|For the modern home gardener, it may take a personal "revolution" to shift your gardening paradigm away from using harmful chemicals, as chemical gardening is generally seen as less work than organic gardening.|
Working the Soil and Shifting the Paradigm:
Rethinking the Modern Home Garden
by Kent Reed Swanson, www.gardenplantcare.com
In 1962, Thomas Kuhn defined the idea of "paradigm shift" as a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions", in which "one conceptual world view is replaced by another." In the world of agriculture and gardening, paradigm shifts have frequently taken place and can often reflect larger cultural trends. For example, there has for many years existed a subculture of people in the U.S. interested in organic gardening and chemical-free living. Now, more and more information on these subjects is available through the internet, and mainstream culture is starting to embrace many of these ideas. As more people become aware of the harmful effects of chemicals in the home garden, a paradigm shift may be underway.
Unfortunately, the most common form of gardening done today uses large amounts of chemicals to fertilize plants and to fight pests and diseases. These chemicals over the long run contribute to destroying helpful soil organisms and throw plants out of their natural balance. This system of gardening focuses on treating plant diseases and pests without strengthening the plant's immune system and is quite harmful to the environment. Sadly, today it is practiced by most gardeners and farmers.
The other method is organic gardening, which broadly defined means that you create a natural balance of healthy soil and healthy plants in your garden. Organic gardening has of course existed for centuries. It is only with the recent advent of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, etc. that organic gardeners have had to define their way as an alternative to the modern and harmful system of chemical gardening. Due to the work of pioneers such as J.I. Rodale and Sir Albert Howard, knowledge of organic gardening techniques has been steadily gaining ground.
Organic gardening considers your garden as a living ecosystem, and uses the laws of nature to produce healthy plants that are resistant to diseases and pests. Organic gardening focuses on building up the soil, using plants wisely, and maintaining an ideal balance. Organic gardeners recognize that pathogens attack weak plants that are not properly adapted to their environment and that live in poor soil.
For the modern home gardener, it may take a personal "revolution" to shift your gardening paradigm away from using harmful chemicals, as chemical gardening is generally seen as less work than organic gardening. It's unfortunate that our modern culture values convenience over health, quick results over exercise and hard work. What we have to ask ourselves in the long run is, what good is all this convenience really doing us? An environment full of chemicals, unhealthy air and polluted water, obesity, cancer, and increased levels of stress are all now considered the norm. But is this the way we really want to live, or is there another way? We invite you to look at the smallest scale possible, your home garden, and begin to make the changes there. After all, a revolution has to begin somewhere.
For the home gardener, there exists a range of techniques to begin to embrace the culture of organic gardening. The most basic and important way to shift your garden from a chemically-treated to an organic garden is to build up your soil to create a healthier medium in which to sow your plants. You can greatly improve your soil by composting material from your kitchen and garden and adding it to the soil. Other simple things you can do include growing a garden mostly of plants native to your area and using an organic mulch to cover your plants. Native plants are hardy, use less water, and are resistant to disease. Mulch will help your garden retain water, prevent weeds, and will contribute nutrients to your soil.
Compost, native plants, and mulch are concepts that come directly from nature and represent the balance that exists in many natural landscapes. Think of a primary forest with a thick layer of hummus on the ground, plenty of helpful organisms in the soil, and native trees, shrubs, and groundcovers growing in mutually beneficial tiers. A primary forest hasn't seen the introduction of non-native and often invasive species that may shift an ecosystem out of balance. (Unfortunately, most of our created urban landscapes are over-run with non-natives, creating a challenging environment for the organic gardener.)
Furthermore, concepts such as "companion planting" expand ways we can use the laws of nature to grow plants in thoughtful combinations to improve the soil, improve plant health, and naturally prevent diseases and pest infestations. Roses and garlic are a classic example and are discussed in detail in the book Roses Love Garlic, by Louise Riotte.
Other more complex systems of gardening that are more in tune with the natural environment are permaculture and biodynamic growing. Permaculture is a system that uses plants, recycled water from your home, and other natural elements to reduce energy consumption and ecological impact. Biodynamic growing considers the health of the soil, the plants, animals, insects, and even the gardeners themselves as being related to overall garden health. It is also highly tuned to natural cycles.
The techniques of organic gardening are equally applicable to your herb garden, rose garden, flower garden, and vegetable garden, no matter how big or small a space you're cultivating. Next time you venture out into your garden, take the first step to a healthier lifestyle and a better world. Dig deep in the soil and reconnect with the natural process of your garden. Remember that you are one of earth's caretakers. Work the soil, and help shift the paradigm.