Organic gardening is ecologically friendly, which means nothing to you unless you understand the "big picture". Organic gardening is, in fact, the use of sustainable agricultural practices. What that means is, you could grow a garden in the same soil over and over, have a perfectly healthy and abundant crop every time, all while doing zero damage to the soil. The key is feeding and encouraging a healthy population of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, and letting THEM do the rest!
Chemical fertilizers only focus on providing PLANTS with the food they crave. Organic fertilizers not only benefit the plant, but also nurture three other levels of life...
organic gardening focuses on sustaining life at all levels within the plant and in relation to the plant, realizing all the subtle interactions between the different parts and realizing the benefits that each interaction contributes.
The indoor gardener faithfully believes the sum of all benefits to the plants is greater than that of any chemical fertilizer. It is a faith that will soon be rewarded. Organically grown produce regularly grows larger, more abundant, and better developed.
In addition, organically grown produce has more flavor. It has also been proven that organically grown produce has much more nutritional value than the same chemically fertilized produce. For a better idea of the health benefits, check out my organics, nutrition, and health page.
What could be better? As I have said before, all the benefits of organic gardening PLUS all the benefits of hydroponic gardening. The biggest problem with organic hydroponics is this- organic nutrients usually have a lot of particulate. This particulate tends to clog drip heads and spray emitters, causing all kinds of problems for many who attempt it. There are solutions however! For more details check out my organic hydroponics page.
A good organic soil mix is well balanced and takes advantage of all its components. Enzymes, plant hormones, humic and fulvic acids, trace minerals, beneficial micro-organisms, as well as the primary and secondary nutrients should all be there! After many years I have settled on a few good organic soil mixes.
Any time I begin a new garden, I use the recipes found at the link above, or a variation of them. If you want to experiment with your own variations, you will need to get a handle on what benefits each of the fertilizer and soil additives brings to the table and how it relates to the needs of the plants you are growing. One particularly useful group of additives for any organic gardener are the seaweed fertilizers and additives.
Remember, the needs of your plants change over time. They use more food as they grow larger, and they crave different nutrients for different stages of development.
When growing in containers, you can feed your plant by preparing fresh soil and simply transplanting into it. Every couple of weeks, transplant into a slightly bigger container with fresh nutrients. The only way to tell how to mix your soil is to learn the exact nutritional requirements of your plant during every stage of its plant life cycle, and to also have some idea of how fast your plants are using their nutrients.
Once in fresh soil you can water a plant for up to two weeks with plain water. If you cannot transplant into a larger container with more fresh soil, you will need to figure out a feeding plan. At this point, many organic gardeners have their own favorite compost tea recipe or fertilizer strategy, and this is where they begin using it.
Nutrients that are not normally available in the soil actually become chemically available in the presence of certain substances called humic acids. The most active portion of the humic acid group is fulvic acid. These substances are responsible for giving compost it's earthy smell, and are produced by beneficial micro-organisms living in the soil.
One strategy, instead of feeding your plants directly with chemical nutrients, is to grow populations of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil. These micro-organisms in turn produce humic and fulvic acids in the soil, which unlock nutrients that are already in the soil but chemically unavailable to most plants. This is really the idea behind organic gardening, and this is why you hear people say from time to time "feed the soil, and let the soil feed the plant".
For every problem in an organic garden, there is an organic and natural solution. Natural pest control begins with pest prevention, and this story. After ten bug free years of indoor gardening, I came home from a short trip and realized I had some bugs. Tiny bugs. They just had to be mites.
I began spraying with neem oil. Again and again, for six weeks I sprayed, until couldn't take it any more. I took a 30x hand-held microscope that I bought from my friend and took a good look. I got on the internet and looked up indoor garden pests. I had thrips!
For six weeks I had been spraying with neem, which seems to take care of all indoor garden pests...except thrips. So, lesson number one- natural pest control starts with positive identification, a lesson I won't soon forget.