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Organic Vegetable Growing

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Why Grow Vegetables Organically?

You may well ask; “what is the point to organic vegetable growing?”  After all chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are relatively cheap, readily available and simple to use.  Our governments are all keen to legislate, license and claim any chemicals we are able to purchase are ‘safe’. Although I prefer to live as chemical free a life as possible, I am no martyr to Eco friendly everything.  I favour local produce over organic when shopping for example.  And, though I enjoy the fact I consume less chemicals than I might, I have no doubt I could continue living a very healthy life even if all the vegetables I ate and grew were not organic at all.

But, there is more than just my food to think about.  The land I use to feed my family will need to remain fertile for all our lives and for all the generations of people who follow us.  By continually taking from my garden, slowly I will exhaust the precious soil to a point where future crops will no longer be furnished with an abundance of nutrients and trace elements.  Gradually season by season yields will fall and the quality of each harvest will diminish.  Although I am a greedy grower of organic vegetables I do not want to exhaust my plot.  I hope to enjoy bountiful harvests for as long as I garden here, but then leave this little plot of land able to feed others too.

By relying on artificial fertilisers and pesticides we strip the land and plants of their natural defences and ability to look after themselves.  With a little planning, the vegetable garden should be able to manage pests and diseases and remain a place where abundance is the norm.

Soils, which are inundated with non-organic nitrates, have no long-term store of nutrients and no way to maintain their structure.  Yes, they will grow lush plants initially, but there is no long-term feeding and replenishment of the soil.  Soil structure declines as humus is obliterated, putting the land at increased risk of soil erosion and being unable to retain moisture.

The reason so much commercial produce is reliant on artificial fertilizers and pesticides is that the crops are grown in such an unnatural way.  One huge tract of land given over to one crop season after season will attract every pest interested in that crop in huge numbers.  At the same time, that crop continually degrades the quality of the soil as it uses up all the nutrients it is particularly hungry for.  In nature plants do not grow in isolation.  Eco-systems are just that, systems or combinations of organisms competing and co-operating, moving, expanding and declining.  Nature is not a static, repetitive entity; life is continually evolving adapting and changing.  But, to keep to the precise specification of our desired crop the commercial grower is forever battling to keep everything static while his resources (primarily the land) deteriorates and the competition (those weeds and pests) grow more adept at utilising this one bumper crop.

Sustainable Vegetable Growing

Organic vegetable growing means sustainable vegetable growing.  Rather than getting hung up about the small points, sustainability should be the primary goal of the organic grower.  Now, I don’t mean you have to be self –sufficient.  But, as far as possible you should put back, whatever you take from your vegetable garden.  Organic composting is the first priority, to ensure serious volumes of humus and organic nutrients can be used to replenish the soil after it supplies your yearly crops.  You must keep that soil in tip-top condition to garden sustainable and ensure you continue reaping so well from what you sow.

Green manure is another exceedingly good way of keeping that soil healthy.  Planting a crop, not for you to eat, but to feed the vegetable plot directly.  Nitrogen fixing plants are excellent green manure; clovers, mustard and alfalfa are all widely used.  Plant them on a vegetable bed that is lying fallow and dig them into the soil before they flower.  Bare soil loses nutrients as the rain washes them away, so any plant cover is generally preferred over none.  Even weeds will lock nitrogen and other nutrients into themselves; ready to be released back into the soil when you dig them in.  Generally lush green plants are ideal green manure crops, as they will compost down quickly when you dig them into the soil.

The organic vegetable garden should never have huge expanses of bare earth.  During the winter if there is little growing, empty beds are better planted with a green manure crop or else left to the weeds.

Certain plants root very deeply, breaking up soil and bringing nutrients up from far below, where most crops would not be able to access them.  Comfrey is one such plant ideal for planting purely to find all that previously unavailable goodness.  Rather large to dig into the soil, such plants are usually grown as organic bulk and fertilizer to go on the compost heap.  Alternatively comfrey may be fermented in water to make a Comfrey Tea, very strong and smelly liquid feed.

Organic vegetable growing doesn’t have to be untidy or ‘alternative’, and definitely shouldn’t be lazy gardening.  Not using artificial fertilizers and pesticides does not mean do not use anything on the land.  It just means, keeping things simple, natural and as in balance as they can be, while you still get your desired crops to harvest.

These are a few of the ways we carry out sustainable organic vegetable growing.  The top priority is to take good care of the soil.  After all it is the soil which creates, feeds and sustains all the organic vegetables growing for you.

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4 Comments

  1. chaiselongue says:

    A really helpful, thoughtful post. Thank you. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t leave parts of the garden lying fallow. It’s good to know that even weeds can be helpful to the garden, since we have a lot of those! I agree, we must put back what we take out of the soil. We do this by composting and adding goat manure from a local farm. We know that it will take years for our soil to improve to the standard of some of our neighbours who have spent a lifetime doing this. But we hope not only to feed ourselves but, as you say, to leave the ground in a good state for its next gardeners.

  2. Thanks CL, nice to know someone agrees! It’s hard not to sound too contrite but I really do feel like we are only looking after the land for a short time rather than ‘owning it’ to exploit without responsibility.

  3. Many farmers in Michigan use the green manure method as you call it. My father always tells me to use peanut shells as mulch because they add nitrogen to the soil. So you can try to always be thinking of ways to improve the soil vs. destroying and depleting it.

  4. Great article.

    This is kind of off-topic, but what is your favorite soil conditioning fertilizer? I’ve tried Bio-Magic on my veggie garden, but I don’t like the results. Anyone have suggestions?

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