What is Organic Gardening?
Organic gardening is based on developing and maintaining a garden ecosystem which is both stable and robust. The key feature of organic gardening is that the garden ecosystem is largely self-sustaining over a long period of time and does not require input of industrial chemicals or artificial fertilisers.
The meaning of the word ‘organic’ which describes this method of gardening and farming was first described by Lord Northbourne in 1940 in his book ‘Look to the Land’;
“The soil and the microorganisms in it together with the plants growing on it form an organic whole…The best can only spring from that kind of biological completeness which has been called wholeness. If it is to be attained, the farm itself must have a biological completeness; it must be a living entity, it must be a unit which has within itself a balanced organic life”.
The meaning of ‘organic’ has been developed considerably in the last seventy years and encapsulated in the following set of organic principles, recognised internationally, by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM);
Principle of health – Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.
Principle of ecology – Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
Principle of fairness – Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
Principle of care – Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
Practical Organic Gardening
To implement these principles organic gardeners emphasise the following practices:
The use of renewable resources wherever possible. Biodegradable products, such as straw mulches, are favoured over plastic mulches manufactured using fossil fuels.
Conservation of energy, soil and water. Soil is the most precious garden resource. Maintaining an abundant and diverse soil life is the basis of organic gardening. The use of composts and green manures to increase soil organic matter and to feed soil organisms, and through them, plants, is an essential feature of organic gardening. Organic matter and soil organisms maintain and enhance soil structure. Organic gardeners do not use cultivation techniques which destroy that structure. They aim to conserve their garden soil. They do not plunder other landscapes in an attempt to ’improve’ it. It is very rare that natural soil cannot be successfully managed to produce good quality organic produce.
Water conservation is achieved though using mulches and matching watering regimes to the changing water needs of plants during the different stages of the plants life cycle.
Recognition of livestock welfare needs. Livestock such as chickens and ducks play a valuable role in the organic garden, controlling pests and diseases and recycling organic matter through their manures. Organic gardeners provide the necessary food, water, housing and social conditions to meet the needs of any garden livestock.
Produce optimum quantities of food without using of artificial fertilisers and synthetic chemicals. Great care is taken to ensure gardening techniques do not damage the ecological balance within the garden and between the garden and its surrounding environment. In organic gardening systems, the maintenance of ecological balance both within and above the soil environment is crucial to maintaining optimal soil fertility for plants and minimising pest and disease problems. The use of artificial fertilisers and synthetic chemicals for pest, disease, and weed control can seriously upset that balance and is avoided in organic gardening systems.
To deal with pests, organic gardeners provide habitats to encourage naturally occurring predator and parasitic insects. These insects, together with various plant derived insecticides, are used to control problem insects. Disease suppression is achieved by preparing composts and compost teas which produce naturally occurring soil and plant disease suppressing agents rather than using industrially manufactured disease suppressing chemicals.
The balance between the processes of growth and the processes of decay lies at the core of organic gardening. For a garden to be sustainable, whatever is removed from the soil as produce must be returned to the soil at approximately the rate at which it is removed. In practice this is achieved through composting, the decay process, which creates the humus essential for maintaining that healthy soil ecosystem responsible for the recycling of nutrients in a form accessible to our plants.
For further information on this topic
The Canberra Organic Growers Society
The Canberra Organic Growers Society was formed in 1977 with the aim of providing a forum for organic growers to exchange information and encourage the general public to adopt organic growing methods.
To contact the Canberra Organic Growers Society or find out more about courses and workshops visit their website at www.cogs.asn.au