What Is Organic Gardening? What Are The Pros and Cons?
Organic food is one of the biggest trends of the 20th century. World governments and leading agricultural companies around the globe are investing billions of dollars into this technology. But what is it all about? What is organic horticulture? Organic gardening avoids using artificial chemical products like pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. They are replaced by manure, leaf/grass clippings, and compost.
There’s a lot more to this topic, though. How is organic gardening organized? What are its biggest pros and cons? Can a regular person start an organic garden? What will they need for that? And, more importantly, are organically grown fruits and vegetables tastier and more nutritious? Read on, and you’ll find answers to all those questions!
The Definition of Organic Gardening
According to the USDA, produce can only be certified as organic if it meets certain criteria. Mainly, the crops need to be produced on a garden/farm that hasn’t been using any man-made fertilizers or pesticides/herbicides for the last three years before the harvest. On top of that, the garden is required to have big gaps on all sides (known as “buffer zones”) to avoid contamination from neighboring farms.
Ionizing radiation and genetic engineering are also forbidden. Also, make sure there’s no sewage sludge making its way into your garden. And if you’ve got livestock, growth hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Finally, the animals should only live on organic fields and be fed organic feed. This goes outside the definition of an organic garden, though.
How Can I Start an Organic Garden?
While it does come with a fair share of challenges, managing your own garden is easier than you think. As long as you do everything “by the book” and follow our tried-and-true tips, it shouldn’t take very much time, effort, or financial investments to start an organic garden and enjoy fresh, healthy, and nutritious produce.
Find the Right Location
The first step is finding a suitable site for the garden, one that gets 6–8 hours of sunlight during the day. The reason is most plants, including tomatoes and cucumbers, require full exposure to the sun to grow and flourish. At the same time, certain greens like kale or lettuce produce well even when they only get 2–3 hours of sun. See that the crops are planted far from trees/bushes and have access to a water stream.
Pay Extra Attention to the Soil
Take your time with the soil and make sure it’s got enough nutrients to support organic crops. It must be well-drained and rich to accelerate the growth and strengthen the roots. Don’t underestimate the power of compost. In contrast to fertilizers, compost will feed the soil itself, not just the plants. There are dozens of “ready-steady” compost products available on the market. Or you can make your own, but that’s the longer route.
The Plants Come Next
Before you get to gardening, do your best to pick plants that can grow in the local climate. Ideally, it should be plants that are native to the area. But wait: how do you find them? Just visit the local home improvement or garden store, and they’ll have just the right plants for your region. You’re free to choose between vegetables and fruits that thrive in colder climates and produce that flourish in extreme heat.
Watering and Feeding
Be careful when watering organic plants because too much water can be just as disastrous for the crops as the lack of it. Make a habit of checking the soil before adding any water. Just put your finger about an inch into the soil. If it’s dry, go ahead and water it; and if it’s not, well, just leave the soil be for the moment. And what about feeding the plants? There are lots of nutrition products out there; however, they’re not very effective.
If the soil is mixed with the right amount of compost, you shouldn’t need anything else.
Controlling Weed Growth
One of the most effective ways of controlling weed infestation is mulch. It serves as a “layer of protection” that keeps the soil moist and cool. On top of that, it prevents weeds from taking over the garden and stealing the nutrients and the water from your organic crops. Wheat straw, leaves, pine needles, wood chips, and bark are among the most common types of mulch.
Did you know that most pests have collective consciousness? Well, that’s true, and it’s bad news for crops. Even if you successfully fight them off today, they will come back stronger next year. Pests are known to build up near plants and get ready for an attack as soon as the time is right. That’s why crop rotation—moving the plants from one spot to another—is an effective technique.
The Pros of Organic Gardening
Alright, now that we’ve talked about the very essence of organic gardening and how it works, let’s take a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of this practice. The list of advantages is quite large and strongly overweighs the cons. It includes affordability, sustainability, reusability, and more.
- Healthy, tasty produce. Chemically-treated food isn’t particularly healthy and doesn’t always taste great. In contrast, organic produce tastes and looks much better. Nutrient-dense soil, in turn, makes the vegetables and fruits healthier. Plus, they have more time to grow. Don’t expect organic food to be ten times better than non-organic, though (read more about that further down our guide).
- A low-budget option. Organic food is expensive, but only for the buyers. For a gardener, treating organic crops is much cheaper than using pricey chemicals. You will have to spend more time, that’s true, but the expenses will be lower. Fertilizers and pesticides do cost a lot! Besides, if you make compost on your own, you’ll be able to run a self-sustaining organic garden.
