Sunday, May 26, 2013

Steal This Fertilizer

I had been passing this store, just off the Long Island Expressway in Queens, for years, as long as I can remember, but I never stopped, never went in. Why? As a dirt gardener, a practitioner of geoponics, maybe I had figured that a store dedicated to the dark arts of indoor growing would not be all that useful. I may have imagined it as a pot-growing mini mart full of magic beans and crystals. I mean garden centers have hard enough time surviving, how is it a hydroponics store has survived? Hmm? 

There is very little online information about boron fertilizing, and in fact, the majority are on forums dedicated to hydroponic cannabis growing. After all, it is the hydroponicists that had to do their homework on nutrients. Although most nutrients are available in most soils, hydroponic growing uses no soil so that practitioners were forced to experiment with different nutrients and micro-nutrients in varying quantities and ratios until they figured out what works. I knew that if I was going to get my hands on a boron supplement quickly, I needed to head out to Flushing to that red and yellow sign off the highway. 

Soon after walking through the front door I was taken by the variety of garden items: Seeds of Change seeds, worm castings, guano, manure growing trays -so many of the things you rarely see in the average city garden center. I thought I'd have a look around, see what other things this store might have for farming or gardening. A young man in black t-shirt passed by and asked if he could help me with anything (you will not go long in this store without that happening). Of course, I said, I'm looking for a boron foliar.

"Um, that would be over here, although I don't really know which one of these has it, but one most likely does. Here, this chart shows you which product has boron." As I look over the chart (oh look, Miracle Grow has it) to figure my best shot at an adequate supplement (none are boron only products), the man asks why I think I need boron. Uh oh. 

Now here's the kind of customer I am in three words -leave me be. If I need help I'll ask, but I won't volunteer more than is necessary. In other words, do not second guess my decision to seek what I seek. In this case -show me what has boron and is a foliar. I'll even find it myself if you do not mind me reading every bottle on your racks. My experience has been that over eager store clerks can send you down the wrong path in a heart beat and you just may leave with something you weren't looking for or nothing at all.

But, okay, fine. I have had a soil test that shows zero boron and my plants are showing signs of boron deficiency. "What are these signs -are you sure boron will do the job?" says the clerk. Look, I've had Cornell take a look at my field and they agree this is a reasonable action based on the evidence." Oh, you know, let me get someone else to help you.

Oh. No.

Standing between two chrome racks of sparsely stocked mystery products I'm approached by an older man, but he's probably my age or only a little older, it's just that he looks this way because of the bald patch and the untucked Hawaiian shirt. "So, you say you're looking for boron. Why do you need boron?"

Well, my field is showing distinctive signs of boron deficiency and my soil test shows...

Those were probably the last words I got in edgewise. Even if I could remember the long-winded diatribes, the conspiracies, the hippie magic, the anti-corporate anti government waves of malcontent that were breaking over my simple needs, I wouldn't waste my blogging time with it. You can imagine, can't you? I had to continue to interrupt his speech to bring him back on track to my simple need - a foliar with boron, which he had well decided I did not need (remember what I said about over eager store clerks?). In each of several attempts to redirect this one way street toward my need I was redirected to different products, none of which were the proper substitute for understanding and properly preparing the soil mind you (should a clerk chastise you for not using compost, for getting soil tests, for communicating at all with Land Grant institutions?), with ridiculous names like Ecolizer (a terrible name for an agricultural soil supplement) or Magical. 

Not completely ignorant of the book from which he preached, I saw the potential of these two products, but I did not feel that they were targeted to my problem. Often these products appear like snake oil, especially when buttressed by a salesman pitching their absolute effectiveness for everything from insect control to productivity.  Their labels are too often reminiscent of a product called Superthrive, something I bought when I was young and ignorant. Maybe you did too? Do these work? I do not know

This is the line, isn't it? Does it work, does it do anything? I suspect there is so much gray area around the circumstances of their effectiveness that it may prove to never work unless your conditions are such that you never really needed it in the first place. Added compost would have been a good thing to do, or for that matter two years of cover cropping. But that simply doesn't matter at this point. I'm looking for a band aid now and I'm okay with that. 

After accepting his two suggestions he relaxed his missionary zeal just enough to show me the foliar section (there's a foliar section!), but none of these would he recommend for my particular problem (which he was very sure of despite knowing virtually nothing of it). Fully apprised of my role now, I pumped his ego by suggesting he is the only person to carry Fertrell products anywhere around here. It's because I'm old school, says he. Fertrell is a brand of organic fertilizers out of southern Pennsylvania, and the one I had eyed is a fish and kelp product in a gallon jug. I pick up the foggy brown container to scan the label. Boron. Yes. Only point zero two percent, but God damn, I'll take it. 

Only 10 minutes left before close, I asked if I could peruse the rest of his offerings (drip components, soil ammendments, greenhouse fans, grow lights, canning and beer making supplies, and books). He led me on a tour. At closing time, register about to be closed, I was allowed a peaceful exit, but not before I heard, wait, don't go! from the rear of the store. As I pushed open the door into the fresh air of the LIE service road, his outstretched, bare arm handed me an old, newsprint copy of Acres, USA subheading The Voice of Eco-Agriculture.


  1. Blerg. I'm with you on this. Not just intrusive salespeople, but the magical thinking.

    Hope you find what you need. Everything out there wants to be "balanced." I imagine a boron-only or boron-rich supplement is going to be difficult to track down. Have you tried mail-order suppliers?

    1. I could have just gone with borax. But I wanted instructions for application.

  2. Hah, Hah! I think that store has cloned itself over here on the opposite coast. I only went in one day because I saw their sign for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I was very excited, and yet I wanted to run far away after just a few minutes of "education" from the enthusiastic owner. Hope what you ended up with helps--can't imagine it will hurt at any rate.

  3. I always want to hiss at clerks of any kind...can't help myself.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...