The Top 5 Myths about Organic GardeningGet the Facts about Growing Food Organically
-- By Liza Barnes, Registered Nurse and Health Educator
Organic gardening, by definition, is growing vegetables, fruits and other plants without relying on synthetic methods of pest control and fertilization. Common practices of organic gardening include, but are not limited to, fertilizing soil with compost, using beneficial insects to deter harmful ones, rotating crops, and using heirloom varieties of plants.
Many people believe that organic gardening takes far more time, money, knowledge and planning than conventional gardening or yields measly, tasteless crops full of blemishes and bug holes. If you’ve considered starting an organic garden but have been deterred by these myths, check your facts. Your fears may be unfounded.
Myth: If you don’t use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, your yield will be significantly reduced.
Fact: Proponents of conventional farming say that organic farms suffer lower yields, but this may not be true. According to Harvard educated environmental scientist Donella Meadows, Ph.D. in her article Our Food, Our Future, "the expectation that [organic yields] will always trail chemical yields is without merit". Meadows cites many examples of organic farmers who, without the benefits of years of government and academic research that has advanced conventional farming, have come close to the yields achieved by conventional farmers, even out-producing them in times of drought, when organically-farmed soil retains water better than conventionally-farmed soil. In addition to good yields, she notes that many of the organic methods studied have actually been a boon to the environment instead of a burden since organic methods improve the soil.
Much of the yield debate stems from the question of whether organic farming can feed the world’s population, and that question hasn’t been answered. But as you’re probably not trying to feed the world with your backyard vegetable garden, this shouldn't be a concern for your household. Remember that synthetic fertilizers and pest-control methods may be effective in the short term, but they’re not without risks, and they’re not without safer alternatives.
Myth: Organic produce is lower in quality.
Fact: If you grow your own food organically in good quality soil, here’s what to expect from your produce: negligible pesticide residues, no genetically modified organisms, higher levels of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and superior taste. If these distinctions are considered when determining quality, then home-grown produce can’t be beat.
There has been much debate recently about whether or not organic produce is higher in nutrients than conventional produce. Results of studies have been conflicting, and a few have shown no difference. However, keep in mind that these studies set out to compare nutrient content, not the flavor, safety, or environmental impact of organic vs. conventional. Additionally, they were comparing industrial organic to industrial conventional crops, which are vastly different from backyard organic. When it comes to taste and freshness, what you grow at home can't be beat!
When you have a backyard garden, you can utilize techniques such as crop rotation (planting a bed with corn one year and beans the next, which helps prevent soil depletion), cover crops (which help to add nutrients back into the soil by growing crops like peas and clover in the fall and winter months), and fertilizing with compost. All of these methods will improve your soil and improve the nutrient content of your crops. <pagebreak>
Myth: Organic gardens cost more.
Fact: Organic produce definitely costs more when you buy it from your local grocer, but this doesn’t apply to your backyard garden. In fact, organic gardens may actually cost you less than gardening conventionally. Chemical fertilizers tend to cost just as much or more than natural fertilizers, and at less than $2.00 for a packet of seeds and $3.00 for a bag of mulch, you'll be making a major return on your investment by gardening organically in lieu of purchasing organic produce from the store. Here are some ways to save money and resources in your organic garden:
Reuse. Repurpose plastic food containers, milk cartons, and egg cartons as pots for germinating seeds before outdoor planting. Just make sure to equip the containers with drainage holes.
Make your own materials. Keep those pesky bugs away from your plants with an all-natural mixture of hot, soapy water, chopped garlic, and hot pepper. If you compost, you can make your own fertilizer from scraps and lawn clippings otherwise destined for the landfill.
Save seeds. The seeds from your produce can be dried and used to grow food next year without having to buy seeds again. Seed saving is also a way to select for good traits, and to preserve biodiversity in the vegetable world by holding on to seeds that are no longer sold on a large scale, or at all. Be sure to save seeds only from non-hybrid plants, as second-generation hybrid seeds will produce inferior offspring. To save seeds, dry them thoroughly on the counter, and store them in a wax envelope, away from moisture, light, and extreme temperatures.
- Buy second-hand, or borrow. Wheelbarrows, shovels, tillers, and containers can be found at auctions, yard-sales, and through classified ads and can save you a ton. And if you’re lucky, you can borrow them when you need them from family, friends, and neighbors.
Fact: Organic gardening can be more time consuming and labor intensive because you’re doing the work instead of the chemicals. It takes time to remove weeds manually, to work the humus from the compost pile into the soil, to research and plan the best crop rotation and to plant cover crops. But the extra time spent in the garden will probably be enjoyable, and your body and the environment will thank you.
Myth: You have to be an expert to have a successful organic garden.
Fact: There are lots of ways to learn to do something new, but sometimes the most effective way is to learn by doing. You know the basics that a garden requires: seeds, soil, sun, and water. Pick a sunny spot in your yard, clear it of grass and weeds, loosen the dirt by digging and turning with a shovel, stir in some compost or purchased topsoil, plant your seeds according to directions on the package, add water, and wait. There are a myriad of books, websites, magazines, and videos on gardening. If you’re overwhelmed, just take it slow. Chances are though, when you take a bite of your first home-grown tomato, you’ll be ready to dive right in.
Cleeton, James. ''Organic foods in relation to nutrition and health key facts.'' Medical News Today, July 11, 2004. Accessed April 2010. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com.
Ed Hume Seeds. ''Seed Cover Crops to Revitalize Vegetable Garden Soil Over Winter.'' Accessed April 2010. http://www.humeseeds.com.
Main, Emily. ''5 Ways to Create an Organic Garden on the Cheap.'' Rodale, April 24, 2009. Accessed March 2012. http://www.rodale.com.
Organic Gardening. ''Organic Fertilizers.'' Accessed April 2010. http://www.organicgardening.com.