The organic gardening discussion has been going on for decades. Consumer demand has driven the upswing in grocery store produce grown without certain herbicides and pesticides. The availability of organically-grown food is something we take for granted in 2020, but I wonder how many home gardeners have embraced organic practices as the best way to grow beautiful, healthy plants in their own backyards? Now that we’re paying more attention to the types of products we use in our homes, do we still reach for the old standbys when it’s time to fertilize the tomatoes?
In my early days of gardening, like many people, I reached for that well-known container of blue fertilizer that was mixed with water to feed both houseplants and summer bedding plants. It was a quick fix and delivered results, but it didn’t provide any long-term benefits to my garden.
I began decreasing my use of traditional fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in the 1990’s. Initially, the concern was very simply, my children, who were outside with me almost every day. They practiced cartwheels on the lawn, and piled collections of sticks, rocks, flowers, and pinecones on our deck. I didn’t want to use pesticides and other chemicals in my garden that would undoubtedly end up on their shoes, and possibly on their skin. I wanted to keep their small world as safe as possible.
All those years ago, I decided to focus on feeding the soil, so that it would provide all the nutrients and minerals needed to help my plants thrive. I pulled weeds by hand, as much as possible, and if I had a problem with a garden plant, I looked for the least toxic solution. Back then, I depended on books to guide me into the world of organics, but today there is a vast amount of information available to help you begin.
Want to know where to start? A quick web search will yield plenty of information to answer any questions you may have about going organic. If you want to hear from people committed to this way of gardening, I encourage you to find a podcast to listen to, or a YouTube channel to watch. For a glimpse into the organic gardening mindset, follow the weekly podcasts of Margaret Roach, a talented writer who gardens in upstate New York. Her latest book, A Way to Garden, is a wise and witty commentary on both gardening and nature.
If you’re an armchair traveler, spend a rainy spring afternoon watching Gardener’s World on the BBC on Brit Box. I’m inspired by how the British people (truly a nation of gardeners) are working to protect and restore natural habitats, by rethinking what they plant in their own backyards.
Here in Georgia, when I’m not geeking out on British gardening shows, I focus on composting anything I can get my hands on, including kitchen scraps, paper egg cartons, newspaper, and spent garden plants. I spread finished compost in the fenced garden where I grow vegetables and fruit, along with perennial flowers. I buy earthworm castings bagged up for sale at a farm near my home, and buy spent logs from a mushroom farm in the area, which makes fantastic mulch for my evergreen shrubs.
I use native plants, such as coneflowers, to bring pollinators into my garden, along with a diverse mix of fruit trees, berries, herbs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, and flowering shrubs. I try to put the right plant in the right place, so that I minimize problems with disease or insects, and I also rotate crops such as potatoes and tomatoes. I remove pests, like slugs, by hand when I see them, or I find the least toxic way to treat the problem. And yes, I pull weeds.
Most of all, I have stopped expecting perfection. Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. In my mind, gardening is an ongoing experiment, full of plenty of drama, but also moments of joy.
Are we willing to give up the quick fixes, like the blue fertilizer box? I hope so. I’m encouraged by the new generation of gardeners, who seem to understand that as individuals we can make a difference, and maybe one place to start is the garden.