“Organically managed landscapes are designed to protect the diversity of the land and its surroundings …” – NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care, pg 1.
I don’t know why, but I’ve gardened organically since the very start of my gardening life more than three decades ago. Perhaps it was the smell of chemicals I witnessed others use in their gardens – I’ve always had a particularly sensitive sense of smell. I’d rather think it was a feeling that plants have been growing for years without much help from humans, so what makes us think we know better than Mother Nature?
I learned how to grow vegetables at my grandmother’s side. She had a knack for finding the best spot for her beloved tomato plants. I don’t recall her amending the soil or doing more than providing water, light, support, a weed-free growing area and hand-picking pests. When I began gardening as an adult I looked back to Gram as a model and used observation, and trial and error as guides, noting how and where plants grow, what pollinates them and when. I’ve taken courses along the way and read a lot of gardening books and magazines, but nature has been my main classroom.
This winter I spent some cold, blustery and snowy days immersed in training that pulled my sense of gardening and my belief in natural processes together – the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Organic Land Care Program. This course, offered annually, covers all aspects of land care and trains you to look at the impact gardening and landscape practices have beyond the edges of individual properties.
Since the first Organic Land Care training course in 2002, more than 500 individuals have become Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs). All completed coursework in site analysis and design; wetlands and watercourses; native, non-native and invasive plants; wildlife, pest and disease management; soil health; water use and quality; lawn care and lawn alternatives; fertilizers, soil amendments, weeds and mulches; and planting and pruning.
But within all the numerous topics ran three main themes:
- Do no harm.
- Protect local ecosystems.
- Right plant, right place.
This means disturbing soil as little as possible, rebuilding disturbed soils with compost, and protecting soils with mulch or vegetative cover. This means choosing plants that want to grow in our region and avoiding expansive use of high maintenance non-native or spoiled brat plants. This means using fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides meeting organic standards and only using these when absolutely necessary. This means respecting the unique role of wetlands (even what some view as unsightly swamps), woodlands (even dead trees support vital insect and wildlife populations), meadows, and natural areas and restoring these areas as much as possible. This means cutting back on expansive lawns and encouraging and planting natural areas filled with native, wildlife-friendly vegetation.
Some of the illustrative comments I noted during the course include:
Every land use decision we make will have a positive or a negative impact.
Draw inspiration from natural plant designs and native plant communities.
It’s the soil, stupid. (actually I paraphrased this one but you get the gist). Soil is not dirt but a living entity – one teaspoon of healthy soil contains millions of bacterial and fungal organisms that support plant life.
Think about these comments as you plan this season’s gardening and lawn care. Any property owner interested in following organic land care practices should seek out an AOLCP who will follow the Standards for Organic Land Care. Visit Organic Land Care for more information. Read the listings in the ‘Homeowner Corner’ on the right of the main page. Seek an organic land care professional in your area via ‘Landscaper Search’.
This is a great way to begin living more sustainably.