Home Garden

Where Good Things Grow®

In July of 1989 after studying and working in horticulture for 15 years, Windy Meadow Nursery was founded with the ultimate objective of reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the greenhouse and nursery. Borrowing from the saying “You are what you eat” I embarked on a thorough study of soil science, plant nutrition and microbiology to create the first disease suppressive WSDA certified organic potting soil in the United States. We are celebrating thirteen years of growing in our own certified organic potting soil.What started as a proactive stand on environmental issues such as nutrient retention and integrated pest management has blossomed into a holistic production system that continuously strives to use resources efficiently, minimize waste and foster a greater understanding of sustainable production practices in the horticulture industry and for our customer, home gardeners.

Biological Control / INTREPID Coco-Coir®and INTREPID Health Assure

tm brands

Plant health has been associated with healthy soil for only the last 100 years when microbiologists discovered that organic crop residues and green manures plowed into the field could suppress plant pathogens. These practices encouraged the growth of large populations of unidentified soil microbes that suppressed disease by out numbering them through the process of antagonistic competition.

Modern microbiologists are able to isolate, name and culture microbes they find useful for Medicine, Agriculture and Industrial remediation. Today, 80% of antibiotics and almost half of all new drugs are derived from microorganisms. The diversity of useful metabolites each microbe produces is as varied as each strain of organism. The common bacterium Bacillus subtilis has 890 strains identified within the species, each producing its own unique set if metabolites. Most soil organisms are benign causing neither harm nor good but a few have shown to be beneficial to plant growth, some acting as natural fungicides when applied to the soil and even the leaves of plants. When a consortium of physiologically and ecologically compatible microbes is introduced to young plants early in the crop cycle, plants respond in ways that eliminate transplant shock and enhance vigor and garden performance.  Successfully establishing populations of Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria in the nursery and garden has been our focus for over a decade. Metabolites produced by bacteria and fungi improve growth, yield and quality of crops and increases tilth, fertility and productivity of soils. Microbes produce humates when complex organic amendments are mineralized and cycled to plant roots boosting nutrient absorption, often resulting in reduced crop production times and productivity gains.

Many times, when conventionally grown plants leave the protective confines of the greenhouse, cultural and environmental stresses render even mature plants susceptible to pathogenic infections. INTREPID plants withstand the inclement spring weather the Northwest is famous for without fail. Every plant grown at Windy Meadow under the INTREPID Coco-Coir® and INTREPID Health Assuretm brands are inoculated with several strains of beneficial microbes that shift the microbial equilibrium away from ‘sterile’ and potentially unhealthy soil to a naturally healthy and stable ecosystem. In 1997, while formulating our potting soil, the decision to use Coconut fiber was made because aged peat moss is able to support the growth of many plant pathogens because they prefer the same cold wet conditions that peat moss evolved in. Expensive and energy intensive steam sterilization of peat based potting soils has been the recommendation for decades but still does not cure the problem, because naked environments attract life, either good or bad. Weeks after transplanting young plants into peat based mixes (when the soil is not ‘sterile’ any longer) a dose of chemical fungicide is recommended. When its effectiveness diminishes, reapplication often becomes necessary.

Coconut fiber is a much healthier choice for potting soils, growing in the heat of the tropics; it’s a foreign substrate to temperate zone plant pathogens and will not decompose as quickly in a biologically active potting soil. Its use as a potting soil has been documented since 1678 as depicted on our vegetable tags and soil label. Adding several protein based organic fertilizers to the potting soil ensures a greater microbial diversity with each material supplying the complex organic molecules needed for maintaining stable population densities. Another benefit of these water insoluble nutrients is their inability to leach from the root zone like chemical fertilizers and will supply some nutrients to plants and microbes over the entire growing season. The organic amendments in INTREPID Coco-Coir®; Fish meal, Feather meal, Bone meal and Blood meal supply a balance of controlled release nutrients that maintain dense populations of beneficial soil microbes including free living bacteria and biological fungicides that colonize all parts of the plant to protect it from many types of stress and attack by insects and disease. Organisms that suppress disease in soil may limit plant stress by inducing Systemic Resistance, the plants natural defense mechanism.

