Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's All in the Soil -- Safeguarding the Future By Gardening Organically

Organic gardening -- the phrase resonates with feel-good factors. You're holding back on spraying those punishing herbicides and pesticides -- and so giving nature a little breathing room. You're holding back, too, on artificial fertilizers, which ultimately come from natural gas and mined salts -- so you're not depleting those non-renewable resources. Add to that the fact that any organic food you grow in your garden is liable to be better tasting, healthier and devoid of man-made chemicals, and it's easy to see why organic gardening gives many a feel-good glow. But, what many people may miss out on, is the fact that gardening organically is actually in the grandkids best interests, too -- you are investing in the soil, which will pay them back a handsome dividend, in our increasingly fragile future.

Like it or not, not only do we come from dirt (and to dirt do we return) -- the very health and security of the modern world rests quite firmly in the soil. It's an odd idea, which seems strange because, in our post-industrial world, the soil can seem so far away, even though it's just under our feet. Over the last 50 years, the wonders of science, cheap oil and gas, and the relentless market, have combined to produce food more conveniently -- and in greater quantities, than any that society has known before. In the process, though, we've been lifted further and further away from the soil, and a firm connection to natural world. We've kind of forgotten that the whole edifice of civilization was built on agriculture, on farmers nurturing the earth. And it still is.

That disconnection is not just sad, but maybe a little dangerous, too. Because, all of the 'cheap and plenty', provided by conventional farming, owes much of its bounty to large doses of inorganic fertilizers. Predominant amongst these artificial fertilizers are nitrates, which come from ammonia, which is turn derived from natural gas. That's a problem, because U.S. natural gas production peaked in 1971, and has been on bumpy ride down ever since. That can only make natural gas increasingly more expensive over the long term, and so too the price of nitrate fertilizers. Cheap inorganic fertilizers are likely to become a thing of the past.

We're going to have to get used to the idea that conventional agriculture, together with it's artificially cheapened food, is going to be a thing of the past. Already, higher oil and gas prices are feeding though into higher food prices -- and there's no reason to suppose that process can be reversed, as a possible peak in oil production looms too. So why does that matter to you and your garden?

Because, in a very real sense, in the near future, our food security is going to rely on growing food, with only natural organic fertilizers at our disposal. So we need to build up soil fertility again, the natural way. After decades of washing our soils with nitrates and phosphates, and losing the organic humus and muck that binds it together, we need to get our soil well-fed, so that it's ready to feed us again. Many studies have confirmed that organic methods can build up that fertility, and so make plants more healthy and productive -- especially in times of drought. And that whole enriching cycle, can begin in your garden, when you start gardening organically -- banking fertility to safeguard food production in the future.

And there's another couple of strings to organic gardening's bow, that could make a real difference, to avoiding the tainted future, that global warming threatens. Organic gardening, with its focus on adding natural organic matter, such as compost, manure, and plant residues, is building up the humus content of the soil. That organic matter is a natural repository of carbon -- and by locking a greater proportion of plant matter in the soil in this way, organically-gardened soils can act as a carbon buffer, slowing CO2 diffusion into the atmosphere. That way, you are actually cutting CO2 emissions by gardening organically.

The long-term benefits of gardening organically don't stop there, though. Conventional gardening has the gardener applying copious quantities of artificial fertilizers to promote plant growth. And whilst they work, in a sappy way, they have their own negative carbon footprint. First, these inorganic fertilizers release plenty of greenhouse gases in their production. Secondly, for nitrate-based fertilizers specifically, after they have been applied to the soil, there is the slow release of nitrous oxide. This is a very potent greenhouse gas, one that is many times more dangerous than CO2 when it comes to the greenhouse effect.

So going organic in your gardening, and ceasing the use of artificial fertilizers, actually applies a double whammy of emissions reductions. With organic gardening applying a small brake to the risk of global warming, as well as helping ensure food security for generations to come, you can see why going organic is more than just a fad.

This article is a guest post from Adana Lima, a stay-at-home mom with 3 cute kids (Jamie, Pablo, Guerrero) who writes on the topic of adjustable dumbbells.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow!you made organic fertilizer look more plausible then inorganic fertilizers.Not to mention the well written detail about the CO2 emission reduction;an added effect of organic fertilizers.Even i didn't know that.