Organic Gardening at our Place

Let me tell you a little secret: I don't have an organic garden. There, I've said it. It feels better to be out with it. Actually, even more shocking, I'm not really trying to have an organic garden. What I would like is a garden where herbicides and pesticides and commercial fertilizers just aren't needed. More of how I'm trying to get to that point later.

There are actually two main ways that my garden isn't organic. Firstly the typical way, where some of the things I put on my garden don't have organic certification. Certainly the compost I make isn't organic because I put in things to compost that aren't organically certified (fruit and veg are only part of it, last time I checked the SMH wasn't even claiming to be organic. In fact, some of those columnists are downright poisonous!) but also there is so much INORGANIC MATTER in my soil left from the last owners of the house, that I can only hope to minimise it, not to get rid of it entirely. The solid things like glass, metal and asbestos (!) aren't the biggest problem, more difficult to get rid of are the things the previous owners used to attempt to keep the weeds down. Well, I can only assume that they carpeted many of their garden beds in fake grass, or lined them with plastic, to keep the weeds down, although I may be wrong, they may just have had a very different aesthetic. The astroturf stuff is actually really problematic as sunlight (UV radiation) has started to break it down, leaving many thousands of little 'tufts' of fake grass throughout the soil of my garden. From my reading it seems that UV light breaks some of the polymer bonds, so the plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, which to me suggests that it gets into the food chain more easily. The problem with plastics getting into the food chain is far to big for this blog, but google on the gyre, pthaletes, BPA and endocrine disruption (Not safe for people with anxiety disorders! This is some freaky shit!). So, I remove what I can but I try not to think about it all to much so I don't wind myself into an anxious knot.
That green stuff is tufts of plastic grass

Given that I can't ever hope to have a garden that could be considered organic I do try and stay green in my garden. Just like I firmly believe in 'good enough parenting' (google it!) I am aiming for something I think of as 'organic enough gardening' which allows a certain amount of flexibility, considering what I'm working with. So I minimise the external inputs of pesticide, herbicides and fertilizer to saves energy, both in terms of production and transport and doesn't add even more weird chemicals to my garden. What I do, and plan to do is:

  • Weeds: I manually weed my garden, use mulch and newspaper and I'm planning to try black plastic for some tricky bits too. High strength vinegar on a hot day is very effective on things that I can't get to easily in other ways (such as between the pavers). I'm also going to use green manure for some areas, so the weeds can't get a hold.
  • Pests: Again, manual removal is excellent for insect pests. Apart from the decrease in pest numbers, it also means I spend more time in the garden. Obviously this isn't always possible, but as Peter Cundall says, just wandering around observing is very important for gardeners, so that's what I aim for. I am also doing things like a bit of companion planting (Marigolds! Yay!), exclusion (especially for chooks, possums, other birds and bandicoots) and hopefully the chickens will also help by eating insect pests.
  • Fertility: We have two compost tumblers that are working well, and the added joy of chook poop means that we should have some really good quality compost by the begginning of summer. I do purchase sugar cane mulch, which I use for the hen house as well as the garden, but that should decrease when I start growing green manure and when my comfrey starts growing.
Currently we have two raised beds, soon to be three. One is planted out with lettuce seedlings, coriander seedlings and cucumber seeds the other is still resting so the compost has time to loose it's heat and the worms can start their work. We have some eggplant and capsicum/pepper seeds germinating inside and plans for sweetcorn, bush beans and sunflowers (I'll put the sunflowers out the front to protect them from the chooks and provide some much needed cheerfulness to our front yard). Yesterday the kids helped me plant some pretty, low maintenance, pollinator attracting, flower seedlings (a white, scented allysium, a small white salvia and a white and pink coastal daisy). We are also planning to put a tent-style trellis between two of the beds, made out of some weldmesh that we found hidden in our garden somewhere. We also have some herbs around the place and a potato tower that is growing brilliantly. I would also like a passionfruit vine, and I think that it would be nice near our front door, where it would enjoy the northerly aspect and keep a bit of our wall shaded.

Raised beds, with coop behind the clivias

Potato tower, needing mulch