Go Beyond Organic Gardening to Grow More Food With Less Work
You’ve most likely heard of organic gardening before, but have you ever heard of beyond organic gardening?
In this post, we’ll go over exactly what this means, and how you can implement “beyond organic” practices in your own garden to grow more with less input.
This is a guest post by Sunflower Craig of Permies.com
As concerns about the health and environmental impacts of conventional farming continue to grow, more and more people are turning to organic gardening as a way to produce healthy, sustainable, and eco-friendly food. But even organic gardening has its limitations, and many gardeners are now exploring the concept of “beyond organic” gardening. But what does this actually mean? How can something be “beyond” organic?
What does Beyond Organic mean?
Beyond organic gardening is a holistic, regenerative approach to gardening that goes beyond the basic principles of organic gardening.
Most master gardener programs stress the use of synthetic fertilizers, amendments and pesticides. The addition of these chemicals into your garden is working against nature, and probably not all that great for the garden or the gardener. Even certified organic farms are allowed to use some degree of synthetic pesticides [source]. In many home gardens, organic gardeners use all-natural methods and inputs such as organic fertilizers and natural pest and weed control methods. But this standard method of organic gardening still requires a fair bit of inputs on behalf of the gardener. Since beyond organic gardening is a permaculture practice, it takes a more holistic approach to soil health, plant nutrition and ecosystem balance; It’s a way of gardening that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living things and seeks to create a harmonious and self-sustaining ecosystem in the garden.
From a permaculture perspective, it’s important to work with nature work to create a balanced ecosystem in the garden. For example, recognizing that pests and diseases are often the result of imbalances in the garden, it’s important to address these imbalances through a variety of methods such as companion planting, crop rotation, and biological pest control. Striving to create habitats for beneficial insects and other creatures will help to pollinate plants, control pests, and improve soil health.
Likewise, building healthy soil through the addition of compost, cover crops and simply not disturbing the soil food web that naturally establishes itself is a key tenet of beyond organic gardening that goes beyond simply using organic fertilizers that you might find at any nursery or garden store.
Benefits of Beyond Organic Gardening
Beyond organic gardening offers a number of benefits for both gardeners and the environment. Some of these benefits include:
1. Healthier soil: By focusing on building soil fertility and promoting the soil food web, beyond organic gardeners can create soil that is rich in nutrients and teeming with beneficial microorganisms. This, in turn, can lead to healthier plants that are less susceptible to pests and disease.
2. Better nutrition: Because beyond organic gardeners focus on providing plants with a balanced and diverse range of nutrients, the food they produce is often more nutritious than conventionally grown food (even conventionally grown “organic” food!)
3. Eco-friendly: Beyond organic gardening avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which can harm the environment and pollute waterways. Instead, beyond organic gardeners mimics nature and uses 100% natural methods to promote plant health and control pests.
4. Self-sustaining: By creating a balanced ecosystem in the garden, beyond organic gardeners can reduce their reliance on outside inputs and create a self-sustaining garden that requires less maintenance over time.
5. Cost-effective: While beyond organic gardening may require an initial investment in soil amendments and other supplies, it can ultimately be more cost-effective than conventional gardening (whether organic or not). By creating a self-sustaining ecosystem in the garden, beyond organic gardeners can reduce their need for expensive inputs over time.
Getting started with Beyond Organic Gardening
If you’re interested in exploring beyond organic gardening, a great way to fast-track your learning and success is by taking a master gardener program. One such course that we at permies.com highly recommend is The Garden Master Course by Helen Atthowe.
Helen Atthowe has spent 35 years working to connect farming, food systems, land stewardship, and conservation. She currently farms and does soil-building research on a 211 acre organic farm in Eastern Oregon. She was a Horticulture Extension Agent in Montana for 17 years where she designed, taught, and wrote the manual for an Organic Master Garden course. She also owned/operated a 30 acre certified organic vegetable/fruit farm in Montana and a 26-acre certified organic orchard with her late husband in California.
Her Garden Master Course teaches organic, veganic, no-till permaculture gardening techniques, focuses on soil and habitat building for beneficial organisms, and emphasizes systems thinking for gardeners and farmers. It covers managing relationships in the garden, rather than just growing crops: a permaculture practice that has the ability to increase production while decreasing the required inputs of time, energy and resources on behalf of the gardener.
The Garden Master Course provides in-depth knowledge and skills in sustainable gardening practices and is considered to provide even better insights than in-person university-funded master gardener programs in addition to being more accessible and cost-effective compared to traditional master gardener programs.
Many local master gardeners are funded by extensions of the local university. This is a wonderful resource for the community, but most of them don’t teach beyond organic techniques. They also tend to focus on ornamentals and don’t generally focus on food production, so be sure to do your research and choose your program wisely.
Helen’s Garden Master Course is taught in-person at Wheaton Labs just outside of Missoula Montana every year during garden planning season (January/February). However if you can’t make it to Montana in the middle of winter, you can still get all of the benefits of the course without ever having to leave home.
Here’s a little taste of what you can expect: In the following excerpt, Helen talks about how to create a fertile, pest-free garden ecosystem by building habitat.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of master gardener programs out there, so do your research and compare what is actually being offered and you’re sure to find one that meets your needs. Learning beyond organic gardening techniques is a journey that everyone will take at their own pace, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the process. We can build a better world by beginning in our own backyard.
To learn more about Helen Atthowe’s Garden Master Course, click here. If you’re interested in joining us in-person at Wheaton Labs, you can get early bird tickets at a highly discounted rate right here.
Sunflower Craig is a mother, author, and herbalist. She did her studies at Central Washington University in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and continues her education with hands-on experience in the foothills of the Cascades. She now works with Paul Wheaton, founder of Permies.com and Wheaton Labs to spread the permaculture bug and advocate for sustainable energy alternatives, regenerative agriculture, and sustainable solutions for global issues. When she is not writing, working, or creating, she spends her time with her son and husband exploring the lesser-known nooks and crannies of the local national forests.
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