How to Become a Successful Organic Gardener
Gardening The Organic Way
How we can all become successful organic gardeners, benefiting both ourselves and our environment
To garden naturally, you have to be organic. This is the minimum foundation for any more ecological approach. But it is not difficult. Indeed, tending an organic garden is an enjoyable and practical way of naturally. In many ways it is one of the most satisfying tasks we can find.
Many of the world’s greatest thinkers, such as the sixteenth-century French philosopher Montaigne, have come to the conclusion thatis the only worthwhile occupation: he wrote, ‘I desire death may find me planting my .’ A century later the English essayist Joseph Addison declared, ‘I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of , and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.’ Although some may disagree as to the degree, almost everyone recognises gardening as intrinsically good. However, during the last century, much of the traditional gardener’s and farmer’s harmony and closeness to nature was displaced by a chemical approach where almost all creatures, great and small, and all plants other than crops were regarded as parasitic if not pestilential. We were misled into believing that pesticides and weedkillers were essential to farm and garden practice, and this resulted in a vast industry, with unsustainable reliance on petrochemicals that polluted our water, destroyed wildlife and wildflowers, and produced food and soil short of essential nutrients and contaminated with residues.
Once the farming system had been coerced into such foolishness, gardeners were soon gulled into copying the same methods, to wreak havoc upon the ecosystems in their own gardens. Yet what resulted was an increased dependence on artificial means to obtain the same yield as before. Gardeners who came to depend on the chemical approach annually applied vast amounts of soluble and mixes of chemical poisons to their land, yet rarely did much better than their forefathers. Increases in yields have usually come from better varieties of plants rather than from the methods used to cultivate them. These same gardeners may also have wondered why there were fewer and fewer songbirds, and other wildlife to beautify and enliven the world, even as they were unwittingly poisoning them – and their own children and grandchildren. The steadily increasing list of once approved and supposedly safe pesticides now withdrawn makes salutary reading, as do the disclaimers on their packets.
Despite all the propaganda, we have come to realise that this chemical approach was an aberration. With increasing awareness of green issues, ecological and environmental concerns and the search for a healthier way of life, many people are deciding to nurture their own small plot of earth in a more natural way. Although in isolation a small farm or garden may seem insignificant, it is not; if all the gardeners in the UK alone stopped spending their millions a year on chemicals they would produce an immense conservation area bigger than some countries and benefiting all of us. Indeed, in a world where we may often feel powerless, we do have the ability to improve at least that little bit of it in our care.
The benefits to each of us of cultivating our gardens organically range from the obvious ones of producing fresh, tasty produce and beautiful flowers free from contamination to enjoying a healthier lifestyle that makes better personal and ecological use of our time. As gardeners, we get a lot of pleasure, exercise and fresh air, enjoy social exchanges with other gardeners (you try and avoid them!) and benefit from one of the few profitable hobbies.
Organic gardeners get the additional satisfaction of saving work and money by using their wit and cunning instead of chemical treatments. And it cannot be wise to keep poisonous substances in a home with children. Merely by recycling our household wastes for compost and reuse and minimising our use of resources, we can significantly reduce the amounts of pesticides and fertilisers polluting our water.
Creating an organic garden enables us to rescue, aid and encourage a multitude of wildflowers and wildlife big and small at a local level, as well as saving from extinction old varieties of fruit, flowers and vegetables, many of which are no longer grown commercially or sold legally. Most importantly of all, each of us can make our own small part of our Earth richer with plants and more teeming with life than it was when we found it.
Whatis all about, and what it is not
There is no single ‘organic design’ or method that you can copy by rote.is a different approach rather than a set of methods that can just be substituted for the artificial regime of sprays and fertilisers. It is sustainable, ecologically sound, more natural and environmentally friendly, and has been carefully and scientifically developed in the UK over the last fifty years by the Soil Association. Their regulatory system, known as the Organic Standards, is based on certain basic principles designed to guide farmers and commercial producers. However, these principles can be applied just as well to , and gardeners are free to choose which methods they employ within this framework.
Other similar bodies operate abroad and EU and international standards for organic products are in force; on the whole these are unified, with only one or two minor differences. In practice, the approach in some countries though called by another name is still much the same In Europe one system is called Biodynamics and is based on the work of Rudolph Steiner (who also founded the largest private school system in the world). Much like most organic farmers and gardeners in the UK, the followers of Biodynamics also pay special attention to, astrological timing, Steiner’s special potions and the more spiritual interactions between man, plants and the universe.
Permaculture gardening is another approach that originated in sunnier lands and aims to use many layers of plant life to create a permanent but flexible ecology that is productive and requires little labour. Permaculture was modelled on the tropical jungle and works in areas of high rainfall and powerful sunlight. Unfortunately the light and rainfall levels in the UK are much lower, so tropical rainforests are rare here and attempts to create enduring productive layered gardens have usually resulted in poor yields. These caveats aside, there is much similarity between all approaches worldwide, especially in their desire to marshal the forces of nature on our side rather than fight against them.
And it is not organic simply to stop using undesirable and unecological chemicals and replace them with ‘natural’ products. Nor is it organic to give up doing anything other than grow and harvest! Some produce proffered as ‘organic’ has merely been grown untended, such as surplus apples. These may indeed be pesticide free, natural or even ecologically sound, but they are not organic. Neither were the Victorian gardeners, nor anyone else prior to the First World War. They used extremely nasty chemicals such as lead arsenate and mercuric chloride, though some of their better ideas are still useful to us today.