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May 22, 2018  |  Login
Work with Nature and Practice Organic Gardening
By Ann Whitman and The National Gardening Association

The way you choose to grow flowers and food and maintain the landscape can actually improve the quality of the soil, air, water, and lives of the organisms that depend on it. Organic gardening is based on the principle of working with nature instead of against it.


It takes 500 years to produce one inch of natural topsoil, the rich matrix of humus, minerals, and microorganisms that plants depend on for growth. Plants, in turn, hold the topsoil in place with their roots and shelter it with their leaves. Soil without plants erodes easily — washing away with runoff from rain and snow or blowing away in the wind.
When soil washes into streams, rivers, and lakes, it significantly disrupts those ecosystems and pollutes the water. In fact, sediment accounts for nearly half of all lake pollution and 22 percent of river pollution, according a 1991 United States government report. Erosion devastates farmland, playing a major role in the 2 million acres of arable land (land that’s suitable for growing crops) that the United States loses each year. The Iowa Department of Agriculture reported that half of that state’s topsoil had eroded by the early 1980s. Experts report that 30 percent of arable land was lost worldwide in the past 40 years of the 20th century due, in part, to erosion.

What happens in your own small garden plot may seem insignificant compared to these mind-numbing statistics, but how you garden does play a role in the bigger picture. Gardeners can help reduce erosion by keeping plants growing on or covering the soil throughout the year, preserving and encouraging humus formation, and avoiding excessive tilling, disruption, or compacting of the soil.

Wildlife and Habitat

Pesticides kill pests, but unfortunately they harm innocent bystanders, as well. Some pesticides are highly toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, birds, and beneficial insects, such as bees.

Poisons harm innocent animals in two ways — either immediately or slowly over a period of time. A fast-acting pesticide, such as pyrethrum, kills bees and fish, as well as pests, on contact, but it breaks down rapidly in the environment. Within a few days, it’s harmless.

Other pesticides, such as the infamous DDT, accumulate in the bodies of animals, harming them over a long period of time. In the case of DDT, which was banned in the U.S. in 1972, the chemical accumulated in fish, rodents, and other animals. When predators, such as hawks and eagles, ate the animals, they accumulated increasingly larger quantities of DDT, too. As a result, they laid eggs with thin shells that broke before they hatched, destroying generations of birds and sending many species to the brink of extinction.

Pesticide contamination of wildlife has serious implications for humans, too. In its report, Chemicals in Sportfish and Game Health Advisories 2000–2001, the New York State Department of Health lists 73 bodies of water within the state from which fish shouldn’t be eaten at all by women of childbearing age and children under the age of 15. At most, the department recommends eating no more than a half pound of fish per month from the least contaminated of these waters.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports pesticide contamination of groundwater in 39 states. Groundwater flows below ground in the cracks in bedrock and between soil particles where it collects in large, saturated areas called aquifers more



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