Dana’s Green Story

My life changing experience started this way: “There was still no sign of any new growth or sprouts on any of the tree limbs in the grove. Only sick old leaves clung to the tree limbs. Looking back now at the situation, at first, we were attempting “toxic rescue chemistry” with toxic, high salt index fertilizer materials!” Read my full story below.

Dana’s Story

This is my story and history & philosophy of Quality Green Specialists.

Imagine how great your crops and gardens could look and how many more high quality fruit and vegetables you could be picking to put a big plus on your bottom line profits or put more delicious, high quality fruits & vegetables on your dinner table..

It stands to reason that healthy crops will produce much more high quality fruit and produce, withstand hard freezes better, and resist diseases much better. Through years of experience, I have helped many farms achieve these results for their crops and much more.

My name is Dana Venrick, President of Quality Green Specialists, Inc. Along with co-owner Allen Day, Vice President, the company was founded based on our passion to help growers and horticulturists reach a higher level of plant nutrition. Not only did I receive a Master of Science degree from the University of Florida in Botany (Plant Physiology and Mineral Nutrition), Fruit Crops (Citrus), and Chemistry, but I have learned from many real world experiences, such as owning and managing 150 acres of citrus groves in Winter Haven, Florida and owning an ornamental plant nursery for 15 years and now co-owning a fruit tree nursery for over two years. Plus I taught high school vocational agriculture, worked for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for over 6 years and was a University of Florida UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Agent for 10 years. This is a story of my journey and how our company developed the philosophy that has proven to give outstanding growing results for farms, gardens, turf, and landscapes.

I trusted in the traditional “chemical mindset”- that is… a basic soil test and synthetic chemical fertilizer recommendations. For example, year after year, the groves I managed in Winter Haven received 16-0-16 (ammonium nitrate and muriate of potash, a.k.a. potassium chloride) along with two or three metallic microelements as the incomplete soil test suggested.

Truth is, the groves didn’t look too good and production was not that hot, but it was making money. Later I learned the grove was on life support and was suffering from poor, incomplete nutrition that I like to call “hidden hunger”.

A “nice” mature 70 acre grove block until disaster struck!

Then a February frost (in the upper thirties) in the early nineties killed all the trees back and some were killed outright. The trees were succulent with a February flush and had been fertilized with high salt index materials, nitrogen and potassium in toxic ammonium and chlorine forms, and not much else.  Chemical fertilizer to the rescue – WRONG! My oldest brother and I fertilized with 16-0-16 fertilizer in March. There was absolutely no sign of new growth or tree recovery. We applied 16-0-16 fertilizer again in May.  June rolled around and there were still no signs of new growth or bloom. At this point we had a feeling of panic because we thought that we might lose the entire 70 acre grove.  Fortunately,  I had seen some of the practices of organic growers and I thought spraying the trees with a liquid fertilizer with organics might promote tree recovery.  Certainly there was nothing to lose by trying an alternative approach. What was there to lose?

Now it was the middle of June and there was no time to lose. My oldest brother said he would drive the tractor if I did the dirty job of spraying the trees with the boom sprayer. I put a soluble (conventional) N-P-K fertilizer into a tank-full of (high calcium) well water. Then I added liquid organics to include fish emulsion, kelp (seaweed), blackstrap molasses, and humic acid with high fulvic acid. The resulting formulation was dark black and had a “rich” aroma. It took two days to drench every tree and the drip-line beneath. Believe me, I smelled like the mix!

Then a “miracle” happened! The combination of natural organics made the difference.

All the trees that were still alive came bursting forth with the most beautiful flush I have ever seen. By the middle of July, the trees were stunningly beautiful and covered with the most prolific bloom you could ever imagine! The trees were showered with white blossoms with fragrance ever so sweet. I was very familiar with some June bloom every year, but I had never seen July bloom before and it was spectacular!

Seeing is believing.

