April 29th, 2021

April 29th, 2021

At this point the majority of our potatoes have been planted and we have a good start on our other crops.  The first plantings of peas, carrots, beets, onions, spinach and sweet corn are in the ground and we are starting to work through our second plantings of several crops.  In order to have a continuous supply of fresh product all season and then, for storable crops, have good quality storable produce to harvest late in the season we plant most crops anywhere from two or three times up to as many as 20 plus times each season.  It’s something we have figured out by trial and error over the last 30 years and there’s a fair bit to it; but I’ll talk about that another time….if I haven’t already talked about it in the past….


I want to explain one of the biological “plant protectant” products that we use to control disease in potatoes, carrots and beets as an “in furrow” application at planting.  The product is called “Serenade Soil”.  Bit of a strange name but actually better than most.  Plant protectants and pesticides in general have names that are bizarre enough in some cases as to compete with names in the horse racing world……but at least they are useful……as opposed to horses :-) (that’s a dig aimed at Suzanne and her horse friends; I pride myself in being anti-horse, mostly because it amuses me).

Before we go too far here I think I should touch on some terminology that is, understandably, confusing to many consumers.

  1. pesticide:  it is not only a product that will kill an insect, it is anything that kills a pest (although I’m not sure a fly swatter qualifies as a pesticide).  Those pests can be in the form of insects (insecticide), fungi (fungicide), weeds (herbicide), rodents (rodenticide) etc.  There are plenty of biological, organically accepted pesticides out there that are as safe as natural soil itself but they are still classed as pesticides and have the same type of highly regulated testing and labeling as even the most dangerous of pesticides.  So don’t be scared off by the terminology.  Employ doctor google and check out the product if you are in doubt.
  2. Plant protectant: is a more benign name (compared to pesticide) in the eyes of the public that many in the industry have been using and rightfully too in many cases.  It seems wrong to call something as benign as Serenade Soil a pesticide
  3. Label:  the official, PRMA certified users manual, so to speak
  4. PMRA: Pest Management Regulatory Agency.  The government agency that strictly regulates the use of pesticides (see definition above) in Canada.  These people mean business, they have no sense of humour and allow absolutely no deviation from what is spelled out in the label.  It’s a good thing and part of what makes Canadian food the safest and healthiest in the world.

So here is the link for the Serenade Soil label. Do not be alarmed by all of the precautions.  They always err on the safe side by a wide margin.  If there were a PMRA label for orange juice it would contain many of the same warnings (and if you know anything about how juice concentrates are made maybe it should have a PRMA label.…)  It is manufactured by Bayer CropScience which is a company familiar to many of you, and likely for the wrong reasons.,  The fact is that the same companies that have been behind the development and manufacture of many notorious pesticides are now working very hard to come up with much safer synthetic pesticides and biological crop protectants.  It is because of customers who ask for responsibly grown food and farms like Elmridge that are eager to adopt new sustainable products that this revolution is happening.  As someone in the industry for the last 30 years I can attest to the fact that crop protectants are much less dangerous to us and our environment than they were 30 years ago as older chemicals are banned and replaced with much safer products and/or biologicals.  There’s still a long way to go but the entire industry is definitely headed in the right direction.


In our case we use Serenade Soil to control rhizoctonia in potatoes.  Rhizoctonia causes potatoes to have black spots that are kind of like a crust and can be scraped off with your fingernail.  A professor of mine in college called it “the dirt that won’t wash off”.  Rhizoctonia is unsightly but can also cause potatoes in storage to break down prematurely.  It has absolutely no effect on eating quality or safety to consumers but of course, this being Canada, if there is any amount of it on our potatoes our sales will drop by more than 50%; mostly because very few people know what it is and it’s impossible to get the message across to everyone that it is utterly harmless to us.

We also use it to control rhizoctonia in our beet crop.  Again, the disease itself is of no concern to consumers but it is even more unsightly than in potatoes and sales would likely drop by 99% if we tried to sell the beets; so we don’t even try.  In the past they have become animal feed or compost but now we hope to peel them and use them to produce dehydrated products.

In carrots we use it to help control”pythium root dieback” which, for the gardeners amongst us, is the same fungus that causes damping off.  Pythium root dieback causes there carrots to become incredibly ugly and misshapen and reduces yield of affe cited carrots by up to 90% so the problem in carrots is very much more than just cosmetic.  Before we started to use Serenade Soil we experienced as much as an 85% crop loss to pythium root dieback.  The worst part about it is that usually the carrot tops look fine but when you go to harvest you find an extremely stunted, gnarly nub where there should have been a nice carrot.  It’s a very discouraging surprise.  It can also vary from 100% infection in one row to no infection in a row as little as five feet away.

The active ingredient of Serenade Soil is Bacillus subtilis which is a bacterium that triggers plants to mobilize their own defence mechanisms before harmful fungi, like pythium, can attack and damage them.  Bacillus subtilis is found in the digestive system of just about every mammal including humans.  It has been around for a long time and is an active ingredient in many human health supplements which is why it can be used right up to the day of harvest and even be applied to produce as it goes into storage.

Serinade soil is just one of many products now available or in the process of being tested and accepted by PRMA that are available to farmers willing to dig deeper and go the extra mile to grow food more naturally.  There are, of course, trade offs and risks associated with many of the newer crop protectants than with the older “kill everything’ type of pesticides.  The old school pesticides are very simple to use and extremely lethal to their targets (and many non-targets that get in the way).  The newer crop protectants often require more understanding of natural soil and plant systems (and that is an area of study that is very much in it’s infancy), and often only suppress instead of eliminate the pest, require better application timing or placement (underground for example) and are very often more expensive to use.


The economics of cost and efficacy of the product again throw the decision to use newer biologicals back to society and consumers because of the extremely tight financial situation agriculture is in.  Elmridge Farm has evolved over three decades to grow crops with about 95% less conventional pesticide use than most surrounding farms.  We don’t get enough of a wholesale price increase to cover the extra costs so we have value added (read operate a second business to cover the shortfall in what we would otherwise get for our product) by retailing a portion of our crop.  It is not that we charge more than the grocery stores for comparable product, it is that we run a retail business and roll that money back into the farm to be able to grow produce in a more sustainable way.  So I think it is wrong to malign farmers about using pesticides because it is the thoughtless shopping habits of so many consumers that fails to see anything but the dollar cost and leaves the majority of farmers with no choice but to grow in the very cheapest way possible inside of the letter of the law or go out of business.  Sometimes capitalism just plain sucks.

As a matter of fact, we have compared our prices a number of times to the pricing at the big box stores and our prices are, on average, always lower.  Strangely enough, the common misconception is that farmers markets are more expensive.  They are not, and we have a number of very astute customers who are very well aware of that.  So the bottom line is that when comparing like products farmers markets are a better bang for the consumer buck.

We have worked with our local farm chemical suppliers over the last thirty years to identify and implement the use of as many natural plant protectants as we can find and continue to search for and add more biologically sound weapons to our arsenal against crop pests of every kind.  So as much as these chemical retailers are seen as a problem to so many people they are very much a part of the solution.  As time goes on, the entire industry will definitely continue to shift more and more to environmentally sound practices……if society will support us.


If maybe the future doesn’t look to bright this week at least the long term looks more sustainable and healthy in the world of veggies.


And; keep eating your veggies!