Fan mail…NOT!

Below is an email I received this morning.  I’ve apparently made Justin really angry.  So as he’s requested, I’m giving him the chance to debate me.


Who owns you Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott?

You are a cheap mouthpiece and I don’t believe a word that you say. I’d debate you right under the table.
Any day, Lady.

Why don’t you just bring it on sister girl and first describe how vegetation thrived on this planet for millions of years before the phony baloney chemical crap that you use.

Even if your understanding of chemistry and physics is spot on about sprayed on nitrogen being identical to that in nature, it is unsustainable, it leaches, it costs more to the HORTICULTURIST than simple crop rotating methods. These chemicals disrupt the soil FOOD WEB; are you an ecologist? Are you a biologist?

All you are is a tart mouthpiece for the money monsters. This mail probably goes straight to the corporate lawyers that put those ugly lies in your mouth.
Compost can save the world; but you won’t let it, because it won’t pay for your next elective surgery."

So Justin, here’s your chance to air your complaint.  Let me know exactly what I’ve written that you disagree with and I’ll explain my position.  But keep it civil and keep personal comments out of it.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

23 thoughts on “Fan mail…NOT!”

  1. Wow… that is just… so mature and well reasoned. Or the opposite of that. Good for a laugh anyway!

  2. Ok. Ok. Let’s not pick on Justin too much. I was looking in his message for objective points of contention, and I think one point has to do with biology/ecology. So, Linda, is it a fair issue to raise that synthetic chemicals disrupt the soil food web? Should the protection and development of the soil food web be the primary emphases in sustainable gardening? I think that Dr. Ingham would definitely support this view.

  3. Well how ’bout that. I thought the wingnuts only paid attention to politics… by the way, which wing is this guy in anyway?

  4. Daniel, I’m guessing Justin might have been referring to one of my myth columns on the fallacy of organic superiority. One of my points was this:

    “…living organisms in a landscape don’t distinguish between nitrate from compost or from a bag of conventional fertilizer. It’s simply a usable form of nitrogen. The other components of
    nutritional amendments might be beneficial, or neutral, or even harmful. All components of conventional fertilizers are listed on the bag; we have no such information on compost content. Furthermore, if too much of either nutrient source is added to a landscape, then excess nutrients will leach away from the site and increase the nutrient load elsewhere.”

    So no, I don’t believe that conventional (I think what you mean by synthetic, right?) fertilizers, when used appropriately, disrupt the soil food web. Overfertilizing with anything, organic or otherwise, will cause problems. (Note I’m not talking about how conventional fertilizers are produced – that’s another problem for another posting.)
    And I do agree with you that soil protection is crucial for sustainable gardening and landscape. That’s why I’m such a proponent of organic mulch.

  5. Thanks, Linda. I’ve heard that conventional fertilizers have salts in them that harm the soil food web, even when applied according the manufacturers instructions. Is this true?

  6. I’m glad this topic was brought up, it’s just unfortunate that it was done so by such a rude and vicious misogynist. Anyway, in “Teaming with Microbes” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis they write “…these fertilizers are salts, and when they come into contact with soil microbes they cause osmotic shock – that is, water in the cells of these organisms flows to the higher concentration of salts without, literally bursting through cell walls and killing off the microbes that hold (bacteria and fungi) and cycle (nemotodes and protozoa) nutrients.” While neither of these writers is a scientist I’m sure the book was well researched. And while the labels on conventional fertilizers do list the components they don’t generally list the sources, at least not here in Canada. So, are most of these ferts “salts” and do they cause “osmotic shock”?

  7. Daniel, the reason minerals are in salt form in fertilizer is to make them water-soluble and more easily taken up by roots. Fertilizer salts don’t include sodium chloride (table salt), as this is toxic to
    many soils and plants. In many cases, you might want your nutrients to be immediately available to plants (certainly true in production agriculture). In other cases, you might prefer “slow food”, which is what I call compost and other organic mulch materials.
    But in answer to your question, I don’t believe that properly applied, conventional fertilizers will deliver toxic levels of nutrient salts to soils. A product with that kind of effect wouldn’t last on the market very long.

  8. Natasha, I think my answer to Daniel (sbove) partially addresses your question. But the quote you give from the “Teaming with Microbes” book is not quite accurate. Soils and their biota are exposed constantly to minerals, many of which exist in salt form. A salt is simply a cation (positively charged ion, like calcium) and an anion (negatively charged ion, like sulfate). They are easily dissociated (dissolved) in water, which makes it easy for plants and other organisms to take up. When salts are dissolved, they form electrolytes, which are required by all living organisms.
    The only time you will have the kind of mass destruction described in your quote is when salt concentrations are high relative to the amount of water available – like adding too much fertilizer.

  9. I just bought “Teaming w/microbes”. Should i bother to read it ,and do any of the GP’s have a recommended reading list for gardeners? thanks

  10. Wow, what a great idea – a recommended reading list for gardeners. Let’s see what the four of us can come up with for a post in the near future.
    In the meantime, I’m sure you know that Jeff’s written several books and I’ve written a few myself. And there are parts of the “Teaming with Microbes” book that are accurate. Just read it with a critical eye, and when you have questions, ask us!

  11. Gee, Linda, everyone knows that if you’re not 100% organic, you’re murdering the planet. There’s no middle ground….sigh.

  12. Looking forward to that post. And please put all your books on the list, I already bought and am reading them all( except the one about forests). Sorry Prof Gillman maybe in the winter when i have more time.

  13. With an opening like that, Justin has an immense misogynistic hurdle to get over to be taken at all seriously. I hope he tries and I hope he clarifies his claim to authority.

  14. Justin responded to my email, but has not chosen to post on the blog. So here’s his response. (I’m not posting this just for fun – I get emails like this on occasion and would truly like to know what, if anything, I can say that would make a difference. Or do I just ignore it? For the record, I get my salary from Washington state for doing Extension education and research):
    “My question was, whose money is in your pocket?
    I know that it’s a million times easier to get grant money for your
    school from evil companies;
    but you are ruining science; you are ruining agriculture; and you are
    ruining your country.

    We need more than ever for people to do what is right, not what is
    easy, not what is most profitable.
    We need truth and deep holistic thinking. You lied about compost
    tea.You lied about synthetic nitrogen.
    You lie about everything you say on that stupid website, and it’s not
    even up for debate.
    What is up for debate here is: are you a human? are you my sister?
    are you born from the same dirt, the same carbon, the same god?
    are we on the same side that loves and protects human rights, natural
    resources, and cooperation?
    or are you on the side that exploits, conquers, lies, and steals?
    are you just money?

    You may think that your little white lies don’t matter because you are
    just talking about gardens.
    Gardens are everything. Soil is sacred. Be kind to microbes, you are
    made of them.”

  15. Oh Linda, what a patient woman you are.
    I love that he accuses you of both ruining science and stifling debate, yet all he is engaging in is hubristic hyperbole, plain and simple.
    He’s probably a proponent of biodynamics too 😉

  16. I’ve continued this discussion on a new posting (Compost tea…again). Justin and I seem to be progressing in our discussion (I hope), but feel free to chime in.

  17. Do you have scientific literature that says nitrate doesn’t leach and doesn’t disrupt the soil balance?

    Most science conducted on microbes involves a petri dish in a sterile lab. One kind of food.

    These tests are a joke when compared to the incredible complexity of soil life.

    I did not give you permission to post my e-mail to you.

    First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win. -Ghandi

  18. I am a proponent of GrowBiointensive and Soil Food Web approaches. I am a proponent of permaculture, organics, and transcendental meditation.

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