Chemical-free Gardening

David BradleyIt may come as a shock to anyone thinking of taking up gardening as a hobby or as a way to beat back the credit crunch by doing a little grow-your-own that gardening is based entirely on chemistry. There is no escaping this simple truth. Chemicals grow in the garden. There is no such thing as chemical-free gardening.

Now I’m not talking about the manufactured pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers that your local garden centre stocks in abundance, whether those are labelled organic, all-natural, or otherwise, those are all chemicals, and some of them are essential for success. Incidentally, even all-natural pesticides are made from chemicals shock, horror. No, I’m talking fundamentals from the humus that brings life to soil to the best initiator you can add to your compost heap – urine. All chemicals.

There are four main chemical ingredients that make up everything in the garden (with the exception of any cast-iron furniture you may have): – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen – as organic molecules from humic acids to the proteins that comprise earthworms to nitrates and water, and the potassium and phosphorus that plants simply cannot live without.

This autumn, I made the life-affirming decision to tidy up our garden, to weed and feed the lawn, to dig a vegetable patch and to plant some bulbs in the border to bring a little colour to the Spring. So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been hanging with my hoes and developing serious backache from getting down and dirty. I’ll let you know in March whether the colour came and whether I’ve got a crop of winter greens. Actually, I planted purple brocolli, onions, garlic, and am readying a patch for early potatoes, and a mini portable greenhouse is ready for tomato plants in the Spring.

Incidentally, the only thing you can put into your garden that will have a positive effect and isn’t chemical is effort. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Find out a little about the chemistry of compost next Friday (September 25).

10 thoughts on “Chemical-free Gardening”

  1. The term mole most certainly has a different meaning depending on whether you’re wielding a Bunsen burner or a spade (that’s a spade, not a shovel ;-) I always call a spade a spade. Incidentally, chemists themselves have not yet decided whether hydrogen should best be describes as a metal atop the alkali metals or a type of halogen above fluorine…

  2. Let’s remember that we’re discussing terms from a different language here. Terms like “organic” and “chemical-free” and “mole” have different meanings when we’re gardening than when we’re in the lab. After all, I’ve read that astronomers call oxygen and chlorine metals.

    by the way, nice shovel. I still prefer my longhandled fiberglass roundpoint to the d-handles.

  3. Speaking of pansies, my “extreme” gardening style (I make enormous amounts of compost, dig holes two to three feet deep, and fill these nutrient reservoirs with a mixture of topsoil and compost) generates an enormous amount of plant material. My pansies grow to knee height and nearly as wide. By midsummer I generally have about two heaping wheelbarrows of pansies to compost.

    Well, two years ago I decided to dry most of the pansie plants and blast them into powder in a blender. I now have about 20 liters of pansy powder that makes a wonderful fertilizer when mixed with boiling inorganic solvent and allowed to cool. I think it works better than Miracle Grow which one doesn’t have to add to boiling inorganic solvent.

    I’ve also used spinach leaves (not powdered of course) to produce do the same effect. I eat the cooked spinach, of course. Hate to let it go to waste. The valuable liquid (spinach) fertilizer makes houseplants grow vigorously.

    I suspect many kinds of leaves could be boiled to make a fertilizer tea. My question is; can I consider this an organic fertilizer? Technically, it contains mostly inorganic solvent. Of course the inorganic solvent is natural, not manufactured. So maybe I should call this kind of fertilizer Natural Grow or Combination Organic and Inorganic Fertilizer (COIF).

  4. What?!? You are not speaking of that deadly noxious inorganic solvent oxidane are you? Gasp!

    And I hate to burst your bubble here, but effort IS chemical. It’s the transformation of ATP into ADP. Those pesky phosphorylation reactions make the world go round. Erm, so to speak.

  5. @Jon Thanks for that…it’s been a bugbear of mine since I first started in chemistry which is a long, long time ago…indeed so long, I really am overdue for an FRSC ;-)

  6. I’d be remiss not to comment here. We’ve had a long-standing grudge against the Advertising Standards Authority for refusing to act on Miracle-Gro 100% chemical-free Organic Choice fertiliser. Back story can be found here and here:

    The second post has a marvelous picture of the product packaging, proudly adorned with the “100% chemical free” badge. The £1m offer still stands, by the way. We had some great responses to that, and some that made me want to cry.

    On a side note David, I love the “one man and his shovel” pic. :)

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