Revisiting organic gardening

For many years, media has been rife with articles on organic gardening. Yet, when a phenomenon hits a fever pitch, it helps to take a step back, separate gloss from facts and revisit fundamentals.


Organic does not necessarily mean chemical-free, yet even veterans use these interchangeably. Organic products often use naturally derived chemicals instead of synthetic ones that are dubious. For example, the active insecticidal component of neem oil is a chemical called Azadirachtin. Likewise, people associate ‘pesticides’ and ‘fertilisers’ with bad ‘chemical’ farming, but these can be organic. Smart marketers give soft names like ‘bio-food’ or ‘eco pest repellents’ to their products but it is wiser to look past the branding to check if the ingredients are naturally derived, however, chemical-ish their names are.


The growing market has led to the popping up of many organic products that promise miraculous results. As a result, people tend to continue their old gardening habits, waiting for a problem to arise and then trying to ‘fix it’ in vain with copious amounts of organic sprays.

Gardening organically is not just about switching to organic products. That’s like changing one’s pills from allopathic to herbal, but still sticking to the habit of popping pills rather than living well every day. Organic gardening takes a more preventive than curative approach, like selecting plants that grow well in your site’s microclimate so that they don’t become weak and invite pests.


Organic gardening is gardening in cooperation with nature. In nature, there is always some loss, which is gain for someone else. To go organic is to recalibrate your expectations that some of your produce will be shared by ‘pests’. There are some clever hacks though like bringing in ‘good’ predators  (ladybugs) that eat aphids.


As you go deeper into organic gardening, you start seeing your garden less as a ‘collection’ of plants and more as an ‘ecosystem’. Solving one problem in isolation creates another. For instance, if you did get those ladybugs to eat up your aphids, but grew only veggies, they would soon tire of not getting any pollens for proteins and nectar for energy. To make them stay, you will have to grow flowers like marigold.


Beginners often get intimidated by extreme rhetorics of organic gardening, which tend to look down upon lapses, say, buying a plant from a regular nursery which may have traces of synthetic fertilisers. The key is to remember that learning about organic gardening is itself an organic process — one that gradually unfolds with many trials and errors. It is best to not get worried by extreme stances and slowly discover what works for your site and your constraints.(The author is co-founder of