If truth be known, organic gardening is an age-old practice. It only bears a new name, but it’s been around for centuries. After all, it was only in the 20th century when modern man started using synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields and pesticides to protect plants from pests and diseases.
It was only when we learned that these chemical concoctions could have harmful effects on the food we eat, not to mention contribute to global warming, that we started looking for safer, more earth-friendly alternatives in growing our food.
“Going Organic”: What It Means
So what does it mean to “go organic” in our farming and gardening practices?
Going organic, as I soon found out when I started dabbling with it in my own little vegetable garden, doesn’t mean doing away with the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides when tending to my vegetables only.
Going organic is a whole new way of thinking and doing, of working within the schedules and seasons of Mother Nature when scheduling my monthly gardening To-Do List.
Going organic is being aware that in nature, there is a delicate balance and interconnectedness between and among its elements—the climate, the land, the soil life, the wildlife, and Man—and that you have to work in harmony with all these factors if you want to leave a better, safer Earth.
And lest I start sounding New Age-y, “going organic” isn’t difficult. It’s just a matter of being aware and making a conscious choice when working in your plots and gardens. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easier than you think!
Conventional farming and gardening methods that we’re long accustomed to think nothing about feeding plants with increasingly powerful fertilizers to get the yields we want. Yet, in organic gardening, we recognize that these chemical fertilizers could leave traces in the soil that could contaminate our waters and lessen the fertility of our soils.
Mindful of this, the priority of organic gardening is always starting the growing season with healthy soil.
Blog posts I’ve written previously hammer the fact that a healthy soil harbors gazillions of microbes—soil life—that do a million and one good for your plants.
Mycorrhizal fungi, for example, help build soil structure, break down organic matter, dissolve nutrients to make them available to plants, keep the soil moist longer, and build pest and disease resistance in plants, among others. Earthworms, on the other hand, work the soil to make it more friable and oxygen-rich.
Natural Pest Control
Organic gardening also shuns the use of pesticides in favor of more soil-friendly practices when addressing pest problems. (But keep in mind though that the very nature of survival in the animal and plant world revolves around the “survival of the fittest” rule. So pests are a natural way of eliminating plants that aren’t healthy. Meaning, healthy plants are less likely to attract pests.)
Pesticides are very effective in destroying pests that prey on leaves, fruits, roots and stems—the whole plant!—but it’s also very efficient at killing the beneficial microbes that thrive in the soil.
Organic gardening, on the other hand, works on the Food Chain principle. Every pest has a predator—another organism that feeds on it—so in an organic garden, these friendly insects and wildlife have free rein, contributing to a pest control system the way Mother Nature designed it.
There’s an array of natural pest control remedies that the organic gardener can use:
- Using barriers and traps like garden borders or intercropped decoy plants (host plants whose characteristic odor divert pests away from the protected one)
- Growing pest-tolerant and disease-resistant plant varieties
- Companion planting, where plants beneficial to each other in terms of pest- and disease-protection are planted closely together
- Rotating crops, like planting corn where beans have been, so that plants can take advantage of what previous crops left have behind in the soil
Alternative Weeding Methods
At one time or another, we’ve spread weed-killing granules over our lawns and marveled at their spray-and-forget convenience. Research has shown us though that these pesticides can leach into our water tables.
These days, it’s common to discover traces of chemicals used in these pesticides in our drinking water. The only reason why our drinking waters are “safe” is because chemical traces are within a “tolerable limit”. Meaning, the chemical concentrations are too low to have noticeable effects to some of us. Still, it doesn’t take away the fact that you may have a bit of weed-killing chemical in that glass of drinking water in your hands.
In organic gardening, there are alternatives to weed-control chemicals:
- Hoeing persistently
- Mulching, which denies light to weeds so they don’t germinate or grow
- Weed barriers, like a landscape fabric spread under mulch or topsoil, as a physical and light-excluding barrier to weed growth
- Solarization, which is simply baking the soil under the hot summer sun for six weeks to kill off surviving weeds
- Good ol’ hand weeding (great physical exercise, too!)
Earth-Friendly Growing Practices
Organic gardeners who have turned to organic methods in their garden are now more aware that they, too, contribute to the overall protection of the environment.
I, for one, am slowly but surely veering towards more sustainable practices in building and caring for my garden plots. That’s why I’m mindful of the 3 Rs in earth-friendly practices: recycle, reuse, and reduce.
Biodegradable materials are my first choice when I plan and work in my gardens and where it’s not possible, I make sure I reuse stuff. For example, I don’t buy cell trays anymore. I recycle old newspapers and office paper (printed on both sides), with a little bit of origami deftness worked in, when sowing seeds.
I store rainwater on used (and large!) cooking oil barrels so that I don’t use the chlorinated water from the tap. I get to save on my water bill without denying my plants the moisture they need on a hot summer day.
If you’re going organic in the garden (and in your everyday life), the simplest way is to stop using chemical methods all at once.
Don’t just change the brand of pesticide you’re using. Instead, encourage beneficial insects and pest predators to frequent your garden for pest effective pest control. Flex a little muscle and apply hand to weed—pull them out while they’re young so they won’t multiply. Use grass clippings and leaves as mulch on your garden beds.
Or, to give your lawn, vegetable patch or flower beds a healthy start without the chemical load, use an all-in-one mycorrhizal product that has mycorrhizal fungi and the necessary plant nutrients that’ll minimize or even eliminate your need for fertilizers or pesticides.
There are many ways you can go organic in your garden. All you need to do is choose to start.
If you’re a conventional farmer thinking of transitioning to organic methods, experts say the transition period is about three years, as the soil and your crops may take time to adapt. Still, there’s no time like now to start organic gardening and reap the benefits of an organic lifestyle.
How about you? Have you adventures or learnings in organic gardening that you want to impart? Share your gardening wisdom to our community today!