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When one uses the term “Organic” with reference to food consumed by the general populace, it tends to conjure up warm fuzzy feelings about good farming practices and people up to their elbows in compost and earthworms. The truth is however slightly different.
It’s taken me a while to write this post as I’ve been struggling with how I’d like to present the argument and at the same time be rational and fair to all of the truly organic players in the market. I have a particular bug-bear with the term “organic”, as I feel that it’s been overused and prostituted for the benefit of corporate interests and skillful swindlers at some accreditation agencies. I’d also like to preface my discussion below with a clause that I make no claim to be an expert, this is my opinion and I’d like it to be seen as such.
Broadly speaking there are two kinds of organic growing going on in the world. The first is the warm fuzzy kind, where gardeners, growers and farmers are actively looking at ways to improve the soil health, nutrient and organic content within their soil. They make tons of compost every year, practice no-till, and generally care more for their soil than they do for the actual plants that they are growing in it. Truly organic farmers are actually soil farmers, with a vegetable byproduct. This is what organic farming should be all about, where the soil gets a chance to provide the nutrients, sustenance and protection to the plant that it was originally designed to do. Once one gets to this stage you will be amazed at the response you get from the seeds and plants that live in your soil.
I’m going to use my own property as an example and explain what we do, as this in my mind is exactly what should be happening if someone would like to make an organic claim on their property or their produce.
When opening a new piece of ground for planting we will either use black plastic over well watered ground, this is to exclude light from the grass that is growing there and thus kill it, or we will just remove the existing grass, form beds and plant straight into the soil.
Once the plants have “gotten away” we will start to add compost / vermicompost on top of the beds and allow the soil organisms to take the nutrients into the soil. Typically we will apply a top dressing like this 2-3 times a year. Once a crop has been harvested we will either leave the remains of the crop in the bed allowing it to break-down naturally, or it will be lifted and put onto the compost heap. Our compost is made with the chimney method and we find it the best way to get plenty of compost quickly.
There are NO other supplements that we add to our plants or soil.
When I say no other supplements I mean NO other supplements, not an organic fertilizer, nor an organic pesticide nothing, not even homemade remedies…. nada, squat, zilch!!! The soil looks after the plants and in-turn we get great produce.
Now, it will take about 3 years using the above process to get soil to a point where it has a great nutrient and “gogga” population that will allow the plants to react favorably when they come under attack or stress from external sources (insects/disease etc). Just remember that you will never have a plant population that is always 100% pest/disease free, even if you use chemicals and toxins to “help” the plant. The minute one adds a chemical (whether organically certified or not) to the plant or soil you are detrimentally affecting the soils health, as well as the macro and micro organisms that make up the soils ecology. We sometimes loose an entire crop to some kind of failure, be it caused by weather, insects, disease or even simply poor conditions for that crop. That is one of the things that as a truly organic grower you will need to learn to accept.
Now let’s get to the other side of “organic farming/gardening”. This is where conventional farming practices are used, but instead of conventional fertilizers, chemicals and toxins to produce the crop, the farmer uses “organically certified” fertilizers, chemicals and toxins. There’s minimal emphasis by the farmer with regards to his soil health nor is there an emphasis on increasing the organic content of his soil. People something is wrong here when a person can still put chemicals onto plants/soil (yeah I know they are organic chemicals) and then claim that they are organic. This is generally what you buy in the stores as organic produce. It may be certified organic but there is a good chance that it never followed the “natural” principles of organic farming.
One cannot rip the soil up with a plow, throw on some organic fertilizer to give nutrients to the plants and then expect that the plants must fend for themselves. It’s the soil that does most of the work, it’s the soil that releases nutrients for the plants to take up, and it’s the soil that is literally the immune system of your vegetable garden. Once you tamper with the soils health you tamper with the health of the plant, and in-turn you tamper with the nutrient content and quality of the food that is harvested from this soil.
I’d like to leave you with this question. How is your next organic purchase grown? It may be time to start asking for organic produce that is really grown organically.