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  • Writer's pictureCourtenay Rudy

Why we grow Organically

We get this question A LOT. Growing without pest-herb-fung-icides has always been a no-brainer for us. We can see how nature balances itself, how natural and manual solutions can have a long term beneficial effect that chemical agriculture doesn't. Chemical agriculture is easy (but expensive) to get into, short term gains with long term pains, whereas natural agriculture is the opposite: short term pains with long term gains.

Let's look at Chemical Ag for a minute. When a farmer decides to start using herbicides on his fields to control weeds and increase crop yields, at first the desired outcome occurs, the crop is free from weed pressure and doesn't have to share it's nutrients with predatory plants. It's the secondary result that sets the farmer on the carousel that he will have a hard time getting off of. When herbicides and pesticides are applied, it is not just the weeds and unwanteds that are killed, its also the biodiverse micro-organisms in the soil that are decimated. These are the tiny beasties that digest the dirt and crop remnants and turn them into usable nutrients for future crops. With these dead, the farmer will need to apply either manures, cover crops or synthetic fertilizers. Manure can be time consuming and expensive (trucking, spreading etc), cover crops take time, and synthetic fertilizers are quick but expensive. Which do you think this farmer will pick? Sadly, most choose the last option. Imagine this, every time you get sick you take antibiotics, and for food you only eat fast food or protein shakes. Doesn't sound like a recipe for health. Essentially this is the result of these chemically sustained fields. Unable to sustain a healthy immune system and fueled with fake food.

Now, organic solutions are quite different. When we have a bug, weed or disease problem we cant just scroll through the list of applicable sprays available. We have to look at the big picture, long term to decide on the best course of action. For example, this year we have for the first time, a large quantity of Colorado Potato Beetle, more than we can collect manually. We were able to deter them efficiently last year and in years prior have been successful in hand removing them. This year with the added pressure we have decided to try Nematodes, small worm-like parasite that attacks grubs like wire-worm and the larva of potato beetles. They do not harm beneficial bugs like lady bugs and wont effect the crop. Since they are not accustomed to our climate they will likely die off in the winter. This will give us a natural way to dampen the pest pressure while we put in precautions for next year. Rotating cover crops and planting sacrificial crops can also aide in suppression of pests.

As for fertilizers, we use mostly manure from our animals winter housing, in combination with cover crops. The added benefit to using manure and cover crops is organic matter, and by that I mean the physical quantity of matter that will break down and become soil. This means that instead of broadcasting a seed-like fertilizer and losing top soil, we are actually adding micro- organisms and water holding capacity that will benefit the plants far more than just sprinkling fertilizer would.

Weeds are a bit trickier. Aside from the obvious manual extraction of weeds (which we definitely do a lot of), there are also clever tactics you can use to help lessen the annoyance. In the garden we do things like flame weeding, plastic mulching and bed baking (laying tarps over beds before planting to kill off weeds that sprout). In the fields we use the crowding method. We plant crops like clover that spread quickly and take up large quantities of space, essentially leaving insufficient space for weeds to grow.

Logically organic growing is the most sustainable way to continue growing on the same plot of land. Eventually large chemical agriculture will come to a point when their synthetic soil supplements cannot sustain life and it may even be too late for organic methods to save them.

The problem is, if a commercial farmer were to stop using his current regiment to try growing organically, he would have to sacrifice seasons of growing to be able to rebuild his soil to the point where it could grow crops without the use of amendments, that's a big ask when the margins of profit are low to begin with. On top of that, he would have to fight with overspray from neighboring farms and learning a whole new way to farm. It all makes the decision to switch so much more difficult.

This is a topic that I could honestly talk about forever, but I'll leave it at that (for now).

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