Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Organic Gardening as Bioneering

Ever since I was little, I have had a number of hobbies, things like animals, plants, bicycling, rollerblading, growing mushrooms, martial arts. It wasn’t until I took up gardening in my early thirties that I first had a hobby that was widely practiced by others around me. It was a really weird feeling to be able to freely talk to co-workers about my hobby and have a lively and interesting conversation rather than blank stares.

Gardening is a widely practiced hobby. ranks it as the 7th most popular hobby. Of course, they ranked sleeping as #17, so I am not sure how much I trust them. According to American Demographics, up to 25% of people practice gardening as a hobby. Also, gardening tends to be more widely practiced in difficult times and is also more widely practiced by older people, both factors which could drive up the number of people who garden in coming years. Many gardeners aspire to have an organic garden, with varying success. It is this very mass participation that makes a true organic garden the most common, as well as the most advanced, form of bioneering.

Organic gardening is, at its heart, a form of biomimicry, or emulating nature to solve problems. In a healthy ecosystem, such as a natural grassland or a forest, the living plants, be they perennials (like the trees) or annuals (like the grasses), drop litter to the soil surface as part of their annual cycle. The soil organisms work on this litter and decompose it. Earthworms pull the organic material down under the soil. Bacteria and fungus work on the decomposing organic material. Life creates conditions necessary for, and beneficial to, life. Healthy plants mean vigorous growth during the growing season, which means more litter to feed the soil-borne organisms at the end of the year. So it is in the best interests for the different players in this system to benefit one another. It is only during times of stress that the disease organisms, those that benefit from disharmony in the system, can invade and destroy. But even those play a part, destroying the weak and thus strengthening the whole. This is a system that has been refined and perfected by eons of natural selection, evolution, and cooperation. To mimic this system in the organic garden is to take advantage of the system already in place.

But organic gardening isn’t just about the soil. It is about biomimicry on a grand scale. Compost is the greatest tool in the organic gardener’s toolbox, but by no means the only tool. There are other beneficial organisms out there that aren’t created or directly fostered by compost. Ladybugs do massive damage to populations of small, soft-bodied insects. Nesting birds often have hungry mouths waiting to stuff full of garden pests. Marigolds attract beneficial insects while driving away nematodes. The list is long, and will be a major topic for this blog. The point is that organic gardening isn't about what you SHOULD NOT do, but very much about what you SHOULD do. So get out there, enjoy the weather, get some exercise, and try your hand at back yard bioneering.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. I've always tried to mimic nature as close as possible with organic gardening. I'm even using homemade methods of pest control. If it's not about what we don't do, then I would be breaking the rules if I used store-bought pest control? I found this organic spray called Safer Brand Tomato and Vegetable insect killer, so maybe this is allowed. It can be used up to the day of harvest.