Organic Gardening Pros And Cons
Should I Turn to Organic Gardening? Pros and Cons
You are likely reading this because you wish to know more about becoming an organic gardener, and have this burning question:
How much time will this take? Or, how the heck can I keep my flowers alive in a pesticide-free yard without insects and disease destroying them?
These are excellent questions, and many of the answers aren’t clear-cut. So, let’s start with the #1 basic difference between organic and conventional gardening:
“Organic gardeners start with the soil.”
That’s it. If more people knew this, the concept of going organic would be a lot easier. You see, your flower beds (and your lawn, vegetables and trees) can thrive without chemicals, and will actually be healthier in the long run.
However, instead of focusing on the cosmetics of your garden, focus on what makes your plants healthy in the first place – rich, organic soil. Should you try it?
- If you practice composting, you have a free and endless source of nutrient-rich, organic soil for your garden. 30 – 50% of all household waste can be turned into garden soil!
- Organic matter in the soil means having an entire culture of good insects, microbes, worms and fungi to help in your garden. Microbes churn dirt into richer soil, the tunnels of worms aerate the ground, good insects eat the bad insects and weed seeds, and beneficial fungi forms a symbiotic relationship with the plant’s roots. The result is almost self-renewing soil and stronger plants.
- Over time, you can pay less and less attention to it, only applying compost and composted manures once or twice a season (rather than three or four applications of synthetic fertilizer).
- Compost is slow-release, meaning the nutrients are locked into organic matter, which can only be unlocked by the actions of microbes. This means that if your soil is poor-quality and lacking in microbial life, adding compost will not help much, initially. You have to spend more time building it up through composted manures and soil amendments
- Because compost is mainly home-grown, the nutrient value will be inconsistent. It all depends what you throw in there. This is why a lot of gardeners and authors (including myself) refer to compost as a soil conditioner. Its fluffy texture both breaks up clay and helps retain moisture. The activity of microbes in the compost and surrounding soil unlock nutrients already available.
- You can certainly buy compost, but that erases most of the savings you can achieve by cutting out the purchase of chemical fertilizer. Though composting is a natural process, you have to take an active part to speed up the process into a few short months, rather than years. This involves more work of watering, aerating and sifting.
- Also, as nutrients are naturally slow-release, results are not instantaneous. Improvement in plant growth and health is more gradual.
- Just like conventional fertilizer applications, you have to add to the soil properly. Though there’s much more forgiveness and room for error, just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s safe. For instance, improper composting (adding meat or dog droppings, for example), can spread pathogens. E. coli can live in cow manure for nearly two years, so it is important to have it professionally composted (that is, heated up properly to kill any pathogens and broken down into soil) – this is the leading cause of food recalls of organic vegetables in the last few years.
“I do not get results from organic gardening.”
This is one of the main stumbling blocks and criticisms of organic gardening.
This will remain true for those without the proper mindset. Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are extremely popular because, let’s face it, they get the job done, and fast.
Organic alternatives may not offer the same fast results. Many people are too comfortable relying on synthetic fertilizer to keep their roses looking healthy, and at the first sign of trouble, pesticides will quickly eradicate the problem.
The proper mindset is thinking long-term and learning to use natural methods to tend to your garden. The slow build-up of the soil and the gradual introduction of microbes and beneficial insects all contribute to plant health. Mulching, composting, hand-pulling weeds, and keeping your garden clean will result in vigorous, strong plants. You want your plants (especially your lawn) to out-compete the weeds.
- Learning a new mindset allows you to think long-term – healthy soil means healthy plants, which means they crowd out the weeds and are better able to resist insect infestations and disease.
- Without pesticides, you will find a lot more “good” life in your garden – butterflies, dragonflies, songbirds, ladybugs and other insects – all of these eat the bad bugs, resulting in fewer infestations. Not to mention chemical-free vegetables for your dinner table.
- Some simple efforts, such as keeping your garden clean of debris, having well-drained soil and properly watering will eradicate a lot of disease.
- Many people have no time to learn organic methods, and are frustrated by the multitude of choices and techniques available, some that work, some that don’t. It often doesn’t make sense to spend hours trying different ways to help a plant, when a dose of fertilizer or a quick spray of pesticide will do the trick.
- All the pros above will assume you have the patience to see the results. Bad Insects and weeds will never be fully under control, and you will have to know some of the specific techniques to deal with a particular problem. Most problems have organic solutions, but there is a lot of conflicting information, some of which can do more harm than good. For instance, natural oils and garlic sprays can burn the leaves of your plants if not applied properly. Home-made vinegar and salt herbicide sprays can do more damage to the microbes in your soil than chemical fertilizers.
I believe there are a lot more pros than cons in organic gardening, but of course I’m biased! The bottom line is that you need the patience to build up the natural defenses of your garden, such as rich soil teeming with protective microbes and resident insects that will lay eggs that will eventually control your pest problem.
In the long run, your garden will be healthier and stronger, you will be contributing a much-needed haven for beneficial insects and songbirds, and you will be participating in the natural renewal process of nature.
In more practical terms, you will be saving money by cutting out the cost of fertilizer and pesticides, and you will be watering less (because you will know how to better retain moisture in the soil).
Though I do not know any gardeners that do this (because they love gardening!), you can in later seasons sit back and be lazy! One or two applications of new soil compost per year instead of four, cutting out the effort of bagging and hauling your grass clippings, and using mulch to discourage weed growth.
Cheers, and have a cup of compost tea!
Well done article. I have Meg to do all the organic stuff, she’s been going organic for 28 years. I’m the bug guy and photographer.
- School girl Says:Very, very helpful for my schools homework assignment! =) =D