What’s So Great About Organic Gardening?
by Gary Kline
I have good news! Organic gardening is easy - - - or at least it can be. There’s nothing mysterious or difficult about it. It’s basically working with natural materials and principles, much like our grandparents did before the era of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers came into being in the 1940’s. Interestingly, organic gardening, as it presently is understood and practiced, came into being about the same time, partly in reaction to the rise of chemicals in agriculture.
But organic gardening has to do with much more than just avoiding the use of chemicals. And, indeed, there is much more to its methods and benefits than even most organic growers are aware of. What I can tell you is that it works; and, when done correctly, organic methods are superior to chemical growing in several ways. One of those is production of superior nutrition that results in a healthier you. But it isn’t automatic, and there are steps or measures you have to take to get the full benefits. In other words, you have to do it right.
When I started gardening organically in the early 1970’s, we organic gardeners were viewed as kooks and hippies. Today a majority of gardeners think of themselves as organic practitioners. There’s been a great change in thinking and the word “organic” (which is probably the most misunderstood word or concept in the English language) has become almost holy.
The problem is that most people think organic means avoiding toxic pesticides and harsh or harmful chemical fertilizers; in other words, what you don’t do. But what about what you should do to make your plants healthy, excellent tasting and naturally free of diseases and insect pests? As the old song goes, you have to “latch onto the affirmative”, as well as “eliminate the negative”. Basically, this comes down to how you treat your soil.
My own view and experience is that success in gardening is at least 75 percent attributable to the soil; to its fertility and condition or tilth. All you really need to do to grow almost any landscape ornamental or vegetable crop well is to create a properly and fully-fertilized loam or a soil with the characteristics of loam, such that it is well-aerated, drains well, yet retains enough moisture to support the plant’s water needs. Then you have the correct synergy for rapid, strong growth.
Most chemical fertilizers tend to unbalance and destroy soil and the micro-organisms, earthworms, and other soil life that are needed to build good soil tilth and assist plants in obtaining their soil nutrients. Organic fertilizers, in the right combinations, however, improve soils and sustain their fertility against losses caused by high rainfall or irrigating, and as a result of removal by the crop that is harvested and taken away. To prevent fertility decline and poor quality of crop production, the nutrients have to be replaced.
There are a couple of general principles about plant growth that every gardener needs to be aware of and bear in mind. One is that there are just six controlling factors in plant growth. Those six are anchorage (meaning providing some medium for the plant to sink its roots into in order for it to stand upright); air; water; warmth; sunlight; and nutrients. What’s handy about knowing this is that if something is wrong with a plant, it has to be one of those six factors. So, if you can eliminate five as being the problem, you know which one you have to concentrate on to correct the problem and restore healthy growth.
When growing vegetables outdoors, there usually is little you can do about the first five factors mentioned, but a lot you can usually do about the sixth - - - nutrients. When it comes to nutrients, it is important to realize that there are 19 or 20 known nutrient elements required by plants for healthy growth and not just the three; namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (or NPK) you always hear and read about. All of the 20 elements are important and essential, even if some are only needed in very tiny amounts - - - for example, boron is a minor or trace element, and calcium is a major or primary nutrient. Only one-thousandths as much boron is needed in the soil as calcium; yet without that one-thousandth part boron, the calcium is next to useless because boron moves the calcium into the plant. As it turns out, the calcium moves a dozen other of the nutrient elements into the plant and the plant’s cells, where all the action is.
All of these are minerals and almost never are all of them naturally present in soil in the right amounts and proportions. Therefore, it should not be surprising that nearly every person on earth also is lacking in one or more of the essential trace elements that ultimately have to come out of the soil that our crops and livestock are grown on.
Such soil nutrient deficiencies can be corrected, either by having a professional soil test and analysis done for your garden, or by supplying a full-spectrum fertilizer mix, generally made up of a dozen or so materials, preferably derived from natural and organic sources. The waters of the ocean contain all of the needed mineral nutrients. The land seldom does. Nature requires your help to perfect the soil’s fertility balance and levels, and this is something you can do to great advantage and often with astonishing results. It makes for green thumbs.
The trick in proper fertilization is to practice the ABC’s of correct fertilizing. You have to apply a sufficient amount (A), in the right balance (B), and complete array (C); or more exactly, you need to achieve the right ABC levels in your soil for plants to grow their best and have the best nutritional content. Full nutritional content is what installs health in plants, as well as in animals and in people. It also results in high resistance to pest insects and immunity to diseases, just as truly healthy eating does for people. A further benefit is that a well-grown, nutrient-dense crop resists rotting following harvest. It is the nutritionally-deprived and poorly-grown vegetable that rots first and fastest. The same can be said for we humans.
Imagine growing vegetables that never need spraying with pesticides and fungicides because pests and diseases don’t bother them. Their role in nature is to take out the sickly and unfit. Now we are back at avoiding harmful and toxic chemicals, but we didn’t do it by doing nothing. Instead, we made the plants resistant by the proactive measure of properly fertilizing the soil with soil-improving materials of the right kinds.
Many organic gardeners are under the impression that all you need to do to improve soil and raise its fertility is to plow or spade in plenty of organic matter, such as leaves, manure, or ordinary compost. While soils often do need organic matter additions; and this can be vital, beyond about 5 or 10 percent of the topsoil volume actually becomes detrimental.
What is most often overlooked or ignored is the necessity to add nutrient minerals. Those minerals may be supplied in part from plant and animal meals like cottonseed meal, soybean meal, bonemeal and bloodmeal; but they also may be supplied partly by inorganic materials in the form of crushed or powdered rocks and limestone taken out of the earth. What generally works best is a combination or mix of plant and animal meals, plus the rock powders, to make what is referred to as a complete organic fertilizer. Also, materials from the sea, such as fish scraps and seaweed or kelp, are mineral-rich and make good fertilizers. In fact, even salt water and sea salt, applied at the correct rates, are excellent mineral fertilizers, believe it or not. Minerals make all the difference in crop performance and crop taste.
To compensate for the lack of awareness of the critical mineral factor in organic fertilization, I coined the term “Mineral-Augmented Organics”. This is a substantial advancement over ordinary organic gardening or growing, and I sincerely believe that what we are doing here is the most important work on the planet; that is, how to grow healthy food to have healthy people.
I also developed a line of mineralized, complete organic fertilizers that carry out the ABC principle of correct fertilization I mentioned earlier. We call these our BLOOM fertilizers, and there are 10 types for different plant classes. They are quite popular in this region and are available here at Black Lake Organic Nursery, as well as by internet order on our website <blacklakeorganic.com>. Here is a display sample. [SHOW BLOOM] You can see all 10 kinds on the shelves in the other room, and they are available for purchase tonight.
In terms of what it does positively for you, your plants and for the planet, organic gardening is good - - - Mineral-Augmented Organic growing makes it great!
Finally, there isn’t time to go into planting techniques and the what, when and how of planting, but we put out a South Sound Food Gardener’s Calendar with planting charts in the spring, which pretty much tell you everything you need to do. [SHOW CALENDAR] And now I’m ready to take your questions. GLK
© 2012 Gary L. Kline
All Rights Reserved