Biologically dynamic synergies arise when growing with these natural system strategies. We refer to this as The INTREPID Advantage, as inoculated plants grow larger, so does the population of beneficial organisms, providing protection to neighboring plants growing in the garden. Less sustainable and toxic chemical remedies lose their effectiveness and require rotating between chemical classes to reduce resistant strains of pathogens from developing. No pathogen has developed resistance to biological controls because of their unique mode of action. Abandoning the ossified paradigm of chemical agriculture and embracing biologically mediated processes has resulted in substantial savings of fertilizer, pesticides and loss of plants due to health concerns over the past two decades. In 2012 these sustainable production methods will again be used to produce close to 1000 varieties of flowers and 250 varieties of herb and vegetable starts and will make their way to independent garden centers across the Puget Sound Region.

Look for our distinctive tags and know you are buying the best.

Home Garden

In Search of the Holy Grail

After years of growing plants, any grower worth his salt is always looking for ways to tweak a little more production from his farm.

In 2002 as part of our ongoing research efforts developing sustainable nursery practices, we started to trial a new product that was new to the agricultural industry that promised accelerated growth, and an increased resistance to disease and insects of a variety of agricultural row crops. The new product was Messenger. Messenger contains harpin protein that induces plants to turn on its natural defense systems. Since that time it has been discovered but not well documented that other non pathogenic microbes can elicit the same responses when colonization occurs over the entire plant

The first of these natural defense systems is called Hypersensitive Reaction, which induces the few cells that are in direct contact with Erwinia amylovora (the fire blight pathogen) to collapse, effectively halting the spread of the infection.

The second plant response is called Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR). When plants are sprayed with harpin protein derived from Erwinia, SAR provides protection against a broad range of pathogens much like a vaccination protects people from the flue.

The third response in an increase in photosynthesis, resulting in faster maturing crops with higher nutritional levels as measured by brix. Studies have shown that when a plant has a high Brix index reading they are not appetizing to insects. Brix is the measurement in percent of soluble carbohydrates (sugars) in the cytoplasm or plant sap.

The fourth attribute related to harpin is insect resistance. Insects will generally attack weaker plants because the plant sap is lower in carbohydrates than healthy plants. Plants that are feed too much urea, or ammonium nitrogen will grow soft lush foliage that is more susceptible to insect attack. Protease inhibitors will be discussed later.

We’ve used Messenger since 2002 as part of our sustainable integrated pest management program when we witnessed a surprising growth response from Fuchsia Garden Mister Bonistat. This plants dark maroon leaves blocks sunlight from the chlorophyll in the middle lamella. They normally grow extremely slowly in the dark months of our northwest winters. Since then we have seen a strong growth response in a variety of crops. Messenger has become part of our production practices for everything that we produce.

At least two other materials with different modes of action give similar responses in plants. Recent studies indicate that many plants grown in a soil-less substrate benefit from the addition of silicon in the nutritional program. Intrepid Coco-Coir® supplies silicon when the high level of biological activity present in the soil weathers the Olivine. Silicon is an essential nutrient for some plants, most notably cucurbits. Recent studies indicate that silicon increases the brix index of hothouse grown vegetables. Brix is the measurement in percent of total dissolved solids or carbohydrates in the cytoplasm. In the case of vegetables, higher brix measurements are used to indicate when a vegetable has reached peak nutritional value for harvesting. Plants in the Cucumber family require silicon in their diet to facilitate suberization or stiffening of the cell walls. Cucumbers growing without adequate supplies of silicon are much more susceptible to becoming infected with powdery mildew and other diseases.

Plants can also use these defense mechanisms to protect themselves from invading pests. Thorns on a rose evolved to keep it from being eaten by animals. New research indicates that plants, when given the right stimuli activate what is called the systemic wound response. When an insect starts to feed on one part of a plant, a chemical peptide signal called systemin travel throughout the entire plant, stimulating it to produce protease inhibitors. When an insect starts to feed on these plants, the chemical inhibitor blocks the digestive enzymes (proteases) in its gut, causing digestive upset and it stops feeding.

