What does it mean to be an organic gardener? This term gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean? How many people really understand what it means to be an organic gardener? And what does in entail to become one? I can say that from the start of my gardening life, somewhere around the age of 5, I have done primarily organic gardening. Because I was taught that way. But many newer gardeners become organic for different reasons.
First, let us look at some terms which are often incorrectly used for organic gardening. These words have different meanings, though many traditional or conventional gardeners throw them loosely about in a way which undermines the whole organic gardening process.
From the dictionary.
Organic – derived from or pertaining to living organisms.
Permaculture – a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem.
Holistic – the holistic gardener works with the natural ecosystem to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Natural – a philosophy of gardening that supports the health of the whole system.
Certified Organic Gardening
One of the concepts that came as a result of the organic gardening movement, was a certification that is recognized by both consumers and government. Unfortunately, this certification has gotten blurred by government corporations and hijacked from it original purposes. J.I. Rodale, who lived and worked in the early part of the 20th Century, was one of the first advocates for popularizing organic gardening methods. But he did not invent it.
What many consumers do not know about organic certification; is that you are allowed to use pesticides, as long as they are derived from living organisms. One problem with this method, is that many of these chemical compounds are no safer than their synthesized counterparts.
Becoming certified is a process than most organic gardeners do not want to tackle. It can take years to become certified, and then you have to submit your farm or garden to government overreach and inspection. This is why most certified organic operations are corporately run, or overseen or owned by larger corporations.
Today’s Organic Gardener
In the early 2000’s, gardeners began to be more aware of the chemicals they were applying to their gardens and lawns. With recent lawsuits against big chemical producers, the use of glyphosate and other chemical compounds has left a bad taste with many organic gardeners. They do not want to continue to use chemicals that can potentially harm them, and their environments.
Even now, as a revolution of new, young gardeners have emerged from the struggles of recent events, we are fighting to overcome the use of chemicals, left over from the gardeners of the Baby Boomer generation. In my own garden, I have to overcome the struggles left to me by my wife’s grandparents; who used both chemicals and conventional gardening methods. They believed that if it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for their kids and grandkids. But I want to be better. To grow healthier food for my family.
What it Means to be an Organic Gardener – For Me
For me, organic gardening is a combination of organic practices, holistic and permaculture, and natural gardening. I have been reading gardening books ever since my first introduction into gardening, by my Dad and my Grandma Trost. They both had differing methods, combined with conventional tillage, but they let me experiment and explore my own ways. One of the greatest things my parents let me do in the garden was to give me the chance to grow every thing in the Henry Field’s catalog.
What is conventional tillage? – Breaking the ground for gardening or farming with a plow, then again with either a roto-tiller or disc.
One of the first experiments I tried in my gardens was to make a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed. In this bed, I planted peppers, onions, lettuce, peas, carrots, and beets. What happened as a result was that I discovered that peppers like higher humidity, created in part by being closely surrounded by other plants. I also discovered that onions planted next to carrots and beets deter insect pests.
Now, in my own gardens at home, I do so much more than just raised beds and a variety of vegetable crops. I grow herbs, annual and perennial flowers, and shrubs near the vegetables. I plant fruit trees, shrubs, and vines. My fertilizer components come from compost, goat and rabbit manure, and ground eggshells mixed with coffee grounds. And I do not use chemicals on my lawn or garden. (Though I do use an insecticide for Japanese beetles on my apricot and plum trees).
How You can be an Organic Gardener
You do not have to follow all the “rules” of permaculture, holistic gardening, organic gardening, or natural gardening to be an organic gardener. You can pick the methods and ways which work best for you in your own garden and lawn. Following is a list of some of the ideas and practices which make an organic gardener.
- Use compost and organic mulches such as shredded bark, hay, or grass clippings.
- Practice water-wise gardening with drip irrigation or rain barrels.
- Plant gardens to more than 60% regionally native plants.
- Employ fruit tree guild design.
- Use renewable energy sources.
- Use beneficial insects and insect deterrent plants to reduce pest populations.
- Plant insect and disease resistant plants.
- Use traps, lures, and trap crops to identify pest populations.
- Apply organic pesticides such as diatomaceous earth, soapy water, or kaolin clay to combat pests.
- Plan to rotate crops in your vegetable garden areas.
- Use raised beds, permanent rows, or hügelkultur in your vegetable garden.
- Plant pollinator friendly plants.
- Have a diversified landscape with pollinator plants, dead-standing trees for birds, and nurse trees.
- Garden by the sun and moon.
- Build soil with lasagna gardening, layering, and composting.
- Planting open pollinated or heirloom vegetables, herbs, and annual flowers.
These are just some of the practices of an organic gardener. You do not have to be certified, just grow healthier.
Organic gardening does not have to be a stressful practice, but one that involves healthy living and gardening together in harmony. Plant to diversify your garden and lawn, use less or no synthetic chemicals, and plant appropriately for your region. We all can make a difference in how we treat what God has given us.