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Organic Agriculture

What is Organic Growing

Organic Growing is a method of growing plants which uses only naturally occurring materials to feed the soil. No synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are used.


Organic Principles

Most growers seem to agree on the following principles, although there is no one 'method'.


Feed the soil, not the plant

Organic growers feed the soil, which enhances soil life and increases long-term fertility. Healthy soil will grow healthy plants which feed healthy animals and people. Synthetic fertilisers feed plants directly in a way that by-passes certain natural, biological processes.
Compost, manures, seaweed, mulches and green manures (crops which are grown to dig in to the soil) build up the humus content in the soil and provide a natural source of food for plants. Natural fertilisers such as blood and bone and unprocessed rock minerals also add to the fertility.


Recycling plant and animal wastes

Many of society's waste products are used by the organic grower. Prunings, weeds, kitchen wastes, wood ashes and lawn clippings can all be recycled into the garden. As well as improving the soil these 'wastes' save space at rapidly-filling rubbish tips.


Non-Chemical control of Pests & Diseases

Well-fed plants grown in healthy, fertile soil have more resistance to pests and diseases. Organic growers aim at a balance between pests and their natural predators (which may mean accepting occasional damaged leaves); and plants which are attacked by pests are often left to provide food for the predators. Only 1% of insects cause damage to crops, which means that 99% of insects are either harmless or useful.


Diversity - growing a mixture of plants - helps to confuse many pests. Herbs, flowers and vegetables grown together also provides shelter for many useful insects. Bird-attracting trees and shrubs will help in keeping pest populations down.


Crop rotation - not growing the same vegetables in one place each year - discourages a build-up of many pests and diseases.


Other strategies for defeating pests are:

         planting a few extra to allow for losses

         timing - ensure plants are well-established before the worst pests arrive

         companion planting - some strong-smelling herbs will repel pests

         hand picking e.g. caterpillars

         baits, traps and barriers

         natural sprays e.g. garlic, pyrethrum, chilli. Used only as a last resort, as they may harm beneficial insects.

Organic growers also spend time learning to recognise useful insects.




Non-chemical control of weeds

Weeds have many benefits - it is better to grow weeds than leave soil bare. Weeds will stabilize disturbed soil and prevent erosion; they also protect the soil from extreme heat and cold. Deep-rooted weeds break up hardpans and bring up minerals from below, conserving nutrients that would otherwise be lost. Many common weeds provide food and shelter for useful insects.

Some weed control methods used are:

         minimum cultivation - weed seeds are not continually brought to the surface

         close planting to shade out weeds


         choking out weeds with alternative plants e.g. buckwheat, mustard

         mowing, slashing, whipper snipping hand-weeding

         paper weed mats

         Flame weeding.

Why Grow Organically? - Health and nutrition

German research suggests that food grown organically contains more minerals and vitamins and less harmful nitrates. With a lower water content, it has better keeping abilities. It has also not been treated with potentially harmful chemicals


Over-use of high nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers has polluted ground-water and waterways. Excessive pesticide use has damaged many species of insects and birds. Organic growers aim to grow healthy food using safe, sustainable methods which do not harm the natural environment.


Permaculture, Biodynamics and Hydroponic
Organic Growing is sometimes confused with these terms. Permaculture combines plants, animals, buildings and people into integrated, productive communities. It is about design. Most permaculture followers also grow organically. Biodynamics uses accepted organic practices, but also incorporates the theory of planetary influences on plant life. Moon planting, specially prepared Biodynamic sprays and compost additives are part of this system. Hydroponics is the science of growing plants in water, without soil; plants are fed entirely with synthetic chemical nutrients.


Further Information

Many good books are available on organic growing and the Organic Growers Association Western Australia (OGAWA) library has a wide selection of these.


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Eco Village * Dmit River * Shouf Mountains* Lebanon