Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Aug 22
5 min read
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A produce box stamped on the side with "Organic Farm"

Organic, sustainable, and natural are a few words that have been floating around for a while. But, what exactly do they mean when it comes to the home garden? There is a lot being said that we are hoping to clarify to help you garden your way.

What Does Organic Gardening Mean?

Scientifically, organic means a piece of matter containing carbon. In the garden, it means the process of using “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (USDA). When you start looking at organic production there are many specifications made as to how you care for your crops, animals, and land as you work with these practices. The organic requirements that have been made available by the United States Department of Agriculture for organic certification are directed toward people commercially farming with the organic label. The focus of the organic home gardener should be on creating balance and enjoyment in living a sustainable lifestyle. If you are interested in how to start organic growing this fact sheet may be of interest to you.

How is Organic Different than Conventional?

Now that we have an understanding of what organic gardening means, let's clarify conventional growing. When we talk about conventional growing we are simply referring to practices that fall outside of the organic methods of preparing, growing, and harvesting. Conventional practices usually involve quick and convenient methods opposite those of organic practices focused on long-term soil health. For example, an organic farmer would rely on practices such as crop rotation, cover crops, limited-till planting, and organic pest control methods before considering other means to satisfy crop requirements. Conventional methods forgo these valuable tools to maintain good soil health, skipping to what will make their plants grow as desired for the biggest harvest possible in the current season. Here, you will find it common to add scientifically measured fertilizers, synthetic insecticides, herbicides, disruptive tilling throughout the year, and a greater risk of soil erosion and nutrient depletion from year to year. It really comes down to organic practices being about using natural plant and ecological cycles first, and supplementing with approved conventional methods when necessary.

When Should You Garden Organically?

Before complaining about the additional cost and effort required to grow organically, take the time to familiarize yourself with the benefits. Organic growing can really pay you back for your investments in the long run as your soils become healthier and able to support decades of future growth. It can be easy to integrate organic practices into small farms and home gardens. But remember, don’t be so quick to complain about people using conventional growing practices either. Conventional methods do have a place for those just starting a farm, though it is recommended to work organic practices into your schedule as soon as possible for long-term benefits. As for nutritional benefits to eating organic produce, there isn't enough research to support it being better than its conventionally grown counterparts. vegetables are just good for you no matter what. We are all just trying to do our best to provide for ourselves and our families. For those who rely on conventional practices for their livelihood, we encourage you to integrate organic methods when possible. Organic certification can take years to obtain, and the reality is most growers will rely on a mix of conventional and organic methods depending on what materials and equipment are available to them.

What Do Sustainable and Natural Mean?

Because organic, sustainable and natural are words people look for to describe their fruits and vegetables people have come to think they mean the same things. Each of these words actually has its own definition in the world of gardening.

According to the American Horticultural Society, “Sustainable gardening combines organic gardening practices with resource conservation.” Sustainability is about doing what is best for the future of the land and soil. Usually, this means organic practices are favorable. However, it does not mean all organic choices will be sustainable. When it comes to starting seeds for example, instead of selecting a potting soil as your growing medium, try coconut coir. Coco coir is a byproduct of coconuts that can be utilized as a growing medium. It can be purchased as plain coconut coir which is ideal for seed starts that will be transplanted or for microgreens. For plants that will be grown past these stages, an amended version such as Minute Soil+ should be used. Because coco coir is extremely renewable and more environmentally friendly than other soil amendments, it is the ideal choice to increase water retention and soil drainage sustainably.

Learn More About Sustainable Gardening:

For ideas on how you can practice sustainable living, I recommend following these ideas from the Missouri Botanical Gardens. They have compiled a list of things you can do in your home gardens, lawns, and landscaping to be more conscious of how we use the resources around us. The Missouri Botanical Gardens are a leading resource of current research and plant information in the gardening, landscape, and agricultural industry. They can be a great resource for any beginning gardener.

What Does Natural Mean?

When it comes to explaining what someone means by the word “natural”, you would really need to ask the person who said it. There isn’t really a definition because it is used so loosely in the gardening world. One person may use it to describe something that occurs in nature without human influence. Another may imply a product was natural because it was made by utilizing products found in nature, but heavily manipulated by human technology. Because its meaning is so dependent on the interpreter, it is up to you to decide what you consider natural. We urge you to be cautious of trusting products that are heavily marketed as natural, without a clarifying statement of what is natural about them.

Resources About Organic and Sustainable Gardening:

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This is really a great article! This is the type of information that should be included in school. There is only one way we should focus on and that is which ever is the best method for all living things. Even non-farmers should have earth friendly rejouvenative practices in their daily lives. Also, it may be really difficult to get an “Organic label” but regardless these practices should be front and center. Thanks for a great article on a great topic! It was very informative, happy growing 😁

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