Agriculture and horticulture took a serious wrong turn when scientists realized that plants fed on certain naturally occurring elements in soil, and determined that they only needed to supply these elements in concentrated chemical form to improve plant growth. In our rush to embrace modern technology, we forgot that the return of organic matter to the soil is part of Mother Nature's cycle of life, and is essential to sustainable agriculture, healthy gardens and a healthy environment. The chemist who made the original discovery later realized his mistake, but no one would listen. Many farmers work hard to care for their soils in harsh conditions but, generally, farming practices and government policies still reflect a state of denial in expecting more advanced chemicals, or plants that produce their own pesticides, to solve problems that can be traced back to dye soils.
In our first year of farming some eleven years ago, our culinary herb crops had continuing pest and disease problems. Our property had previously been used as a horse stud and the topsoil was shallow and very compacted. We resistant the temptation to resort to chemical solutions for these problems, and worked on gradually improving our soil using green manures, organic compost and manures, and organic mulches. Now it is difficult to find a spade or trowel full of soil in our growing areas that does not contain at least one fat earthworm. After the worst droughts in a hundred years, we have not needed to apply pest or disease treatments at all. Organic farming is not just an ideological rejection of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, it is the basic belief that healthy soil – healthy plants -healthy people and animals, and a healthier environment.
It is large a waste of effort to work on improving soil while continuing to use pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. Fungicides used to kill pathogens will also kill off mycorrhiza and other beneficial fungi that keep soil healthy. Fungicides and cabbage dust, in particular, are very toxic to earthworms. Synthetic fertilizers determine the activity of beneficial micro-organisms, as can be seen when adding these chemicals to a compost heap. The initiation of organic matter breakdown is delayed.
A wide range of commonly used pesticides are toxic to birds, bees, butterflies, natural pest predators, fish or frogs. Some also cause reproductive problems and tumors in animals and humans. It is downright cruel to plant shrubs to attract birds to your garden, and then spray for lawn grubs or fruit fly. Significant numbers of birds are killed by walking on sprayed lawns, or eating grubs which contain pesticides.