All my family and our neighbors witnessed a transformation from a seemingly lost grove to a grove in the picture of health again. The harvest was late, but we picked lots of fruit and made money on a grove we thought we would have to push up.

Good Nutrition Stopped Blight!

I have never looked back since. I’ve seen many more “miracles”. Like the Valencia grove on Carrizo rootstock grove I converted from a conventional 16-0-16 program to an organic program in 1994. Besides applying a combination of good organic materials, one of the keys was to stop using Glyphosate (Roundup®) herbicide, a material that ties up minerals like crazy (see our “Stop Using Glyphosate” page. About 10% of the trees were dying of “Young Tree Decline” (also called “Blight”) every year. Guess what? Not a single one of those trees converted to the organic fertilizer program has died to this day! Could it be that “metallic” zinc as zinc sulfate in the chemical 16-0-16 fertilizer was contributing to the clogging of the xylem in the trunk of the trees along with the protein/amino acid complex while organic zinc flowed freely?

Nutrition imparts cold hardiness.

While working in Tavares with the Florida Department of Agriculture in 1989, I witnessed the freeze that wiped out most of the citrus in Lake County. Groves were killed in the freeze of 1983. Many groves were re-planted and were banked to survive the freeze of 1985, but most were killed by the December, 1989 freeze. Some were protected by water continuously sprayed on the trees through micro-jets. Even water did not save some groves. I saw something truly amazing. Bill Baker’s grove in Mt. Dora survived very well with no applied water and no apparent cold protection, even though the Hamlin orange trees were on the most cold-sensitive root stock – Rough Lemon. The grove contiguous with his had continuously running water throughout the freeze and every tree was frozen to the ground. How was it possible that Baker’s trees had only top damage and were almost completely recovered in two to three months? I asked Bill Baker what he had done and he said that he had sprayed several nutritional sprays in the fall but would not say exactly what he did.

What was the Secret?

Well, I knew some of the secrets. Potassium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Calcium, Manganese and other trace elements must be present in optimum amounts. But what else? Then while working for the University of Florida, IFAS Extension, I demonstrated the cold protection power of Silicon and Azomite®, which is a highly mineralized volcanic pumice with over 50% bio-available Silicon. As a 4-H Horticulture Club project, the members potted 40 four inch high guava seedlings in gallon containers in September. I said, “why don’t we try to see what good silicon will do?” I put a teaspoon of a high silicon product on 20 of the seedlings. All the seedlings were lightly fertilized the same. All other treatments were the same. The temperature reached 25 degrees F several times that winter in January. No protection of any kind was given to any of the seedlings. Come March guess what? All except one of the seedlings with silicon were doing just fine. (All 19 were later sold for a tidy sum to help the 4-H members go to 4-H Congress and win the State Horticulture Judging Contest and go on to the National Competition.) One guava seedling out of the 20 was struggling and later died. All of the guava seedlings without Silicon died. What a dramatic difference. This was amazing as young guava seedlings are especially cold sensitive.Azomite® volcanic pumice has generous amounts of bio-available Silicon (as Silicon Dioxide) and over 70 natural minerals that are easy for plants to translocate and metabolize as well!

Higher silicon protects trees and fruit – the proof is in the testing!

Now I have documentation in grove tests that higher silicon levels protected both trees and fruit in an especially cold location in Volusia County in the especially cold winter of 2010-2011, as contrasted to a grove in a warmer location. Please note that I am talking about slicon that is available as silicon dioxide unlike silicon oxide that is sand. More about this later in my story.

