The correct answer is "It depends". There are two aspects of
non-organic gardening, pesticides and fertilizing. Here in Michigan
many pests, present further south, are simply absent due to cold
winters, and one can really go organic on that count. The only
recurrent problem I have is with vine borers. So if I were willing to
go without zucchini, and accept some ragged holes in my collards and
kales, I could indeed be perfectly organic (I cover the zucchini and
accept the holes, if you are keeping score).
As far as organic matter it is true that, past 10 or 20%, there is a
diminished advantage in adding more. When you do add more, you gain
moderate amounts of fertilizer and the increased levels of humus
increase the plant's overall health and therefore resistance to
several stresses, including drought and pests. It is also possible
that you gain in micronutrients content by using compost.
I have to wonder how sweeping a statement one could make re:
viability. Suppose I needed extra N and P in my yard (or in my
commercial farm), I could do that with a a single box each of bone
meal and bloodmeal, which are viable organic amendments for a farm as
well. No need to drag a ton of leaves across the yard or bring twenty
dumptrucks into the farm. I would also like to know if any kind of
rock dust is organic or not, since it is mined after all.
Besides the more restricted choice of veggies (and more limited
productivity) for a farmer at a given location and time, there is the
more strict rotation that organic agriculture forces you into, which,
as a farmer, will diminish your ability to follow the market. There is
the obvious improvement in water quality and the lesser evolution of
major pests. If your goal is to have a garden with carefree, healthy
veggies, that grow well in your locale, and without insisting on
growing varieties which need chemicals, organic is certainly a viable
way of gardening.
When you are organic, in a sense, you are taking care of several
problems (soil conditioning, fertilizing, reducing weeding and
watering, improving plant health and vegetable nutrient content) with
the single act of applying two inches of compost in the spring. It is
very efficient for the home gardener.
From what I remember from high school agriculture some 30 years ago, if
you apply chemical fertilisers direct to a (basic) soil, then your
plants only have a short time (the time it takes to leach through) in
which to take up the nutrients, etc that the chemical provided.
Adding organic matter to the soil provides an enormous amount (relative)
of places/sites for the chemicals to be bound/held/delayed so there is a
greater store of chemical for the plants to later take up and the
chemical is less easily leached out of the soil.
So Mr Hopkins ideas have been adapted in modern agriculture.
"Organic" to me is a system of certification and thus something is
"organic" if it is certified to be organic. End of story.
Some farmers are making a living being organic famrers. End of story
about cost, etc. So that answers your question in the subject.
Okay, we are forced to live in a capitalist world and the capitalist
world just exploits resources to enable some people to maximise the
amount of money they make at the expense of other people and the
So, not all farmers can afford to be successful organic farmers. because
as you say, the cost of that organic matter can be too high. If you look
at the nutrient cycle as per human activities, we have a few 1000 (?)
farmers growing food, that is 99% shipped to capital cities for sale
(99%) and consumption (95%)(Yes, some of it goes back - weird). So
basically our cities are drowning in shit each year. To prevent this
happening, we pump it out to sea. What %? and What % is now sold as
landscape fill, etc?
So, if a farmer wants to do what is right by the environment, they then
have to pay for cartage of that organic matter back to his farm, which
for most means that the costs of farming inputs are too high and they
would not have a commerically viable farm. Note, that book was written
in 1948 and transport infrastructure has greatly changed since then.
Instead, farmers tend to produce organic matter on the farm by growing
other crops, e.g, sub-clover with crops to directly provide nitrogen,
pastures that stock eat and defecate, etc.
As a home gardener,
1) I compost all food scraps and if I am feeling energetic, shred and
compost the newspaper, etc. Worry about energy cost of shredding and
have only just workerd out that it all had a ph of 5, which is why is
made negligible difference.
2) obtain bulk animal manures, (e.g horse and chicken), occassionally as
chance and carrying capacity allows. Actually, I know where I can get
trailer loads of stable stuff for free (Cobboty, NSW), but I have to let
it stand for weeks as the horses are regularly wormed and it has a very
large component of sawdust, so I tend not to.
3) buy commercial compost off the chicken farmers and mushroom farmers
and use that. Costs, but easily to handle, store (bagged) and use. and
it worked on the tomatoe this summer as we had a nice crop. however, the
beans were awful.
Oh yes! I'm not arguing at all against those people who can do it - I
honestly believe that if it was possible for all farms to be independent
of factory fertilisers then that would be best.
Although I agree to a certain extent with your statement I don't think I
used that point as a thesis. If I did it was completely unintentional -
much as I dislike the fact, I have accepted that I am living in a
capitalist country and that not everything that is done in the name of
capitalism (or any other form of politics-ism) is necessarily good for
This is one of the points that the book makes as I'm sure you know. I'm
aware that transport infrastructure has changed since then but so has the
requirements of a commercially viable farm. That is, as the population has
continued to grow we have either of more product per hectare being required
or more hectares being required. In either event, it seems to me that
whatever cost efficiencies have been gained in transport will be lost
through the greater bulk of material being used.
