-based compounds, were scarily effective on weed seedlings and young plants.  However, in beds that I'd neglected to weed, the chemical seemed to burn the tips but not effectively transport down the stem and to the root.   Overall, EcoSMART Weed and Grass Killer is not going to replace the task of weeding, though it's not entirely fair that I would expect it to do so.  Grade: C.

Garden Insect Killer.  In the class of organic pesticides, "insect killer" is where I've generally found the most successful products. That's because the plant world is full of natural insect killers - even well known things like nicotine, THC, and opium.  EcoSMART's Garden Insect Killer is no different.  It put a hurting on aphids, spider mites (tough customers against most organic insecticides), sugar ants, and several other undesirables in my garden (note: I manage our garden for high numbers of pollinating insects, so NOT killing them all is quite important).   It did not seem to be effective on caterpillars (rollers, whites), but then again, most chemicals are not.  Like most organic insecticides, EcoSMART's formulation requires more frequent application than the longer-residence conventional chemicals (which is why we don't favor them in our garden).  EcoSMART's Garden Insect Killer is inexpensive and effective.   There's no excuse to not try it.  Grade: B

Garden Fungicide.  This product is sulfur-based, which is no surprise since sulfur is a common compound in both organic and conventional fungicides, and has been used for this purpose for hundreds - maybe thousands - of years.   Our garden soil is "made" - I construct it almost entirely of compost, wood chips, and peat moss.  As a result, the % OM is extremely high, which leads to a fungally-dominated soil.  In many ways - too many to address here - that's a great thing for the garden.  However, all that rotting wood leads to undesirable "macro-fungi" like puffballs and stinkhorns.  Try rooting around in the garden for a squash, only to get a wet handful of stinkhorn.  Eww.  Unfortunately, this fungicide, like all fungicides, can only treat fungi that you spray - fungi that are already there.  They cannot - and this chemical cannot - treat the underlying conditions for a repeated infestation of fungi.  If you have rotting mulch in a garden or flower bed on the east coast, you will definitely get a stinkhorn invasion.  Overall though, this product seems to do no more and no less than comparable organic and conventional formulations.  Grade: B

Overall, this package is still a great value at $26, and I encourage you to give it a try.  If not, I still highly recommend the Insect Repellent because it's a great product, and the Insect Killer because it's a good product and a great value.  

Note:  I was not compensated for this review, however, I was provided with the $26 Garden Bundle described above, so that I would have something to review.  This review is fair and honest and is based on knowledge gained through my 16-year personal background in sustainable gardening and my15-year professional background in wildlife habitat management. 

1 comment:

The Reverend Fowl ™ said...

We used the turquoise/teal colored bottles last year Garden Safe(TM) brand.

I'll try the EcoSMART if I see it for sale.

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