Saturday, February 21, 2009

Organic Gardening - Definition

Okay, first of all, I have something very important to say about organic gardening. YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG, PEOPLE!!! Okay...breathe...use your words...

The term "organic gardening" has always been confusing to me. To most people, it means "gardening without using synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, etc." To me, the word "organic" generally means one of two things. The first definition I think of is "material that is or once was living." That means people, fruit, meat, mulch, compost, sticks, etc. The second definition I think of refers to organic chemistry, the branch of chemistry devoted to the study of carbon compounds. Carbon, of course, is the one element that is central to nearly every compound that makes up a living organism. However, organic chemistry has also produced many of the compounds that those in the organic movement decry so very much.

Some years ago I decided to take up gardening. Being the bioneer kind of guy I am, I felt I needed to learn as much about the system I am creating as possible. So I went out and found two gardening books that seemed to cover as much of the information I thought I needed as possible. One of the books I got, “How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method,” I got because it had a wealth of growing information on nearly every cultivated fruit or vegetable out there. But as I looked through the book, I realized that it contained a wealth of other information and I decided to read the whole thing, cover to cover (I can't remember if I succeeded, so no quizzes, please). What I read completely blew me away. “How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method” was a book on organic gardening that was written in 1961, early in the organic movement (or as near as I can tell). It describes a new method of cultivation involving the heavy use of compost. It was called "organic" gardening because the key is the heavy application of organic material to the garden. In so doing, you increase the health and beneficial biological activity of the soil, which in turn increases the health and vigor of the plants you are growing. Healthy plants require fewer treatments for pests and diseases. They also said that compost provides all of the major nutrients that plants need as well as lots of minor nutrients.

Then they went on to say something completely unexpected. They said that if you use compost you won't NEED any of these synthetic chemicals that so many farmers are dumping on their crops. They also theorized that maybe they aren't so good for the soil or the crops and that maybe we SHOULDN'T be using them. They generally didn't use words like "cannot," "shall not," or "do not." They simply said that we don't need them and maybe shouldn't use them.

Over time the suggestion has become the mandate, which has in turn become the definition. I would contend that just because you don't use any synthetic chemicals in the garden doesn't mean that you are organic gardening. If you aren't composting, or at least using heavy applications of mulch, you aren't organic gardening.

I know, harsh words. And maybe the definition is too far gone to be saved. Maybe we need a new term, like eco-gardening, or the bioneered garden. I don't know. I just know that it always makes be pause when someone asks me if I am practicing organic gardening or brags about their organic garden.

It kind of makes you wonder about that “organic” turkey you had for Thanksgiving dinner, doesn't it?

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