214. The Organic Mechanics Soil Company | Mark Highland the Organic Mechanic | Chester County, PA

organic mechanic Mark Highland

Mark Highland the Organic Mechanic


Mark Highland the Organic Mechanic and author of  Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally  is here to share his garden entrepreneurship journey today! Full of golden seeds you won’t want to miss this!

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally by Mark Highland The Organic Mechanic



WATER LESS video!!!

Can I ask? Are you a millennial? Cause I talk about rockstar millennials all the time. I have this funny story to tell you I have this book I wrote called the Green Queen and I feel like you are the Green King. I was reading your list of water saving tips and I feel like you and I are a lot a like. The reason I came up with the Green King idea is because I was showing the book to my friends in NY and they were like that’s our son the Green King and I feel like you really are the Green King!

Not quite a millennial, more of an X… some of their things like the tech part.

What do you mean your videos are awesome! Your music and stuff I love them!

But I didn’t do those, a good friend. I’m sure you’ve heard the millennials have killed golf and kleenex and cereal and I like those things. I like cereal.

I’m sure there’s some slacker millennials but not the ones I talk to.

They’re just driven honest. IDK too many millennial slackers. I just attended a farming conference, where there’s ton of Millennial farmers! The Executive Director of the Sustainable Ag Institute was talking about how there are 250 million farmers in the world and about 2 million of them live in the US And of US farmers in PA in the young farmers which is under 30 years old 60% are women!

Not just backyard slowly shifting statistics about farmers and how things are changing grand acreage is not even close

sustainable farming I think that is encouraging.

I’ve been reading a lot of statistics lately that a small 1 acre farm produces more food per acre then conventional farms. I mean it’s gonna be a ton of work and take a lot of energy. I think my listeners are those type of people they have more experience then me more like my husband full time gardeners. I call them green future growers .


Organic Farms

Welcome to the Organic Gardener Podcast today! It is Sunday February 11, 2018 and I have an awesome guest on the line and you’ve heard the prechat! 

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His name is Mark Highland and he has a business called the Organic Mechanic Potting Soil

Tell us a little about yourself.

The volume of soil will directly impact

good soil is key

little bit of time and elbow grease

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I lived all over the place

my first gardening

grandmother’s vegetable garden

walking down the row

  • picking an eggplant
  • asparagus
  • 3 gallon bucket
  • water
  • walking down the rows pouring out this liquid on the plants

down the road

this was my job

neighbor had a dairy farm

anerobics manure tea that was in this bucket

pouring it on the plants

working in the garden when I was little

in school

going for an art major

ceramics all over high school

glass blowing

end of my sophomore year I didn’t want to get my MFA and move to NYC as I was being directed to do. The teachers loved my stuff and were like you can get into this school

  • stay in state find something else
  • found horticulture
  • environmental
  • plant blindness
  • the term

Richard Louv coined that term

Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

kids not getting

see the world with a gray lens

  • grass trees shrubs
  • flowers
  • vegetable
  • those are flowers
  • those are trees
  • acorns come from an oak tree

a world that I didn’t know existed


plants and animals everything’s connected

fell in love with horticulture right away

start of things

I did

so eye opening

loved learning about plants and how they work

inner workings of the industry 

You can be a:

  • nursery grow plants
  • trees
  • just work on trees
  • arborist
  • landscaper
  • designer
  • architect
  • nursery grower

you can be so many different things

at the time

in the 90s when I was at the University o Florida


potting in compost

been going to the farming market



somethings Mary

not any good potting soil

maybe someday

moved to

I like that I tried the different jobs in horticulture

  • interior plants
  • farm out in Oregon
  • design build landscaping
  • intervened at public gardens
  • LongWood gardens

University of Delaware


  • arborist plant health technician
  • grunt

only job I didn’t have was a florist

  • get to do that at home
  • bathroom or another
  • so many jobs in this industry
  • be outside
  • some people hate cubicles
  • love being outside
  • helps connect with nature

Another Longwood Gardens Lovestory

I just

good choice

whole path led me to meeting my wife

started bringing

Longwood love story

we stayed because this is a great area

Chester County in PA



on the east side

hour outside of Philly

chester county west of Philly

blessed of

greater gardens of Philly

35 public gardens


really cool one

Philly history…

What is your place like? Do you live onsite?

