When most people think of organic gardening they think of gardening without the use of chemicals such as fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Although these are essential elements, organic gardening involves a lot more. Organic gardening in it's broadest sense refers to a system of gardening in harmony with nature. The organic gardener tries to minimize the impact of his gardening efforts on the environment and natural systems.
Organic gardening is self sustaining and aims to leave the environment in the same state as it was found - avoiding depletion of resources and safeguarding the delicate balance that exists in nature. True organic gardening therefore considers the role that even the smallest micro organism has to play in the ecology of the garden and attempts to make use of resources present naturally in the environment rather than introduce external chemicals into the process. Selection of plants appropriate to the environment is therefore a vital part of organic gardening.
Whereas chemical based agriculture attempts to change the environment to suit the crop by using chemical additives and fertilizers etc. The organic approach is to best use the resources naturally available. Principles of organic gardening also involve crop rotation to prevent nutrient depletion. Constantly growing the same type of plant - that is plants which have the same or similar nutrient requirements could lead to severe depletion of these elements in the soil. Crop rotation by alternately growing plants with different nutrient requirements allows the soil to replenish its nutrient supplies and rejuvenate itself.
These concepts are very succinctly stated in the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement's Principles of Organic Agriculture as follows:
"The role of Organic Agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution or consumption is to sustain and enhance the health of the ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings".
Stated in this manner the objective of organic gardening and agriculture while laudable might seem rather unachievable. However, there are many practical and simple strategies that could promote this objective. These include:
Composting - rather than using chemicals and other artificial additives to boost soil nutrients the organic approach is through recycling of plant matter itself through composting.
Instead of using pesticides the organic gardener uses natural methods to control insects and other organisms. The emphasis is on control rather than total eradication. Crop rotation helps by not letting pests that feed on any particular type of plant to establish a strong presence. Another strategy may be to grow plants which encourage the presence of "pest predators" or growing companion plants that repel insects. These are a few of the many natural environmental control mechanisms available to the organic gardener.
Weed control could be done for instance through use of mulches and natural ground cover.
The major criticism of organic gardening is that it is not as efficient or productive as chemical based gardening. It is suggested that yields can be significantly increased by use of artificial cultivation methods. However, the organic gardener would argue that the increased yields come at an unacceptably high price. A price expressed in terms of the new and increased health risks associated with exposure to dangerous chemicals. Chemicals which find their way into all manner of products and foods as result of contamination of waterways etc. Pollution and degradation of the environment as a result is the other price we pay for non-organic gardening.
Since the beginning of the 1990's interest in organic agriculture and gardening has been increasing in leaps and bounds and shows no signs of abating. Although organic gardening is not likely to take over in the short run it is obviously here to stay.