Want to go organic but I can't yet claim "Jedi Master" organic

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Exact Rototilling, Jan 20, 2008.

  1. Exact Rototilling

    Exact Rototilling LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 5,359

    I'm a solo LCO and I want to emphasize to my clients that I support healthy lawns through: mulching/side discharge, higher mowing heights, educate the client to water less frequently & more deeply, to tolerate a few weeds, not to use high Nitrogen ferts that shock the grass into an unhealthy green which also encourages thatch etc. So with that being said . . .

    . . . how do I market a "more" organic approach without scaring off the masses and also not proclaiming that I'm an organic guru. It's my goal to have at least 20 weekly mowing clients by June. I'm sure I will learn much more over the 2008 season.

    I am reading up on organic lawncare now. Any input or recommendations appreciated.
     
  2. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Posts: 211

    Im kinda in your boat. I've been doing organics on a small scale for couple of years now and am hoping to expand on a large scale this season.

    As far as the level of knowledge I look at it like this. Compared to a lot of the guys on this message board not only am I not a Jedi Master Im a flat out idiot. ICT Bill, Kiril, Tim Wilson and a lot of others are going to forget more about soil biology and organics TODAY than Im going to know in my life. But on the other hand I don't need to be a Nobel Prize winner to provide a good service to my customers. I have a sound approach that I know works and Im
    confident that I can sell it to just about anyone. Im constantly trying to learn more and thats where this board and these guys can be invaluable. The level of discourse on this board is, in my experience, exceedingly well
    informed.

    The few times I've come up against an issue I didn't understand immediately I have no problem telling my customers that Im not sure what the issue is but Im going to find out. In my experience when you actually do follow up with the customer they don't begrudge you not being a Nobe Prize winning soil
    chemist. They just want value for their money.

    In other words, don't be intimidated by what you dont know because most of the traditional lawn services know even less.
     
  3. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,720

    Well, don't feel left out, you two, you're not alone out there! :waving:

    Out of my customer base I have about 5-7% every year that ask for organics.
    I keep almost all of them every year.

    And I comply with their wishes by using a 'bridge' program (at first); with Sustane fertilizer and just spot treatment of weeds when needed.
    My goal with them (actually, with all of my customers) is to educate them as to proper mowing heights and intervals, blade sharpening needs, etc (I don't mow lawns at all in my business).
    Then the approach I take with the lawn, especially one that's been 'devastated' for one reason or another, is to gradually reconstruct it over time, according to the customer's budget constraints if any, to the point that it becomes so thick and dense that weeds don't have much of a chance of invasion!

    So when I approach an organic customer "wanna-be" with a sea of dandelions, chick weed and what-not...I tell him / her I'll do it, yes, but let's get a handle on the problem 1st the conventional 'pesticide' method; then we'll build your yard up together with renovation / topdressing with compost in the fall, etc...

    In summary, I've found the best approach with the organic customers, especially, is to show them from square one that you want to work as part of a team.
     
  4. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Posts: 211

    Marcos,

    In my situation I don't do a bridge program even with a disasterous yard. My customer base is in a pretty up-scale suburban region inclined to shop at Whole Foods etc. so I view them as consumers who are willing/able to pay a premium for the service they want. That probably wouldn't work in every case but I think Im lucky in that respect.

    On the yards that are nightmares, which do exist but aren't that many, I just go ahead and put in the time with a weed flamer/weedhound/vinegar and
    charge a good steep price for it. Its a lot of work but Im paid very well for it relatively speaking. In my area there just aren't many options for customers who want weeds dealt with by hand so there isn't any point in my being cheap about it. After that I go about it the same way as you. Some of my customers I mow and fert others I don't mow and some I just consult with.
     
  5. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    There is a brochure put out by NOFA called "A Citizen's Guide to Organic Land Care" that spells out what people can do to head towards sustainable practices, better watering, lawn height, etc. You can download it for free at http://www.organiclandcare.net/publications/index.php This would be good for getting new customers aquainted with sustainable practices in the lawn.

    There are also a couple of great books there on Organic lawn care.

