In 1962, Thomas
Kuhn defined the idea of "paradigm shift" as
a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually
violent revolutions", in which "one conceptual world view is
replaced by another." In the world of agriculture and
gardening, paradigm shifts have frequently taken place and can
often reflect larger cultural trends. For example, there has
for many years existed a subculture of people in the U.S.
interested in organic gardening and chemical-free living.
Now, more and more information on these subjects is available
through the internet, and mainstream culture is starting to
embrace many of these ideas. As more people become aware of
the harmful effects of chemicals in the home garden, a paradigm
shift may be underway.
Unfortunately, the most common form of gardening done today uses
large amounts of chemicals to fertilize plants and to fight pests
and diseases. These chemicals over the long run contribute
to destroying helpful soil organisms and throw plants out of their
natural balance. This system of gardening focuses on
treating plant diseases and pests without strengthening the
plant’s immune system and is quite harmful to the environment.
Sadly, today it is practiced by most gardeners and farmers.
The other method is organic gardening, which broadly defined means
that you create a natural balance of healthy soil and healthy
plants in your garden. Organic gardening has of course
existed for centuries. It is only with the recent advent of
chemical pesticides, fertilizers, etc. that organic gardeners have
had to define their way as an alternative to the modern and
harmful system of chemical gardening. Due to the work of
pioneers such as J.I. Rodale and Sir Albert Howard, knowledge of
organic gardening techniques has been steadily gaining ground.
Organic gardening considers your garden as a living ecosystem, and
uses the laws of nature to produce healthy plants that are
resistant to diseases and pests. Organic gardening focuses
on building up the soil, using plants wisely, and maintaining an
ideal balance. Organic gardeners recognize that pathogens
attack weak plants that are not properly adapted to their
environment and that live in poor soil.
For the modern home gardener, it may take a personal “revolution”
to shift your gardening paradigm away from using harmful
chemicals, as chemical gardening is generally seen as less work
than organic gardening. It’s unfortunate that our modern culture
values convenience over health, quick results over exercise and
hard work. What we have to ask ourselves in the long run is,
what good is all this convenience really doing us? An
environment full of chemicals, unhealthy air and polluted water,
obesity, cancer, and increased levels of stress are all now
considered the norm. But is this the way we really want to
live, or is there another way? We invite you to look at the
smallest scale possible, your home garden, and begin to make the
changes there. After all, a revolution has to begin
For the home gardener, there exists a range of techniques to begin
to embrace the culture of organic gardening. The most basic
and important way to shift your garden from a chemically-treated
to an organic garden is to build up your soil to create a
healthier medium in which to sow your plants. You can
greatly improve your soil by composting material from your kitchen
and garden and adding it to the soil. Other simple things
you can do include growing a garden mostly of plants native to
your area and using an organic mulch to cover your plants.
Native plants are hardy, use less water, and are resistant to
disease. Mulch will help your garden retain water, prevent
weeds, and will contribute nutrients to your soil.
Compost, native plants, and mulch are concepts that come directly
from nature and represent the balance that exists in many natural
landscapes. Think of a primary forest with a thick layer of hummus
on the ground, plenty of helpful organisms in the soil, and native
trees, shrubs, and groundcovers growing in mutually beneficial
tiers. A primary forest hasn’t seen the introduction of
non-native and often invasive species that may shift an ecosystem
out of balance. (Unfortunately, most of our created urban
landscapes are over-run with non-natives, creating a challenging
environment for the organic gardener.)
Furthermore, concepts such as “companion planting” expand ways we
can use the laws of nature to grow plants in thoughtful
combinations to improve the soil, improve plant health, and
naturally prevent diseases and pest infestations. Roses and
garlic are a classic example and are discussed in detail in the
book Roses Love Garlic, by Louise Riotte.
Other more complex systems of gardening that are more in tune with
the natural environment are permaculture and biodynamic growing.
Permaculture is a system that uses plants, recycled water from
your home, and other natural elements to reduce energy consumption
and ecological impact. Biodynamic growing considers the
health of the soil, the plants, animals, insects, and even the
gardeners themselves as being related to overall garden health.
It is also highly tuned to natural cycles.
The techniques of organic gardening are equally applicable to your
herb garden, rose garden, flower garden, and vegetable garden, no
matter how big or small a space you’re cultivating. Next
time you venture out into your garden, take the first step to a
healthier lifestyle and a better world. Dig deep in the soil and
reconnect with the natural process of your garden. Remember that
you are one of earth’s caretakers. Work the soil, and help
shift the paradigm.
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