Civilizations have gardened for millennia. Benefits of organic gardening. Ever since the first domestication of plants—the point where people realized they could plant seeds and tend them into productive growth rather than just forage randomly—people
have been farming in some fashion to support their own sustenance. It was farming that allowed civilization to develop initially because it allowed tribal units to remain in the same place rather than moving about constantly, as was true in the hunter, gatherer stage of human history. Without food, we have no chance of existence on the planet, and with-out farmers we have no food. This primal, basic need for food gives us a stronger primal connection to agriculture and gardening than to any other industry or pastime.
In the early centuries of farming gardening, all practices were “organic” in that providing nutrients for plants and controlling diseases and pests were done with naturally occurring substances. Insect pests were either killed by hand or perhaps by encouraging natural predators. Early farmers learned that rotating crops kept soil from wearing out, and that fertilizing with decaying organic (formerly living, carbon-based) material would rejuvenate soil and cause plants to grow better.
It was not until farming became a commercial enterprise and technology developed to a point where specialized chemicals could be refined that farming and gardening entered the non-organic stage. Highly artificial pesticides and fertilizers Came into widespread use in the mid nineteenth Century, when John Bennet Lawes a British entrepreneur, patented the first artificial “manure” by treating phosphates with sulfuric acid in 1842. As society’s skill with refining chemicals increased over the next 100 years, so did the use of synthetic chemicals to jolt plants into greater growth and kill insect pests in prodigious numbers.
In the years just prior, during, and after World War II, synthetic pesticides came into widespread use to join synthetic fertilizers. Initially, the world believed it had found a non-toxic solution to pest control that increased yields by killing insects. Soon, though, we would begin to recognize this as hopeful but misguided. Pesticides began to accumulate in animal tissues and research would soon Show that these chemicals had devastating effects on humans and wildlife. But this recognition would take several decades to become well known.
By a measure of sheer volume, the quantities of synthetic chemicals used on agricultural crop fields worldwide has steadily increased since the mid- 1800s, and continues to increase to the present day, with usage exploding exponentially over the last 50 years, largely because previously underdeveloped areas Of the world are now adopting more modern farming techniques. So it is clearly a hopeful error to imagine that organic farming practices are now somehow beginning to reverse the trend toward synthetic chemical use.
Yet as far back as the early 1900s, when the use of synthetic chemicals was just gaining steam, there were people recognizing the harmful effects of their use and attempting to counteract their effects. A movement called bio dynamic agriculture came into vogue in 1924 in response to farmers who were noticing the ill effects of chemical use on their crops and livestock—and on the health of their families.
This movement toward natural farming has never waned and in fact has evolved into today’s organic farming gardening movement—in direct proportion to the increasing use of synthetic chemicals on a large scale.
Today, the interest in organic farming and gardening techniques is at an all- time high and growing. Most supermarkets have robust sections of their stores devoted to organically grown produce, and for home gardeners, growing their own organic produce has become the most popular and rapidly growing segment Of the gardening market.
It should be noted that this book will focus on organic horticulture as it applies to the home gardener. Organic gardening is not the same as organic farming, which takes place on a much larger scale. While they share many Of the same tenets, organic gardening and organic farming are not the same. This book focuses on practical organic gardening, so the advice and techniques described herein are for the backyard organic gardener.
The Renaissance of Organic Gardening
The modern era of organic consciousness perhaps began with the publication of Silent Spring, the book that deserves the most credit for documenting the changes occurring in agriculture and nature during this post—World War II era. As the name of the book implies, the author, Rachel Carson, wrote about the disintegration and eventual Of nature’s usual symphony orchestrated in springtime. From birds to frogs to insects, the natural world had grown considerably quieter after just over a decade Of rampant pesticide use. Bird populations declined, insect populations declined, and the average backyard took on an eerie silence.
Back then, companies were promoting pesticides as the perfect solution to make lives better. This is a time when children innocently played in clouds of DDT vapor as city crews drove through the streets in tanker trucks spraying clouds Of pesticides to control disease-causing mosquitoes.
In many cases, they were correct in saying human life was made better through discoveries in chemistry. There are many applications for chemistry that do not involve organic gardening that have improved quality of life for humans on this planet. The widespread use of plastic building materials has reduced devastation of forests, for example. Of course, there are also examples of how chemistry has decreased quality of life for us in our daily lives—pollutants off-gassing from materials in our homes and offices, spewing out Of our transportation system, and residing in the conventional food we eat. Even organic farms rely on chemistry in more than a few ways—diesel for fuel, plastic covering for greenhouses, plastic-based covers for protecting crops from winter’s cold, and Other chemistry-based technologies that help organic gardeners and farmers produce food.