Several years ago, while researching which insecticides to use in our integrated pest management program, I was drawn to a class of chemicals called Neonicotinoides or synthetic nicotine modeled after the natural botanical insecticide nicotine. When I was in high school, I worked on a mink ranch in Deming WA. We diluted nicotine sulfate ten to one in isopropyl alcohol to make a particularly lethal preparation. When it came time to harvest the pelts, the owner would inject one cubic centimeter of this into the mink’s chest cavity. My job was to quickly catch and hold the mink for the injection. The nicotine proved so effective that few animals were still alive two seconds after I set them back in the cage and started to catch the next mink. I never took up smoking after that experience and thirty years later, it helped me make the decision to choose nicotine as one of the few chemicals we use for insect control. My decision was easy because it is a systemic with long residual activity, no cross-resistance with other classes of insecticides and is more selectively toxic to insects than mammals.

Resent research indicates that Neonicotinoides are also responsible for turning on a plants natural defense system. I won’t go into any more detail other than to say that I have had very good results. The integrated systems I have developed produce exceptional quality year after year. When Messenger, silicon, and neonicotinoides are used in a rotating program, plants can actually protect themselves without the use of highly toxic chemicals and grow healthy in the most natural way possible.

This research is a result of our ongoing quest to develop the best production practices for producing outstanding quality that goes beyond what can be seen. We continue to study the latest products from agriculture and apply techniques that result in optimum quality and the healthiest possible plant so that the end consumer in assured a successful and enjoyable gardening experience. An experience that motivates them to return to your nursery and buy more of our plants.

Home Garden

Compost Tea or Me

Chemical fertilizer has been in use only since the 1940’s. So if we embrace the past with a renewed understanding of the whole intricate system, we can prosper while at the same time make the earth a better place.

Soil biology has to come from the soil, if you are growing in a substrate that won’t support microbial activity, then you need to make adjustments to the mix so it will. The idea of applying compost tea preparations on a near daily basis is flawed.

Mother Nature has a way of evolving so that the ecosystem is efficient. Nature relies on decomposing litter be it plant or animal to support the evolution of the ecosystem. Through the long evolutionary cycle the system has become efficient. In an effort to duplicate nature, you must start with a rich soil so that the liquid feed program is not relied upon to supply the plants entire nutritional needs. Two growers in my area last year learned this the hard way. Whether you call it global warming, or the coming of the next ice age, we have had three unusually dark and cold springs, each year colder than the one previous. Snow and hail prevailed through the entire month of April in 2008. When these two organic growers shipped their tomatoes, were nutritionally bankrupt because the source of nutrients was left up to the liquid feed program. Plants that were fertigated on a Monday still didn’t need watering on Friday because of the low transpiration rates due to the cold dark weather.

If a grower has to rely on the liquid feed program to supply the nutritional needs of the plant then expensive injectors have to be installed to deliver the comparatively weak compost tea to the crop. Most organics are less concentrated in their nutritional levels so more pounds of organics have to be used compared to chemical fertilizers.

In order to supply the crops requirements, the feed is a thick slurry. When this is applied to the surface of the pot, the residue remains there while the soluble components infiltrate the soil. Over time, the fine particulate matter made up organic matter a biological slime becomes thicker and begins to create a patina that supports algae growth. Soon this layer becomes a barrier to oxygen. The plants root system suffers from this lack of oxygen unless the bulk density of the soil is very low with corresponding/high porosity. Plants growing in a soil with high porosity fail to form an adequate interface with the surrounding and much heavier soil in the landscape.

My major market area has clay so we don’t mind if our soil has a higher bulk density just so long that it has adequate drainage. After a couple decades of conducting % air and water holding capacity studies of greenhouse soils, I started to use a much easier method for estimating soils suitability for container production. When a soil is at saturation, I add enough water to the surface to make a puddle 3/8 of an inch deep. If the puddle disappears in less than three seconds, the soil is too porous. If the puddle lasts longer than seven seconds, the soil is too dense. I look for water to drain from the surface in about five seconds.

Moisture from the heavy native soil can’t move to the bedding plants growing in the soil-less mix.

The soil plant interface.

Home Garden

Understanding Organics

In 1989, I started Windy Meadow Nursery with the idea that the plants I produced would perform better in the landscape than my competitors, if I developed a superior growing medium. Armed with fifteen years of experience in horticulture, I experimented with combining various animal manures, organics, and chemical fertilizers in the greenhouse soil. That year I noticed some tip burn on the leaves of Asiatic Lilies that I started breeding as a hobby in 1986. The super phosphate I was using is commonly contaminated with the impurity fluoride and was causing the tip burn.

