Gardening for Real People, Part III: 90% Organic Gardening

You will read gardening books that promote strict adherence to organic purity, and others that recommend using any chemical help you can get. Here, as so often, I think virtue is the mean between two vices: I always try to garden mostly organically. Many of the complaints of the organic community about factory farming are justified. A regime of continual application of artificial fertilizers and pesticides clearly reduces the biodiversity of the soil: they are like similar to taking continual cocktails of drugs in order to remain "healthy."

But the analogy holds in the reverse direction as well: antibiotics and other strong drugs have their uses, in emergency situations. If you take antibiotics every time you have a sniffle, you are setting yourself up for serious trouble down the road. But when you have meningitis, it is a very good idea to take them.

I try to take the same attitude towards my garden: insecticides, weed killers, and artificial fertilizers are emergency measures. Artificial fertilizers can often save a plant that is failing due to transplant shock. Insecticides may be necessary to fight off a massive insect attack. Weed killers can sometimes be the only practical way to stamp out some rampant, invasive species.

But they are all to be used sparingly, in times of need. Otherwise, we risk destroying the overall health of our garden's ecosystem in order to have leaves without tatters, squash four inches longer, and 20% more flowers on our petunias.


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