In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
November, 2008
Regional Report

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Why Go Organic?

At a recent gardening event, a woman in her 30s approached me and asked how she could convince her husband to convert their garden to organic practices. She called him "Roundup Ready", but hopes to change his ways. Here's what I told her:

Better Soil, Better Garden
The heart of organic gardening is attention to the soil. Maybe you've seen pictures of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The land is "played out" due to over-cultivation and failure to nurture its needs. Organic gardening strategies address such issues pro-actively: little or no tilling, regular amendments of organic matter, and placing a priority on the microscopic ecosystem of the soil.

To truly nourish soils of all sorts, but especially those in our regions, the organic gardener avoids chemical fertilizers. They are carried into the soil via salts, and this part of their chemistry threatens the living creatures that work everyday to build your soil. Think of chemical fertilizers as fast food. The plants respond rapidly to it, but because the salts dehydrate essential bacteria and fungi in the soil, its impact is short-lived and so must be repeated often to get the same effect. Organic fertilizers add to the ecology in the soil because they are not carried by salts and have both short and long term impacts. It's one simple choice that the nice woman's husband can make easily, and its success might be enough to sway him to try more.

What about Bugs?
Plenty of garden "experts" have told us that organic gardening won't work here because of our considerable insect challenges. Other "experts" say that organic gardeners never use any kind of pesticides in their garden because of our respect for every living creature. Neither of these myths is true, and even the Dalai Lama admits that the mosquito that doesn't leave his arm voluntarily gets an assist. In the organic garden, it's all about staying ahead of the bugs, knowing their ways, and taking smart steps to control only those that cannot be tolerated. If the husband understands the foolish cycle of fertilizing with products that injure soil microbes, thus increasing their need for more, he can understand the truth about insects. The more we kill, the more there are to kill, because we too often wipe out the beneficial insects that could help us control the true pests. When we are much more selective in which insects we seek to control, and use products like insecticidal soap and neem that are organic and have much less residual impact, we are headed towards organic and the bugs don't win every time.

Safer Food
Over the past 40 years, food production has gotten disconnected from us, the consumers. Every week I meet people who are beginning to grow at least some of their own food. They're also shopping for local produce, both for better taste and to benefit the local economy. While we may not be able to eat only what's grown within 50 miles of our home, we can grow a bit and shop smart for the rest. That young family can go organic with a vegetable garden, and by planting fruit trees that can be grown reliably without regular sprays. The woman who asked for my advice lit up when I suggested fruit. "He loves figs -- can we grow them organically? That might get him into it." She left me then to go and buy a fig tree for her husband from a vendor at the event. I'm confident he'll go organic, and hope you'll consider it, too, if you haven't already.


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