Both groves tested were Navel orange trees on Swingle rootstock. The grove with significantly higher levels of Silicon in the leaf tissue had no tree or fruit damage even though it received no protection from water sprayed from micro-jets and was in a colder location. Fruit were perfect and still being harvested until late in the spring. The grove with the lower level of Silicon in the leaf tissue had a high volume of water from micro-jets throughout the freezing nights. It had virtually no tree damage, but all the fruit not quickly harvested were either on the ground or spoiled in two weeks. The actual test results for Silicon leaf tissue amounts were 230.450 mg/kg in the grove with fruit damage and 1829.105 mg/kg in the grove with no fruit damage. Dramatic differences in Silicon levels were the only apparent difference between the two groves, based on an extensive soil and leaf tissue analysis.

Comprehensive Testing and Nature-based Methods & Materials are keys to soil and plant health.

These are some of many eye-opening experiences. There is much more to the story. Humic acid/humates/organic matter is an important part of the nutrition solution in poor, low-organic matter soils. Quality Green Specialists, Inc., founded in July, 2010, recommends a number of natural materials, depending on the results of comprehensive, accurate soil and leaf tissue testing. Our testing and detailed scientific analysis promotes maximize results for growers and gardeners while keeping costs low. We recommend inputs that will improve soil health and promote beneficial soil microorganisms. Did you know that soil with good organic matter and the right amount of all the minerals with a slightly acidic pH (generally from 6.0 to 6.8) will have more nitrifying bacteria and produce more plant-available nitrogen (for most plants) with fewer pounds of applied nitrogen? Keys to a good basic soil structure are optimum amounts (within a certain favorable range) of the base minerals (elements with a positive charge) such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Based on the soil testing, limestone in the form of either calcium magnesium carbonate (dolomitic limestone/dolomite) or calcium carbonate (calcitic limestone) is a basic recommendation to raise the pH (make the soil more alkaline) of soil that is too acidic (remember that blueberries and Azaleas like a more acidic soil with a pH of around 5.0). The goal is to achieve otimum amounts within a desirable range of the two bases -Calcium and Magnesium – held in the highest amounts in the soil colloidal complex. Optimum ranges and ratios of Calcium and Magnesium are necessary to achieve good soil management of air, water, microorganisms, and minerals. Appropriate levels of Calcium and Magnesium help prevent a whole host of problems such as soil compaction, a condition I call “tight” soil. Adding too much Calcium makes the soil too “loose”, while adding too much Magnesium “tightens” the soil.

With Azomite® you can lower fertilizer rates, stop leaching, keep mineralizing/nitrifying bacteria happy, and get more bio-available minerals into the plant at the right levels.

First, let’s look at the ease of uptake of organic trace minerals versus other forms of minerals. Major elements are taken up and translocated easily by plants. Trace elements are taken up with much greater difficulty, especially if they are in certain forms. Organically chelated microelements start to be absorbed right away. Chelated trace elements (except certain forms of chelated iron at a higher pH, which are not absorbed) start to be absorbed in about 24 hours. Sulfate forms of trace mineral are absorbed much more slowly and with more difficulty. Oxide forms are very, very slowly available. Micorganisms hve a very difficult time breaking down oxides unless they are sucrate chelated (coated with a natural sugar chelation).

Certain minerals are difficult to tranlocate within plant tissue:

