Organic plant growing is the production of plants without the addition of artificial inputs such as chemicals that have been artificially manufactured or processed. This includes herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers.

Organic growing has increased in popularity over the past ten years due to the increasing awareness of safety in the garden and on the farm and the desire to produce food that is free from chemical inputs. For decades, farmers and growers have relied upon chemicals to control pests and diseases in order to produce crops for sale. Unfortunately it is only recently that we have become aware that many of those chemicals can sometimes cause health problems to humans, as well as long-term damage to the environment such as soil degradation, imbalances in pest-predator populations can also sometimes occur. As public concern grows, these issues are becoming increasingly important. However the organic grower or gardener should understand that not all organic practices always guarantee a healthy environment, over-cultivation for example can also lead to soil damage. Organic growing practices should aim to ensure quality of both the environment in which we live and of the produce we grow in our gardens and on our farms.

A growing interest in more environmentally sustainable gardening methods offers the chance to provide the general public the quickest, safest and most enjoyable organic garden practices. This course will lead you through these practices and guide you to develop and maintain your plot, large or small.

Organic growing of plants works with nature, rather than against it. It recognises the fact that nature is complex and accordingly endeavours to understand interactions between plants, animals and insects. It therefore encourages the gardener for example to learn about the life-cycle of pests and to use this knowledge to control them. It also recognises that the use of chemicals has to be replaced with labour and management. Organic gardeners/growers have to manage pests rather then eliminate them. They need to be vigilant and have the ability to recognise problems and act quickly to minimise the spread of both pests and disease. They may also need to accept some insect damage to the plants they grow as inevitable. How to manage pest and disease problems in an organic system is covered in detail later in the course.

Definitions of Organic Growing

Organic gardening and farming has been given a variety of names over the years - biological farming, sustainable agriculture, alternative agriculture, to name a few. Definitions of what is and isn't 'organic' are also extremely varied. Some of the most important features of organic production, as recognised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), include:

·     Promoting existing biological cycles, from micro-organisms in the soil, to the plants and animals living on the soil.

·     Maintaining the environmental resources locally, using them carefully and efficiently and re-using materials as much as possible.

- Not relying heavily on external resources on a continuous basis.

Minimising any pollution both on-site and leaving the site.

Maintaining the genetic diversity of the area.

Practices which are typical for organic systems are composting, intercropping, crop rotation, fallowing, mechanical, hand weeding or heat-based weed control, green manure crops and the use of legumes to increase soil fertility. Pests and diseases are tackled with environmentally acceptable, sprays that have little environmental impact and biological controls (e.g. predatory mites). Organic gardeners should avoid the use of inorganic (soluble) fertilisers, super-phosphate for example should not be used because it contains sulphuric acid, rock phosphate however is the acceptable alternative. Synthetic chemical herbicides, growth hormones and pesticides should also be avoided.

One of the foundations of organic gardening and farming, linking many other principles together, is composting. By combining different materials, balancing carbon and nitrogen levels, coarse and fine ingredients, bacteria and worms act to break down the waste products. Composting produces a valuable fertiliser that can be returned to improve the soil. Natural biological cycles are promoted, 'wastes' are re-used and the need for external supplies of fertiliser are reduced or cut altogether.

Following are some further definitions of organic gardening:

"Organic Gardening is a method of growing vegetables, trees, shrubs, flowers and even lawns, without chemical fertilisers or poison sprays. You need not dig the soil, and yet you can still grow superior crops - organic means ‘like organism’. Gardening organically means treating the soil as if it is a living organism needing food, water, shelter and proper conditions.

‑ From Organic Gardening in Australia, by Roads.

"The organic movement has its inception in the ideas and experiments of Sir Albert Howard - he noticed Indian farmers did not make use of artificial fertilisers - Sir Albert decided to use the methods of the natives, but with scientific management, to devise ways to recycle nutrients; to combine rough weeds and crop wastes in layers with high nitrogen manure making a pile which heated - resulting in multiplication of bacteria - to preserve the cycle of life by returning wastes to the soil.

‑ From Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening, by Rodale Press.

"Organic gardening is a collection of skills tempered with the ecological wisdom borne of experience and observation, which when applied, enhances and encourages the laws and rhythms of nature and so produce food of the highest quality".

‑ From Organic Gardening, by Peter Bennett.


Lady Eve Balfour – farmer and organic farming pioneer. Born in the U.K. in 1899 she was one of the first women to study agriculture and at the age of 21 started farming in Suffolk England. For the next 70 years she worked as an educator, researcher (The Haughley Experiment – scientific experiment into organics) promoted organic farming, and published books, such as ‘The Living Soil’ in 1942. She co-founded the Soil Association in 1946 – an organisation that promoted sustainable agriculture and organic methods . This organisation still flourishes today and is one of the principle bodies dealing with inspections of, and awarding certificates to, organic farms and small-holdings in the UK.

Sir Albert Howard – Born in the U.K. in 1873 studied botany and became a principle figure in the organic movement. He is often referred to as the ‘father of modern organic agriculture’. He worked in Asia and India as an agriculture consultant and also developed and documented organic techniques that he also promoted throughout Europe. He wrote An Agricultural Testament – a classic organic farming text and published in 1940.

Jerome Irving Rodale born in 1878 in the USA was one of the first advocates of organic and sustainable farming in that country. Initially an accountant who set up an electrical firm, Rodale was later so influenced by the work of Sir Albert Howard that he bought a farm to test Sir Albert’s ideas. From then on he actively promoted an ‘organic life-style’ and also popularised the term ‘Organic Farming’.

With Sir Albert as associate editor JI Rodale published (by Rodale Press, Inc.) the first edition of Organic Farming and Gardening in 1942 in order, to promote organic approaches to agriculture.

Rodale believed that the health of the soil and the plants living in it depended on introduction of organic matter in the form of de-composed animal and plant waste. He was also convinced that the use of chemical pesticides destroyed soil micro-organisms. These are the very organisms that are needed to breakdown plant and animal waste into useable nutrients, that promotes healthy plant growth. Rodale too is still flourishing today in the USA.

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