Question: I notice that you evenhandedly mention both “conventional” and organic treatments in your articles. I’m wondering if you would consider putting your green thumb more heavily on the organic side of things.
Answer: Most responses to my columns are questions. But occasionally I get suggestions from my readers, which I also appreciate.
I have been a gardener since I was 10 years old when an old chicken yard was given to me to plant flowers.
When I was in high school, I worked part-time in a garden store managed by my father. At that time I was selling pesticides to home gardeners that were later found to be dangerously toxic. I never even heard the word organic in those early years. When I studied horticulture in college, there was still little reference about organic gardening or gardening without chemicals.
Although I am not a completely organic gardener, I have become more and more organic as I read about the damage caused by the overuse of pesticides. I intend to put my green thumb more heavily on the organic side, while still making timely information available to those who do not use the organic approach.
Let’s talk about the things that have swayed me toward organic.
Organic fertilizers have two basic advantages. First, organic fertilizers always contain many micronutrients, such as iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Although chemical fertilizers sometimes have added micronutrients, most only contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Although plants use very small quantities of micronutrients, they can become limiting to plant growth if not available in the soil.
Second, organic fertilizers are released gradually into the soil so they are gradually available for plant growth. The nitrogen in chemical fertilizers is usually very soluble and is released quickly into the soil. Much of it is often leached past the root zone of the plants and has to be applied more frequently.
A good example is liquid fertilizer applied by lawn service companies. They typically make five applications per year, whereas two applications of granular organic fertilizer are sufficient.
Chemical pesticides applied to control damaging insects can also harm pollinating insects like bees if applied at the wrong time. Herbicides applied to kill weeds can damage desirable plants.
All chemical pesticides can be damaging to the applicator if inhaled or spilled on the skin, especially when in concentrate form. Always wear long pants, long shirts and gloves when handling pesticides. Now that we are all familiar with face masks, wear one of those also. Pesticide residues can be harmful to children or pets for several hours after application.
Pesticides, especially when over-applied or applied too often, get dissolved in soil water and find their way to creeks and ponds where they can damage fish and other wildlife.
Organic insecticides and fungicides are now available to control most insects and plant diseases. As for herbicides, I now remove almost all my weeds by pulling, digging or cultivating. I have found that if I spend five to 10 minutes a day weeding (usually in the early morning) I have completed all my weeding for the week. Of course, frequent mulching has reduced my weed population by about 90%.