Organic Mechanics Potting Soil

Don’t live on site

tiny town in median

basically operated last 6-7 years

basically a big ware house we rehabbed

1/2 an acre



bagged and palletized

100% organic

potting soil amendments etc


friend started a company

recycle waste vegetable oil to produce biodiesel

started building gardens

turned into a summer CSA

grows food for Chester County food bank


Cotesville youth initiative

take care of garden

weeding planting


chef that comes in to teach about preparing healthy food

eat from the GARDEN

CSA garden surrounds the property

company itself

running the company is a lot of hours in the week

raising the family

time to write a book

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally by Mark Highland The Organic Mechanic

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally

by the Organic Mechanic Mark Highland

It was fun

practical organic gardening

asked to write this book

it was a labor of love

wrote it in 2016

came out around the holidays around 2017

something in it for everyone

great for any beginning gardeners

gardeners who want to learn more

it’s not just about the food

about more of that

a paradigm shift

thinking about the bigger picture and ecosystem

not tunnel vision on your own property

all the subjects

working soil

organic fertilizers

care and cultivation

fighting pests and diseases

propagating plants

self gratifying

harvest seed

take cuttings to multiply your plant sec

section on containers


recycling and reusing

a lot of fun

work with great people

learned from gardeners who were more experienced and taught me things I learned from gardening

can’t discount this

a lot of this is the information

rewarding things in being in this industry

gardening your whole life

10 different gardeners things you never thought of before

strength of an organization is about people who work there


all the schools in the world

been there and done that and is willing to share

poured my heart and soul into this book

things that o

always been a writer

taking complex scientific information and making it assessable

try to do in the book

brain always wants to

how did that work


I like to think that’s one of my strengths

how to water

try not to splash the leaves

most of the time

don’t get those leaves wet


Almost 400 retailers

Maine to florida

out towards Chicago

boston to dc


where page

who’s close to you

we’re not out west very much

soil is heavy

costs a lot to ship

local providers

we do ship

compost is my number one go to item in the garden

when I started organic mechanic

true organic earth friendly option

environmental sustainable

  • peat-free
  • coconut core and compost in our mixes

Instead of perlite

  • white stuff that crunch
  • rice hulls
  • earth friendly 100% organic
  • not left with
  • rice hulls are domestic
  • a lot of rice grown
  • florida


wild rice



  • shell around the rice
  • par boiled to get rid of any weed seed to get rid of
  • pathogens
  • fluff up the mix and provide drainage
  • give back phosphorous and silicone
  • slice open a root bulb

see if it worked

  • eaten by soil bacteria
  • source of carbon
  • bacteria when they eat
  • sticky stuff like glue
  • holds soil together

soil structure

carved out canoe like

bacteria produced sticky stuff

even though the rice hull was gone

this will work

can totally use it

did that back in 2009


Our stuff is sold at garden centers

  • natural food stores
  • whole foods
  • garden centers
  • mom and pop plant shops
  • not box stores


ma be huge the size of a department store

the garden store

were not in the box stores

hard to compete

against Scotts and miracle grow

we’ll compete on quality and customer

independent garden centers


super fun

my favorite thing to do

we’d show up at someone’s house

have coffee

go to the garden center

unusual rare things

Let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors and affiliate links

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Good Seed Company Seeds

The Good Seed Company

Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

Least favorite is weeding

  • definitely weeding got to be it for everyone
  • when your an organic gardener that’s pretty much hand weeding
  • being persistent take them out with a scuffle hoe
  • can knock out

everybody that get busy so you got to get in there and weed it, just do it

I’m not able to pop up and squat as fast fast as I used to so I gotta like take it easy, but thankfully we finally raised up the little gardeners! 6 year old can grab the little piles and that’s a little help.

