What Does Organic Gardening Mean?

Indeed, what is organic gardening? Chemically, organic matter is matter with carbon atoms in it-naturally occurring materials.

The term “synthetic” refers to any material that is produced in a laboratory, rather than in a living thing.

What’s Organic Gardening ?

“Organic Gardening” literally means not using synthetically produced items in the garden. The USDA has specific definitions for organic products, commercially grown, but there is no definition of “organic” for home gardeners.

The entire issue is fairly murky-with many people saying that “industrially produced” organic food items are no more healthy for the environment than other commercially produced items.

At the heart of the organic gardening movement, and the philosophy behind organic gardens is seeing the garden as more than just an isolated plot of land, but rather a piece of a larger ecosystem.

A garden is part of a larger ecosystem, whether the gardener views it that way, or not. You could say that a garden that is cared for organically is more in harmony with the rest of its surroundings.

Inputs are carefully considered, not just for their effects on the target plant or pest, but on the surrounding environment as a whole.

Gardening Naturally

As author and professor Jeff Gillman writes in his well-received new book The Truth about Organic Gardening, the term “gardening naturally” is more descriptive than the term “organic gardening.”

Gardening naturally describes actions taken to help a garden exist in balance with the ecosystem surrounding the garden. Organic gardening and gardening naturally starts with the soil.

The soil is the most important part of successful gardening. Organic gardeners spend much time adding organic matter-compost, grass clippings, shredded leaves, mulches-to the soil, which improves soil structure, soil fertility and adds beneficial microorganisms to the soil.

Many of the synthetic inputs that conventional gardeners use are necessary because the soil has not been replenished and is devoid of nutrients.

It’s the Soil and So Much More

The soil is the beginning of a great garden. Soil is a combination of organic matter, minerals, air spaces, moisture, microorganisms (fungi and bacteria), and macro organisms (worms, insects).

Many types of organisms have one or more portions of their life cycle in the soil. Using natural gardening methods will encourage your soil life to stay healthy. Remember-there are beneficial insects and detrimental insects.

Applying a blanket treatment for insect control or bacteria control, not only controls detrimental insects-it also controls beneficial insects. Left alone, many insect and bacterial populations will stabilize themselves.

Again, the idea of balance comes into play. If the soil is in good condition, with a proper pH, balance of nutrients, and a healthy population of beneficial microorganisms and macro organisms, plants aboveground will be healthy, as well.

It is worth noting that if you are beginning to garden organically and your soil is very depleted, you may need to inoculate with humic acid or beneficial bacteria to restore the balance.

Plants get Stressed, too

Plants experience stress, just as animals experience stress. The point of organic gardening is to reduce plant stress naturally, without needing synthetic inputs. Plants that are not getting enough water, nutrients, or are not planted in the right place will be stressed.

They produce weak growth which is more susceptible to disease and pest problems.

Mimicking the Natural World

A garden is, by definition, a cultivated place. That is what sets it apart from naturally occurring ecosystems, which are better able to maintain equilibrium. Elementary school students learn about “succession,” in the wild, and the process of reaching a mature “climax community.”

Climax communities may change with climate change, or introduction of invasive species, but for the most part, they are stable. Part of what allows these ecological communities to remain stable is the fact that they have a wide range of species that work well with each other-trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, fungi, bacteria, insects, mammals and birds.

Modern industrial agriculture-conventional and organic-is founded on the efficiency of a monoculture-acres and acres of the same types of plants together. Therefore, when one pest or disease attacks, the entire field succumbs.

In contrast, gardening, especially on a small scale, allows the gardener to do what he or she can to recreate a functioning ecosystem.

There are always bound to be pest problems, but inter-cropping, field rotation, liberal use of compost and strategic garden planning goes a long way toward establishing a more balanced system.

Planting nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes next to plants that require high amounts of nitrogen like corn or tomatoes creates an artificial, yet functional relationship. Alternating plants in the onion family with plants in the cabbage family can help confuse insects.

Organic Gardening is a State of Mind and a Practice

The term “organic” does not necessarily mean “safe.” There are naturally occurring compounds that are equally or more dangerous than synthetically produced chemicals.

Organic gardening is more of a philosophy that, when enacted, allows a gardener to produce food and flowers with less of an impact on the earth.