Chemistry itself is not the enemy, but chemicals that degrade soil, water, and air quality should all be examined closely—as we finally realized in the late 1960s when we saw that bald eagles were disappear- ing from our landscape; that no longer were the warm summer evenings filled with the flicker of fireflies and the chirping Of tree frogs; that some once-plentiful songbirds had become rare sights; that local farmers and others were being stricken with unusual cancers and Other diseases.
Society’s reaction to these very real problems caused by synthetic chemicals are at this very moment helping to reverse some Of these trends. The Great Lakes and many rivers are now cleaner than they were 30 years ago, and the fish in them may be eaten safely. In many regions, bald eagles are once again a familiar sight. Regulations now seek to prevent wholesale pollution Of the landscape, and some insidious forms Of cancer are now on the wane.
It is into this portion of the epic social story that today’s organic gardener fits—a gardener devoted to minimizing his or her impact on the environment at large, and seeking to improve the health Of the family by consuming wholesome produce grown at home. Even if you’re just a family Of one, And there have never been more members in this socially conscious group than there are today.
The Principles of Modern
Organic Gardening Sustainability is the primary philosophy of organic gardening, based on the inter- connectivity Of gardening and gardens to the surrounding environment. Its roots are the phrase Primum non nocere, which in Latin means, “First, do no harm.” This phrase reverberates throughout the organic gardening community because individual organic practices should build on each other to create an overall gar- den system that only increases in productivity over time. Productivity means crop yield, but it also can be quantified by other increases. For example, another positive outcome would be an increase in songbird visits to your garden when you grow Organically, resulting from the greater quantity Of edible insect life available for birds to feed on,
Organic gardens benefit local environmental conditions and build soil health over time amassing soil carbon levels, building soil structure, and building soil microbial populations. This interconnected network Of microbes converts organic substances to plant-available nutrients, and holds these nutrients in the soil until they are needed by plants.
Joining the practice of organic gardening involves a paradigm shift. It requires the gardener to view the landscape with a different lens. By this I mean that the gardener needs to begin looking at the entire landscape as one big picture—encompassing both her individual garden and the surrounding areas, because every decision and action in the home garden affects Other aspects Of the broader landscape. Fertilizers and chemicals that are soluble in water find their way into streams and freshwater sources and nitrogen applied to a backyard in Illinois may eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico. If we want to reverse the trend Of pollution we must begin to look at the big picture and shift to an attitude Of proactive prevention rather than reactive attack. We must realize that what we do at home creates effects downstream.
If organic gardening requires a paradigm shift for most people, part of that shift involves thinking about our impact on the natural world. Plants produce fresh air, food for humans and wildlife, and build soil carbon. The organic paradigm requires critical thinking, including understanding the ways organic gardeners can minimize their negative impact on the planet while maximizing their positive impact.
Planting native plants—a standard organic practice—is an example of this. Native plants feed native animals, from insects to birds, from rabbits to hawks. Encouraging native plants in our gardens helps build the tropic base for all other higher organisms to live. While planting natives doesn’t provide food on the dinner table (a big reason many people grow organic), it does impact the health of pollinators, soil microorganisms, and Other wildlife, and this in turn impacts your vegetable garden.
Other aspects Of the paradigm shift involve consumerism—the way we view needs versus wants. Recycling or re purposing is a natural part Of gardening, as gardens are constantly in a state of change. A garden is a place of continual birth, growth, and death. Perennial and woody plants live to grow, reproduce, and then rest until the next season comes. Annual plants and flowers are nothing but showy organisms that attract pollinators, ensuring that the plants’ seed is set and distributed before they die and return their biomass to the earth. When we add recycled or repurposed items to our gardens, we breathe new life into something that was or repurposed items to our gardens, we breathe new life into something that was otherwise destined for a landfill. This re purposing adds character to the garden and saves money.
The organic lifestyle is one that places a premium on reusing, re purposing, upcycling, and recycling.
