Here's the real dirt on designer soil with food on label

Plants can take root in fish, blueberries

In the Garden

August 22, 2004|By Jeffrey Dieter | Jeffrey Dieter,SUN STAFF

We live in a world of designer everything - from shoes to scarfs, watches to weights, cologne to cars, and toilet seats to tank tops. The dirt we sink our snake plants and ferns into is no longer an exception.

Move over Pro-Mix and Miracle-Gro, there's a new kid in town. It's called Cobscook Blend, a potting soil manufactured by Coast of Maine Organic Products Inc. of Portland, Maine. It sells for $6.99 for a 16-quart bag - weighing about 13 pounds - at the Whole Foods Markets in Mount Washington and Fells Point. According to the Coast of Maine Web site, Cobscook Blend "requires less watering and feeding," and includes ingredients like "fully matured and cured salmon, blueberry, and cow manure composts, aged bark, long staple sphagnum peat moss, and horticultural limestone."

But does having blueberries or salmon in our dirt actually do anything for our houseplants?

Pat Zellhoffer, of Frank's Nursery on Ebenezer Road in Baltimore County, doesn't "see any advantage at all" to adding such things as fruit or fish to a soil mixture. Frank's brand of potting soil - $1.19 for 4 pounds, and $4.99 for 40 pounds - "has many of the same ingredients" as Cobscook Blend, "but the blueberries really throw me off," said Zellhoffer, who has worked at the Frank's store for more than 13 years.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist with the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, is a staunch supporter of organic products, but says there is no nutritive "advantage to having blueberries in the potting soil. It's a waste product."

"Instead of putting the waste in a landfill, certain states and industries are eliminating waste products" by putting them in potting soil, he says.

For their attention to the environment, companies such as Coast of Maine should be applauded, he says.

But Maryland gardeners who slap down $6.99 for dirt are wasting their money and not using local resources, he says. "Why use a potting soil shipped hundreds of miles from Maine when we have useable waste products and organic matter here in Maryland?" Traunfeld asks. "Certain very successful gardeners are growing seedlings in nothing but 100 percent pure compost." The best thing for your indoor and outdoor plants is right outside your door, in your own home state.

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