Organic Gardening: Getting Started, Doing the Right Thing

green and red tomatoes close-up photo

Table of Contents

The Reasons Why

There are two men in California who covertly place bumper stickers reading “I’M CHANGING THE CLIMATE — Ask Me How!” on large, late model pollution-belching SUVs. While I applaud their message (heck, I’m a Mustang-driving girl, myself), I’m not so sure about their methods. I prefer using the guilt trip.

So, please return your tray tables to their upright positions and fasten your seat belts. 

Close your eyes and imagine…

imagine your toddler or puppy rolling happily in (or even munching on) the thick, green, weed-free grass of your front lawn. Imagine picking and eating a plump, scarlet tomato right off the vine, with the juice running down your chin. Imagine the pleasures of a tall, cool tumbler of iced tea with a sprig of freshly cut spearmint jutting from the glass.

Then ask yourself this: Would you enjoy any of those situations if you knew that noxious, deadly chemicals had been used on the plants in each scenario?

As poisons trickle into our water supplies, as the soil erodes until it is unusable, as the air is filled with more pollutants, as birds and beneficial insects are wiped out due to human carelessness and lack of adequate legislation, the need for organic gardening methods is clear. We must replace what we take from the environment, and restore natures balance the best way possible – with natural products.

Simply put, organic gardening is one of the ways you can practice doing the right thing. We could all use a little more of that these days.

If you are presently a gardener, you don’t have to convert to organic methods overnight. It is a learning process. Sometimes it can be confusing. A good deal of patience is also helpful. But the rewards and feelings of accomplishment you will personally gain will only be outdone by the gifts you will be providing to our precious planet.

If nothing else, you’ll be in good company by converting to organics. In the last decade, organic practices have expanded dramatically. People are wearing clothing made with organically grown materials, using natural cosmetics, feeding their pets holistically. Utilizing natural products becomes a way of life — a belief, if you will — and a commitment.

What Does “Organic” Mean, Exactly?

So what exactly does “organic” mean and how does it apply to gardening?

Webster’s defines the term organic as “Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms” and “that which is raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals”. There is nothing organic that is created from scratch in a lab.

That being said, there are some natural products which are considered no-no’s by the most knowledgeable organic gardeners. After all, Mother Nature can be pretty deadly in her own way, sometimes. We’ll cover those sorts of topics in future articles.

Begin With the Basics

If you came to me and said you would love to garden naturally but had no idea where to begin, this is how I would respond:

Start a Compost Pile: Use leaves, grass, coffee grounds (with paper filters too), non-greasy fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, anything vegetative that used to be alive, and pile it up in a corner of the yard, preferably one that will get both sun and rain. Compost is nature’s fertilizer. We’ll talk more about complexities of composting in a future article, but getting started is the most important thing.

Revamp Your Lawn Care Plan: Quit watering every other night for 10 minutes. Cancel your contract with the chemical lawn guys. Quit mowing so often and so short. And for heaven’s sake, quit bagging grass clippings! Leave clippings where they fall or rake and put on the compost pile

Get Rid of Synthetic Herbicides, Pesticides, Repellants and Fungicides: If the container says anything about contaminating water supplies and killing fish and beneficial insect populations, try not to use it. See the “Referenced Links” section at the end of this article for the URL of a list of acceptable and unacceptable products as compiled and approved by the Texas Organic Research Center, Inc.

As far as properly disposing of synthetics and toxic chemicals, your local Cooperative Extension office can point you in the right direction. Again, see the Referenced Links below to located the the Extension office nearest you.

Ladybugs are beneficial insects because of their aphid-munching.Learn to Love Everybody (Almost): Change your way of thinking! Most spiders are your friends. Birds are our buddies. Wasps and bees are superheroes (unless you’re allergic, of course). Fire ants and squash vine borers are a different story, however. More of the good, the bad and the ugly (without Clint Eastwood, alas) in a future article.

Make Your Own Natural Remedies: Most insects and diseases can be controlled with natural methods. Start hording those orange peels – they’re a big part of the organic gardening homemade recipes that I’ll be sharing in a future column.

Jump In…It’s Fun!

Organic gardening isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s downright fun. I wouldn’t be here writing and sharing with you if I didn’t believe strongly in it.

Keep in mind that with any new habit, it takes time to change your way of thinking and your methods. It also takes time to convert your plants and lawn to the organic way. You may not see huge benefits or great success the first year. But maybe the next year or the next, when you’re strolling barefoot through your thick, luscious, untainted front lawn at daybreak and notice a gazillion ladybugs everywhere it will dawn on you. Your efforts have worked. Your living space is clean and natural. You are giving back, keeping the balance and, best of all, you are doing the right thing.

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