Organic Principles

USDA NRCS Graphic - Organic Principles

The Soil Food Web Involves a very large number of organisms, including the gardener

It seems we humans have a need for systems and a certain level of simplicity: Think of the Ten Commandments, or the Top Ten cell phones… or even the “laws” of thermodynamics and genetics, if you are of a scientific bent. What we learn from working in the garden and paying close attention to the results is the most important knowledge — as it is usable right there, in our own gardens —  but there are some basic principles that can help us organize our understanding.

After years of questioning from gardeners, we’ve developed six organic principles that we think help define the best approach to growing healthy, nutritious vegetables and fruits in your own home garden:

The Six Core Organic Principles

Feed The Soil

The first principle of organic gardening is to feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants, and the plants will feed you. If you constantly enrich the soil, the plants will thrive and provide an abundant, nutritious harvest for you. [Read More]

Take Only What You Need

The second core principle of organic gardening is take only what you need. Harvest the part of the plant that you want, and then compost the rest; return as much as possible of the biological yield from the Earth to the Earth, just as is done in nature, and the amount of additional material you’ll need to provide will be minimized. [Read More]

Embrace Diversity

The third basic principle of organic gardening is to embrace diversity. One of the greatest problems in conventional farming and gardening is that large groups of identical plants are not only attractive to, but susceptible to, massive pest and disease outbreaks. Grow a wide range of plants, and even a wide range of varieties of a given plant; that way you hedge your bets and increase the resiliency of your garden. [Read More]

Lose The Calendar

The fourth basic principle of organic gardening is to work with the natural, seasonal cycles in your garden and nature will do much of the work for you. Plant to miss the peaks of insect reproduction; schedule your harvest at the best time for flavor and ripening. To do so takes attention on our part to the daily details of life in the garden, to observing the subtleties of the interaction between the plants, the animals, the weather and the seasonal cycles of earth, air, water and sun. It takes thought to find the “touch points” at which the gardener can tweak the system to create a surplus — a harvest — without disturbing its equilibrium. [Read More]

Intervene As Little As Possible

The fifth basic principle of organic gardening is to intervene as little as possible in the predator-prey relationships in the garden. Robust, healthy plants are less subject to insect and disease problems anyway, and thus require less control. Let the natural systems of control operate where ever possible. If you must act to control a problem, do so as precisely as possible, so you don’t upset other relationships and thus create new problems. [Read More]

Live and Learn

Thought and attention over time are the attributes of cultivation, properly understood, not of control, or of “production,” in the industrial sense. It is these two attributes that give meaning to life, strength to our families and our communities, and security to our way of life. Cultivation is characteristic of an evolving society, and control characteristic of a declining one, in which “standards of living” increase, but “quality of life” does not. May your gardens be both living, learning places, and models for a better future! [Read More]

For more on this, check out a set of PowerPoint slides on my YouTube channel from a lecture series I gave in Shepherdstown, WV a few years ago. Sorry there is no audio, but I am converting the whole series into a free downloadable book. If you would like to be on the list to receive a copy of the free book on organic principles when it is finished, email me at seed2tablebook(at) and I will put you on the distribution list. This list will only be used to notify you of new book releases. To receive regular updates on this website, you should Subscribe to Garden Smarts by Email.

ShepherdOrganic Principles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *