The idea of a fully organic garden is something that many people like the sound of. After all, it’s the garden. It’s where you grow your fruit and vegetables; where you carefully look after your flowers; where you while away time enjoying the feel of the sun on you and the fresh air in your nose. It should be organic. Few of us have much desire for gardens to be anything but organic – so the idea is definitely an appealing one.
The problem is… few people have any idea what it means. Nor do they have a particular understanding of how to go about curating their own. To try and tackle that, it makes sense to compile all of the questions – and their answers – about organic gardening into one place, and get the matter settled once and for all.
What Defines An Organic Garden?
Organic is a fairly loose term, though if you want to sell items you grow in your garden it has a more strict definition. For the backyard, hobbyist gardener however, this isn’t something that you particularly have to worry about. Instead, you can focus on the most simple meaning of what organic gardening means.
That would be gardening without the intervention of man-made chemicals, additives, or fertilizers. Essentially, it’s gardening the way it has been done for centuries.
How Do Organic Gardeners Control Pests?
To an extent, there is an element of organic gardening which is just about hoping for the best. Pests and bugs happen; in fact, it could be argued that they’re a natural part of the ecosystem of a garden. For a gardener though – especially if you want to rely on your crop for food purposes – they’re nothing but a nuisance. That’s why non-organic hobbyists tend to turn to heavily chemical, synthetic options when it comes to controlling pests. These tend to be effective, but some people worry that the synthetic chemicals that they contain translate into the fruit of the plant – and people don’t want to eat that.
Is There Any Evidence Of Chemicals Transferring Into Food?
Actually, there is, so it’s not a concern that should just be wafted away as nonsense. If you spray a chemical onto a plant and then eat the fruit of that plant, there’s a good chance some of the chemical pesticide will transfer. That’s partially what plants do; they take from the atmosphere around them so to produce their fruit.
Is That Harmful?
Perhaps; perhaps not. On the surface of it, the idea of eating synthetic chemicals is pretty alarming. That’s why you will see natural-only proponents listing the chemicals that can be transferred from pesticides into food, but without mentioning the amount of each chemical. Pretty much anything is toxic in large enough quantities; too much water can kill you, after all. Whether or not there is enough of these synthetic chemicals transferring to food is a matter for debate. Organic farmers, however, would rather not take the risk.
So How Are Pests Controlled In An Organic Garden?
Usually by using a variety of “natural” methods, which includes – but is not limited to – essential oil and companion planting.
What’s Companion Planting?
The idea is to have another plant – usually something from the mint family – next to a plant you want to thrive. The secondary plant is effectively a sacrificial lamb, there to distract any pests from chowing down on the main plant.
There are also plants you can use that have been recognized to have repellent properties. Citronella, for example, might not be hugely attractive, but plenty of hobby gardeners report that by planting it near fruit and vegetable crops, their yield has stayed pest-free.
Does This Always Work?
No. There’s no nice way to dress that up, so it’s sometimes best to be honest! The reason that synthetic pesticides were developed is because the old, natural ways weren’t effective enough. If you go down the organic garden route, part of that is acknowledging that sometimes you might lose some of your crop to pests.
What About Fertilizers?
There are plenty of natural fertilizers such as egg shells or even ground coffee, as detailed on HomeGrownFun.com. It’s far easier to fertilize an organic garden than it is to keep it free of pests, so that’s not so much of a concern. Plenty of people who use synthetic fertilizers will also supplement their usage with the natural options – they’re cheap, reliable, and have been proven to have good results.
Is Organic Gardening Difficult?
Yes, but it might just be worth it. It’s not for you if you just want something simple to look pretty; it takes effort. For example, some organic gardeners go the whole hog. Not only do they eliminate synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but they will also eschew anything that isn’t ‘natural’. So they will only use wooden fence panels that have been heat treated rather than with chemicals; they’ll follow the advice of NaturalCave.com when it comes to repelling insects and dealing with spider bites rather than use store-bought chemical alternatives; their only choice of gardening equipment will be cast-iron rather than anything plastic.
Even if you don’t go this far and just stick to the fertilizers and pesticide, it’s still a lot of work. Remember, non-organic methods came about to replace the “old” ways that were slow and unpredictable. If you indulge in organic farming, you have to be willing to open yourself up to the possibility of encountering problems.
Is Organic Farming Only For Fruit and Vegetables?
So far, we’ve discussed the reasons that people might turn to organic farming if they are growing their own crops. But what if you just want a pretty outdoor space? Is there any reason to go organic when your only interest is with flowers, shrubs, and trees?
There might be. Some organic farmers say that their blooms are better, their plants more likely to thrive, their shrubs healthier. Whether or not this is true very much depends on your perspective. The majority of the accounts are not backed by scientific research, but that’s because no one has much interest in conducting scientific research for non-food producing plants.
It’s worth considering that if you have struggled to get plants to thrive using conventional methods, then maybe a switch to organic growing might do you good. However, if you’re just getting started with a garden, then it might be best to ease yourself into it rather than making life difficult for yourself right off the bat.
Does Organic Growing Take More Time?
Given that we can now grow any plant year-round with the right conditions, it’s natural to wonder if organic methods mean that plants grow slower. This is not necessarily the case.
Measuring growing speed is a difficult thing to do without strong scientific controls. Once again, the reports are often more based on people’s experiences – which makes them difficult to verify. While plants and flowers don’t seem to grow any slower than the synthetic alternatives, they might not be as majestic.
So Organic Gardens Might Not Look As Good?
Not necessarily – they just might not be as spectacular. We’re talking a nice, healthy rosebush – for example – that’s been grown using organic methods; it’ll still look good, it’ll still be beautiful. However, it probably won’t be as big or have as many flowers as one grown with synthetic stimulants.
In a way, it helps to see fertilizers and other growing agents you can buy in stores as a kind of steroid. They are going to produce a bigger yield, bigger blooms, and look more spectacular. So if you’re after a showpiece garden, then that might be the best option for you.
If, however, you’re quite happy with a plant thriving just the way that nature intending – however big or majestic that may result to be – then you should be able to make peace with the smaller sizes.
How Do You Start An Organic Garden?
The same way that you start any garden, frankly. Begin by deciding what your end goal is – do you want to grow crops to eat? Or do you just want a garden to look pretty?
When you have an idea of the plants you want to grow and the purpose you want to use the garden for, take your time. Go slowly. Learn as you do it; read the back of seed packets, educate yourself online. There’s plenty of advice out there for gardeners at the very beginning of their journey.
Eventually, you will reach a point where you have to make the choice: organic or non-organic? It might be when you need a fertilizer, or when you notice a common pest is devouring your young seedlings. That’s the point you have to make the call.
There is no “right” and no “wrong” way to garden – it’s all about your preferences, what you want to do with your garden, and the amount of time you have to spare. However, if you have the time and are producing crops that you wish to eat, then perhaps an organic garden would be a fine idea for you. You just have to be willing to put in the work