    Exact, soon we will call you Obiwan
     
  6. Prolawnservice

    Prolawnservice LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 612

    If your clients ask for it or not, be organic. I've found that some people will ask for it and most don't care what you do as long as the lawn and landscape looks good. So why not just be organic to the best of your ability, and as problems arise search out the answers, learn along the way, and learn everything you can. I don't feel the masses care very much if your organic or not, so just get the customers and treat them organically. The people that really want it, will find you. The NOFA people that have been organic for 20+ years did it that way, they were landscapers first, and they just happened to be organic also.
     
  7. tadhussey

    tadhussey LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 294

    I agree with Pro Lawn Service, and if you establish yourself as an organic lawn care co., then I think you'll find more and more people coming to you who want that type of service. The organics movement is growing each year and it would be better for your company to become established early on, so that 5 years from now you'll be one of the most experienced operators in your area.

    For right now, get out there and do the research, and don't be afraid to tell your customers when you don't know something. I think you'll do really well!

    ~Tad
     
  8. tadhussey

    tadhussey LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 294

    Jeff Lowenfels has a great book that explains in relatively simple terms how the whole soil food web works. It's called "Teaming with Microbes" and I think it's only $10 on amazon.com.

    I know Dr. Elaine Ingham has a cd out on turf care which you could find on the www.soilfoodweb.com website under products.

    Paul Tukey has a book called Organic Lawn Care, but I can't speak to it because I have not read it.
     
  9. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    Sustainable Landscapes & Habitats


    Environmental Protection Agency:

    GreenScapes Program

    NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service):

    Improving Urban Landscapes

    University of Minnesota:

    Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series (SULIS)

    Oregon State University Extension Service:

    Plant Selection for Sustainable Landscapes

    Seattle Public Utilities:

    Ecologically Sound Lawn Care for the Pacific Northwest

    Building Green:

    Natural Landscaping: Native Plants and Planting Strategies for Green Development

    National Wildlife Federation:

    Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat

    University of Maine:

    Principles for Creating a Backyard Wildlife Habitat

    State of Illinois:

    Creating Habitats and Homes For Illinois Wildlife


    Misc Related Information


    NC State University:

    Sustainable Practices for Vegetable Production in the South

    University of California:

    Soil Fertility Management for Organic Crops

    Soil Management and Soil Quality for Organic Crops

    Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California

    Environmental Protection Agency:

    EPA: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles

    University of Vermont SERA-17:

    Referenced Publications From SERA-17

    Colorado State University:

    Xeriscaping: Creative Landscaping

    Organic Materials as Nitrogen Fertilizers

    Texas A&M University:

    Landscape Water Conservation...Xeriscape

    Duke University:

    Long-Term Soil-Ecosystem Studies (LTSEs)

    State of California:

    Coyote Creek Watershed Management Plan. Green Infrastructure Site Design Guidelines

    ATTRA:

    Sources of Organic Fertilizers and Amendments

    USDA-NAL:

    Soil And Water Management

    Organic Gardening: A Guide to Resources

    USDA-SARE:

    Building Soils for Better Crops, 2nd Edition


    Holistic Agriculture Library:

    Factors Of Soil Formation. A System of Quantitative Pedology
     
  10. Marcos

    Marcos LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,720

    I guess my point, Organic a go go, is that I don't have a lot of faith in corn gluten, or any vinegar-based organic cocktails for the purposes of weed control. For the past two years I've tried various things, at different points in the growing season with next to no luck every time.

    I'm a good salesman. I don't think it's pompous or anything make such a statement here...at least in this context.
    I think I sell very well the idea that I will establish a 100% organic program on the customer's lawn very quickly after I first control the majority of the problem weeds with chemicals...and again, the lawn has to have begun to be culturally 'built up' again by, soil amendmends (if needed), timely bi-annual soil aeration (one-a-year, at least), and in the absolute worst cases-renovation work.

    This approach has worked very well for me.
    Again...it's a "teamwork" thing.

    Thinking about it some, it makes sense that the average age of my organic customer is a few years younger than the rest of the 'chemical' group.
    Although I'm sure they don't have any more time on their hands, my 'average' organic customer seems to be more inclined to be more interested in what (exactly) I'm doing..."what's going on" in their lawn right now, etc; vs. the typical chemical crowd.

    The trick for me has been to make the organic customer feel like they're a part of their own success in their own lawn; with my help, by giving them cultural practice 'tips' along the way, and to build rapport as a team.
     

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