What IS Sustainable Organic Gardening?

Sustainability: To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Jim Kennard puts it this way...

  1. Growing food you want to eat and flowers and trees that you like so you are motivated to continue growing.
  2. Growing economically, making it worth your while.
  3. Taking care of environmental issues, so that the ground will continue to support growing.

Sustainable gardening is nothing new, in fact, in a way it is simply a restoration of the means by which farmers have grown food for centuries, with a twist of modern innovation. Sustainable gardening draws its inspiration from ancient farming and gardening practices, tribal and cultural understanding of the local environment, gardeners' folklore and common knowledge, soil and biological science, and more.

Why Organic Gardening?

As we all move toward living with awareness on this earth, sustainable organic gardening is a skill many of us will cultivate. Whether we grow sprouts on our windowsills, flowers in window boxes, strawberries on the deck, or vegetables in our backyards; have a city block or acres of countryside to farm .... gardening brings us back in touch with the processes and cycles of the earth in a way no other domestic activity can.

Organic gardening can also provide a significant portion of our food. A home garden can yield two to four times more food per acre than any commercial agriculture; in a single season the average home garden can provide over six hundred dollar's worth of food. We can increase that yield further with raised beds and biointensive organic gardening methods. Of even greater value is the quality of the food itself... fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.

Whether you grow food, flowers, grass, or trees, you can garden the sustainable way with methods based on an understanding of how nature creates healthy plants. The ultimate goal of sustainable gardening is to have a healthy living plant/soil ecosystem that does not need added pesticides of any kind, artificial or natural. Sustainable gardening uses natural biological methods to build soil fertility and healthy, insect-resisting plants. The needed raw materials are taken in a sustainable way from local plant and mineral sources.

In many ways our gardens are microcosms of agricultural methods; the same pesticides and fertilizers used by agribusiness are on our local nursery shelves, in smaller bottles with prettier labels. According to the National Academy of Sciences, "Suburban gardens and lawns receive heavier pesticide applications than most other land areas in the United States," including agricultural areas.

When we use pesticides and fertilizers in our gardens, the problem is not only with residues in our food; we also contaminate the land in our own yards, pollute our own water, and create invisible clouds of poison in our own air. A 1987 study under the auspices of the National Cancer Institute found that children who lived in households where outdoor pesticides were regularly used were six to nine times more likely to develop some forms of childhood leukemia; the figure increased four times when indoor pesticides were regularly used. In addition, our children or pets can accidentally ingest stored pesticides, with possibly fatal results.

"Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw."
- Henry David Thoreau

Varieties of Sustainable Gardening

While all organic gardening is based on fundamental methods, various schools of sustainable gardening have developed which have specialized views. Each of the following has made their own contribution to this diverse practice.

Organic Gardening focuses on creating a healthy garden, with the foundation being to "feed the soil, not the plant." Gardeners view the garden as a mini eco-system to be maintained through returning plant wastes to the soil via composting and using physical and biological methods to control pests.

Fukuoka Farming leaves almost everything to Nature: no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, and no pruning. His approach is intended to be "free of human meddling and intervention," and allowing Nature to revert to its own ways.

Biointensive (aka French Intensive) Gardening methods were developed in the United States by Alan Chadwick. They are a cross between Rudolph Steiner's biodynamic method and the intensive market-garden systems used around Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Raised, cultivated beds are used to grow a lot of food in a small area-two to ten times more than what conventional mechanized agriculture can grow. To grow food this way takes one-third to one-thirtieth the water and one one-hundredth the human and mechanical energy needed for more common methods.

Biodynamic Gardening was originally developed by the scientist-philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. Literally meaning "forces of life," biodynamics considers the soil to be the foundation of health for plants, animals, and humans. Special compost preparations and sprays are used to enhance the biological life of the soil. In Europe, biodynamically grown food is considered to be among the best. The shelf life and flavor of vegetables is better, and animals have a preference for biodynamically grown grain when given a choice. Biodynamic methods have been used to regenerate over 1 million acres of farm and ranch land in Australia.

Permaculture Short for "permanent agriculture", permaculture is a way of designing and maintaining farms and gardens (or whole communities) that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. This involves an integrated approach in which, as in nature, plants, animals, land, people and houses all serve to support a multi-use ecosystem that provides food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

Permaculture provides a framework in which many organic methods can be integrated, including incorporating ways to store rainfall and create microclimates to increase available land on which useful crops can be grown. It also involves using tree crops, forest agriculture, edible landscaping, biological pest control, organic-waste recycling and water/energy efficiency to their fullest potential by working with, not against, nature.

Permaculture design begins with a set of ethics that say

  1. Care for the earth,
  2. Care for the people
  3. Set limits to population and consumption.

This ethic is coupled with a determination that we should "make our own way: to be neither employers nor employees, landlords nor tenants, but to be self-reliant as individuals and to cooperate as groups." Its basic philosophy is one of "working with rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems and people in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions." Instead of asking "What can I get from this land, or person?" the question becomes "What does this person, or land have to give if I cooperate with it?"

English Cottage Gardens developed in pre-supermarket England, out of the necessity of cottagers to produce fruit, flowers, vegetables, and herbs (including plants for home-brewing and wine-making and medicinal herbs) in a compact space. These highly efficient gardens are models of land use that is both practical and charming. Within the confines of simple but strict garden paths, plants intermingle abundantly, the result of much care and soil cultivation.

Finding Your Own Method You will find your own way as a gardener as you begin to get to know your own garden and your own heart. Sustainable gardening is about doing what works for you and your garden, not reproducing what was right for someone else in their garden. Look to others for ideas, but ultimately, listen to your own garden.

Nature does have manure and she does have roots as well as blossoms, and you can't hate the manure and blame the roots for not being blossoms.
- Buckminster Fuller

See more about soil ph here...Soil pH

Wisdom is knowing what to do.  --  Virtue is doing it.
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