The Dirt on Growing Organically

Growing SeedlingWhat is growing organically? It depends upon who you talk to. Some think it’s synonymous with “hippy” while others believe it’s a baby boomer fad (see Gardening as an Anarchist Plot). The simple answer is, that organic gardeners only use animal or vegetable fertilizers rather than synthetics. It also means natural pest control devoid of industrial insecticides. In other words, using natural substances and beneficial insects to ward off pests instead of spraying with the backyard equivalent of Agent Orange.

However, organic growing is much more than what we use and don’t use (see Garden Organically). It is a philosophy that stresses increasing the natural health of the soil, choosing appropriate plants that are suited to your area, and working with nature to produce a healthy and productive garden.

While growing without chemicals is trendy now, it’s been around since ancient times. It was the only way to farm. Chemical fertilizers weren’t even a possibility until the 1840’s when some scientist in a lab coat discovered that he could mix a couple of test tubes together and make a plant grow. Since then farming has become increasingly chemically based. However, as many as 60 years ago, J. I. Rodale, in articles and in the magazines he founded, began promoting the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides instead of chemicals to avoid harming the environment. To this day, theRodale Institute, which he founded, operates a 333-acre experimental farm and publishes books on gardening as well as Organic Gardeningmagazine.

For me, deciding to go organic was a no-brainer. Most of the conventional ways of managing a garden revolve around killing everything, knocking Mother Nature off-balance and then adding a bunch of chemicals to get her groove back. Not a sustainable system by any means. Learn aboutalternatives to pesticides here.

I became interested in growing organically 17 years ago when I moved to Bozeman, Montana from New Hampshire, where I grew up. To make ends meet, while going to grad school, I waited on tables at night. During the day, I took a job feeding various bugs for a guy who was selling them as beneficial insects.

So, I was bitten by the beneficial bug “bug.” Before I knew it, I was raising beneficial insects myself and had a vegetable patch in my backyard. My first foray into gardening wasn’t too auspicious. The soil was hard-packed clay and I nearly broke my arm trying to aerate it with a fork shovel. Then I started building the soil like crazy with all kinds of natural stuff (see Building Healthy Soil). My wife wasn’t pleased when I threw several hundred pounds of dead of worms (they had cooked in transit and couldn’t be sold) into the garden, but, boy, oh boy, did my garden grow — and, boy, oh boy, did my dog stink after he rolled around in it! Eventually, I had a patch of green that even Martha Stewart would envy. I’ve been hooked ever since.

If you’re a big time gardener (and even if you’re not), I recommend taking a look at these other websites. Chock-full of practical advice on beneficial insectsorganic vegetable gardening and herb gardening, it’s no wonder they’re a few of my all-time favorites!

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