By Renate Tilson

Organic gardening means a lot more than just using a natural fertilizer. It is a philosophical position as much as it is a list of dos and don’ts. With the knowledge that chemicals kill soil life, gardeners can produce fruits and vegetables in their home garden by switching to organic fertilizers and pesticides instead of those derived from synthetic chemicals that will render the soil inert. It means choosing long-term solutions rather than a chemical quick fix. Organic products do a lot more than just make your garden look pretty.

Healthy soil means healthy plants. The first step to creating an environmentally friendly garden is to work with the soil and to eliminate the use of chemicals. By adding compost, plants will become more vigorous. Composted materials bring to the garden not only good bacteria, nutrients, and mulch for plants, but also reduce the amount of solid waste you create. Yard debris, kitchen scraps, lawn trimmings, and fall leaves are all good candidates for the compost pile. (No meat products or fat, though). The healthy soil you make through composting can help fend off pests and diseases, encourage beneficial insects to make home in your garden, and feed your plants a healthy diet.

These are all important aspects of making our environment healthier. You can also purchase composted materials at your garden supply store. If you add compost to your planting beds, you’re on your way to raising a beautiful, healthy garden organically.

Healthy soil is full of life, insects, earthworms, sow bugs, bacteria, and much more, all of which contribute to a rich medium for your plants. Gardeners need good, healthy soil to grow all kinds of blooming plants, shrubs, and vegetables. Energy and nutrients used by plants through photosynthesis need to be replenished. Applying compost recharges the soil with nutrients as well as a diversity of organisms that are ready to contribute to good soil texture and vitality. Natural balance in the garden helps ensure a healthy garden producing vigorous plants that will be more resistant to garden diseases and pests. Chemicals kill this life in your soil, leaving it devoid of the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Studies show that the presence of songbirds and insects is a powerful sign of a healthy environment. Birds are happiest in a diverse landscape full of good things to eat. By spraying chemical pesticides you remove their food source, and poison the birds themselves. Why not nurture a natural, balanced environment in your garden?

Stop worrying about a weed-free lawn—grass was a weed years ago. Instead, consider shrinking the lawn size and planting perennials or vegetables. Perennial beds provide refuge for animals and insects that will eat pests and reduce the need for chemicals. Plant a tree in your backyard—you will be producing lots of energy-saving shade. And instead of using sprinklers, which result in water runoff and evaporation, consider using soaker hoses––they will leak moisture into the soil slowly so water gets absorbed directly by plant roots. Use a rake instead of a gas blower. Rakes use no fuel, make no exhaust, and they give you a bit of good exercise

Gardening organically requires thinking of the living things in your surroundings. It entails choosing a long-term solution instead of the quick fix. In the long term, it’s easier, cheaper, and you will have a healthier garden.

Studies have linked common chemical pesticides and fertilizers to cancer, plus reproductive and neurological damage. By gardening organically you can really make a difference in the backyard, for yourself and for generations to come.