Thursday, May 17, 2012

Organic Gardening – The Pros and Cons

Is Organic Gardening Right for You?

Many are reluctant to try Organic Gardening. Here are some insights to help you decide what to do in your garden on the Pros and Cons of Organic Gardening.  So I attempted to address some concerns of organic methods gardening.

Cons of Organic Gardening
Organics work slowly
Organics may initially be more expensive
Organics have limits on insects and weeds
Let’s face it, we, as a society, expect quick and easy solutions in our lives. From the mini-marts that offer quick-in, quick-out service to the microwaveable meals we turn to on a busy day.
Organic gardening is NOT ‘quick’, and ‘easy’ may just be a mind-set that we can accept. 
Pros of Organic Gardening
Organics work slowly
Organics feed the soil
Healthy plants are less likely to suffer from insects and diseases
Pesticides degrade in soil naturally
Cons of Chemicals in Gardening
Chemicals kill soil organisms
Chemicals leach into soil
Chemicals wash into watershed
Chemical vapors cause illness

Chemical Fertilizers are not strictly regulated. Read the labels and ask what makes up the ‘Other or Inert Ingredients” ? Check out these concerns:
Environmentally polluting companies are recycling - (Industrial waste!)
Diverting millions of pounds of toxic industrial waste from expensive EPA disposal facilities to fertilizer production facilities
Chemicals such as lead, cadmium, dioxin, mercury have been spread across millions of acres of farmland
Stay in ground for long, long time –(Heavy metals)
Uptake into crops for human and animal consumption
Pros of Chemical in Gardening
Chemicals are fast acting
Chemicals are easy to apply
Chemicals are relatively inexpensive

Downside of Organic Gardening
Occasional Weeds – (Do we really need to spray herbicides on everything, when we can dig out the few weeds present?)
Plants May Show Insect Damage - (Ask - ‘Is this insects harming the plant or causing my crop to fail?  If the answer is ‘not really’, why use harmful chemicals?)

Building Good Soil Takes Time  - ( Rebuilding the microbe populations will take some time – usually a full season of healthy organics will provide a visible improvement in the soil.) 
This photo of soil is after one year of adding compost and organic fertilizers – the photo on the right, was before any care.  Note, the root systems are 8” in the good soil, hardly visible in the anemic soil.

These are the down sides of organic gardening:  More work, more weeds, more maintenance, more expensive, more mulching, no quick fixes.

With these elements of ‘more’, expense of organic gardening can initially be higher than using chemicals.  Here are a few of the factors that cause the ‘seemingly’ higher prices. 
100_0260 Winchester Gardens
For an “organic” product to be labeled such, the ingredients have to be chemical free for three years.  Farmers have to use organic methods for three years to have the field certified.  Then the crops can be ‘organic’.  Feed to animals must be feed only organic products to pass as organic, and range fed livestock can only feed on pastures that have had no chemicals applied – again that three year timing.
Weeds must be addressed for any crop.  The hand cultivation of weeds in the gardens is expensive.  Insects take their toll on corps, and must be dealt with, also. 
hand picking bugs 
Downside of Chemicals
◦Homeowners use 10X more per acre than farmers
◦Spend $67 M /year on lawns
◦60-70 M birds are poisoned/year
◦Less than 1% of half million plants and animals are pests

Fruits and vegetables soak up these chemicals. However, the USDA's own tests show that most non-organic produce contain residual pesticides even after washing. The long term effects of consuming these pesticides has not been sufficiently studied, but they can't be good for you.

Lawn care chemicals get washed into our gutters, and proceed into our streams, rivers and lakes. 
Are pesticides really necessary? NO - Pesticides kill bad and GOOD bugs. Misuse of pesticides can cause pollinator decline, which is a food supply issue - fruit trees, berries, tomatoes all need to be pollinated to produce our food. Chemical applications of pesticides poison non-target organisms in the environment and possibly increase chances to humans of serious illness.

Health care issues of pesticides are many. 
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides -
19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity
13 are linked with birth defects
21 are linked with reproductive effects
26 are linked with liver or kidney damage
15 are linked with neurotoxicity
11 are linked with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system 

Can these ‘expensive’ issues offset the ‘expense’ of organic products?

Of course, I'm biased on this issue, but I hope I have given you some incentive to, at least, reduce the use of chemicals in your garden and yard. 

Winchester Gardens products were donated to me in return for a product review.  Check out their web site at

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Herbaceous and Woody Perennials

Perennials - Plants That Return Year After Year

Herbaceous perennial plants are classed as such by their soft, green stems.  Typically this plant group dies back to the ground in the winter but the roots go dormant.

Woody perennial plants have a shrub structure and the woody stems remain in form in winter.  Woody perennials go dormant in winter and grow from the woody stems again in spring.

Here are a few herbaceous perennials I have in my garden. 
  100_0427 White Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis

 100_0428Pulmonaria, Lungwort

100_0429 Hardy Geranium, Cranesbill (unknown variety)

“Big Root”, variety is an evergreen ground cover in my garden. This mound is still considered a hardy, herbaceous perennial.


100_0440 Dicentra eximia, “ Luxuriant “- Dwarf Bleeding Heart
100_0438 Columbine is an herbaceous perennial.  It produces many seeds that I let fall into the garden as it is a short-lived perennial lasting only about 2-3 years.

    100_0444 Iris, is yet another  herbaceous perennial that grows from rhizomes, the fleshy root section that sits near the soil surface.
Heuchera, 'Dolce Peach Melba'. is a semi-evergreen herbaceous perennial plant native to the United States.
 Heuchera, “Dolce Key Lime Pie”
 100_0452 Heuchera, “Green Spice” This one has deep red veining and stays fresh looking all year.
  100_0454 100_0453
100_0455 Clematis, an herbaceous perennial, that vines upward with tendrils that cling to itself or a support.  Here I’ve used trellises and bird netting for their support.

Hosta, Variety Unknown
Hosta, are herbaceous plants that die to the ground each autumn. Mid-to-late March in my zone 6 garden, they start sending up their pointed heads.

Hosta, 'Great Expectations'

Astrantia, also known as Masterwort (unknown variety) was unknown to me a few years ago. This herbaceous plant is a charmer and I've seen several varieties in the catalogs. May have to expand my collection!
100_0475100_0484 Fern - herbaceous

These are a few of the woody perennials I have.
Honeysuckle vine never did go dormant this past winter due to the mild temperatures. The early blooms are gorgeous, but I have yet to see the hummingbirds visit it. It’s is a favorite of the hummers due to the trumpet shaped flower.
Hydrangea Buds, “Annabelle”. This is the hydrangea we transplanted last summer when we lost the pine tree. I’m thrilled to see that they didn't stress too much from the move, and again, the mild winter probably helped.

100_0465Diablo’ Ninebark plants are deciduous flowering shrubs native to North America.
100_0464 Nine Bark is a woody plant that has burgundy leaves and white flowers. 
Wiegilia,' Wine and Roses'(R)

  Wiegelia is a woody shrub also has the darker leaves and bright pink blossoms. 
Knockout Rose, 'Sunny'(R)
Roses are a hardy, woody plant.

Climbing Hydrangea –  a woody perennial plant.  The bark exfoliates into these really delicate looking patterns.

Exfoliating bark of Climbing Hydrangea

Japanese Maple 
Japanese Maple –  just had to show the brilliant color this spring!  It’s really doing it’s ‘happy dance’!

I hope you can get out and enjoy your Spring.  c