A Little Background

The strict scientific definition of the word organic (“containing the element carbon”) is one meaning, true, but not the only one. There is also: “inherent; inborn; constitutional.” This speaks to me (as one who came to gardening by chance thirty-some years ago and learned the craft through reading, informal apprenticeship, and hands-on work) because it implies that experience and observation are reliable guides to practice, and that one hundred centuries of  domestication has left each of us with a more or less instinctual knowledge of, and connection to plants, whether we realize it or not. It also implies that there is a core set of principles—a constitution for the garden, if you will—and that any practice or product considered by the gardener should be judged for its alignment with those principles.

Organic also means “having a complex, but necessary relationship of parts, similar to that in living things,” or simply, “organized; systematically arranged.” We should remember that complex is not the same as complicated. Very complex things, like the diversity of life on earth, can develop from a few very simple principles, like the laws of nature or evolution. Complicated, on the other hand, implies a lack of systemic organization. Notice also the use of the word “necessary.” Methods, machines, software, laws: all of these become only complicated when unnecessary elements accumulate in their design or implementation.

For me the best definition of organic is the one that specifies “derived from living organisms,” because the heart of the organic method involves paying primary attention to the organic matter of the soil and its organisms—the community of organisms, including both plants and pests—with which we share our gardens. Based on this understanding I have tried to “prune” the necessaries to six basic principles of the organic method.

ShepherdA Little Background

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