Organic Gardening – Or Not?

Today, we hear a lot about organic gardening. You might wonder whether you should try harder to garden organically. First of all, what does it mean to garden organically? A basic definition is “Gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”

There are many reasons gardeners should keep the use of chemical pesticides to a minimum. Here are a few:

  1. Chemical fertilizers and herbicides can wash or leach into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes or ground water and harm fish and other aquatic animals.
  2. Some ingredients in herbicides, especially if applied too heavily or too often, can harm nearby desirable trees and shrubs. They could even sterilize the ground so plants won’t grow there, sometimes for years.
  3. Chemical insecticides are usually not selective, therefore, can kill beneficial insects, too, including bees, so necessary for pollination of our fruiting shrubs and trees. Insecticides can harm birds, animals, and humans if used incorrectly.

What are some guidelines to improve your garden’s growth but keep the use of chemicals to a minimum?

  1. Have your soil tested to determine what nutrients it needs. Our local clay soils need organic matter. Organic composts and manures are available to purchase in bags. Better yet, make your own compost out of kitchen scraps, grass clippings (unless you use a weed-killer on your lawn), leaves, and garden wastes.
  2. After planting your vegetable garden in the same spot for years, your soil will likely need Nitrogen. Organic forms of Nitrogen, such as blood meal, kelp, and fish emulsion, can be expensive and a lot is usually needed to raise the level of Nitrogen. So you may choose a chemical source of Nitrogen which would be less expensive.
  3. Our soils tend to have a high pH (alkaline). Adding Sulphur, which is organic, to your soil will bring down the pH.
  4. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) goes hand-in-hand with organic gardening. This common-sense theory focuses on pest prevention first (see side bar), and then, if there are still pests, starts with the lowest-risk control options. Chemical pesticides are used after all other less toxic methods have been tried.
  5. If you do apply chemical insecticides and herbicides to your yard and garden, it is important to follow the label instructions—more is NOT better, use them at the recommended rate. Be aware of proper timing of the spray and drift.

Should I buy organic seeds to plant in my vegetable garden?

Packaged vegetable seeds sold to the general public are not genetically modified (GMO), so you don’t need to worry about that issue. The amount of pesticides that could be in non-organic seeds is negligible. Vegetables grown from seeds treated with a fungicide also have negligible amounts in them. To some of us, purchasing disease-resistant varieties of vegetable seeds is more important than that the seeds you plant be “organic”.

Don Mathre, gardener from the Gallatin Gardeners Club, says, about organic gardening, “Bottom line is that a gardener must use a variety of approaches to be successful and some may be organic while others may not be.”