Certain elements are poorly translocated within the plant through the phloem conducting tubes. These include the secondary element Calcium and the micronutrients Iron, Boron, and to some extent Zinc and Manganese. Most minerals can be translocated from older leaves and tissue to the growing tip, but Calcium, Iron, and Boron should be constantly available from the soil through the xylem water and mineral conducting tubes or applied through water soluble foliar sprays. It is important to have these minerals present at all times in the soil and, in the case of the micronutrients, at low rates (as indicated by soil and leaf tissue analysis) and in easily available forms. Excessive micronutrients may be toxic to plant roots, kill soil microorganisms, be absorbed at higher than desirable rates, and may contribute to clogging of phloem conducting tubes in the plant tissue. My experience and testing indicates that natural, low-salt index forms of minerals promote soil health, are not injurious to the beneficial microbial life in the soil, and are much easier for microbes to convert to ionic form of minerals absorbed by plant roots. For example, most plants absorb Nitrogen primarily in the anionic nitrate form (NO3-). (Blueberries and Azaleas absorb Nitrogen primarily in ammonium /NH4+ form.) Healthy nitrifying bacteria in healthy soil at a slightly acidic pH convert unavailable nitrogen forms such as ammonium or urea to the available nitrate form and, as a consequence, low rates of nitrogen fertilizers may be used and plenty of nitrogen is converted from unavailable forms to nitrate nitrogen for plant root absorption. Nitrogen uptake may be achieved, in spite of poor soil health, by adding high rates of nitrate nitrogen that is ready for root uptake. However, this is an expensive method because far more costly inputs must be made, a large dose of nitrate nitrogen is readily leached (especially in low CEC soil and at rates higher than the roots can absorb at one time). Also, this does not address the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of the soil, the overall microbial health, and the overall holding capacity of the soil. Only organic matter prevents the leaching of both cations (minerals with a positive charge such as Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, etc.) and Anions (minerals with a negative charge such as Nitrates, Sulfates, etc.). Adding low salt index, natural minerals such as Azomite volcanic pumice and Humic Acid build organic matter and increase soil cation exchange capacity (CEC). Humic Acid is far better than sludge that has too much Phosphorus, Iron, and heavy metals or other commonly used amendments which may have too much Iron or even Arsenic. As a result of using good natural/organic materials, the holding capacity of the soil/Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) increases, the total minerals held by the soil increases, and minerals can be withdrawn by the plant root hairs as needed.


Healthy soil with higher exchange capacity (CEC) has room to hold more essential minerals

Growth stops as soon as a plant runs out of any essential mineral. Because of poor soil with poor exchange capacity (low holding capacity) and perhaps excessive inputs of certain minerals, many growers need to fertilize far more often than necessary to keep enough of certain minerals available to their crops. With higher CEC and every mineral present at optimum levels, lower rates of fertilizer minerals need to be added because the higher CEC soil holds all of them in a balanced way and releases them to the plant roots as needed. A plant is under far less stress if most of the minerals are being held in the soil in desirable proportions. When minerals in the soil are at optimum levels, the plant has to expend far less energy in order to absorb them. Not only does less fertilizer need to be applied, but also applications need to be made less frequently because the minerals are retained in the upper layers of the soil. Minerals are also at more appropriate levels within the plant tissue and metabolism is far more efficient as well.

Consider Volcanic pumice as a Mineralizer to avoid any elements limiting growth and production.

When high quality natural fertilizers are compared to conventional chemical fertilizers, with inputs of both based on comprehensive soil testing and leaf tissue analysis, I have accumulated evidence (in field and raised bed trials) that fertilization based on sound natural/organic materials works much better in the short term and long term. Plus soil fertility increases and is sustainable with a healthy sustainable colloidal structure with an abundance of beneficial microrganisms, earthworms, etc. I have found that most soils benefit greatly with the supplementation of an outstanding natural volcanic pumice called Azomite®. This fine ground, coarse ground slow release, or granulated volcanic pumice eliminates “hidden hunger” by supplying over 70 trace elements, over 50% silicon as bio-available silicon dioxide (instead of unavailable silicon as silicon oxide found in sand), potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Also it has very low levels of heavy metals – even less than the amounts found in most soils! Because of its negative charge, it is a great buffering agent for excessive cations (base minerals with a positive charge) that have accumulated in the soil such as sodium, aluminum, and copper. An extra bonus: Azomite® is OMRI listed for organic production.

The bottom line – it works!

I will be happy to meet with you and show you success stories with natural fertilizers. You will see crops and gardens that went from ordinary to extraordinary, based on soil and leaf tissue testing with site specific, sustainable cultural recommendations. Our recommendations work so well because they are based on scientific methods using best of nature and science. For more information about Quality Green Specialists, Inc. and my qualifications and philosophy, go to our websites. And be sure to check out customer and client testimonials!

