There are a lot of compelling reasons to garden and eat organically – environmental reasons, economical reasons, political and philosophical reasons. But the main reason that Matt and I garden organically is that it fits in with our aspirations for a self-sufficient lifestyle.
If we were a certified organic farm we would have all manner of restrictions – we would have to use organic seed, would be subject to annual inspection, could not use plastic mulches unless we removed them at the end of each growing season, and we would have to give our animals organic feed (per the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990). These are all manageable on a large-scale farm – but I think you begin to see why organic tomatoes cost three times as much as the imported hot-house ones.
So what are we? Um, organic-ish? Organically inclined? We “identify” as organic? But we are sure as hell not certifiable. (Well, not organically certifiable.) We are well-intentioned and we don’t use any toxic chemicals.
As I see it, there are three levels of backyard organics:
The usual yard, which calls for a lot of inputs – fertilizers, amendments, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, etc. These all have to be purchased from outside sources because they cannot be made on site. At best, you are lazy or cheap and don’t use that many chemicals – at worst, you have the chemical lawn service van visit once a month.
Store-bought organic, where you buy safe, non-toxic products that are OMRI listed.
DIY organic. This is us. As long as your soil structure is reasonably good to begin with, you need few inputs that cannot be generated within a small farm. There are few soil fertility issues we can’t correct with animal manure, wood ashes, and compost (these few issues would be micronutrients like iron, copper, and manganese). We can make our own pesticides from plants (a kind of chrysanthemum, Tanacetum cinerarifolium, is the source of pyrethrum), soapy water, or beer (in which to drown slugs and snails). On the rare occasion that we need to bring something in for the garden it is to improve soil structure (because we don’t always have enough homemade compost) or to introduce a beneficial insect (like those nematodes).