I wasn't aware that this is large-scale practise. Thanks.
From the snipped advice regarding composting, I also compost what I can and
am looking at getting in grass clippings and chook manure to build up the
sand that I currently have.
Perhaps I erred by mentioning the book but I wanted to be clear that I was
not being "anti-organic" and that my questions had, at least, a reasonably
Generally, a farmer is required to produce more with less. So their
yield per acres has to be up and they have less workers and bigger
machinery. And as a general rule (at least in this country - Australia)
they also require more land.
To give you an example. After WWII, my wife's uncle obtain a soldier
settler grant and started dairy farming with 40 head and two farm
assistants. By the time he retired/sold out, he was milking 200 head by
The land exception is agriculture that is really an industrial process,
e.g. chickens for meat and eggs, aquaculture (modern, not farm dams),
mushroom growing, feedlots (cattle, pigs), some vegetables (lettuce,
tomatoes, cucumbers) etc.
Transport wise, modern trucks are far more powerful, thus carry more
faster, which means the driver is more efficent, but also B-doubles also
means that the driver is also able to carry a double load. This all
reduces the cost component of transport. the increased amount is more to
do with population growth and the sad fact that Australia largely
imports any manufactured item.
Why would these exist?
It almost impossible to do anyway, because everything (soil, slope,
aspect, ph, watering, handling, storage, cooking) affects taste and it
would be impossible to produce the amount of raw material that could be
considered to be identical to generate statistically valid results.
Anyway, I grew tomatoes this year "organically" and they tasted shite,
like cardboard. These were the Roma seedlings our neighbour gave us. In
the same plot, self seeded, grew one cherry tomato plant that tasted
Similar story with the potatoes. a neighbour gave us a butter plate size
potato they had they had sprouted, so it was split and planted along
with our usual range of potatoes. Again, it was bland compared to the
Keflers, Desire, etc that we also planted.
The problem of taste is largely a result of modern agriculture selecting
varieties that are quick growing, handle easily and store easily. Taste
is the last thing they care about.
For the home gardener, if you want taste, look at heritage seeds and
Thanks Terry - that sums up nicely what I have been thinking but I was
curious about the "chemical taste factor". From the replies to date, that
seems to have been settled fairly well as well for me.
I largely concur. Taste is improved by organic method only on average,
and taste depends on many more variables. I am pretty sure a chemical
brandywine will taste a lot better than an organic Roma. Likewise, we
love our homegrown lettuce because looseleaf lettuce (best tasting,
perfect for cut-and-come again, but very perishable) is just a
superior green than any heading lettuce (can travel, no taste).
Nothing to do with organic.
One of the advantages of organic cultivation is that the balanced soil
will reflect, on average, in a better tasting veggie through better
health and metabolism of the plant, and better micronutrient profile.
This said, I found lettuce or chard grown on straight manure to be
worse than lettuce or chard grown in leaf mold with just a bit of
manure. I found that wood ash improved the taste of many vegetables in
my acid soil. I am sure that lime would work almost as well.
On 16 Feb 2004 13:51:02 -0800, email@example.com (simy1) wrote:
There are many reasons for growing 'organically' or non-. 'Organic' is
certainly cuter, and doubles the smugness factor. :-) It's also
economical, if you happen to keep animals which produce manure that
would otherwise be a disposal problem (see: hog waste pools). But
'organic' evidence seems to include a lot of anecdotal material.
"The balanced soil"? Say, what? "...better health and metabolism of
the plant"? "...better micronutrient profile"?
As I wrote in another post, I find the limits of 'organic', um,
limiting. I *sure* don't want to eat from a garden that's been covered
in Sevin dust, but when I got some early corn from plants encouraged
by ammonium nitrate, it tasted pretty good to me.
(Lime *is* 'organic' within the meaning of the act. It's simply
pulverized stone/mineral, not the product of some evil manipulation of
More anecdotal material follows.--
I was talking to an old boy a while ago on some allotments some way from
ours. It turns out this geezer had had an allotment during the war, and he
pointed out the house he used to live in then, and told me that they used to
keep a pig in the garden as many people were encouraged to do during the
war, and he had the allotment adjacent to his garden. Then he said " We used
to throw the pig manure over the garden wall onto the allotment and dig it
Exactly! Any gardener with an ounce of sense makes use of materials
available. I have no experience with pig poo, but an un- (under-)
utilized oversupply that is concentrated in 'hog waste ponds' is a big
problem for US meat producers. Not to mention their neighbors.
