Why garden organically?
Organic gardening is a whole new technique to learn, full of terminology and techniques that may not be familiar to the conventional gardener. Is it worthwhile to learn these techniques? Of course! Organic gardening has profound environmental and health benefits. By using fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers, it reduces the chemical load in our environment, and plants, animals, and humans are not exposed to potentially toxic chemicals. Organic gardening creates thriving garden spaces that are built on a foundation of soil health and plant diversity.
Organic Gardens Reduce Chemical Runoff
Two tools in the arsenal of the traditional gardener are pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Pesticides are a temptation. There’s a bug, you spray it, and it dies. However, when you spray that bug, the plant acquires a load of chemical pesticides on it, and you can ingest them when you eat that plant. Some of the pesticides also go into the soil, where they can kill the soil microbes that form the basis of your garden ecosystem.
Chemical fertilizers may seem less toxic, but they are equally challenging for ecosystems. These fertilizers provide an infusion of nutrients to the soil, but they do nothing for soil texture and do little to build the long-term nutrient capacity of the soil. These chemical fertilizers give plants a quick boost and then they may wash off the top of the soil or wash off with the soil as it erodes in the rainy season. Slowly, these chemical fertilizers make their way into drains and into local creeks and the aquifer, causing algae to bloom in the creeks and contaminating the aquifer. Here’s more information on toxic algae blooms in coastal waters.
It is true that natural products like manure also need to be used with good sense so that they do not lead to nutrient-rich runoff. However, choosing small quantities of long-lasting organic fertilizers and natural, non-chemical pesticides is of far greater benefit to your garden and its surrounding ecosystem.
Reduce Waste and Fertilize the Organic Garden
Organic gardening is all about cycles. It’s about honoring the natural cycles of birth, death, and decomposition within the garden ecosystem. Composting is an important part of this process.
When you purchase food or grow it in the garden, it’s alive until it is picked. You eat it and discard the peel or core. But where does it go? Does the waste enter the landfill, to sit and wait and produce methane gas? Or does the waste become something that is not waste at all, but rich humus for the garden?
Turning food scraps into compost is a cornerstone of organic gardening. Whether it’s pit composting on site in the garden or composting in a worm bin, tumbler, or homemade bin, composting food scraps ultimately yields rich soil that is full of nutrients and microbes. This rich soil feeds your plants and can act as a soil conditioner and mulch. What a benefit from the simple act of recycling your food waste!
Organic Gardening Techniques
How do you begin gardening the organic way? Organic gardening is much more than using low-chemical sprays. There are several components of organic gardening.
All gardens have animals that are not desired by the gardeners, generally because those animals chew holes in our plants. The animals don’t realize that they are pests: they’re just enjoying their lunch. The organic gardener devises ways to get rid of these animals without damaging the surrounding plants and soil or adding pesticides to the garden.
Plants that attract beneficial insects or deter pests can be an important part of a pest control plan for the garden. Using companion plants that attract good or predator bugs to the garden is a sneaky way for a gardener to get ahead in the garden-munching game. Plants like marigolds and garlic deter just about any pest and can be planted liberally around the garden, while many herbs like dill, chamomile, and rosemary attract a selection of pollinator and predator insects.
Organic weed and disease control can also mean sprays, but these sprays are very different from the chemical-laden sprays of conventional gardening. A light dose of vinegar, soap and water sprayed onto the leaves of a weed can kill it. A cup of boiling water on a particularly stubborn garden weed will damage its root system and allow the gardener to remove the plant from the garden for good. Finding and following organic techniques is becoming much more mainstream, and there are now organic sprays available in stores. As organic gardening techniques become part of our culture, it’s becoming much simpler to find off-the-shelf products to facilitate organic gardening.
Organic Gardens Use Mulch to Protect and Enrich the Soil
Mulch is another organic gardening technique, one that sounds a little mysterious to those who have not mulched before. Mulch is like a thick blanket for the garden. This blanket buries weed seeds but can be spread around larger, established plants. This gives the desired plants a big advantage. Mulching the garden is an excellent way to prevent weeds and protect the soil.
Mulch can be almost anything: some use old carpet scraps to kill off undesirable weeds, while others use bark mulch on top of a garden bed. Mulch can also be alive. Fava beans, field peas, and winter rye are commonly used as living green mulches to add nitrogen to the soil and stop it from eroding during the winter months.
Mulch also protects the soil. On rainy days, soil without plants on it will start to move and flow away from the garden, and the garden will lose its precious soil. Or perhaps the soil does not move, but its nutrients flow out of it and into the water supply. Soil that has been damaged by the weather also loses its porous texture, becoming hard and packed and a challenging place for plants to grow.
While the realm of organic gardening can sound challenging at first, it’s actually a simple world to enter and a pleasant place to stay. There are no harsh chemicals here, and there’s a place for everything. Food scraps are welcome because they change into compost, and insects are welcome because they prey on other insects that eat the garden plants. Even a little bit of mess is a welcome sight, since mulch on the ground protects the garden and enriches its soil. The organic garden is an ecologically diverse and healthy place to be. Welcome!
Tricia Edgar loves her small garden. She is an organic gardener who is intrigued by permaculture, straw bale and cob building, and green roof design. She also runs a sustainable skills mentorship program.