Most of us can remember growing up to the ever-present reminders of; “eat your vegetables...” If our parents had known then what we know now it might have been different. Back in the day, as my kids love to put it, we weren’t aware of the contamination on our foods or the damage it could cause. We hadn’t yet coined the terms organic or pesticide free because we had no need to. Fruits and vegetables were good for you and held a hallowed and respected place on the food pyramid published by the government.
‘An apple a day helps keep the doctor away’. Remember that one? We were taught to eat several portions of fruits and vegetables every day for good health and our parents did their best to see that we did. We didn’t mind, fruits were sweet and we liked that and vegetables were, well..they were vegetables and just something to put up with except for potatoes; we always liked potatoes.
Today we’ve learned about the contamination of our food supplies and the dangers lurking on that strawberry and in that banana. We’ve learned that the ubiquitous ear of corn, once natural, was redesigned in a laboratory through genetics and had become the first widely accepted “Franken-fruit” (though not a fruit).
The average fruit or vegetable we bring home from the supermarket today has between 43 and 62 pesticides and contaminants on and in them. Chemicals employed to prevent pestulance and disease during growth, growth enhancers to grow bigger healthier plants and the post production dyes and coatings to make them more appealing in the stores and to survive better in storage. Though Mother Nature was a chaste old girl that offered us a bountiful and healthy feast, we preferred to follow after the harlot of the fields and the chemical romance she offered. And what a chemical romance it has been.
“Eeeww…BUGS!” just about every young boy grew up chasing the little girls around with bugs to freak them out. It was fun and innocent and then you came up against “that girl” that wasn’t afraid of them and you experienced your first crush. But what about those bugs we later learned to hate and declare chemical warfare on as we grew up? Were they really our friends after all?
The insect world is a diverse cacophony of predators and prey; an entire ecosystem unto itself. Though many feed on our fruits and vegetables in the garden and we use pesticides in an attempt to prevent the damage they cause, there are also the beneficial ones that protect our plants by feeding on the predators and the diseased foliage and protect the vitality of the garden. In the absence of bees to pollenate flowering plants, a situation we brought upon ourselves with the overuse of pesticides, hover flies will take their place feeding on pollen and distributing among the other plants.
Nature provides for a balance we, in our modern world, are only now beginning to understand. The old farmers understood. The Native Americans understood. The Hopi Indians even warned in their mythos of a time when man would destroy himself with his modern ways. And we have worked long and hard to make that a reality. Through pesticides and genetic engineering, over population and corporate greed we have raped and pillaged what was once a gift; we have destroyed the food chain. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can grow our own fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t take a farm; it doesn’t even take a large yard. They can be grown in place of ornamentals in the flower beds and in pots on the porch and in the house. Many have a colorful flowering stage that can be just as beautifully decorative as any ornamental flowering bush or shrub. We can even grow dwarf fruit bearing trees indoors year round. Many of us have for years already grown an herb garden at home.
There are other advantages to growing our own foods as well as safer healthier fruits and vegetables. If we grow more plants inside the house we benefit by cleaner air and higher oxygen content. We relieve a small part of the demand put on the diminishing landscape but it adds up as more people began producing foods at home. We also see a shift of a little bit of the normal spending back into the local economy and into our pockets instead of the corporate coffers. And we reduce the need and justification for bio-engineering in the food chain.
Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk a little about those beneficial insects. To begin with, you can get what you need through most garden supplies and online in the form of pheromone packs that attract the particular insects referred to. In addition to maintaining the health and vitality of house plants they rid the house of dust mites and bed bugs. Outside they become you army of micro-gardeners on constant patrol for the predators of the garden and the leaf diseases that would otherwise require chemicals.
Soil also is of prime concern in growing a garden and there are a number of natural soil enhancements available depending on your location and soil condition. For this your local garden supply can be of great help. Find and patronize a garden supply that supports and understands natural or organic practices and they can help you with every aspect of your gardening needs. Once your garden is established you can maintain the soil through crop rotation and selective burn-off.
For natural fertilizer nothing beats good compost. In the city or neighborhood a compost heap is impractical at best, but there are now many portable, self-contained composters on the market. When using commercially available fertilizer containing dung, read the bag and be sure the dung is organic and has been “cooked”. This prevents contaminating your garden with unwanted chemicals and pathogens.
“Water, water everywhere, and not a drop…that’s safe”. The final consideration in home gardening is water. We filter the water we drink and cook with because of the poor quality of domestic supplies and the resulting threat of contamination but if you use that same water unfiltered to irrigate edible plants we are introducing those same contaminants into our food supply. Inline water filters are available from most garden supplies and hardware stores and should be used and maintained.
All of this may make safe gardening sound overly complicated but it isn’t. if you think of it as preventing invasion of you garden, and indirectly your food supply, by contaminants and damaging insects, it only makes good common sense. There will also be small “poachers” to deal with such as rabbits and squirrels but you garden supply can suggest natural options for these based on your location and what you are growing.