We hear it constantly these days, it seems, “Go organic. Live sustainably. Green, green, green!”
When you’re pursuing a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the exhortations to go green, and it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantities of information that are available to you. For those who are considering venturing into the realm of vegetable gardening, combining a fledgling gardening career with a desire to go green can be even more intimidating. However, so much of organic gardening is simply good sense: a good sense of your local climate, your garden, and your soil.
As an organic gardener, your role is that of a support person for the vegetables and fruit that you grow in your garden. You are there to support the garden soil, microorganisms, and bigger animals like worms and wood bugs as they work to create an environment that is ideal for growing food. You want to create a garden environment that will thrive without pesticides and artificial fertilizers, and you want to produce healthy foods like raspberries, potatoes and squash, right from your backyard.
Why become someone who enriches the garden with compost and cheers on the little microorganisms that make a garden grow? Why is it important to grow organic food?
Organic Vegetables and Fruit Are Good For You
Yes, we all know that we should eat our vegetables. But what invisible chemicals are lurking on the produce that we buy? Health is a big reason that many people eat and grow organic food. We care deeply about our families, and we want to see them thrive. Pesticides are designed to kill unwanted plants and animals in our gardens. Is eating something that can kill other animals good for the human animal?
Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides. They eat more per pound of body mass than an adult does, which means a smaller and less mature body is processing more toxins. Children also play outdoors more than adults do, and they don’t read, so they will happily play on a recently-sprayed lawn or garden. When parents use pesticides when pregnant or nursing, children have a three to nine-fold increase in leukemia. Eating carcinogens and endocrine disrupters is no good for anyone, but it’s especially bad if you’re a child.
In addition to the long-term health concerns of ingesting pesticides, there are also the short term safety issues. Growing food with fertilizers and pesticides means that you have fertilizers and pesticides around the house. Small children and pets can get into these substances and eat them. Organic gardening involves soil, perhaps some manure. We wouldn’t leave toxic cleaners around the house for our children to get into, but we spray large quantities of pesticides on the food that they eat. Here’s more information on pesticide poisoning.
Growing Organic Produce Creates a Diverse and Healthy Garden Ecosystem
Ecologically, growing organic produce is the way to go. Why? It is certainly possible to create a garden that relies on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and that garden can look beautiful and tasty. If you take a microscope to the soil, however, you see a different picture. Fertilizers infuse chemicals into the soil. They give it an artificial nutrient boost. Unfortunately, they don’t add to the soil in the long term.
Healthy soil is the basis for healthy plants and a thriving garden ecosystem. Put a handful of healthy, rich soil in your hand and it will be slightly damp and full of rich humus. It will smell earthy, and it will crumble gently in your hand. Healthy soil is not compacted or fluffy – it’s somewhere in the middle. Water soaks into this soil and stays there for a while, feeding your organic plants. If you were to look at this soil under a microscope, you would see that it is full of beneficial microorganisms that are constantly creating and recreating the soil, building it, and helping your vegetables thrive.
Pesticides kill off the microorganisms in the soil and can be toxic to larger animals too. Birds eat the bugs that live in the garden soil and on the garden plants, and they too are sensitive to pesticides. An organic garden is diverse, and this diversity is its strength. It includes plants that are companions to each other. Each plant attracts insects that benefit other plants, pollinate other plants, and eat the predators of other plants in the garden. These insects attract birds, and the birds attract larger predators like raptors. The garden becomes more than a food source for people: it becomes a source of rich diversity in your neighborhood. Here’s more information on pesticides being toxic to birds.
Home Grown Organic Produce is Affordable
When organic produce first started appearing in mainstream grocery stores, many consumers balked at the price. Gradually, organic produce has become less expensive and more and more people have integrated it into their weekly grocery shopping. But what about growing your own?
These days, the idea of local food is blossoming, and people are once again turning to the idea of victory gardens and kitchen gardens. The new victory garden is about environmental sustainability as well as human self-sufficiency. While there are some start up costs like garden beds and seeds, over time an organic garden can become remarkably self-sustaining. As your garden grows, it becomes an affordable way to eat organic produce.
Let’s take a look. To create an organic garden, you’ll need soil and a garden bed. You may already have a garden bed, and if you don’t, you can easily fashion one inexpensively from wood scraps and large rocks. A rock wall is a stunning way to surround a garden bed, and the rocks hold heat, ideal for cooler or shadier gardens.
You’ll also need soil. This is also fairly simple: some well-aged manure, finished compost from you and your neighbours, and you have the beginning of a garden bed. Stay away from bulk commercial soil and potting soil. Rich soil that is from organic or known origins is best for growing food.
Finally, you will need seeds and some basic tools. The tools are a long term investment. Get good tools and they will last for years. Find open-pollinated, heritage seeds so that you can save the seeds from year to year and they will breed more of the same delicious vegetables. Learn how to save seeds, and you can save yourself a lot of money and temptation from the seed catalogues over time.
By purchasing seeds and learning how to save seeds, creating a rich and fertile soil, and investing in tools that last, growing your own food can cost little more than the time you spend in the garden. Consider that time an investment in your physical and mental health.
Why grow organic food? The reasons vary as much as gardeners do. Support healthy ecosystems, healthy people, and a healthy budget and go organic in your food garden.
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.