Many 'organic' procedures seem so simple. Don't clog landfills with
leaves and lawn trimmings -- compost them if there's space. Pig poo
appears to be less desirable than that of strictly vegetarian animals,
but it's probably a good thing to put on the garden (in less than
million-gallon quantities!). If I could protect them in cold weather,
I'd love to have a 'chicken tractor.'
BUT I'm not a criminal if, in the absence of domestic animals and
their aftereffects, I choose to buy a plastic bag of commercial
fertilizer for my tomatoes and squash.
I wish I'd thought of this a bit earlier since I intend to keep chooks at
some stage - perhaps sooner rather than later!
I just googled for chicken tractor and found not very much that's very
useful ... do you have any good links regarding building tractors and
capacity ? - I'm hoping to keep 20 birds of laying/slaughtering size plus
the same again of chicks.
Actually, I know it's getting off-topic now but any good sites on raising
chickens for home consumption would be good.
I don't know about chick tractors other than they vary from ones
people just put out for the day, roof and wire, and just move them
across green areas for the birds to eat, to buildings with wheels and
can be moved with runs and building.
I just thought I'd mention that 20 chickens can produce enough heat to
keep each other warm in winter if housed in a building that's not too
large and which is well insulated - for protection not only from the
cold, but from the summer heat. I didn't lose any from winter cold,
but summer heat killed all the buff orpingtons as they are heavily
feathered. Just make sure you cover that insulation 100% .. chickens
think it's cotton candy!
I'm sorry I can't be of more help. I saw the idea in, I believe, an
old gardening mag, and it looked like a nifty idea. Some sort of
easily movable, enclosed shelter with exercise yard. Here's one
reference I Googled:
almost certainly so. when you buy a bag of potassium chloride all you
get is K. When you get manure you get a much more distributed profile.
Check the soil under your chemically grown corn. It has less or no
earthworms. Without earthworms, drainage is worse, root penetration is
worse, if you have a sandy soil, water retention is worse. Further, if
you analyze it after repeated usage, its micronutrient profile is
depleted. Less slugs is the only advantage I am willing to admit.
firstname.lastname@example.org (simy1) wrote in
But if K is all that the soil is lacking in then surely K is all that is
needed to be supplied ?
Regarding earthworms, I have my own anecdotal evidence that "less or no
earthworms" is not the case in an ornamental garden that has only ever
had commercial mulch (from plastic bags!) and factory fertiliser.
Referring back to the book that started me on this line of thought,
there is a reference to a study that indicates that when factory
fertilisers are used properly (i.e. in conjunction with lots of organic
matter and a close eye on the pH) there is no loss of earthworms. I would
certainly be interested in knowing of any later studies that show
Thanks for the comments.
yes. in practice, if you garden in the same spot for years, you have
to provide everything. Boron (in your case you don't have any,
right?), Mg, Fe, Zn, S, and obviously NPK. Organic matter (again, in
your case, local organic matter will not provide all micronutrients if
the soil is severely depleted).
yes, but still organic matter they can eat, that helped mellow the
fertilizer, and a fertilizier that was not too harsh. Give them
straight urea (a good thing, if all you need is N) and you will see
that they will dissipate.
I have not read this book, but I have practiced organic gardening on a
suburban block with favourable results and
I believe organic gardening is viable if approached in the correct manner.
There may be some exceptions for using pesticides, especially on fruit trees
with introduced pests that have no natural predators
(I.e. That dam cherry slug that attacks my plums, pears and cherry tree)
But otherwise, with careful planning and paying attention to 'past season'
errors you should find pesticides are not really necessary.
Mr Hopkins is accurate in saying a that large amounts of organic matter are
required in the soil. i.e. compost, as Australian soil is generally of poor
We should not even double dig our soil , but build compost/raised beds where
Chemical fertilizers will not 'fix' the soil. Compost over time, with
continued use, will improve soil quality.
(if you crop rotate and minimise digging)
But building compost I NOT hard to do and organic matter is not difficult to
obtain.(everyone throws it out)
Also you won't need 'heaps' of space.
First you need to
1. Invest in a tree mulcher ($150 up) and possibly by a trailer (2nd hand
in the trading post)
2. Locate a cheap and local 'manure' pit. I live in Victoria, outer eastern
suburbs. There is a local horse track not too far from my house.
I can collect a trailer load of horse manure for $5.00.
3. Make a compost heap. I won't go into the semantics of how to make a good
compost. A good resource is
'The Rodale Book of Composting'
Deborah I Martina and Crace Gershuny,
Editors. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
You can make 'moveable' compost beds. Try and make your compost 'hot' as it
kills weed seeds.
When the compost is finished make it a raised bed and plant and start
another compost heap.
I collect organic matter for about a month, picking up neighbours trees they
have cut, my lawn clippings, weeds etc etc. (anything organic even
I then go and collect the manure and start up a seriously hot compost.
