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The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

Gardeners tend to assume that any organic product is automatically safe for humans and beneficial to the environment—and in most cases this is true. The problem, as Jeff Gillman points out in this fascinating, well-researched book, is that it is not always true, and the exceptions to the rule can pose a significant threat to human health. To cite just one example, animal manures in compost can be a source of harmful E. coli contamination if imporperly treated. Gillman’s contention is that all gardening products and practices—organic and synthetic—need to be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine both whether they are safe and whether they accomplish the task for which they are intended.

Ultimately, Gillman concludes, organic methods are preferable in most situations that gardeners are likely to encounter. After reading this eye-opening book, you will understand why, and why knowledge is the gardener’s most important tool.

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Tags: Bottom, Truth, about, Drawbacks, Line

2 comments to The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line

  • GENE GERUE "Author, Find Your Ideal Country Home"

    Growing Our Own Food Safely–For Us and the Environment This book is timely as increasingly large numbers of us react to health, environmental and market conditions by growing more of our own food but wonder about the trade-offs of natural versus synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The information offered here will be useful whether you are a neophyte or seasoned gardener.I’ve been gardening for most of my 72 years and have nearly100 gardening books in my library. I learned many new things here. For instance, regarding companion planting, I have long thought that fragrances were the most important condition to repel unwanted insects. Not so–color seems to be the best indicator of whether a plant would be an effective companion. In fact, an aroma may make things worse.Author Jeff Gillman is a knowledgeable referee on the sometimes near-hysterical fight between organic enthusiasts and those who favor synthetic garden inputs. He gained his doctorate at the University of Georgia and is currently an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota where in addition to teaching courses on nursery production and pesticide use he also runs the experimental nurseries and orchards there.Gillman is an organic advocate but recognizes that many gardeners want the fast response of commercial products such as pesticides, so he goes through the list of both organic and synthetic choices. Effectiveness, environmental impact quotients, and toxicological effects are all covered.Here you will learn the trade-offs between natural and synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and much more. Subjects covered are fertilization, weed control, insect control, disease control, and the control of birds, deer, rodents, and mollusks.Throughout the book, after discussing each subject, the author synopsizes with bulleted Benefits, Drawbacks, and The Bottom Line, which is the subtitle of the book. For those who want the fewest possible words, this may be all you need to read to get the information you desire.In the chapter on fertilization are discussed the well-known benefits of organic matter in the soil, compost and manure. Less well known, but covered here is the issue of pathogens in manure and compost, especially compost tea and manure tea. The section on natural versus synthetic fertilizers provided the news to me that while most of us believe that synthetic fertilizers contain petrochemicals, “that’s rarely the case.” It turns out the nitrogen is in fact drawn from the air by a process invented by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, both of whom received Nobel prizes. Those of us concerned about energy depletion and costs, however, will note that both coal and natural gas are used in the process.Phosphorous and potassium are obtained from mines in several states, an energy-intensive extraction and delivery process. In The Bottom Line, the author states his preference for organic fertilizers but notes that he uses synthetic fertilizers “for certain applications because they’re cheap, readily available, and very effective.”The longest and perhaps most important chapter is on insect control. There is solid info on organic cultural practices such as bagging fruit, choosing resistant plants, using floating row covers, handpicking and hosing, nectaries, companion planting, physical, visual and pheromone traps of various design for various pests, sticky cards and paste, and beneficial insects.Organic insecticides and synthetic insecticides receive twelve pages each, a balanced treatment comparing effectiveness and danger to both gardeners and the environment. In the chapter wrap-up the author “is siding with the organic choices right up until you start looking at the pesticides. Once these things enter the picture, all bets are off for me.” Should the gardener decide to use pesticides, this chapter provides the scientifically known pros and cons. He strongly recommends the organic cultural practices. One of the few strategies that Gillman does not offer is simply growing more plants than you need–if you need the produce from three tomato plants, why, just grow five or six; if insects or disease reduce yield, you may well still have enough for your purposes.The final chapter is on the question of organic food. Is it really superior? And just how reliable are the USDA’s organic growing standards? Some of the surprises: organic food is not pesticide free; some organic producers use poison, too; organic pesticides may be worse because they require frequent reapplication, resulting in more residue; carcinogens are examples of “the dose makes the poison.”The Truth About Organic Gardening clears up much misunderstanding about natural and synthetic strategies for dealing with the many challenges of gardening. Not all synthetic pesticides are awful. Not all organic pesticides are safe. If, like me, you are an organic enthusiast, expect to…

  • Peregrinn

    Not all organics are good; not all synthetics are bad. Don’t assume that organic practices are always good and synthetic products are always bad — get the facts. Gillman points out that plant-derived Rotenone, an organic pesticide, is highly toxic to aquatic life and causes tremors in rats. Other organics, such as Neem Oil, are often overused despite links to reproductive problems in rats and potential carcinogens. Conversely, not all synthetics are bad. Using a synthetic fertilizer in appropriate amounts once or twice a year is not harmful (if you generally attend to soil development by adding organic materials like compost and mulch). And a foliar spray made from (organic) liquified seaweed may be easier and just as helpful as making compost tea to spray on your plants. So make your gardening decisions based on knowledge, not on a bias for or against organics.

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