The Chemicals of Organic Gardening
We have chemicals in our everyday lives everywhere. Shampoo, toothpaste, many foods, even our clothing all contain or are manufactured with the use of chemicals. Besides polluting the environment, the use of chemicals can be much more threatening. But we’re concentrating on gardening and the use of these chemicals on our food. One of the prominent ways chemicals are used in food production is through chemical fertilizers.
The soil must be regarded as a living organism. An acid fertilizer, because of its acids, dissolves the cementing material, made up of the dead bodies of soil organisms, which holds the rock particles together in the form of soil crumbs. This compact surface layer of rock particles encourages rain water to run off rather than enter the soil.
For example, a highly soluble fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, goes into solution in the soil water rapidly so that much of it may be leached away into our ground water without benefiting the plants at all. This chemical causes the soil to assume a cement-like hardness. When present in large concentrations, they seep into the subsoil where they interact with the clay to form impervious layers of precipitates called hardpan.
Many artificial chemical fertilizers contain acids, as sulfuric and hydrochloric, which will increase the acidity of the soil. Changes in the soil acidity (pH) are accompanied by the changes in the kinds of organisms which can live in the soil. For this reason, the artificial fertilizer people tell their customers to increase the organic matter content of their soil or use lime to offset the effects of these acids.
There are several ways by which artificial fertilizers reduce aeration of soils. Earthworms, whose numerous borings made the soil more porous, are killed. The acid fertilizers will also destroy the cementing material which bins rock particles together in crumbs. Chemical fertilizers rob plants of some natural immunity by killing off the micro organisms in the soil.
Many plant diseases have already been considerably checked when antibiotic producing bacteria or fungi thrived around the roots. When plants are supplied with much nitrogen and only a medium amount of phosphate, plants will most easily contract mosaic infections. Host resistance is obtained if there is a small amount of nitrogen and a large supply of phosphate. Fungus and bacterial diseases have been related to high nitrogen fertilization, and lack of trace elements.
Plants grown with artificial chemical fertilizers tend to have less nutrient value than organically grown plants. For example, several tests have found that by supplying citrus fruits with a large amount of soluble nitrogen will lower the vitamin C content of oranges. It has also been found, that these fertilizers that provide soluble nitrogen will lower the capacity of corn to produce high protein content. Probably the most regularly observed deficiency in plants treated continually with chemical fertilizers is deficiencies in trace minerals. To explain this principle will mean delving into a little physics and chemistry, but you will then easily see the unbalanced nutrition created in chemical fertilized plants. The colloidal humus particles are the convoys that transfer most of the minerals from the soil solution to the root hairs. Each humus particle is negatively charged and will, attract the positive elements, such as potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, aluminum, boron, iron, copper and other metals. When sodium nitrate is dumped into the soil year after year, in large doses, a radical change takes place on the humus articles. The very numerous sodium ions (atomic particles) will eventually crowd out the other ions, making them practically unavailable for plant use. The humus becomes coated with sodium, glutting the root hairs with the excess. Finally, the plant is unable to pick up the minerals that it really needs. So, with chemical fertilizers, in short, you have short-time results, and long-term damage to the soil, ground water and to our health. Another reason to avoid the use of chemicals and pesticides is that long term use of such chemicals can deplete the soil and leave it unable to sustain further growth. In many cases beds of perennials suddenly stop blooming for no apparent reason, and the culprit is often found to be the overuse of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Chemicals that are applied to plants can often seep into the water supply thus contaminating it. While it’s true, our drinking water does go through a filtration process, it’s been proven that this process doesn’t remove ALL of the harmful contaminants.
It has also been proven that certain chemicals can cause diseases, birth defects, and other hazardous health problems. All one needs to do is watch the movie “Erin Brokovich” to see what chemical contamination of water can do to a body.
Consumers worry about filthy slaughterhouses, e-coli, salmonella and fecal contamination. The CDC estimates that 76 million American suffer food poisoning every year. There are no documented cases of organic meat, poultry or dairy products setting off a food poisoning outbreak in the United States.
Consumers are also concerned about toxic sewage used as fertilizer on conventional farms. Organic farming prohibits the use of sewage sludge.
They worry about untested and unlabelled genetically engineered food ingredients in common supermarket items. Genetically engineered ingredients are now found in 60 percent to 75 percent of all U.S. foods. Although polls indicate 90 percent of Americans want labels on gene-altered foods, government and industry refuse to label. Organic production forbids genetic engineering.
Eating organic eliminates, or minimizes, the risk from poisoning from heavy metals found in sewage sludge, the unknowns of genetically modified food, the ingestion of hormone residues, and the exposure to mutant bacteria strains. It also reduces the exposure to insecticide and fungicide residues. Residues from potentially carcinogenic pesticides are left behind on some of our favorite fruits and vegetables – in 1998, the FDA found pesticide residues in over 35 percent of the food tested. Many U.S. products have tested as being more toxic than those from other countries. What’s worse is that current standards for pesticides in food do not yet include specific protection for fetuses, infants, or young children despite major changes to federal pesticide laws in 1996 requiring such reforms.
It is certainly in the best interests of the human population to avoid chemicals in our food, but it’s also better for our planet as well. Chemicals can affect the soil making it less fertile. They destroy important parts of the natural eco-system. All plants and animals serve some sort of purpose – even if that purpose isn’t especially obvious. By taking these components out of the natural life cycle, we are endangering our environment in ways we can’t necessarily see outright, but that danger is there.
So it becomes obvious that growing your food naturally is the best way to go. Let’s take a moment and look at what exactly organic gardening is.