Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Organic" Gardening

Warning: Boring personal philosophy post ahead…

I like the idea of "Organic". I would like to be more organic in my gardening, lawn care, etc… I am a little leery of the word “Organic”. Once a word has been buzzed into marketspeak, it tends to be a bit unreliable. For instance, the USDA qualification for organic is:

Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95
percent organically produced ingredients (excluding
water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients
must consist of nonagricultural substances approved
on the National List including specific non-organically
produced agricultural products that are not
commercially available in organic form.

That sounds pretty good. Other than what is on that list of "non-organically produced" products that can make up 5% of the ingredient list?
The rules for Organic certification vary from one country to the next as well. The U.S. classifies copper sulfate as an organic substance (used in organic fungicides and pesticides), while many countries have completely banned it due to health and ecological concerns. Just how organic is ”organic”? And just because a pesticide is “Organic”, does that actually make it safe for human consumption? 
So, setting aside the word Organic for the moment, I like the idea of using strategies which are natural and sustainable. Well, that didn’t help either. Both of those words have been converted to marketspeak as well. One more try…
I prefer to use homegrown compost for fertilizing (Though since I have no cows or chickens, I am happy to acquire manure from elsewhere. Straw also, as I don’t have space to grow much of that). I prefer non-chemical pest controls when possible (wasp traps, manual elimination of squash bug eggs, hand weeding, lady bugs, chickens, ducks…).
There are two key reasons for this. First, I’d prefer to avoid things which have the potential to be harmful to myself or the local ecosystem. Law of unintended consequences and all that. Sure, the stuff has been deemed safe, when properly used, but how safe is it really? How thorough are the studies? I’d rather play it safe and avoid the stuff altogether, if possible.
And there are those little environmental issues as well. I have a friend who lives in an agricultural area – big commercial fields which get sprayed with pesticides. The up-side to this is he doesn’t have many pest issues in his garden. The down side is there are very few bees to pollinate his garden.
Another example, A (different) friend of mine moved into a new house and sprayed for spiders. This killed off all the little common house spiders. Four months later the place was overrun with hobo  spiders. The little spiders he got rid of hunt hobo spiders, with them gone, the hobo’s moved in from nearby fields and multiplied.
The second reason is purely economic. Fertilizers and Pesticides cost money. Using them means an increase in the price of the produce I am growing. So, if I can save on the costs of fertilizers by re-using my table scraps, if I can save on the cost of pesticides by spending a few minutes pulling weeds, and squishing squash bug eggs…
Not that I am militantly opposed to the use of “non-organic” things. I’d just rather not, if I can. Of course my challenge is in finding really smart people who know the best tricks for dealing with various problems and pests, so that I can use them. Not a bunch of evangelizing – I’m not going to expend twice the money and three times the effort just to say I’m “super green”. I am too much of a pragmatist for that. I just want a good compendium of tried methods, tips and tricks. That would be a book worth having.

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