Much has been written about organic gardening over the years. In 1947, R.I. Rodale started the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania. His commitment to the concept of all things organic was strong and his persuasiveness so great that Mr. Rodale, and later his son Bob, did more to popularize the concept of organic growing than anyone before or since. Together they created Organic Gardening magazine, which at one time had the highest paid circulation of all garden magazines in the world.
I have been a keen study of Rodale’s work ever since we had our first baby 31 years ago. I recall looking at our little bundle of joy and thinking that the arsenal of chemicals in my garden shed stood in stark contrast to the responsibility that I felt for this helpless creature. We welcomed the baby into the house and I gave all of my weed and bug killers to my Dad, who was happy to oblige.
There is never a bad time to think through our habits and why we have them. Now is as good a time as any to consider ‘going organic’.
- Better food. We think of organic gardening for the most part as it relates to edible garden plants and fruit. When you grow a tomato plant in your garden or condo balcony you have an opportunity to control what is used to protect it from insects and disease and the source of nutrients that it receives: synthetic or natural? Fact is, you CAN grow great food organically in the absence of chemicals, so why wouldn’t you? The food that we purchase from the local retailer does not come with assurances that it is chemical free, unless of course you pay the extra for certified organic food.
2. Long term health. An organically grown plant learns to stand on its’ own two feet –so to speak. Put another way, a plant that is reliant on synthetics to sustain it is, well, reliant on outside sources to grow, flower and fruit. We condition the plants in our garden by our habits: if you apply chemical/synthetic fertilizers to the soil in your effort to grow them, your plants will not perform as well in the absence of said products. Conversely, when you use compost and natural products to nurture your garden plants their growth is sustained for longer periods of time and they are generally healthier than the non-organic alternatives.
3. Plants feed themselves. Leaves and garden ‘debris’ are valuable sources of natural nutrients and fibre to all of your garden plants. The leaves that we habitually rake, bag and haul to the end of the driveway this time of year for pick up contain pure carbon (GOOD carbon) that, when broken down by natural processes in the soil, actually benefit all living plants. Think about that and begin to question why we put leaves out to the curb at all. It is a silly waste of money and resources. I say, “Save that money and put it into municipal tree planting”.
4. Fewer weeds. Take your lawn for example: when 2,4D was available we became used to the idea that a weed would die within a week of application. So what? In the absence of the weed, another weed made its way into your lawn creating the need to re-apply the 2,4D. It was an endless cycle and we were addicted to it. Now it is common practice to leave nitrogen-rich grass clippings on the lawn to rot down into the root zone and benefit grass plants. We cut our lawn higher than we did a generation ago: 6 to 8 cm. We thicken the lawn with quality fertilizers (there are many natural ones on the market, the most popular being corn gluten) and we spread triple mix and quality lawn seed over the thin spots to compete weeds out of existence. We have become more patient: it takes up to two years to experience a ‘weed free’ lawn using the popular methods mentioned here, but it is a much more sustainable approach than chemical weed killing.
5. Death = Life. The never ending cycle of growing, flowering and fruiting attracts native pollinators like bees and hummingbirds and in the end a dead plant. The foundation of all great soil is decaying and rotting plant material. Without it we have clay and sand – two elements of good soil but too much of either produces a very poor garden. Nature is the ultimate recycler. She created the original ‘ashes to ashes’ concept and it has worked for her since the beginning of time. Why would we not want to get in on it?
Organic = Sustainable.
The use of the word ‘organic’ can get lost in technicalities and language that is difficult to understand. The Rodale Institute (http://rodaleinstitute.org/) provides tremendous depth of knowledge on the subject, if you are interested in learning more. But for most of us it is instructive to note that the absence of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can be very useful in any case. There are many ‘natural’ products on the shelves of garden retailers that are designed to help you grow a great garden sustainably.
I might add that it often pays to just relax a little and let Mother Nature take care of the garden for you. The aphids that are munching down on your Shasta daisy today will fly away tomorrow and your daisies will be none the worse for wear.