What is Organic Gardening?
What is Organic Gardening?
The word “organic” itself means, simply, “of living origin”, hut when applied to gardening it describes a whole system of growing. The organic approach recognizes that the garden environment is much more than just the sum of its individual parts, and that all the living things in it are interrelated and interdependent.
The organic approach aims to minimize our impact on the wider environment by avoiding the use of materials from non-renewable resources, recycling where possible, and keeping the use of pesticides to a minimum. It also, of course, allows the gardener to achieve an attractive, healthy and productive garden.
Woods, forests and other natural plant communities survive for centuries without any outside intervention. A plant growing in the wild, for example, grows using only carbon dioxide (and nitrogen if it is a legume) from the air and the food available in the. They do not use up valuable resources or cause pollution. And, while no one can claim that an organic garden is entirely natural, organic methods do try to follow nature’s example as far as possible.
In nature, everything is recycled; nothing is wasted. Leaves and fruit may fall from the plant to the soil, where they will decompose and the goodness they contain become available to the same plant or to others growing in the area. Their fibre will help to maintain soil structure. Plant-eating creatures (herbivores), such as caterpillars or rabbits, may eat parts of the plant, and the manure they produce will again return to the soil, as will the creatures themselves when they die. Alternatively, the caterpillars may be eaten by birds and the rabbits by a fox. These creatures will in turn also produce manure and return to the soil when they die.
In nature there is no need to bring in resources from outside as everything is recycled within the system. This whole cycle is kept in motion by the myriad micro-organisms that carry out the decomposition of plant material, manures and dead bodies. These essential creatures tend to be bypassed, ignored or even inhibited by artificial chemical methods of gardening.
In a garden situation as much as possible is recycled, although outside inputs are usually necessary to keep the garden fertile. However, the manures and fertilizers used in an organic garden are of natural origin and must also be processed by soil organisms before the goodness they contain is available to plants. Artificial fertilizers that dissolve quickly in the soil’s water and are then taken up directly by plants, bypassing the soil life, are not used, for they can lead to over-lush growth, which is more attractive to pests and diseases. Natural materials contain a wider, more balanced range of plant foods than man-made chemical fertilizers. As well as the major nutrients, nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, they also supply minor and trace elements, essential for balanced growth. Many also help tostructure.
To minimize the energy costs of production and transport, materials brought in to keep the soil fertile should be, as far as possible, recycled waste products, preferably of local origin.
Caterpillars, rabbits and other herbivores can, of course, be pests. In a natural system, the damage they cause will be kept to reasonable level. Their numbers will be kept in check by their natural enemies, who in turn will be controlled by theirs. Every pest and disease, of whatever size, has its own pest and disease, and so on down the line.
Problems arise in a garden situation because unnatural collections of plants are grown in inappropriate situations and expected to thrive. This does not mean that we should abandon nature’s complex web of control, destroying it with the use of harmful chemicals. We should encourage nature to do its best, only intervening when absolutely necessary. As a last resort, there are a few insecticides and fungicides that may be used. Although less harmful than many products, these sprays may still kill beneficial creatures, so their use is kept to a minimum.
How organic can we be?
In an ideal world, everything used in an organic garden should itself have been been organically grown. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, so compromises have to be made, such as choosing manures from less intensive farming systems, and using seeds that have not been chemically treated after harvest, even though they may have been grown using chemicals. Wherever possible, raise plants in the garden rather than buying them.
Products for the organic garden
It is possible to purchase proprietary products suitable. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know which products on the market are suitable for an organic garden. A few products carry a recognised organic symbol, but there is no legal definition of the word “organic” as applied to gardening products. This may simply mean that some or all of the ingredients are of living origin and not all of these are suitable for organic gardening use.