Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment
The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.
Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information.
If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. For example: organic pesticides, even OMRI-approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees. All pesticides, even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), listed products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.
For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s gardening books, particularly Fern Marshall Bradley’s comprehensive Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also, free, reliable online resources, such as Texas A&M’s university-based beneficial insect identification, and Cornell’s Vegetable MD Online, offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become unmanageable.
January is a good time to turn a new leaf. If you are planning a vegetable garden for spring, I hope the first leaf you turn dangles from the tree of knowledge. Together we cultivate a safer, healthier environment for all.