You know what you were saying before about being in a cubicle, my theory is garden in the morning when it’s cool and then go into your computer and art work and stuff when it’s hot in the afternoon. For me it’s often hard to get there, but I like to get my exercise in in the morning.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

Favorite activity would be planting

  • bulbs
  • plants
  • annual time of the year when you get to plant all the garlic that’s fun!
  • building something
  • I just did all that
  • now everything is planted good to go

What my wife and I call our garden walk. In the morning we get up and get out there early

We walk the line

lot of containers still

what’s blooming oh that’s cool you don’t want to miss it. Sometimes things are not always blooming… bloom season is short on things…

looking at the garden

  • scouting for pests
  • see some holes starting on the kale
  • gotta go pick the caterpillars larva
  • another way to be connected with your garden
  • being present in the garden
  • get to hear the birds chirping
  • connected with nature
  • Saturday morning out with your coffee

I totally agree!

What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

“if your not killing plants your not gardening”

I don’t get sad if I kill a plant

I wanna sink this plant in the ground there

if it flourishes


how much light do I have

for this particular plant

a lot of us garden in less then ideal conditions

pick and choose that way

sink it in the ground

plagued with pests

plants out in full sun

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

My garden tool I can’t live without

hori hori

  • looks like a dagger
  • super sharp
  • have a hilt on the edge
  • safer for you using it
  • divide plants with them
  • dig out a dandelion
  • indestructible

pair of Felcos

good pruning saw

  • indispensable

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

  • definitely nothing like fresh snap peas
  • my dad grew those
  • loved them when they were little
  • cherry tomatoes for the kids as well
  • trying to instill this love of gardening and being outside
  • love their electronics
  • pick things off the vine and eat them

that’s a classic experience for me and my family!

Good for you, your kids are gonna treasure these moments forever!

A favorite in ternet resource?

there’s a couple of good ones

a whole page in the book


ATTRA – National Center for Appropriate Technology

sustainable agriculture program


techniculture assistance

ATTRA .org

We are close to the Rodale Institute

started by JR Rodale

organic gardening mag

research farm

ever since it was

farming systems trial

proving had higher yields

more nutrient dense

I’m thinking I might put this episode up today and I want to put my interview with Paul Kita from men’s health up for Valentine’s Day this week since your so romantic with your wife and he’s got this new book called a Man, a Pan and a Plan. And that’s what inspired me I always wanted to work for Rodale Publishing in NYC cause they’re the ones that published Organic Gardening Magazine which is now Organic Life.

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Well I have less and less time to read sadly these days

when I am reading

articles magazines I get

green profit

grower talks

if your in

independent garden centers

growing plant and nurseries

horticulture society

phenomenal organization

Philadelphia and beyond

magazine called grow

regionally that ones great

books that I was just finished reading

Jeff Lowenfeld


Teaming with microbes

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally by Mark Highland The Organic Mechanic

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally

The first chapter I try to lay out why I think organic gardening is important. It’s not necessarily a hippie manifesto, I’m trying to have real reasons why we as human beings

should be concerned

  • about our air
  • our water
  • our soil

We really need a total paradigm shift

So we’re thinking about what we’re doing so everyone can have healthy food  and drink water 100 years from now 500 years from now. 

I set that stage in easy to understand

simple goals

  • positively encourage environmental feed back loops.
  • They should build soil health and productivity
  • help absorb water and nutrients
  • producing fresh air for everyone

They’re not just vegetable gardens also ornamental plants

plant tropic level of food

to feed insects

birds feed their babies a couple of hundred catapillars a day!

