Is organic gardening viable?

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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.
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Ivan McDonagh wrote:
....snip.......

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 environment.
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.
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<SNIP>
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 the world.
<SNIP>

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.
<SNIP>
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 sensible basis.
Ivan.
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Ivan McDonagh wrote:
...snip.....

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 himself.
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.
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Ivan McDonagh wrote:
....snip.....

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 beautiful.
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 varieties.
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<SNIP>

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.
Ivan.
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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.
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On 16 Feb 2004 13:51:02 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.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 petroleum.)
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(simy1) wrote:

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 in later"
Steve
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On Tue, 17 Feb 2004 13:59:52 -0000, "shazzbat"

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.
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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.
Thanks
Ivan.
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On 24 Feb 2004 23:37:08 +1100, Ivan McDonagh

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!
Janice
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On 24 Feb 2004 23:37:08 +1100, Ivan McDonagh

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:
http://www.savonburg.org/pen/chickens.html
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(simy1) wrote:

no doubt.

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.
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snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (simy1) wrote:

Got slugs? You need geese... ;-)
--
Sprout the Mung Bean to reply...

>,,<Cat's Haven Hobby Farm>,,<Katra at centurytel dot net>,,<
  Click to see the full signature.
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snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com (simy1) wrote in (simy1) wrote:

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 differently.
Thanks for the comments.
Ivan.
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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.
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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 quality. We should not even double dig our soil , but build compost/raised beds where possible. 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 newspaper) 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 the pests. 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 easily.
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 factor.
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 well. 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 snails/slugs.
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 averaging 60% This is our 2nd summer crop.
I am keeping an online diary of my garden ( nearly 2mth behind at present) www.jeack.com.au/~kirsty
As to the taste test between organic VS non-organic VS home grown.
I eat mostly organic vegetables (seasonal when possible except avocados my addiction) 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.
Tomatoes non-organic = Pretty dam tasteless. No flavour and a strange flour like texture organic = Still pretty tasteless. Normal tomato texture. home grown = Fantastic.
Peaches 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
Potatoes
non-organic = Taste floury and weird organic = Taste wonderful home-grown = Taste as good as organic, easier to clean.
Lettuce No difference between any, but is expensive. Home grown lose leaf's very easy to grow.
Capsicum 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 exceptions. 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.

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snipped-for-privacy@jeack.com.au wrote:
...snip......

unfortunately in flash and not readable.
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<snip>
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! ;-)
Janice

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