The next year, I switched to bone meal as the phosphorus source and started conducting exhaustive trials using every kind of organic fertilizer source I could find. I trailed everything from mink manure from the farm I worked at through high school, to rock dust that promised magical results with metaphysical explanations. The organic nutrient formula we use today was worked out over eight years. Each batch of soil used in the nursery was chemically analyzed and altered depending how the many crops we produce performed. Our actual production became the trials we used to arrive at the mix we use today for the 800 varieties of plants we grow every year.

Intrepid Coco-Coir® Premium Potting Soil has been registered for use in organic Agriculture by the Washington State Department of Agriculture since 1999 and is the first Coconut based potting soil to be sold in the United States. In 1989, I also pioneered the use of introducing pure cultures of biological soil inoculants into greenhouse soils. In 1999 Intrepid Coco-Coir became the first Potting soil sold to retail gardeners in the United Stated with active cultures of biological fungicides and other known beneficial microbes. The soil is predictably and naturally disease suppressive and plays a major roll in our integrated pest management program. The addition of these biological agents greatly enhances the availability nitrogen and phosphorus in an organic mix. In fact, we have eliminated the use of phosphoric acid in the feed water for up to three years. We have greatly restricted phosphorous from leaching into the ground water and have saved a lot of money by not purchasing phosphoric acid.

Over the years we have grown over two thousand varieties of plants in the same soil with outstanding results. Many nurseries use several different mixes for the various crops they produce adding to storage cost and many times becoming a logistical nightmare keeping track of which soil gets used for each crop. Intrepid Coco-Coir® is very easy and forgiving to grow in with minimal extraneous inputs.

As more growers are exploring alternative and sustainable methods of producing crops, their first inclination is to source the least expensive options available. Many bagged, organic soils on the market today rely on one source of fertilizer for the nutrient charge. Some list poultry litter, steer manure, or worm castings or composts derived from them as the main ingredient. These inexpensive bulky fillers give an initial quick release of ammonium nitrogen, resulting in a flush of growth that needs to be checked with plant growth regulators if quality is to be maintained in the commercial greenhouse. This lush growth is soon checked when, after a few weeks of production, the manure in these mixes causes a nitrogen draw to occur. The sawdust or straw in the manure begins to be broken down by the bacteria that were introduced into the mix by the manure. Without heavy inputs of fertilizer, the plants growing in these mixes start a steady state of decline due to nitrogen starvation. When a contest ensues for nitrogen between the plant and the millions of bacteria in the pot, the million bacteria always win. The shelf life of these plants is measured in days when they receive daily applications of clear water in the retail setting.

The grower is faced with having to change the liquid feed program for month old plants while having another weaker feed for newly transplanted material. These confused growers either over fertilize everything and produce an extremely overgrown crop, or the usual case is that the plants are grossly underfed and get shipped looking more sickly and malnourished with each passing day.

I created the Water Insoluble Nutrition advantage (WIN advantage) as an integrated approach to fertility management. I have found the best way to insure the steady and prolonged growth of plants in an organic and biologically active soil is by using multiple fertilizer sources to supply each essential nutrient needed by actively growing plants. The WIN advantage derives all essential nutrients from sustainable and organic fertilizer sources with different rates of solubility and availability. A natural, balanced and controlled supply of nutrients are made available to the plant based on the nutrient cycling that the soil microbes effect.

When temperature and moisture levels are optimum for plant growth, the corresponding activity of the microbes in the rhizosphere increase nutrient cycling and availability. When either temperature, or moisture level decline, nutrient availability also declines. The opposite can be true for cold temperatures. The costly effects of nutrients leaching from the container during extended periods of cold rain in the field are greatly restricted.  The water insoluble nature of the high-grade organic components are retained in the immediate root zone, available for the plants to use when favorable growing conditions return.

The retailer enjoys increased sale-ability and shelf life. The consumer is treated with an otherwise unexpected successful gardening experience because of the superior garden performance.