SO that fixes up your 'soil' issue and now all you have to do is deal with
P.S and if you have to buy soil, while it is slightly more expensive, choose
mushroom mulch. It is worth the extra expense.
You will have near compost quality soil and it will retain moisture more
To deal with pests in an organic manner takes some planning.
And you will get pests all the same. Its the 'how much' damage they do that
is the issue VS How much does the pesticide cost/what am I eating it for etc
So now you need a little bit of knowledge on pest behaviour. Pests find
their food by either smell or sight. So you want to confuse them.
There a many books on 'companion' planting, good pests/bad pests. Repelling
pest plants etc etc that can assist with 'keeping' pests at bay.
There is so much knowledge in fact that it can get confusing,
and you may start thinking, 'Hey I will just SPRAY'.
But I have found with a limited amount of knowledge that a few tricks work
Don't plant the same vegetables all in a row. Its like a sitting target. The
pests see/smell it SO EASILY. Especially the cabbages, cauliflowers, etc
(the Brassica family)
Garlic works well in most places as a repellent.
Set up 'sacrifice Brassica's. The cabbage I plant these at the edge of the
bed and they always gets decimated by pests.
However, the other Brassica's are usually free to mostly free of
Introduce a pond and frogs into your backyard to catch the bugs.
We eat anywhere between 20 to 80% of our own food during meals. Probably
This is our 2nd summer crop.
I am keeping an online diary of my garden ( nearly 2mth behind at present)
As to the taste test between organic VS non-organic VS home grown.
I eat mostly organic vegetables (seasonal when possible except avocados my
Sometimes, I will admit you don't notice a difference in the foods. And some
can seen even 'better' as non-organic.
Below are examples that do compare noticeably for me.
non-organic = Pretty dam tasteless. No flavour and a strange flour like
organic = Still pretty tasteless. Normal tomato texture.
home grown = Fantastic.
non-organic = From what I recall seemed ok
organic = Alright, some had a slightly bitter aftertaste. Smaller in
size than non-organic
home grown = As big as the non-organic, very sweet, no bitter aftertaste
non-organic = Taste floury and weird
organic = Taste wonderful
home-grown = Taste as good as organic, easier to clean.
No difference between any, but is expensive. Home grown lose leaf's very
easy to grow.
non-organic = Big and watery. Not much taste but twice the size of organic
organic = Smaller in size, less watery. Slightly more flavour
home grown = Never been very successful.
In all for 'value' non-organic. But how much water has been used to justify
that SIZE is my question.
However, in saying the home grown tomato's are fantastic I did have some
These were the seeds that self sprouted from the organic vegetable scraps I
fed to my chickens.
They were perfect in shape, stayed on the kitchen bench 'ripening up for
days longer than other 'variety's and tasted a lot less 'fantastic' than say
the Tommy toes.
The moral of this is. Even organics grow tomatoes for 'shelf life' and
'appearance's over flavour. Definably grow your own.
I think the variety of vegetable/fruit you grow has more to do with
the flavor of what you're growing being a major improvement over the
organic/non-organic issue. The majority of varieties being developed
now put different things far above flavor when selecting traits.
Early coloring, thicker skins to tolerate machine harvesting and
shipping are right up on the top of the list.
flour like texture is usually a paste tomato trait, but unripened
gassed commercial tomatoes happen for sure. But grow a good variety
and let it vine ripen, gotta be an improvement ;-)
bitter aftertaste is a trait of some varieties, Elberta in particular
fully juicy tree ripened.
There are sooo many different kinds and flavors of potatoes with
textures which vary from dry and fluffy to moist and waxy.
Unfortunately, there are some which just don't measure up, although
I'm sure that growing conditions from garden to garden, season to
season affect the final product, but some are consistently nasty and
don't understand why they continue growing them.
Oh my, there are so many wonderful varieties that cannot compare ..but
that's mostly a factor of variety.
A lot of the tomato varieties grown are hybrids. Plants which come up
from the seed of hybrids, are not likely going to be like the fruit
they came from, they usually revert to earlier types used to produce
the predictable hybrid. One might have been a cherry, the other a
large tomato. One never knows ;-) Can't predict what you'll get. You
may even get one similar to the hybrid type.
Tomatoes don't naturally hybridize as many plants, but it's possible,
and volunteers could be a hybrid, with poorer or better traits than
the parents. It's all a crap shoot ;-)
Growing a garden is a wonderful thing, be it 100% organic, or using a
little commercial fertilizer here and there along with the high fiber
organic matter, until it all gets going... as long as it doesn't turn
into a mimic to a commercial production.. but even then if they let
things ripen fully before picking.. they gotta taste better than
anything you can buy from a store that doesn't buy local produce!
BTW.. my comments aren't criticism, or argument.. just thought I'd
mention that varieties make a lot of difference! ;-)
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