There are two main reasons why using synthetic chemicals on your garden should be a no-no.
Firstly, unless you get the balance absolutely perfect, the reality is that a large portion of the synthetic fertilisers you add to your garden will not be absorbed by the plants, but rather washed from the soil into the groundwater or surface stormwater runoff. Globally, the overuse of fertilisers is threatening ecosystems because of the large-scale runoff of toxic water into lakes, rivers and coastal environments.
Secondly, when it comes to pesticides, herbicides and other such synthesised additives, not only do these highly hazardous chemicals also leach into natural waterways, but routine use leads to pest resistance. This inevitably leads to heavier doses of chemicals, creating the so-called ‘pesticide treadmill’ in which more is never quite enough.
Of course, using synthetic inputs in your garden also kills a broad range of insects, which affects biodiversity and can remove the natural predators of targeted pests. By killing everything in your garden you’ll drive away the beneficial insects such as ladybirds and other organisms such as spiders that feed on unwanted pest species.
The synthetic pesticide and fertilizer industry is also primarily reliant on fossil fuel for production, which is highly unsustainable in the face of the global energy- and oil crises, as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Renowned sustainability activist, Dr Tarak Kate, often quotes the statement that ‘soil is the medium of all life to exist’. Soil is not only the foundation of your garden, but is home to all the micro-organisms and nutrients that sustain life. So a crucial step to making your garden even greener is to improve the abundance of different soil organisms, like earthworms and fungi, humus (decomposed organic matter) and to address the soil erosion that denudes the soil of its crucial organisms. This involves enhancing your soil’s organic matter (to boost soil fertility), improving the natural cycle of the soil and everything connected to it – water, insects and other life-cycles. Opting to garden organically is therefore a holistic, natural and self-sustaining process itself where gardeners work together with natural cycles. Switching from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to organic options is a fundamental step in making your garden greener.
From theory to practice
Nourishing your soil and providing a balanced nutrient buffet are the foundations of creating a synthetic-free garden. This doesn’t mean abandoning fertilising, as this is a process that occurs naturally in nature, but rather adopting a fertiliser program that is of natural origin and makes sense to the soil. As Talborne Organics explains, ‘like people, plants require the right supply of balanced nutrition at all times to remain healthy and strong’. Here are a few simple steps to create your organic, holistic and balanced garden:
Get to know your soil.
To avoid indiscriminate use of fertilisers and nutrient over-loading, you need to determine if the growing conditions are in need of specific fertiliser in the first place. Regular soil sampling to determine the soil pH level is important. A pH of 7 is neutral, a pH below 7 is acid and a pH above 7 is alkaline (basic). Jane Grffiths from Jane’s Delicious Garden says ‘a pH between 6.5 and 7 is the optimal range for bacterial growth and soil micro-organisms to flourish’. Get yourself a soil testing kit from your nearest garden supplier or nursery or take a sample to a landscaping consultant.
Exploring the whole nutrient alphabet
Chemical fertiliser manufacturers tend to focus on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as the main elements needed to improve plant growth, but a wide range of micronutrients are all required for plants to be healthy. If your soil test shows a deficiency (for instance, too acid or too alkaline), you’ll need to consult the range of fertilisers to balance the soil for the optimum results. You can either choose liquid or solid fertiliser or a combination of both. Liquid fertilisers are quick-acting, but are more a short-term solution which is when they should be combined with solid, organic fertilisers that release nutrients slowly. If using liquid fertilisers, make sure you dilute them well as they are very concentrated.
Keeping the unwanted away
There is a growing range of organic herbicide and pesticide solutions on the market to control diseases and pests in your garden. But it is vital to choose the least toxic options. Get your hands on a pressure sprayer since even organic herbicides, pesticides and fungicide have natural ingredients that are potentially dangerous. There are some great products on the market if you’re making the transition to a chemical-free garden. Try Biogrow and Kirchoffs for certified organic insecticides.
Source: Simply Green Issue 1, 2011
Worm farming is highly beneficial to plants and soil; see Worm Composting or watch a video on how to make your own worm farm. Also get some valuable tips from How to Garden Sustainably. Why buy pesticides, even ‘organic’ ones, when you can make your own eco-friendly, natural insect repellents? Also see Eco-friendly pest control.
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