  • Immediately available nitrogen is supplied by an O.M.R.I. certified compost, and blood meal, while fishmeal and feather meal supplies very slowly available nitrogen.
  • Phosphorous comes from fishmeal and finely pulverized bone meal that has been fractured with sonic sound waves to the consistency of cake flour. Rates of phosphorus availability in a biological system are a function of particle size. Even though we never use phosphoric acid in the liquid feed program we get superior root development and flower production.
  • Potassium comes from wood ash, kelp meal and the coconut pith. The pith from the seed of Coconut Palms has very high concentrations of plant nutrients especially potassium. Since the potassium is part of the pith it is available to the plant over a long period of time.
  • Calcium is supplied by carbonate lime, dolomite lime, wood ash, fishmeal, and bone meal.
  • Magnesium is supplied by dolomite lime and olivine flour. Olivine is a locally sourced mineral that is comprised of magnesium iron silicate.
  • Iron is supplied in a slow release form by Olivine, while blood meal supplies the more soluble form of iron.
  • Silicon is supplied when the high level of biological activity present in the soil weathers the Olivine. Silicon an essential nutrient for some plants, most notably cucurbits. Recent studies indicate that silicon has also been shown to increase the brix index of hothouse grown vegetables. Brix is the measurement in percent of total dissolved solids or carbohydrates in the cytoplasm.  In the case of vegetables higher brix measurements are used to indicate when a vegetable has reached it’s peak nutritional value for harvesting. Plants in the Cucumber family require silicon in their diet to facilitate suberization or stiffening of the plants cell walls. Cucumbers growing without adequate supplies of silicon are much more susceptible to becoming infected with powdery mildew. Recent studies indicate that many plants grown in soil-less substrates benefit from the addition of silicon the nutritional program. In ornamentals, a higher brix index means that ample reserves of carbohydrates are available within the plant, allowing it to support itself with strong thick stems that develop many of its latent buds forming lateral branches from the base and main scaffold of the plant. The quality of the plant is greatly enhanced by the increased number of flowers the plant can produce. A change in the plants physiology triggers the latent buds to be expressed when the natural cytokinin supplied by the kelp meal is utilized.
  • The micronutrients are also supplied by the coconut pith, kelp meal, and wood ash.

While conducting market research, I learned that the average gardener, while very concerned with putting three meals on the table every day, doesn’t think twice about feeding the flowers.

I developed Intrepid Coco-Coir® Premium Potting Soil with this customer demographic in mind.  Our soil contains water insoluble forms of organic and sustainable nutrients that will never leach away from the root system and affords the home gardener a very successful gardening experience.

Home Garden

How Sustainable Are We?

The Best Management Practices Windy Meadow Nursery and The Center for Holistic Advanced Organic Studies Ltd. have implemented to be good Horticultural Stewards.

