For years now I have been practicing what I call “natural gardening”. It has been a passion of mine, because nature always has a solution, whereas humans, being skewed by emotions and ideas of fitting in, among other things, tend to have a less-solid foundation for “correct” responses. We come up with terms, such as organic, to describe how we manage things, but I see this as a deeply flawed concept, because we then start to assume that anything organic is good, and I want to say that this is untrue.
This morning as I began to stir from my night’s sleep, I had this word pop into my head “More-ganic”. I had heard it used years ago on YouTube, so I am not coining it myself, but it struck me as being an important term. This term was used to describe gardening practices that go beyond simply getting that organic certification. More-ganic means using practices that respect the earth, the critters, the plants and as a result, the people who tend the spaces and eat the produce. Just because something is organic, doesn’t mean it necessarily benefits the earth, and I am hoping this article will explain what I mean in more detail. I am certainly not suggesting you drop organic practices as, at the root of all organic practices, there are respectful intentions, but I want you to consider an approach that is beyond organic.
I am going to list off some common organic practices that do notbenefit the earth below. Keep in mind, I am writing this with regards to Calgary gardens specifically, so these ideas may prove to be beneficial in other locations around the world, but just do not work in local Calgary gardens. The key is to get to know the conditions of the soil in your own yard. For more specifics on this topic, I suggest you read Steve Soloman’s book called The Intelligent Gardener.
Adding Epsom Salts to boost magnesium levels. With well-intentioned YouTubers suggesting that the sweetest tomatoes can be grown by adding magnesium to the soil, people take this to mean that this is a solid organic method that will provide only benefit. Not true! Here in Calgary, we have extremely high natural levels of magnesium already, with a clay foundation that holds this magnesium in place for plants to uptake as needed. If we add additional magnesium (in the form of epsom salts, or other), we will create irreparable damage to our soils, making for extremely tight soils. My neighbour had soil that needed to be rototilled just so that she could seed her crops each spring, and this was the result of adding magnesium to her already magnesium-rich soil. Once there is too much of an element in the soil, it becomes a logistical nightmare to “remove” or to re-balance said chemical equation. Get to know your soil and what it truly needs. There is not a garden in Calgary that needs magnesium, trust me! And a lot of the “organic” fertilizers on the market have high levels of magnesium as they are typically made outside of Calgary. Check the label.
Eggshells for calcium. Another mineral that Calgary naturally has a ton of is calcium. As such, our soil pH is generally well above the neutral mark, sometimes being as high as 7.8 (from some of the soil samples I have seen). Ideally our soils would be closer to 7, or even slightly below 7. But there are still people who are recommending adding eggshells to our gardens, since they add natural calcium and lower pH levels. First off, eggshells don’t easily break down. When my mom visited a historic site in Quebec a few years ago, some of the items on display were eggshells that were over 400 years old. Secondly, if they do break down and release calcium in our soils, our plants will be even more overloaded with calcium than they already are. The thing about alkaline soil is that once your soil is over 7 on the pH scale, the more alkaline the soil gets, the harder it is for plants to uptake the minerals, even if the minerals are available. That is why our goal is to balance the pH in our soils, not to endlessly boost the pH. If only it were true that spruce trees lowered the pH, we’d be very lucky here in Calgary, but this is another misleading concept. Things don’t thrive under spruce trees because it is dry and shady, not because it is acidic. No plants LOVE dry shade, although some will tolerate it.
Organic Potting Mix from Costco. Yes, I am being very bold here and calling out a specific product, since it is by far the most shocking product I have ever used personally, and I have heard several similar complaints via a Facebook Page called the “Calgary and Area Hippie Gardeners”. This soil kills plants! I am not sure why or how, as potting soil is normally a sterile product, but this “organic” soil does not support life, even if you add other ingredients that should help, such as worm castings or other fertilizers, plants just will not grow in this potting mix. Plants sometimes survive in that soil, but I have never seen them get beyond their original planting size, even after months of summer conditions and adequate watering, when this potting mix is used. Don’t be fooled by the “organic” labelling, as this does not make this product a good one.
“Organic Pesticides”. This is a big NO on all fronts. Have you ever wondered why pests thrive? Well, the answer to this is certainly multifaceted, but one of the reasons is that we have waged war on ALL insects through chemical as well as organic means. Just because something is called organic, doesn’t mean it is good… think cyanide (which comes naturally from apple seeds when they are chewed). In the case of killing garden “pests”, what kills pests, also kills beneficial insects, such as ground beetles, lady beetles, wasps, and other predatory bugs that should be viewed as garden friends. So, by spraying (and I mean either with a chemical concoction, or with an “organic” one) we murder all critters indiscriminately. Who will be the first to reappear, and in fantastical numbers? The pests, of course, which are generally the vegetarian garden insects who love eating our kale plants and tomatoes as much as we do. Who takes years to bolster their populations? The predators, who can naturally keep the pest levels down. So, you are shooting yourself in the foot if you think any bug-killing concoction will “benefit” you or your garden. Bugs will keep bugs in check and a few aphids are actually good to have on site, as they are a food source which will attract natural predator bugs, keeping the pests from doing any major damage.
OK, I am going to leave it at these top 4 destructive “organic” ideas, but with the hopes that you understand the idea of practicing a More-ganic approach in your garden. Mother nature has a system in place that will always prove beneficial. Humans are short-sighted and like to “do” stuff in the garden which generally interferes with these natural systems, and just because something is labelled as organic, does not make it a “good” thing. Balance is key. Some pests, as mentioned above, are beneficial. If there are a few slugs in your garden, the ground beetle will have food, for example, and we want to keep these predators on hand in order to keep massive slug destruction at bay. Having balanced minerals in the soil is also beneficial, but having too much of some minerals can be quite destructive. Adding natural products, such as worm castings or compost can feed the soil without overloading it with specific minerals, so these are my go-to recommendations, almost regardless of the problem. Or simply leaving fallen leaves, or carrot tops on site can help feed the beneficial microbes, who in turn, feed your soil and therefore your plants, and therefore you (if you are eating produce grown on site). If you are ever in need of an answer, look to mother nature for inspiration, she tends to know how to treat the earth with the greatest of respect, more-ganically!