People often ask me what does organic actually mean? Organic gardening is nothing new – in fact it is a very old way of gardening. It is the way all farming and gardening was before the advent of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. You might think that gardening organically just means replacing synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilisers with organic ones. However, there is much more to it than that. Organic gardening is a natural, holistic and commonsense approach to gardening. It is more of a philosophy of gardening than a style. Organic gardeners see gardens as part of a natural cycle, starting with the soil and including the water supply, people, wildlife and insects. Our aim is to work in harmony with natural systems and to minimise and replenish the resources that our gardens consume.
By going the organic route, we are going the route of nature and, if we observe nature, we see that it is not tidy with precise edges and neatly swept surfaces. In a forest when leaves and dead branches fall from trees, they stay there, forming layers of slowly decomposing organic matter.
I have hiked in the rain forests of central Africa and there is no solid surface underfoot. As you take a step you sink calf deep into a crunchy, mushy mass. And with each step a cloud of bugs flies up. You can feel the heat and the energy of nature at work. I am not saying we want to create this environment in our home gardens, but we do we want to invite nature to do what she does best.
Organic gardening all starts with the soil: healthy, nutrient-rich soil = healthy, strong plants = more resistance to disease and bugs. Just as a healthy body is more resistant to infections, so a healthy soil builds up the plants’ resistance to attacks. Think of your plants as a mirror of the soil in which they’re growing. The first step to controlling diseases and insects is to cultivate healthy soil.
So what is healthy soil and how do we achieve it? ‘Healthy soil’ means a soil full of humus. Humus, which is broken down organic matter, is the ‘life-force’ of the soil. It provides a home for billions of organisms, such as fungi, bacteria, algae, insects and worms. In one teaspoon of healthy soil there are more than six billion microscopic organisms. Without these, plants cannot grow.
Earthworms for example, leave the earth 8 times richer after being digested through their intestines.
Organic vegetable gardens need as much humus in the soil as possible for a number of other reasons:
· Humus acts as a sponge with extremely high absorption abilities
· It retains moisture
· Chemically, humus has numerous active surfaces, which bind to ions of nutrients. This makes many more nutrients available to plants.
· It improves the physical structure of soil making it moist, crumbly and aerated, providing the ideal home for beneficial bacteria and other organisms such as earthworms.
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