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Why grow organic produce? by Malcolm Campbell

A recently visited a market gardener at Virginia and although he had at least 30 hectares of vegetables under cultivation on his block he still had a small vegie patch fenced off at the back door to his house. When I asked why, he said “Hell I wouldn’t eat that stuff in the paddock, there’s too much spray gone onto that lot!”

The idea of bringing to your table vegetables and herbs that have never seen chemical insecticides is an attractive one. As a young fellow I grew up in a market garden community and often suffered from the nauseating effects of being over-sprayed with organo-phosphates or the equally insidious organo-chlorines, which were laughed off by the seasoned pickers. After a formal horticultural education I treated these very same sprays with much more caution, while many of my peers today avoid them altogether. I respect anyone who wants to grow his or her vegetables without a trace of chemical residue, but it requires considerable dedication.

The organic advantage

The pluses are that if you collect all of the available vegetable matter from the kitchen table and compost it, so that it can be added to your garden, the worms will start to multiply and with their assistance a whole cycle starts.

You will find that before long you will want to keep beehives so that your vegies can be open pollinated and you can grow the seed you save. You will soon start collecting and growing open-pollinated vegetables because the F1 hybrids that are sold at your local hardware store revert to the most unsavoury forms in their second generation. The F1 tag means 'filial first generation' by the way, but it also means you can't use the seed that develops from F1 parents. Genetically that's a long story for another time.

The organic precautions

The idea of just composting vegetable matter to grow organic produce is a simplistic one. If you only use your own vegetable matter, in time, serious nutrient deficiencies will surface in your produce.

The vegetable matter needs to be collected from diverse sources. Collect and compost the leaves from the deciduous street trees. Add manures from horses, guinea pigs, sheep and any other that may be available, but be warned that horses frequently have veterinary products administered to them and that these compounds remain active in the urine in the stall litter for several weeks.It goes without saying that they need to be composted thoroughly at high temperatures before they can be applied to fast growing leaf crops. Always use gloves when handling such materials. The use of animal wastes can also put the handler at risk of contracting hepatitis and tetanus. When did you last have a booster?


The spread of weeds from compost is a genuine concern to the novice organic gardener, but if you compost your weeds and vegetable matter in a mound of at least a cubic metre dimension, it will build up enough heat as the break-down occurs, so that few weed seeds will be able to survive.

In the break down, minute bacterium and nitro-bacters gobble up the decaying vegetable matter and for a short time deplete the mixture of its available nitrogen. However as they die they release the nitrogen back into the compost which is why if you get a bit eager to use it too soon, your vegies could suffer a Nitrogen deficiency, which shows up on your plants by a general yellowing of the leaves.

There are two options for composting, one being the aerobic type with three bins open to the air and the soil, that require high temperatures to render all the organic matter down into friable organic compost of a fine tilth.

The other type is almost anaerobic or without air and is a closed system akin to making silage or beer, so that the vegetable matter or animal wastes are brewed in water, which also kills most weed seeds.

The organic attitude

I think the thing that some gardeners can never overcome in a totally organic garden is the lack of order they perceive. The person who lives from their garden has a succession of vegetables and herbs coming on all the time, so that the need for rows upon rows of the same age crops is lost. I lived in a Nepali Hill-tribe community for four years and observed the way that their gardens were never tilled all at the same time, but in little bits at a time. Cereal crops were the exception of course. But this sort of effort assured a constant crop of vegetable over a wide time span. The odd plant that was consumed in small quantities, like Horseradish in my own garden, would be nestled amongst the rampant melons that climbed carelessly up the dried stalks of Sweet Corn. In this tangle would be long clusters of the Cow Peas or Snake Beans and to the western trekkers that passed through, it all seemed an overgrown wilderness, but these were very productive gardens that have been totally self sustainable for centuries. I garden that way today and some of my neighbours are aghast that my garden 'looks such a mess', but my tomatoes and basil always pass the taste test!

Any sort of gardening requires a certain attitude and as a reader of this you probably have a good deal of that attitude. A gardener has to be able to cope with change, watch the seasons rotate and act according to that great master plan for all plants, conditioned by the water, soil and climate. Some folk never climb that hurdle. They want their trees to grow to a certain height instantly, never drop their leaves, flower all year round, never clog the neighbours' drains ...... Nod nod, wink wink.

The organic gardener on the other hand is more open to change. Some even move on to become Permaculture aficionados. Those are the organic gardeners with an holistic approach, who see their garden or plot as a small ecosystem of its own. Stocked with waterways and fish, all manner of trees and bees, insects to maintain the natural balance of predators and above all no toxic substances.

The doyenne of this culture is the Tasmanian Professor Mollison who through his several books on Permaculture, has enthused a whole, or should that be holistic, generation of new age gardeners.

The seaweed solution

At the other end of the organic spectrum of gardeners is the seaweed set. They adorn their gardens with the compounds derived from the great "Southern Kelp"Durvillea potatorum , a mammoth marine Kelp collected from King Island and dried to extract the Alginic acid, which has amazing qualities that stimulate the growth of many garden plants.

Because it comes as a commercial preparation in tidy little plastic bottles these extracts are anathema to most bare-footed organic heads. It's a pity really, because the combination of all the organic methods without the ideological limitations would see a fabulously productive garden that would sustain a healthy fare to the most discerning gourmet.

However there's little doubt that whatever path you chose to tread organically you will be rewarded, because it's like moving through an unmapped forest and if that appeals to you, happy trekking!