Across the board, is organic gardening better for the environment? Not according to Jeff Gillman, author of The Truth About Organic Gardening; Benefits, Drawbacks and The Bottom Line. Are you still in your chair? The truth is, it’s just not an absolute, as Jeff pointed out in my recorded interview with him on Friday. As much as it pained him to say that, he quickly went on to explain that without making at least some qualifications, you just can’t make a blanket claim like that.
Jeff’s book was the subject of my latest episode for my weekly podcast series, Growing a Greener World. Little did I know, his answers to some of my questions would likely have at least a few people scratching their head about their organic gardening practices. Case in point: some organic pesticides are bad news for the environment. One of the worst offenders is rotenone. It’s highly toxic to fish and other water dwelling creatures. Although it is being removed from the market as an organic pesticide, you can still buy it today. “Sure it’s organic and natural, but so is a snake bite. And is that a good thing?” he adds.
Throughout our conversation Jeff cited other examples of not so green things that we eco-conscience gardeners are doing that aren’t as eco-friendly as we think. Have a tiller? Get rid of it. It’s destroying your soil. Another example; greensand and rock phosphate are two natural products used as fertilizers yet taken from nonrenewable sources. Although they’re good for our gardens, they’re not good for the planet.
Here’s another surprise for many green gardeners; did you know that it’s good to fertilize your lawn (at least a little)? Healthy lawns with deeper roots do more to prevent runoff than lawns that aren’t fed at least occasionally. The good news is, there’s an organic nitrogen source that will keep our lawns healthy and also reduce weed growth. Corn gluten is a favorite product of Jeff’s for this (and mine). But he adds; “The problem is it takes two years to work and when it does, it’s not as effective as synthetic pre-emergent controls”. I must say I found myself thinking, “damn Jeff, do you have to be so academic about this?” Then I reminded myself that he is a Ph.D and assistant professor of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota.
So, is the bottom line to all of this bad news to the organic gardening community? Absolutely not. In fact, I hope it helps clear up some of the misunderstandings that gardeners have in regards to their expectations of what, when and how to use organic and natural products. Certainly there is plenty of confusion out there. In my opinion, it’s the biggest obstacle on why we still haven’t embraced more sustainable choices. But if we can gain a clearer perspective on realistic expectations going in, well that’s half the battle in my opinion. Thanks Jeff!
p.s. Don't miss the actual audio interview. Jeff had a lot more to say! You can listen here.