OVERVIEW OF ORGANIC GARDENING:
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS:
- Definition of Basic Terms
- Dictionary Definition #1
- Dictionary Definition #2
- Negative Definition
- Alternatives to "Chemicals
- Certification Standards
- Rec.gardens.ecosystems' Definition
- Certified Organic Crops
- Integrated Pest Management
- Summary of Basic Concepts
- Healthy Garden
- Pests and Weeds
- History of Organic Gardening
- Assigned Reading
DEFINITION OF BASIC TERMS:
There are arguments over some of the terms used in organic
gardening. This section attempts to clarify the definitions:
There are a number of different meanings to the term,
"organic". They include:
- DICTIONARY DEFINITION #1: Webster's "New World
Dictionary" has 8 different definitions for "organic". The one most
directly associated with organic gardening reads, "grown with only
animal or vegetable fertilizers, as manure, bone meal, compost, etc."
Ammonium sulfate, Potash, Super Phosphate were found to have
value as fertilizers and were introduced into agriculture in the
later part of the XIX Century. Collectively, they became known as
"chemical fertilizers" and they quickly dominated the market. It was
not known until later that these "chemical fertilizers" caused
Organic gardening is sometimes defined along the lines of "that
kind of gardening that only employs materials from natural sources."
A problem with that definition is that it does not address the use of
cultural practices such as the use of disease or pest resistant plants,
crop rotation, etc. Cultural practices are considered as core issues in
- DICTIONARY DEFINITION #2: Webster's "New World
Dictionary" also defines, "organic" as "designating or of the branch
of chemistry dealing with carbon compounds." Accordingly,
organic gardening has been defined by some as "that kind of
gardening that employs only carbon based compounds." This is an
untenable definition. The purpose of organic gardening is to get
away from the use of environmentally destructive and overly toxic
"chemical" pesticides. Almost all of the commercial pesticides and
the worst offenders are carbon based.
- NEGATIVE DEFINITION: Organic gardening is sometimes
defined as that kind of gardening that DOESN'T use "chemicals"
which is an awkward definition in several ways. First, negative
definitions are cumbersome. It's like going to store with a shopping
list that says, "Don't buy milk nor a loaf of bread". The gardener
needs to know what he can or should use and why. The definition
to avoid the use of "chemicals" is also awkward because every gas,
liquid and solid are "chemical" and subject to analysis for their
Sulfur, for example, is one of the basic chemical elements. No
material can be more "chemical" than a basic chemical element. It is
also a material that is found in nature. It is mined from natural
deposits. It is one of the essential plant nutrients. It has also been
used in agriculture for well over a hundred years as an insecticide,
fungicide and miticide. It is relatively low in toxicity and is
relatively friendly to the environment. It is included in
virtually every list of acceptable materials for use on Certified Organic Crops.
The better word for those man-made pesticides would be
"synthetic". Generally speaking, the use of synthetic pesticides is
more destructive of the ecosystem of the garden than the use of
pesticides derived from natural materials. There are, however,
exceptions to that and some of the materials from natural sources
need to be used with care. It is better to focus on the overall
performance and suitability of the materials than their source. The
"don't use chemicals" definition also fails to address the use of
- ALTERNATIVES TO "CHEMICALS": There is an understanding
that organic gardening is about the use of alternative materials to
commercial "chemical" pesticides. Someone suggested the use of a
mixture of battery acid and salt, for example, as an alternative to
the use of RoundUp to control weeds. The use of this mixture would
be much more destructive to the environment than would the use of
RoundUp. Finding alternatives to the use of commercial "chemical"
or synthetic pesticides can be a good thing but not at any price.
One of the problems with the use of home remedies or alternative
materials is that some of them clearly do work and are garden
appropriate. A blanket condemnation of all home remedies is as
inappropriate as a blanket condemnation of all commercial products.
A classic example of a home remedy that does work is the use of a
dilute solution of baking soda for the control of powdery mildew.
The American Rose Society, an organization that usually
recommends the use of synthetic pesticides, even recommends the
use of baking soda for the control of powdery mildew on roses.
Some home gardeners are able to avoid the use of pesticides all
together by doing nothing more than plain good gardening which is
the best of all alternatives.
