Dallas Morning News - April 29, 2021
Going Organic Means More than Switching Products
Back in 1999 I wrote a column here about what it means to switch to organics. Some people still don't understand it, so here is an update on my explanation.
Switching from one set of products, to others is not the point. Eliminating high-nitrogen fertilizers and toxic chemical pesticides is an important piece of the puzzle, but only one piece. Going organic requires an attitude change and a completely different thought process.
The terms cloud the discuss. Organic, natural, sustainable, earth friendly, pesticide-free, non-toxic and others are used for the side I'm on. They are messy and confusing at best. The Dirt Doctor organization and Texas Organic Research Center use "natural-organic" but it’s not perfect. The other side has labels such conventional, standard, artificial, synthetic, chemical, inorganic and researched-based - all problematic in several ways. And yes, I do understand the technical definition of organic being anything that contains carbon and some really nasty things contain carbon.
Healthy Soil Requires a Balance of Chemistry, Physics and Biology
The true difference between these two camps is how to deal with the soil. The synthetic chemical approach deals primarily with the chemistry of the soil, ignoring the other two pieces – soil physics (structure, texture, aeration, drainage, etc.) and soil biology (microbes, earthworms, insects, etc.).
Organics is about creating and maintaining healthy soil and allowing that soil to support, feed and grow healthy plants and keep pest problems to a minimum. Healthy soil has a balance of chemistry, physics and biology. Organic fertilizers improve soil health with every application. Synthetic chemical fertilizers force feed plants. They help make plants green and grow, but hurt the soil with every application.
Common problem of soil becoming "worn out" and needing replacement never happens under the organic program. In fact, nothing but good things happen. Synthetic products do "wear out" the soil. High nitrogen and nitrogen-only fertilizers contain no carbon, a poor mix of major nutrients and few if any trace minerals - in other words, a completely unbalanced feeding that uses up carbon and hurts the structure and the life in the soil.
Organic Products Build Healthy Soil and Don't Have to be Odiferous
Natural organic programs are easier. Fertilizing and amending is started earlier in the year, because the soil is being fed, not the plants directly. But, organic applications can be done any month of the year. You don't worry about pH or NPK very much because of the buffering power of compost, organic fertilizers, rock minerals and sugars.
Flexibility of the organic program is significant. Foliar feeding and dry fertilizing can be done on moist soil, plants and sites – even during misting rain. Can't do that with the synthetic chemicals. It'll burn the plants.
Do organic products smell bad? Some do but that can be a non-issue by a little more careful shopping and purchasing. Even when there is some odor, it's usually short lived. I think the chemical products smell worse anyway.