You have likely noticed over the past decade or so that your local supermarket’s ‘organic’ produce section is getting larger and larger. In the past, it was uncommon for most crops to be grown organically, which meant that there were few organic crops available for you to buy when you were grocery shopping.
The organic gardening trend continues to become more popular, which has not only increased the size of the organic produce section, but it has also started to affect home gardeners. Have you considered organic gardening?
Or, if you are used to conventional gardening methods, you have likely wondered how you can manage a vegetable garden organically.
Let’s start by discussing what organic gardening is and why you should consider it.
To really understand what organic gardening is, let’s take a step back and look at the history of gardening. People have been improving their gardens to grow more productive plants for thousands of years. Long ago, farmers realized that they could improve their plants’ productivity by amending the soil.
They didn’t necessarily understand why this worked, they simply figured out that it did. Anyone remember the history lesson about the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how to grow corn by putting a fish into the ground with the seed?
The idea of improving the soil and improving crops is not a new idea. However, the way that crops were fed and raised has changed tremendously over the past century. Instead of most people having a backyard vegetable garden, most people today rely on large commercial farms to produce their food. Intensive agriculture has been very efficient at feeding large numbers of people. Commercial farms are often very large – hundreds or even thousands of acres, often growing the same type of crop.
These large farms will use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to keep the plants healthy and producing well. This conventional method of farming has allowed the modern family to move away from gardening and growing their own food. It does come with a cost, though. The chemicals that are used to feed and protect commercial crops are relatively new and often little understood.
For scientists to understand the long-term effects of a chemical, they need decades to research it. Many consumers today are concerned about the long-term effects of the chemicals that are so often put onto our food.
You are probably familiar with the commercials that were all over television about the Roundup lawsuits. Roundup was a chemical herbicide that was used for decades by many gardeners. It was a chemical that you could probably find in the garden shed of any gardener, landscaper, or homeowner.
This is just one example of the many potentially harmful chemicals that are applied to our gardens and food all the time. As we understand more about gardens, the soil, the climate, and environment in general, we understand many of the negative effects of these synthetic chemicals that we often rely on.
Organic gardening has been used for centuries. However, the term ‘organic’ gardening is fairly new. In fact, it was a term that is often attributed to J.J. Rodale. Rodale has been an advocate for organic gardening for decades, much before the practice of organic gardening started to become popular.
Rodale understood that compost was rich in nutrients and that by adding these nutrients to the soil, gardeners were also adding nutrients back into the plants. When you eat the plants grown in nutrient-rich soil, you are getting more nutrient-dense vegetables.
Many researchers have studied organic gardening and the methods that can be used to manage organic gardens. Organic gardening methods often fall back to old, forgotten-about methods of gardening. Many of the tricks that your grandparents or great-grandparents used in their gardens have seen a resurgence in popularity.
Organic gardening aims to end synthetic or manufactured chemicals or fertilizers from the garden. Instead, organic gardens are grown with natural fertilizers, like compost or manure, and no synthetic pesticides or herbicides.
You can feel good about the food that you eat from an organic garden. Not only will you be able to enjoy the full flavor of your homegrown vegetables, but you will feel good knowing that you are putting the best possible food onto your family’s dinner table.
What are the benefits of organic gardening?
We live in a time when we are just beginning to understand our impacts on the environment. Climate change is a common topic these days, but it is not the only effect that we have had on the earth. Soil and water quality are diminished in many places due to aggressive agriculture methods. Populations of pollinators and beneficial bugs suffer because of the increased use of chemicals in the environment. Going organic has many positive effects. Here are some of the biggest benefits that you will see from going organic in your vegetable garden:
1 – Reduced waste
Think about all the food scraps that you toss out each evening as you prepare dinner. You probably throw away things like potato peels, cabbage stumps, apple cores and banana peels frequently. Did you know that these food scraps are perfect for composting?
Most organic gardeners turn to their own kitchens to find compost. Turning food scraps into compost is a cheap way to boost the nutrient content of your garden soil and reduce the amount of trash that you are throwing away.
This is a positive thing, especially if you live in a place where you must pay to throw your garbage away. Landfill fees can add up quickly. This will also reduce the amount of waste that you are putting into landfills, leaving space for things that cannot be reused or recycled.
2 – Healthier food
Rodale was accurate in saying that healthier soil led to healthier plants. Vegetables that are grown in nutrient-poor soils may still grow, but they will not produce crops that are as healthy as they could be.
The more nutrients that are available in the soil, the more nutrients that will be added to the vegetables. This means that healthier soil leads to a healthier you.
Did you know that many people in the U.S. are nutrient deficient in magnesium? Your body uses magnesium in many ways. Much of the soil that is farmed in the U.S. is also lacking in magnesium, which is part of why so many people are deficient in magnesium.
You can prevent nutrient deficiencies like this by creating your own healthy garden soil. Organic gardening is just as much about the soil’s health as the plant’s health. Again, healthy soil can lead to a healthier you.
3 – Reduced environmental damage
Do you freak out when you see a bug in your garden and reach for the sevin dust? What if I told you that most bugs aren’t bad and that you may be creating a worse problem when you use chemical pesticides? Organic gardeners use a pest control method called ‘integrated pest management’ or an IPM program. This is simply a series of steps to control ‘bad’ bugs in your garden, starting with the least damaging method first.
IPM systems often start by removing bad bugs by hand. Although removing large tomato hornworms or squash bugs by hand doesn’t sound like a fun topic, it is much better in the long term than using synthetic pesticides. Synthetic pesticides, like sevin dust or sprays, are toxic chemicals that will poison and kill most insects. These methods aren’t species-specific, so you’ll be killing both the bad bugs and the good bugs.
Essentially, you’ll wipe out all the insects in your garden for a small window of time. This creates an environmental hole. When there is a hole in the environment, opportunistic insects will quickly fill that hole.
The ironic part? Most insects that we view as pests are also the opportunistic insects. With extended chemical use, you are creating an environment where bad bugs will flourish.
No matter what your gardening goals are, you can find ways to add organic gardening methods to your routine. Organic gardening can be overwhelming to dive into, so start by slowly working towards growing organic.
Start a compost pile or by only adding organic amendments to your soil. Stop relying so much on chemical pesticides and look into integrated pest management. Your garden and your body will thank you.
This post was written by Shelby DeVore, the founder of Farminence. Shelby is a passionate gardener with 20+ years of experience gardening and growing food at home. She currently lives in West Tennessee on a 14-acre homestead with her husband, three children and too many animals to list.