What exactly does it mean to garden organically? If planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow isn’t organic, then what is?
According to the National Organic Program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic simply means that synthetic chemicals have not been used. In terms of your backyard garden, this means abstaining from the use of all pesticides and fertilizers made from chemicals. The effects of long term exposure to these substances is still unclear, so choosing to garden without them is a wise and healthy move.
If you want to garden in a sustainable, organic fashion, concentrate on good, old-fashioned planning and close attention.
Start by choosing a sunny site; one that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day is best. Prepare your soil well, first by testing it to evaluate the nutrients that exist and then by taking steps to balance out any deficiencies. As needed, amend your soil with homemade compost, mixing it in thoroughly to keep your soil light and loamy. In the fall, add chopped leaves, grass clippings or manure to replenish nutrients lost in the growing season.
Pay attention to crop rotation and move plants around every year. For example, planting tomatoes in the same location year after year will actually encourage certain diseases to develop.
Companion planting is also an excellent method to maximize crops. By selecting plants that complement and benefit each other, you can effortlessly reduce pest problems by attracting beneficial insects.
Make sure that your garden site has good drainage; many plant diseases are encouraged by damp, poorly draining soil. Water your plants regularly at the roots to avoid wetting the leaves, which can set the plants up for fungal diseases. Consider installing a drip hose.
What to do if diseases and pests appear despite your best efforts? There are organic ways to combat them. Pyola and Neem oil are good insecticide options; both products only affect insects that feed directly on plants, not on the beneficial insects. Liquid copper, sulfur and soap sprays are helpful fungicides.
One advantage to gardening organically is that studies seem to indicate that organically-grown produce contains greater levels of nutrients than conventionally farmed fare. In addition, the repeated use of harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides ultimately depletes the nutrients in the soil, as well as kills essential microorganisms that keep the soil productive and healthy. It’s a vicious cycle that requires more and more potentially toxic amendments to wrench crops from tired soil. These chemicals are then washed away by rain and flow directly into watersheds and streams, wreaking havoc on the delicate eco-system.
Organic gardening methods are growing in popularity. Look around your neighborhood and talk to other like-minded gardeners. Join a local organic gardening club. Read and research to learn more. Know that by choosing to garden organically, you’re harnessing the Earth’s capacity to regenerate, replenish and grow. After all, she’s been doing it on her own, without chemicals, for millennia.