Why organic gardening?

Posted by on March 28, 2009 at 3:16 pm.

Why not just poison what you don’t want and then plant what you do want?  After all, aren’t we humans above and beyond “nature”?

That’s a fairly easy question to answer if you are growing fruits and veggies that you plan to eat.  We have all heard about the problems of herbicides and pesticides in our food.  But what if you are just growing pretty flowers or a lush lawn of nothing but grass?

Even if you don’t plan on eating anything from your garden, organics is a safer way to go.  Many of the chemicals used in herbicides and pesticides have been linked to cancer or shown to be neurotoxins or endocrine disrupters.  Rachael Carson wrote the book Silent Spring in 1962.  She was the scientist employed by the government who brought many of the connections of chemically treating pests and disease to health out into the public stream of conscience. Since many of the these chemicals are harmful if they are breathed in or absorbed through the skin, they are a danger to people, pets and wildlife.  When you see your toddler crawling through the yard trying to chase your dog or putting everything in her mouth, that thought begins to hit home.

Diazanon, as an example, was banned for use on golf courses and sod farms in 1988 and it is no longer allowed to be sold in the US since 2004, but I actually have a neighbor that I found using it to try to kill fire ants just last year.  Even though Diazanon can no longer be sold in the US, there was no effort to try to recall what had already been sold.  US chemical companies are also still allowed to sell it to foreign buyers.  The truth of the matter is that my neighbor would have probably done much better just pouring a pot of boiling water on the mound and/or putting out beneficial nematodes (microscopic worms).

From an ecological standpoint even chemical treatments, such as fertilizers, are harmful.  These types of fertilizers are much harder for plants to absorb and what is not used immediately by the plant gets washed away into our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.  This sets up a process called eutrophication, where excess nutrients cause excessive plant growth (algal blooms).  The excessive plant growth causes the water to become depleted in oxygen when dead plant matter begins to decompose.  This can cause massive fish die offs and further loss of diversification in the greater ecological web.

That is the down side of the chemical approach, but the organic approach also has major advantages.  Your soil is not just “dirt”, and plants don’t just depend on basic chemical building blocks in that “dirt”.  Soil is actually alive.  One teaspoon of soil (in a healthy garden) has about a billion bacteria as well as fungi, worms and other insects.  These soil critters are primarily beneficial to your plants, but the use of chemicals can cause a huge reduction in their numbers and diversification (there’s that word again!)  The use of organics actually feeds and builds this system to keep bad organisms in check.

If you think that organics are too expensive then you are not considering the full cost of chemicals.  Organic maintenance , once the soil has been rehabilitated from chemical usage, requires fewer fertilizer applications, less water and the plants have fewer insect and disease problems (of course it also helps if you plant things that are happy in their environment too).

So, come on!  Doesn’t restoring the environment, protecting waterways, protecting pets and family and growing better tasting food and healthier plants sound like it might be worth the effort?  I think it’s a lot more fun too!


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