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What is Organic Gardening?

By Sarah E. White
Updated May 16, 2024
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Organic gardening refers to gardening techniques that do not use chemical pesticides, fertilizers or other additives. Instead, organic gardening relies on plant-derived means to control pests and amend the soil for optimum production. Instead of using fertilizer with chemical additives, for example, someone interested in organic gardening would use compost or manure from organically raised animals to improve the condition of their soil. The main difference between organic gardening and more conventional methods is in pest control. While conventional gardeners use all manner of pesticides to control insects, grubs and other undesirables in the garden, organic gardeners use natural methods.

Cayenne pepper, garlic and onion concoctions are often used in organic gardening to ward off unwanted pests. Pyrethrum, an insecticide made from compounds found in an African chrysanthemum, is effective at controlling aphids and mites. Insecticidal soap, or even just plain old soap and water sprayed on plants, can also control bugs. Some organic gardeners prefer to remove pests by hand from the garden, or to use beneficial insects such as ladybugs and green lacewings, to eat those bugs that aren’t welcome in the garden.

Some people choose organic gardening because they don’t like the idea of adding potentially unhealthy chemicals to the planet. Others prefer organic methods because they wish to protect children or pets from pesticides, or because they want the freedom of being able to safely eat produce straight from the garden. Organic gardening methods support the planet by improving soil, which can help plants to grow healthier and produce more fruit. Adding organic matter to the soil makes the whole garden patch healthier, as opposed to adding chemical fertilizer to individual plants, which can burn the plants if not applied carefully.

Simply spreading an inch or two of compost or well-rotted animal manure onto your garden patch and digging it into the dirt is all the fertilizing you will need to do for organic gardening. You can also use liquid fertilizer made of kelp to give plants an extra boost of nutrients if needed.

Another hallmark of organic gardening is companion planting. Planting certain plants together can be beneficial. The classic example of companion planting is the “three sisters,” corn, squash and beans, which were traditionally planted together by the Iroquois. The nitrogen from the beans improves the soil for the corn, which serves as a pole for the beans to grow on. The squash grows low to the ground, providing shade for the roots of the other plants, holding in water and preventing weeds.

Other organic gardening plant combinations can prevent pests, such as planting nasturtiums, an edible flower, with your cucumbers to prevent cucumber beetles from taking up residence. Radishes can be planted with leafy greens to attract leaf-eating insects away from the greens you want to eat. Organic gardening is a simple way to ensure that you are growing the highest-quality produce in a sustainable way that is healthy for the plants and the planet.

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Discussion Comments
By sobeit — On Jun 21, 2011

There are plenty of reasons why I prefer organic gardening and try to keep up with organic gardening guides.

Yes, I want to protect my kids and my pets from chemical pesticides. Yes, I want to feel free to eat the produce from my garden without worry.

I loved having banana trees but after realizing that rodents loved them as much as I did, I cut down my banana trees. I knew I 'd have to have snakes eating the rodents who were eating my trees. So I relented, and cut down my beautiful trees.

Now I have found some other fruit trees that don't attract as much attention - my papaya tree is growing strong with my composting materials added in once every few months. No rodents, no problems: I'm looking forward to sharing my papayas with my neighbors. They'll be sharing their lemons and oranges.

By chrysalis — On Jun 20, 2011

I love the idea of using kelp as a natural, organic garden fertilizer. Now I understand why my neighbor used to encourage me to pour my dirty fish tank water onto my banana trees and lemon trees. She has the best, most robust rosemary bushes I've ever seen. And I know for a fact she poured plenty of dirty fish tank water on them!

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