- CERTIFICATION STANDARDS: A number of governmental
regulatory agencies and trade associations have drafted standards for
the production of organic crops. These standards are lists of
materials that can or can not be used. Most of the standards are
different with certain materials being allowed in one jurisdiction and
prohibited in another but, in general, there is more agreement than
there is disagreement and these standards do provide the home
gardener with a guide towards those environmentally friendly
materials considered appropriate in an organic program.
The fault of these standards is that they do not address the issue
of cultural practices.
- REC.GARDENS.ECOSYSTEMS' DEFINITION: We define
organic gardening as that kind of gardening that employs
environmentally friendly products and environmentally friendly
Certified Organic Crops are crops that are
certified by an independent agency confirming that they have been
grown and processed in compliance with a recognized standard.
Growers of commercial organic crops often have problems
complying with the Certification Standards. The growers are
required to keep detailed records confirming their compliance to a
strict standard, they must submit to and pay for an on-site inspection
and pay an additional fee for the certification. In some cases, the
grower is required to get certifications from multiple agencies
meaning keeping even more records, dealing with more restrictions,
and paying for even more inspections and certification fees.
The marketing of these crops can also be a problem. Certification in
one State, District or market may or may not extend to a different
jurisdiction. Nicotine sulfate, for example, is allowed for use as an
insecticide in some jurisdictions but not in others. The issue is that
it is a very toxic material even to the point of threatening the safety of
the farm worker. On the other hand, it can also be considered
environmentally friendly because it bio-degrades so quickly and
completely. Some jurisdictions give more priority to safety to the
farm workers while others give more priority to the way the material
bio-degrades. The grower, caught in the middle, ends up in a
situation in which he can ship and market his nicotine treated crops
to some places but not to others.
Some growers simply get around the certification process and
market their produce as "no spray" which also means un-supervised.
The USDA is in the process of drafting a National Standard that
would apply to all States and, presumably, to all growers marketing
organic crops in the US. A proposed National Standard was
published recently but it contained a number of controversial
provisions and has generated wide spread opposition. It may never
become adopted in its present form. One of the most controversial is
the provisions to allow the use of genetically engineered materials in
an organic crop program. Another controversy is the provision to
allow the use of composted sewer sludge as a soil amendment.
In terms of the home garden, the present OCIA's International
Certification Standard, as cited in Appendix A, should be considered
simply as a guide as to which materials are environmentally
ECOSYSTEM: Ecosystem is defined in Section A of the FAQ as,
"The way the community of all of the living things in a specific
space interrelate with each other and with the physical and chemical
environment that they share."
"Common-Sense Pest Control" by Olkowski, Daar and Olkowski
adds, "By ecosystem, we mean any system that has at least one
living component that fixes energy from the sun. For example,
if a specific green plant is at the core of a particular ecosystem, that
ecosystem includes the animals, fungi and microbes that feed upon
that plant and upon each other, as well as the minerals in various
forms that cycle through and around these organisms".
About a hundred years before the term "ecosystems" was coined,
John Muir said simply , "Everything is connected to everything
else". It is this 'interconnectiveness" that makes an environment
and the life of its inhabitants an ecosystem.
INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT: "Common-Sense Pest
Control" by Olkowski, Daar and Olkowski says, "Integrated Pest
Management, or IPM, is an approach to pest control that utilizes
regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed
and employs physical, mechanical, cultural, biological and
educational tactics to keep pest numbers low enough to prevent
intolerable damage or annoyance. Least-toxic chemical controls are
used as a last resort."
The purpose of IPM is to give the best control of pests and disease
with the least amount of environmentally damaging pesticides.
SUMMARY OF BASIC CONCEPTS:
- HEALTHY GARDEN: Gardens include huge numbers of micro-
organisms that have the potential to cause plant disease along with
huge numbers of eggs and spores of a variety of organisms that
could become major pests but these potential trouble makers are
only a small part of the total living organism population. Most of the
living things that inhabit the garden actively work at making and
keeping the garden healthy.