  1. In 1989 we planted 1,200 feet of wind break utilizing ten species of trees and shrubs to increase the farm’s ecological biodiversity, act as a riparian buffer to the Nooksack River, and provide natural habitat for wildlife.
  2. Since 1999, our Intrepid Coco-CoirÒ Premium Potting Soil has been registered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture for use in organic crop production. It was the United States first certified organic nutrient rich premium potting soil using easy to water Coconut Coir pith and Multiple Strains Working for a health centered approach to biological disease control. Renewable natural resources are our first priority. We preserve fragile wetland wildlife habitats by not using peat moss or energy intensive mined and unsightly fillers like pumice and perlite.
  3. We grow plants in ways that benefit the community and the environment. In 1989 we developed a systematic approach to natural disease suppression. Multiple Strains Working utilizes microbial biosynthesis of plant growth promoting products to create natural disease suppression. This heath-centered integrated pest management strategy has eliminated the need for chemical fungicides for over two decades.
  1. Coconut coir promotes healthy root systems by naturally suppressing plant pathogens. Coming from the tropics it does not harbor or support the growth cold loving plant diseases. This natural disease suppression reduces our carbon footprint by eliminating the need for energy intensive soil sterilization of Peat moss. Peat moss coevolved with algae and water molds and is a perfect incubation substrate for a long list of opportunistic plant diseases that emerge when environmental factors put stress on plants.
  2. We use an integrated fertility management system, the Water Insoluble Nutrition Advantage (WIN Advantage). By utilizing specially prepared organic fertilizers like Bone meal. No phosphoric acid is used in the liquid feed program, reducing runoff and leaching losses to zero, and prevents nutrients from contaminating valuable aquifers.
  3.  A new division, Windy Meadow Produce was created to improve year round labor and facility utilization and extend brand promotion by providing Whatcom County residents with high quality sustainably grown greenhouse vegetables.
  4. We promote sustainability by publishing our fundamental research findings that will encourage a trend toward innovative and promising new techniques for managing greenhouses and the production of high quality, sustainable nursery crops.
  5. We apply elicitors that induce Systemic Acquired Resistance, the plants natural defense mechanism. Multiple sources of stimuli are utilized to activate chromosomes in plant DNA. Induced crops tolerate stress and disease pressure resulting in healthy vigorous plants.
  6. Integrated Pest Management is the basis for pest control, preservation of beneficial insect populations is considered when choosing control strategies.
  7. We manufacture and sell Intrepid Coco-CoirÒ potting soil and Intrepid Blue Ribbon natural fertilizer to home gardeners and professional horticulturists. They are ecologically friendly, simple to use and highly effective at producing the best results for healthy, productive and beautiful gardens. INTREPID products have become valuable tools for so many people to enjoy a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.
  8. We apply cultural practices to effect growth regulating height control and limit chemical plant growth regulators that stunt and arrest plant development. Proper nutrition and cool cultural practices encourages plants to grow strong and to their full genetic potential.
  9. We produce plants that increase in value over time by adding to home values, and reduce the gardener’s grocery bill of commercially grown and transported vegetables. We select naturally superior plant varieties that have outstanding performance in Northwest gardens.
  10. We conserve water by hand watering and not using sprinklers. In propagation, humidity domes save water and reduces fungal pathogens instead of wasteful intermittent mist. 
  11. Intrepid Coco-Coir® thoroughly re-wets very easily when dry without the aid of chemical wetting agents. Plants stay moist for a longer period of time with less water applied.
  12. We convey plant material on an overhead trolley system allowing a single person to move forty two flats anywhere in the nursery utilizing 1,700 linear feet of track, all with the effort of two fingers. No tractors or motorized vehicles are used in the nursery.
  13. No impervious paving. Sixty percent of the nursery and all driving surfaces in the nursery are left natural or consist of Eco-turf, which serves to protect the diversity of flora and fauna while moderating temperatures and humidity within the nursery.
  14. We maintain an older fleet of delivery vehicles rather than purchase new. We limit our area of delivery by supporting local business and eliminate the need to ship plants in boxes.
  15. We do not over-produce, but gain market share in the area we can deliver to efficiently.
  16. We live within our means, and finance expansion with earnings rather than by borrowing.
  17. We have a recycle program to reduce the waste stream of cardboard, paper, mixed plastic and plastic nursery pots as well as glass, scrap metal, aluminum and used motor oil.
  18. We proactively collect and recycle flats and carry trays from our retail customers that are discarded by other wholesale greenhouses.
  19. We compost green and wood waste on site for incorporating into the nursery beds and provide an additional income stream.
  20. Worker safety is insured with proper training and a clean ergonomic work environment.
  21. Workers receive training to be productive and are paid a fair wage for the work performed.
  22. We use locally sourced products from the Re-Store as a first choice for building materials and low volatile organic compound paints.
  23. We purchase nursery containers and labels derived from 50% post-consumer recycled plastic and recycled newspaper.
  24. We communicate our values to our customers and professionals in the green industry to the virtues of sustainable growing practices through lectures and on the web to accelerate organic sustainability
  25. We purchase used computers and recycled printer paper. We bill direct, and arrange for dated payments to be made when we deliver, rather than through the mail.
  26. Early detection of young insect populations through regular scouting practices facilitates ease of control with the least toxic remedy.
  27. Reduce our carbon footprint with 90% plus efficient unit heaters and use the most efficient split night temperature strategy for best management practices.
  28. Use of natural ventilation eliminates costly electrical fans and reduces peak energy demand.
  29. We use low wattage, high efficiency area lighting products on automatic switches.
  30. We have invested in high efficiency LED grow lights in propagation allowing tiered growing under benches thereby increasing our space utilization.
  31. We insulate and maintain structural integrity of the greenhouses to reduce our carbon footprint.
  32. We perform litter control in the neighborhood several times a year.