Green Thumb: Growing Organic

Few gardeners are more creative than Glenn Brendle, who converts used oil from 30 Philadelphia restaurants to heat two greenhouses and his Gap home for the winter. Brendle, whose produce is served in some of the city’s finest eateries (including White Dog Cafe and gourmet chocolate company John & Kira’s) shares five clever and slightly less greasy ideas for chemical-free gardening.

1. “Treat the soil as a living, breathing mechanism,” he says. “Chemical fertilizer is like a sugar breakfast: a quick jolt, but no lasting energy. Compost is like oatmeal: a feed that keeps feeding all the way through the season.”

2. Trees, particularly fir, do well with compost placed under them to the drip line (where the canopy ends), but leave space around trunks so mice don’t nest there and chew on the bark.

3. Azaleas or rhododendron thrive in acidic soil. Though some gardeners actually taste their soil to check for acidity, Brendle suggests watching for acid-loving weeds, wild or sheep sorrel and mosses.

4. Scare off rabbits by placing hair trimmings (ask your local barber shop or hair salon) near their ingress and egress points to a garden. Wire fencing laid on the ground will discourage deer because they don’t like the feel of it beneath their hooves.

5. Before winter, Brendle plants a ground cover like broccoli rabe, which can be harvested in spring after mild winters or, if turned over into the soil, left to act as a natural herbicide for about three weeks.

For more information, call Green Meadow Farm in Gap at 717-442-5222 or visit