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Organic Growing or Chemical Growing

Yet again I’m getting emails accusing me of being some sort of environment destroying chemist in the pay of the Illuminati or some chemical manufacturing multi-national combine. And other emails telling me I’m ignoring the benefits of science to be part of the trendy organic movement.

I suppose it’s too much for them to just email each other and stop wasting my time!

Once and for all, so I hope, I’m an ordinary grower not the figurehead of any movement either pro or against the organic movement. I strongly believe that we need to reduce chemical usage and work with nature rather than against it, but don’t lets throw away the benefits of science either.

To me gardening and growing your own is a matter of going against nature though. Left to itself, with no interference from people, our gardens and allotments would become scrubland and forest. No brassica, pea or carrot can compete with nettles and dandelions. The weeds have been developed by millennia of natural selection to merely reproduce themselves. Our crops however have been moulded by mere hundreds of years of selection by man to feed us.

There’s nothing natural about organic growing either. Nature doesn’t make compost or dig up the weeds! It’s a different way of manipulating and controlling nature that doesn’t generally involve the use of artificial chemicals.

I had the honour of meeting Lawrence D Hills, the founder of the HDRA that transformed into Grow Organic, back in 1978 or 1979 (I think). He was arguably the most important person in the organic gardening movement’s development. We discussed the pros and cons of organic growing then. As I recall, and it was a long time ago, his approach was one of looking for methods less damaging to the environment than the chemical approach.

There was no sentiment or nonsense in his approach. He believed in proper scientific trials to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of organic growing methods. He saw the risks and long term problems that treating the soil as merely a physical support for a limited range of chemical nutrients would bring but appreciated the need for productivity if the world was to be fed.

At the same time, in those days at least, he was willing to countenance the careful use of artificial fertilisers to balance the nutrient levels in the soil or to boost an ailing plant. Even the use of weedkillers and pesticides in some circumstances wasn’t cause for burning the culprits at the stake. It was the wholesale use of those chemicals without regard to the environmental or health consequences he was adamantly opposed to.

John and Val Harrison near Bocking 1976 with a goat

Val, John & Goat

Now the organic guardians approach is that you either follow their rules to the letter or you aren’t organic. The ‘you can’t be a little bit pregnant’ approach. So I’m not organic although, I think like most real gardeners, I try to be organic in my approach.

Now, to lighten the mood and hopefully make you smile, on the right is the only photograph I can find of that holiday where we visited Bocking and met a very special person.

Posted in Rants and Raves
3 comments on “Organic Growing or Chemical Growing
  1. Steve Calver says:

    I agree that a realistic approach needs to be taken to the use of chemicals and growing organically.

    There are instances of commercial growers who grow organically for the supermarket but when it comes to growing their own crops i.e. tomatoes they used slug pellets and were not altogether organic but followed the organic as possible route.

    For example I for one have taken a mostly organic approach and am aiming in the longer term to be a no-dig grower. I judiciously use slug pellets, fleece on tender salad or cabbages to ward off predators and to keep them moist and I use weedkiller glyphosate on my paths. Which helps to keep any weeds down and to stop the grass getting into my growing beds.

    I have 14 4′ x33′ beds with a larger space at one end for a pond, two sheds and an area at the other for composting, polytunnel and seating etc at both ends.

    Trying to use the fewest chemicals as possible is my aim and has always been my aim. Other than judicious amounts of manure, there is no digging for me nor is there any use of chemical fertilisers.

    At least that is to say unless plants are grown in pots or are a little sickly then I would use them.

    Often in my work in this area whether for pleasure or work, I have come across the organic growers and vegetarians who seem to adopt the attitude that John mentioned. Its my way or the highway….in my humble opinion the organic movement is doing itself no favours.

    To use a sweeping generalisation it is all very middle class and frankly leaves a nasty taste in the clack. Their is a perception for me that they are alienating more people including myself rather than be adaptable they are stuck in their ways and see no middle ground.

    In the longer term that is hardly going to encourage people to use less chemicals or resources full stop.

    A fine example is the person next to me at my allotment site, desparately earnest vegetarian from the “we must use less sector of employment” who deem locals as something they stepped in and only wish to procreate more images of themselves. Well there site has lots of oil based products on it i.e. lots of plastic. Whereas I use wood, twine, terracotta pots, re-use pallets and whatever organic material I can. I just do not use plastic other than re-using meat trays as seed propogators and all the household waste I can recycle on the allotment.

    To me they are only paying lip-service to what they perceive as impacts upon the environment and overall sustainability.

  2. The ‘organic’ movement has become a cult and like all cults is completely intolerant of any other belief. I’m with John in agreeing that gardening is not ‘natural’ at all. It’s no more natural than driving a car or using a computer. However, it can be sustainable. Witness the gardens in China that have been in continuous cultivation for over a thousand years. I try to garden in a sustainable way by using compost and natural materials wherever I can. That doesn’t stop me throwing a handful of growmore at things to give them a boost if they need it. We need to be pragmatic about these things.

  3. Drew says:

    Well said, young Colin. I hear so many do-ggoding middle-class gardeners and consumers extolling the benefits of “no chemicals”. Well, obvioulsy there is a serious lack of education, as everything on the Universe, and that’s no exaggeration, is a chemical, or mix of chemicals, from air and water to profiteroles and fillet steak. It just goes to show how hypocritical the “organic” lobby can be, I recently had cause to research what could be termed “organic water”. Yes, it does exist, and is defined as all water which has not been chemically treated beyond that which would normally be found in municipally provided mains water, ie. tap water, but, what it also means, is that you can take spring water, chlorinate it, fluoridise it, add aluminium suplhate to normal levels. The reason for this? — if it had to be pure spring water, 99% of organic production would not be commercially viable for supply/cost reasons. What a cop out!!! Nothing but a ruse to fleece the criminally PC.

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