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Book Review of The Truth About Organic Gardening
Gillman points out, rightly,
that the term “organic” has been all but
hijacked by the government labeling program...

Safe Fertilizer Reviews Book Reviews for Natural Gardeners

The Truth about Organic Gardening:
Benefits, Drawbacks and the Bottom Line
by Jeff Gillman, 2008

The newest natural gardening book to hit the shelves is The Truth about Organic Gardening, by Jeff Gillman. Published in 2008 by Timber Press, this 208-page paperback book contains the most comprehensive, easy to understand, and balanced review of organic and natural gardening available. It is, hands-down, the best resource for natural gardeners, novice and experienced, who are trying to navigate the world of natural gardening.

Gillman points out, rightly, that the term “organic” has been all but hijacked by the government labeling program, and also by interest groups seeking to promote organic food as 100% safe. He seeks, through careful analysis of research, to debunk the myth that an organic label on something automatically makes it safe. He then continues to review processes of organic and natural pesticides, natural fertilizers, weed control, insect control, disease control, and large pest control. His summary chapters about the basics of organic gardening, organic practices, the way they relate to our ecosystem, and also a review of organic food provide valuable “food for thought.”

The Truth about Organic Gardening is such a perfect addition to literature about organic gardening because it explains, more than any other available resource, what organic gardening is, how it started, and the differences between growing organic products for commercial production and growing organically at home. Gillman points out that, because there is not necessarily a “home gardener” designation of “organic gardener,” other than self-designation. Some self-proclaimed organic gardeners do use synthetic products. He posits that home gardeners seeking to lessen their environmental impact are really “natural gardeners.”

Quick Tips
The entire book is worth reading, cover-to-cover, but if you don’t have time, here are some take-away messages for everyone.

--“Organic” does not necessarily mean safe. Organic chemicals can be as toxic or more toxic than their synthetic equivalents. Tobacco is natural, but not safe.

--Before doing anything, read the label. Commercial growers are required to take pesticide training and they learn that the most important thing to do before doing anything with a chemical—organic or synthetic—is to read the label. The label contains the necessary instructions to apply any compound in the safest manner possible.

--Gardening practices make a difference. You can reduce the overall inputs to your garden if you practice good gardening, fertilizing, pruning and watering techniques.

--Even organically produced food contains pesticide residue. Wash your vegetables! Organically produced food products have still been treated with pesticides, and while they may have less residue on them, they will still have some and will need to be washed.

--As a society, we should find ways to reduce the amount of pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides) we use while gardening and growing. One way to do that is to grow healthy plants that can fight off disease. Proper watering and timing of natural fertilizer application goes a long way to fending off insects and disease.

--To maintain soil fertility over time, organic matter such as grass clippings, mulch, and compost must be added back into the soil. Synthetic fertilizers will not maintain soil fertility if organic matter is constantly removed from the soil. Organic matter does more than provide major nutrients. It helps hold water, control erosion, and also provides micronutrients.

Why Natural Gardening?
The scientific definition of “organic” is a compound that contains carbon. The term organic as it is used today has strayed far from the scientific designation. Both synthetically produced and naturally produced compounds contain carbon. Only naturally occurring compounds can be called organic. However, what most people do not understand, and what the book helps explain, is that a product labeled as organic or natural is not necessarily safer (food or chemicals) or more nutritious (food) than a synthetically produced product.

The Truth about Organic Gardening helps gardeners understand how to choose products that have low environmental impacts and are relatively safe for humans, plants and animals. Some of these products are organic, some are synthetic. Gillman presents an explanation and description of each product or technique and then gives a summary of the products benefits, drawbacks and the bottom line (final conclusion). He describes products and processes, helping the gardener understand how natural fertilizers, watering techniques, planting plans, and more can work together for a safe, natural gardening process.

The Dose Makes the Poison
The book is correctly named, despite the fact that it contains information about synthetic products. Gillman writes that he almost always sides with the natural choice, up until he reads the specific product ingredients and impacts. Almost any compound, natural or synthetic, is poisonous at a high enough dose. The book gives readers a balanced education about the benefits and drawbacks of applying any outside substance to the garden, regardless of its origin. It also teaches people that reading the label, consulting references, and thinking about their decisions is just as important regarding organic gardening inputs as it is for natural gardening inputs. Ecosystems have natural balances, and everything a gardener does impacts that balance. If anything, Gillman hopes to encourage people to take a closer look at their gardening practices, and to adjust them as necessary.

This book is short and easy to read. It gives a fair and balanced treatment of organic and natural gardening. It provides an overview of each of the most common organic, natural and synthetic gardening treatments, and the environmental impact of each. Gardeners who read this book will come away feeling confident to make choices that will benefit them, their gardens, and the environment.

For those who know nothing about plants, some sections of the book might be a little bit confusing.

The Bottom Line
Chances are, if you are interested in gardening, you know enough about plants to read and benefit from this book. For a one-stop, concise resource about organic gardening and natural gardening, I would be hard-pressed to find a better book. If your goal is to garden in a way that has a low impact on the environment and produces beautiful results, then this book is for you.

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Click here to check out the book at Amazon.com.