Differences Between Organic and Conventional Gardening
Any type of gardening connects people to nature, but organic gardening connects people to nature more intensely because Of the focus on building local bio- diversity and abundance Of life. The alternative to organic gardening, conventional gardening, involves the use of synthetic chemicals to control aspects of the garden, including pesticides to control weeds, insects, and diseases, and the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers applied to soil to encourage plant growth. The differences between the two approaches are quite clear when you look at the basic practices Of using pesticides and fertilizers.
completed a 30-year farming systems trial comparing conventional farming to organic farming methods. Results showed conclusively that organic yields can and did out compete conventional counterparts. The first few years of data favored conventional agriculture; however, after the initial years, organic yields surpassed conventional yields and continued to increase with time. Organic methods Offer a long-term advantage, not instant gratification.
Nature is unpredictable. Droughts, floods, insect plagues, storms, and Other hazards have existed since agriculture began and seem to be occurring ever more regularly. The organic systems trial at Rodale proved that organic agriculture is more resilient to these extremes. In a world where climate events are unpredictable, resiliency is paramount to food security, Organic farms have the most impact on preserving soil quality and improving soil health because they control millions of agricultural acres in the US alone
Personal Health Benefits of Going Organic
While the actions of organic farms have the most impact on national and global food systems, we cannot discount the impact of organic home gardeners. Organic gardens provide ecosystem benefits by providing food for many tropic levels in nature. Organic gardens provide a refuge for many forms Of life, from microbial species in the soil to insects, birds. and other wildlife that live in or visit the garden, and ultimately give us produce to eat. An organic garden is alive with the sounds of nature and can feel like an oasis amidst gardens controlled by chemicals.
There are several goals to aim for in an organic garden:
1.Organic gardens should positively encourage environmental feedback loops.
2.They should build soil health and productivity,
3.They should help absorb water and nutrients. They should filter pollutants and Other potential contaminates from reaching sources Of freshwater.
4.They should contribute to producing fresh air for all to breathe and enjoy.
5.They should build the primary plant tropic level to feed insects and higher tropic levels (including humans).
6.They should be places Of replenishment for the body and soul. Gardens connect us to the natural world. Few things on this planet can do what gardens do. Many would argue there is no better way to spend your extra time than to be in a garden.
Like most forms of gardening and outdoor activity, organic gardening requires a moderate level Of exercise, and this routine exercise in itself provides many health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, easing tension, reducing stress, increasing mental clarity, and raising feelings Of accomplishment in the reward center Of the brain. Gardening can also elevate your property value, reduce money spent on groceries, and increase biodiversity in your yard.
Not only does organic gardening provide a host of physical health benefits, but it also provides the gardener with food—provided that a veggie garden is part of the picture. Most proponents of organic gardening maintain that organically grown or produced foods contain more nutrition or beneficial compounds than their conventionally grown counterparts, though naturally this position is disputed by some advocates Of the synthetic chemical approach. As is often the case with research, some studies can be cited that support either position, though it appears that the greater productivity of organic gardening becomes more apparent with longer periods of study. As the Rodale research cited earlier suggests, the merit of an organic lifestyle is not instant gratification but long-term improvement.
A recently compiled meta-analysis of data comparing nutritional content of organic versus non-organic food shows that organically produced milk and meat contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Organic crops, such as apples, blue- berries, carrots, and broccoli, contain higher levels Of antioxidants. Meat and dairy berries, Carrots, and broccoli, contain higher levels of antioxidants. Meat and dairy gains were achieved by feeding animals grass, which contains more Omega-3s than typical cattle feed, such as corn or silage.
Why is this go? Organic crops have to work harder to grow and thrive, and as a side effect they produce more self-defense compounds that are detrimental to insects and pathogens—compounds that are also beneficial to human and animal health. Organically grown crops have been documented to contain higher levels of anthocyanins, the compounds that give plants (and fall leaves) their alluring shades.
Being present in your organic garden during the magical time Of early morning when beams of sunlight cascade through the trees onto you is akin to the practice of forest bathing. If you’re not familiar with the concept Of forest bathing, or Shinrinyoku, as it’s called in Japan, it involves (clothed) trips to the forest to “bathe” in sunlight as it shines through branches onto the forest floor. Researchers in Japan and South Korea have conducted studies proving the health benefits of spending time under a forest canopy relaxing and enjoying nature. The benefits are similar to all proven benefits of being outside, working in the fresh air of the garden. Actively performing this method of relaxation would arguably be more effective in an organic garden than in a sterilized garden full Of pesticides, Spending time unplugged from the daily presence of technology provides time for internal contemplation—reflecting on the past, present, and future Of our lives.