It is like the old saying, "The greatest gift is the ability to
cope with the ambiguities of life". Healthy gardens cope with the trouble
makers using a variety of natural controls including natural
resistance. Olkowski's second chapter on "Natural Pest Controls" is
important reading. The health of the garden all goes back to the
issues of "interconnectiveness" in the ecosystem of the garden.
Specifically, the healthy garden is the garden that resists problems
with pest and disease and is able to cope with the trouble makers. A
healthy garden is not necessarily free of an occasional blemish or
immune to damage.
The primary characteristic of the healthy garden is a wide
biodiversity living in balance with nature.
- PESTS AND WEEDS: Liberty Hyde Bailey, the "Father" of modern
horticulture, once said "Nature ...knows no plants as weeds".
Probably, the same could be said about "pests". All living plants and
creatures contribute to the bio-diversity of the garden and workings
of the ecosystem but it is also true that certain plants and creatures
can become a nuisance or problem to the gardener.
Session #5 deals with weeds, weed prevention and weed control.
Section #6 deals with pests and disease as well as their prevention
and control. Generally speaking, weeds are plants that became
dislocated from their natural environment and became separated
from their indigenous natural controls. They are a problem in the
garden because of this separation.
The same can be said of most pests. The Japanese Beetle, for
example, is native to Japan and is not a particular problem in its
native setting. It became a real problem in much of the U.S. after it
was accidentally introduced.
- TOXICITY: Some of the materials promoted for use in organic
gardening programs are labeled or identified as being "non-toxic".
This is a blatant overstatement. Too much of anything can be toxic
to the ecosystem of the garden. Toxicity is relative and not absolute.
At best, a material can be less toxic. There is an old saying in
Medicine, "The toxicity is in the dose". This also applies to
pesticides and fertilizers.
All of the essential plant nutrients are toxic in excessive
amounts and this is particularly true relative to the micro-nutrients.
The margin between feeding just the right amount and feeding too much can be
very narrow. Even those insecticides or fungicides that are
environmentally friendly when used as directed can become
environmentally destructive when used at higher levels. Using less
toxic materials in an organic gardening program is only half the
story. Less toxic materials also need to be used at the right level.
HISTORY OF ORGANIC GARDENING:
J. I. Rodale was the first to use the term "organic" in the context of
gardening or farming. He used the statement in a magazine article in
1940. Rodale said that the use of "chemical" fertilizers and pesticides
was destructive of the environment. The article advocated the return to
the use of natural materials such as composts and manures as a better
way to feed the garden and the return to the traditional cultural
practices such as crop rotation as a better way to prevent and control
garden pests. J.I. Rodale was one of the early leaders of the
environmental movement and one of the most articulate. He is most
remembered for starting Rodale Press which publishes the magazine,
"Organic Gardening" and for founding The Rodale Institute which gives
organic gardening and farming supportive data.
The event that ignited the public's passion for organic gardening was
Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", published in 1962. She painted an
emotional picture of the environmental damage caused by the use of
"chemical" fertilizers and pesticides. Rachel Carson became the voice
against the use of "toxic chemicals" and against the chemical companies.
"Silent Spring" presented the idea that materials that were derived from
nature were safe or "non-toxic" and that materials derived from
synthetic sources were environmentally destructive and "toxic". Rachel
Carson set the stage for a lot of arguments.
Organic gardening has grown from being essentially a protest movement to
being main stream. It is now the style by choice of some 15 - 20 million
home gardeners just here in the United States. Organic produce has grown
from being a fad item in health food stores to an established presence
in many, if not most, super markets. Part of the reason for the reason
for this growth is the on- going public concern for the environment.
Another reason is the belief that gardening in co-operation with the
ecosystem makes for a better garden and better crops.
The recent squabbles over the USDA's proposed National Standards for
organic crop production will set the stage for what happens next.
- Section A; FAQ; "General Information, Definition of Terms,
Hints & Tips"
- Appendix A; FAQ; "Organic Certification Standards"
- Appendix B; FAQ; "Recommended Reading"
- Olkowski, Daar & Olkowski; "Common-Sense Pest Control":
Chapter 1: "Naming Living Things and Understanding their Habits and Habitats"
Chapter 2: "Natural Pest Controls"
Chapter 3: "Introduction to Integrated Pest Management"