What Makes It Organic?

Ben Ronniger Last updated on Jul 12, 2024 by

Soil conditions and watering are of utmost importance if you want to grow excellent, large healthy garlic. Garlic will grow (barely) in almost any dirt with whatever water is available to it but will thrive in healthy soil with proper watering. If you do not grow organically, you cannot grow garlic as good as those who do. That is a simple fact of nature. Chemical manufacturers may tell you otherwise, but they stand to make a lot of money from you if you grow as they say, whereas I stand to make no money off of you if you grow as I suggest-just a slightly less polluted planet. You figure out who is more likely to be honest with you.

Chemical growers feed the plants at the expense of the soil-and a lot of money. Organic growers feed the soil to the benefit of the plants-for very little money. If you build up your soil with manures and compost and a few trace minerals, your soil will stay healthy for years with a minimum of additions but when you use chemicals, you must add them on an on-going basis if your soil is to grow anything. The reason for this is that the soil is an ecosystem that contains millions of microscopic plant and animal lifeforms that live off one another just like in the jungle or the sea. When the soil is in balance in this way, the plants that grow in it can pull what they need out of it and thrive. Plants need much more than just Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous, they need the wide variety of micronutrients and minerals that healthy, well balanced soil provides. When you add high concentrations of NPK fertilizers, this imbalance kills off vast numbers of these microorganisms and the plants feed on their decaying bodies which gives you a good crop this year, but results in a less naturally fertile soil with far fewer microbes and you have to keep adding more of the fertilizers in subsequent years just to grow a plant that is inferior to a plant grown organically.

When you use chemical insecticides and herbicides, they kill not only the surface pests you aim to kill, but also soak into the ground and kill many of the microorganisms living in the soil as well, resulting in a less fertile growing environment yet. They can also leach into your community drinking water, too. Do you really want to drink pesticide-laden water? Pesticide residues in our drinking water are not neutralized by adding chlorine or flouride to the water as they are not organic lifeforms but inorganic chemicals that can contribute to many human ailments. Some of the highest cancer rates are among people who apply pesticides and who work with the plants that have had pesticides applied, according to insurance industry statistics. That stuff soaks into the plants and cannot be washed off because it is inside them. If the government requires applicators to wear "protective" clothing, boots, gloves, hoods and masks to apply it, why would you want to eat it?

What's Really in Your Fertilizer?

Until recently I thought that NPK fertilizers weren't so bad; after all, it was the pesticides that were the real problem, right? I now see I was wrong and that many commercial fertilizers are as bad and some are worse than pesticides and are actually hazardous to your health. Fertilizers have been required to have their claimed amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium, but the other "inert" ingredients weren't regulated so any hazardous waste that contained any amounts of any form of N, P or K could be sold as fertilizer, regardless of what the undisclosed ingredients were.

A few years ago at the Garlic is Life! Symposium in Tulsa I met the former mayor of a small town in Washington and listened to her story. Patty Martin and some of her constituents discovered that some large industrial companies were disposing of hazardous wastes, including dioxins, lead, mercury, and even some radioactive material by putting it into fertilizer or selling it to companies that did. She was rightfully concerned for the welfare of her own family as well as all the town's other people and rattled enough people's cages to spur an investigation by investigative reporter, Buff Wilson of the Seattle Times newspaper. The story attracted nationwide attention and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. It resulted in the state of Washington passing and implementing a law regulating the content of fertilizers and requiring fertilizer manufacturers to label the contents. They also tested all fertilizers sold in Washington and have published the list of ingredients on the internet - good move!

By avoiding the EPA's expensive hazardous waste disposal sites and selling their wastes to fertilizer manufacturers, some industrial companies have turned otherwise costly hazardous waste into a profitable product. Slick, huh? To learn more about what's in your fertilizer, Click Here.

In view of the above, I cannot in good conscience recommend using commercial pelleted fertilizers in growing garlic - which is good because research shows that standard NPK fertilizers really don't do much for garlic, anyway, as it's the minerals/micronutrients that garlic seeks. After all, garlic originated in the thin, rocky mountainous soils of the area just north of modern Afghanistan.

Follow our organic growing links for much more detailed information about growing organically and get into it. Prepare your soil a few months in advance so that it is in good balance when you plant. We recommend you have your soil tested for more than NPK and pH, but for micronutrient analysis also so that you will know what your soil lacks and what it has enough or too much of. That way you will know what and how much to add. Too much of anything can be bad, it is balance that is important.

Certified Organic vs. Certified Naturally Grown, does it matter?

The organic movement rose from small farmers and gardeners using traditional agricultural methods and building on them to produce naturally grown food that people liked better than conventional food in stores and were willing to pay extra for that food. Some unscrupulous large growers noticed and then falsely claimed their produce was organically grown when it wasn't and got higher prices for conventionally grown food. It was decided some standards and licensing was necessary and the National Organic Program (NOP) came into existence and established requirements and compliance verification. If a small family farm cares enough to become Certified Organic and go through all the things necessary to remain certified, you can be assured their produce is worth having and I highly recommend Certified Organic growers.

If a grower is going to sell to distributors who in turn sell to stores and commercial food businesses where the grower doesn't have any direct interaction with the consumer then Certified Organic is the best way to go due to public acceptance of the label. People trust the Certified Organic label because of the strong verification procedures of the USDA. It's hard to trust big businesses so you have to verify to be sure they're not cheating.

As the large agribusiness corporations began to wield more influence over the NOP than the small growers who started the organic revolution, the initial rules have been watered down in favor of corporate interests and at the same time bureaucratic requirements have served to exclude many of those small growers who simply don't have time for all the paperwork and accounting requirements or just don't want the government looking over their shoulder all the time.

Many of the small-scale growers have banded together and formed groups to provide alternative certification standards that go back to the original intent of the NOP. These people live the organic lifestyle and are providing alternative certifications of sustainability and one of them is Certified Naturally Grown (CNG). CNG knows that when people see growers living the organic lifestyle they are more likely to trust those growers not to use chemical fertilizers and harmful pesticides. People trust sustainable gardeners because they know they can.

CNG members adhere to the strict standards of the original NOP but without the high costs and bureacracy of the USDA-administered program. When you look at the kinds of people who who join CNG, what you see are people who live their lives sustainably and who want the sustainability of their produce vouched for by people for whom they have respect, i.e., their peers. One look at these people's lifestyles and you just know they would never even consider using toxic petrochemicals.

I have chosen Certified Naturally Grown to recommend to most gardeners who want to market their produce at the grassroots level where they sell direct to their customers. I am in full agreement with their principles and their ways of compliance verification by peers and their viewpoint that actually growing sustainably is more important than reams of bureaucratic paperwork and large fees.

Click here to visit the Certified Naturally Grown website. However, if you're a market gardener who sells at the grass roots level and you sell direct to chefs and local grocery stores or through a farmers market or internet webpage where buyer and seller deal directly with each other and some level of confidence needs to exist, the Certified Naturally Grown designation delivers that trust.