Call me and I will be happy to visit your location, test your soil and/or plant tissue and give you a comprehensive cultural/fertilizer recommendations all at a reasonable fee.  I am dedicated to improving your farm, garden, field, landscape, or other horticultural enterprise.

Call me at the store 386-734-8000 or my cell number at 386-837-3878. Or call Allen Day at 386-747-0567. Or call Alex Andrews at 386-785-3297.

The store and nursery are open from 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Here’s to a sustainable green future!



Finally, I want you to know that our company and I recognize and promote the four basics of good soil management: air management, water management, digestion management, and nutrient management. Nutrient management must be considered as part of the bigger picture in order to maximize plant health and crop production. Air space in the soil is necessary for good water movement. Achieving levels of calcium and magnesium in the soil in the right amounts promotes good aeration. Calcium and magnesium are the basics to good healthy soil and should be treated as fertilizer materials adding enough every year to keep them at optimum levels. Never add too much at one time. I prefer ½ ton per acre. Never add more than one ton at a time. Adding too much material kills micro-organisms, ties up micro-elements, and disrupts nutrient digestion by microbes in the soil. Too much magnesium “tightens” up the soil. Adding calcium (if it is needed) “loosens” the soil and promotes aeration. Without soil aeration, correct watering, and optimum soil mineralization (which is almost impossible with incomplete synthetic, leaching fertilizers), roots will rot and beneficial soil microorganisms (which convert unavailable to available forms of minerals) will be depleted. Spend a little more initially, and you will spend far less in the long run. You will also have far higher crop yields and quality.

It’s your choice – it only makes sense to lower the inputs of toxic, short term, highly leachable, high salt index, incomplete synthetic fertilizers with only a few trace minerals, some of which may be unavailable, and start incorporating more natural, complete, highly efficient, cost-effective, and long-lasting natural fertilizers! Healthy soil is your future

With good air and water movement through the soil, environmental conditions are created so that beneficial microbes multiply and thrive. These healthy microbes are able to digest carbon into humus, the form of organic matter that improves soils tremendously. Microbes use humus as a food source to produce even more biological activity and organic matter as they re-cycle in the soil. This activity converts carbon to plant available nitrogen in the soil, without the damaging side effects encountered with synthetic nitrogen applications. Achieving desirable levels of calcium and magnesium in the soil is critical. If the calcium and magnesium are at desirable levels, then the pH will be in an appropriate range. The good news is that this basic soil correction is easy to do with limestone and costs relatively little. Because we pay attention to basics, our customized cultural programs will cost you less money and increase your crop production.

If soil is over-watered, anaerobic conditions (when oxygen is lacking and fermentation may occur) will prevail and both plant roots and beneficial soil microbial life will suffer. With good air and water movement through the soil, environmental conditions are created so that beneficial microbes multiply and thrive. Healthy microbes digest carbon into humus, the type of organic matter that improves soil tilth tremendously. Microbes use humus as a food source to produce more and more biological activity. This vital process converts carbon to plant available nitrogen in the soil without the damaging side effects of synthetic nitrogen applications. Our nature-based cultural recommendations produce more available nitrogen (as nitrate nitrogen for most plants, except for blueberries and Azaleas that take up Nitrogen in Ammonium form) while applying less nitrogen fertilizer. The result is a win for the environment, plant health, and crop production.

Quality natural or organic fertilizer combinations work better at application rates lower than typical rates used for inefficient, cheaply priced, high salt index chemical fertilizers. Believe me, lower cost chemical fertilizer is not cheaper when you consider that most of it is lost through volatilizing to the air and leaching to the groundwater and how often it has to be used, not to mention the damage to plant roots, soil microorganisms, and soil fertility from the high salt index. Lower application rates and longer interval between applications will compensate for the somewhat higher costs of using long-lasting, environmentally friendly natural/organic materials.