if we don’t have native plants

one part of the cycle

they should also be places of replenishment

very few things on the planet that do what gardens for human beings

the forest is natures garden

what we do in our backyards

big forest out there too

every garden is a little oasis

you may be an organic gardener but your neighbors aren’t so maybe your property is the one the insects come to and the birds come to but the more who garden organically

biological activity

support on the planet

So a farm when they are starting out to a there’s a transition period 3 years

learned and built


If you’re a conventional gardener that’s just what you know you’re still a gardener

bit more earth friendly

tons of things you can learn

it’s a process

don’t have to be scared

  • it’s gonna be too hard
  • gonna be more work 

but they really aren’t more work it’s about the same

practical gardening tips

organic too

looking at trees and making sure you don’t have girdling roots

die when they’re 20 years old

little things like make sure it’s not root bound in the pot

room for everyone to be an organic gardener

dial in your organic gardening

that was pretty much with the book

tons of info

I kind of go in deep on soil

in the end it is only 70k words so I couldn’t go into everything but there’s a lot of base information from there that you can then take to the next level if you’re interested in a topic

To me it’s more then that, it’s like a manual for people that people could do workshops for their neighbors or the landscapers! Landscapers might even be able to charge more or a premium price, because you want to be a premium business right, the race to the bottom only has one winner and you don’t want to be that guy. I can’t believe how many people I met this summer even that are like guess what I planted a garden, and then they etell me about the chemcials they put on their stuff. 

I talked with David Salman in New Mexico who had a similar background who went to horticulture school in colorado but when he opened his own nursery he went the organic way and sold native plants because it made his clients and customers more successful! Bob Quinn is the other one in Montana who’s growing this Kamut wheat but also this Farro that’s like a native rice using dry farming techniques, also is not a hippie and went that way for profits.

teaching landscapers some of these p

impact on your own garden

taking care of perhaps 100s of gardens

educating about

practical purposes

can’t do all that garden work

benefits of the garden

pay someone else to do it


Ecological Landscape Alliance

ELA: Ecological Landscape Alliance

It’s an organization based out of New England but the work they are doing is applicable nationwide. they have these newsletters going out with 

  • killer articles
  • member you can sign on for webinars
  • economical membership


science driven

info for

  • landscapers
  • gardeners
  • designers
  • landscape architects

ela alliance

check out that website

become a member

great organization

full disclosure I’m on the board. When I was in college they were like the best organization out there, I aspired to having a poster session after I presented my master thesis! I got to present there and it was like amazing!!!

Then out of the blue I was asked to interview for the board

  • nominated
  • phenomenal organization
  • killer
  • membership
  • webinars alone
  • biggest names in horticulture
  • annual conference

enough about ELA


Amazon Review

You hear the big debate about college any more but it sounds like someone could invest 

Your journey is very unique, and I think your book is going to be a complete success, and listeners remember go and leave him a review even if get it from your library or even just from listening to our talk, nothing drives me crazy when I find a podcast I’ve been looking for it, I go look and they have like 10 reviews I’m like what is wrong with your audience go leave them a review so that people can learn. 

It’s so important for people I feel like your book is  going to be like a manual for people to share with people and teach because you have this big science background!

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

I guess for a parting tip would be  its all about applying yourself and just going it

I gained all this experience

  • path all over the place
  • do more learn more
  • always doing more then I thought was physically possible
  • if you can push your body to do it you can do it
  • that aspect of my life
  • pushing myself to do more experiences

I pushed myself to write the book even though I was way to busy, I didi it!

working hard pushing yourself to try new things in the garden

read more books

educating yourself whether it’s hands on or more book reading

smartest things you can do

  • time at college
  • helped me
  • prepared me

My master’s thesis taught me about the scientific method

  • I learned a lot from those people I interacted with on the way
  • getting out there
  • join the local garden club
  • more you do
  • more you will learn
  • I got this way because I worked my tail off my whole life

That’s why I’m here and anybody can do that!

How do we connect with you?

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally by Mark Highland The Organic Mechanic

Practical Organic Gardening: The No-Nonsense Guide to Growing Naturally

Practical Organic Gardening – Publishing in December!


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Remember you can get the  2018 Garden Journal and Data Keeper to record your garden goals in 


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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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