- Eco-friendly gardening. In many ways, all those chemicals that large-scale farms use are poison for the soil. The same can’t be said about organically grown produce. And let’s not forget that most farmers sell their vegetables and fruits locally. That keeps carbon emissions to a minimum.
- Strong pest/disease resistance. This might come as a surprise, but organically grown crops have proven to be more resistant to pests and diseases than treated plants. When grown chemical-free, these crops develop natural resistance to pests and other potential threats. Also, crops planted in nutrient-rich soil tend to grow faster and be more resilient.
- Reusable organic garbage. Composting is one of the most ancient and effective practices in gardening. You can take waste right from the garden and use it as a natural fertilizer. Recycled organic waste (leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps) also helps reduce waste and pollution levels.
- Soil biodiversity remains intact. As mentioned, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals are harmful to the soil. Furthermore, they don’t “pick their targets”. That means chemical products kill all critters, both bad and good, along with many nutrients and bacteria, and that upsets the balance of the soil. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen when you only use compost.
- The healthier the soil, the more sustainable it will be. Organic gardening doesn’t contaminate it. As a result, the soil retains its fertility and can serve for hundreds of years.
The Cons of Organic Gardening
Switching to the downsides of organic gardening, the most talked-about disadvantage is, of course, the fact that it takes more work. Next, the soil requires both your constant attention and gardening skills. Furthermore, organic vegetables and fruits cost more for everyday consumers.
- Takes time and energy. Yes, organic gardening is hard work, and you’ll have to treat every single crop personally. When using chemicals, it’s much easier to grow large fields of produce, but with organic food, you’ll only be able to “handle” a relatively smaller garden. It’s vital to be committed to this; otherwise, you’ll end up being disappointed.
- Hard to work with the soil. To make sure the crops aren’t taken over by pests and diseases, you must amend the soil regularly. The goal here is to make sure the plants get all the nutrients they need. The tricky part is finding the perfect balance of nutrients when you only have natural fertilizers to work with. And please don’t forget that if you use animal manure that’s not cured, that could harm the crops.
- The produce is more expensive. Depending on the fruits and vegetables, organic food can be 5–80% more expensive than non-organic produce. The final price is dictated by the area that you live in, the local laws and incentives, the climate (droughts, heat, heavy rain), and, of course, the retailer. So, while organic produce doesn’t cost a lot for the actual producer, it does, indeed, tend to be pricey for the average citizen.
- No pest/weed control. True, we did just talk about how resistant naturally grown plants are, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy to control weeds and pests. With officially registered and certified chemicals, it’s much easier to keep tough perennial weeds from spreading. The same is true for pest control.
- Expensive certificates. To get an official “organic” certificate for your farm and produce, you’ll have to pay $750–1,250 for the first year. After that, you’ll be obliged to pay for future inspections. Again, it depends on the state and the local laws. Smaller farms have to pay $350–550 annually after the first year. Bigger ones, in turn, should “invest” $1,000 to get a certificate.
Is Organically Grown Food More Nutritious? Is It Healthier and Tastier?
The short answer is yes to all three questions. However, it’s a bit more complicated. For example, according to the ACSH, organic products aren’t as nutritious or delicious as some people believe them to be. The time of harvest is what largely determines how tasty the vegetables and fruits will be. If you buy produce from the average chain store that was harvested at the perfect stage of development, it will taste better than most organic food.
Still, many studies show that organic produce is more nutritious. That’s because it is richer in minerals and vitamins that are vital for the human body. And people that eat it regularly do claim that it tastes better. More importantly, organic food is healthier and has a longer shelf life. To add to that, organic food doesn’t have any chemical residue and is 100% harmless.
A Better Choice for Babies and Teenagers
While it hasn’t yet been scientifically proven that pesticides and herbicides cause harm to the body of a human adult, the same can’t be said about children. Exposure to pesticides is known to negatively affect a minor’s ability to learn, memorize, affect their cognitive skills, and also increase the risk of ADHD. A recent study named three carcinogenic pesticides that humans are exposed to through food.
Organic gardening—it’s quite challenging but also very rewarding. It’s safe to say that in the future, this technology, or, rather, gardening practice, will only become more popular, despite the current state of the economy.
Organic food is a challenge to grow, especially for someone who’s just getting into it. However, the benefits are too obvious, and that’s why this gardening practice is in such large demand right now.
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Featured Image Credit: Adamsov, Pixabay
- 1 The Definition of Organic Gardening
- 2 How Can I Start an Organic Garden?
- 3 The Pros of Organic Gardening
- 4 Is Organically Grown Food More Nutritious? Is It Healthier and Tastier?
- 5 A Better Choice for Babies and Teenagers
- 6 Conclusion