Sometimes a chemist takes us to task and criticizes the inclusion of certain items in the organic arsenal of weapons. For example, he calls lime a chemical, yet we advocate its presence in the compost heap. Of course lime is a chemical! So is everything else. There is nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash in your tablecloth, in ham and eggs, and in your very own mother-in-law. So it is high time for us and our adversaries to stop talking in elusive generalities and to start clarifying our specific points.
In regard to the word "organic,” Webster says "pertaining to, or derived from living organisms." On the other hand—also according to Webster —when a chemist refers to the word "organic" he means "pertaining to or designating that branch of chemistry which treats of the compounds of carbon." It can be seen, therefore, that when we say "organic" we mean something different from what the chemist understands by that word, but these are mere technicalities resulting from professionalized word usage. We do not exclude a chemical simply because it is a chemical any more than we include an organism just because it is an organism. There are, however, some chemicals and some bacteria that try to upset everything that the organiculturist is attempting to achieve. Those saboteurs are the ones against which we discriminate.
The first tenet of our organiculturist's creed is that we are opposed to artificial or chemical fertilizers. We decry these chemical fertilizers because they contain certain poisonous elements in too great a concentration. All the chemicals present in these artificial fertilizers are also distributed in ocean waters, but the quantities are so exceedingly negligible that fish can safely swim in such a medium though they could never flip a fin in the concentrations of such chemicals that are found in chemical fertilizers. Certain indispensable soil microorganisms that are essential to the processes of plant growth can tolerate these excessive concentrations no better than the fish could endure their presence in salt water. We can use the elements contained in chemical fertilizers, regardless of whether they are organic or inorganic, but only if they are in extremely minute distribution. Such safe distribution can be found in certain rocks that can be pulverized for fertilizer use, but the subject still requires a great deal of research and experimentation, a project which the Soil and Health Foundation may soon undertake. The supply of such rock materials is enormous and cheap, and recent experimental work has already demonstrated that, if ground fine enough, they become a quick-acting fertilizer. Many rocks contain plant nutrients in considerable amounts which are insoluble until they are pulverized and brought into contact with the soil when they are rendered soluble by carbonic acid and other substances in the soil. Meanwhile, however, better results can be obtained if the chemicals we use are in organic form.
Besides compost made of plant and animal matter, the organiculturist may employ as fertilizers such substances as raw phosphate rock, dolomite, ground oyster shells, and miscellaneous ground rocks such as granite dusts and pulverized limestone. Quicklime, on the other hand, is much too strong in action and will destroy bacteria. Builders' hydrated (slaked) lime, though stronger than the simple pulverized limestone, can be used if the latter is not available. Even wood ashes may be used as a substitute for lime in making compost. All of the above are chemicals, but they are the kind that can be tolerated in relatively large quantities.
Phosphorous and calcium (the latter found abundantly in lime) are not as dangerous substances as potash, which is a catalyst and is required in small applications only. Too much of it interferes with the growing processes of the plant, which is, however, as intemperate as a drunkard in its thirst for potash. It can't resist it! There is a current medical theory that regions in which the land is overly rich in potash show an unusually high incidence of human cancer.
Another tenet of the organiculturists holds to the making of compost by Sir Albert Howard's Indore process, involving the ratio of one part animal matter to three parts of plant residue, a relationship which is found naturally in field and forest. Many persons mistakenly consider themselves as practicing organiculture if they simply use manure, which is in itself an unbalanced fertilizer. It does, to be sure, contain many valuable elements, including vitamins and hormones, but inasmuch as plants and especially leaves are extremely rich in mineral elements, we ought to use both plant and animal matter. Where manure alone is used it must be well rotted. The same applies to green matter which should be rotted through the compost heap. The application of raw green matter and manure is a severe shock to the soil until its organisms can bring about their decay. Eventually it will benefit, but in the meantime the current crop will suffer.
The organic farmer and gardener must realize that fertilization is not the only measure for success. He must treat the soil as a living, breathing entity. He must rotate crops. He must fallow the land at regulated intervals. The organiculturist must not practice one-crop monoculture but must engage in a balanced agriculture with cattle as part of the general program. He must be smart in the ways of the soil and crops, observing the reaction of the land to the actions of man. For instance, he must know when to plant and when to harvest and what varieties of seed to use. Compost alone does not make a successful gardener any more than does gardening without compost.
The organic farmer observes the Law of Return, restoring to the soil all plant residues that came from it. He does not burn leaves, spoiled hay, or other crop by-products, but often goes out of his way to retrieve organic matter that others throw away. He is against the operation of hundred thousand acre farm-factories where all the basic principles of organic farming are violated or ignored. The organiculturist believes also that infertile soils should be set aside for the growing of chemurgic crops only, that is, non-food crops such as cloth for clothes, corn for production of wood alcohol, and similar commodities.
The use of poison sprays in orchards and on farm crops is taboo, for there is definite evidence to confirm the fact that the strengthening of a plant or tree by the use of composts makes that plant or tree much less susceptible to infestation by insects or disease than does recourse to sprays. Recent controlled experiments with aphids in the United States Government Agricultural Stations showed that the more chemical fertilizers were used, the more attractive plants, thus grown, became to the aphids. The organiculturist fervently believes that even on a commercial scale orcharding can eventually eliminate all dependence on poison sprays.
The use of coal ashes in the garden is unwise, as they contain the strong element ammonium sulphate, which is also found in chimney soot. The treating of seeds with antiseptic poisons for the purpose of killing off disease organisms is likewise injudicious, for such poisons are absorbed into the seed.
We are not in favor of using human excrement or sewage sludge which stems from it, on food crops. If it is composted separately it could be used on lawns and ornamentals. It should never be used unless thoroughly composted. To accomplish this sludge must first be thoroughly pulverized. We believe there is a sufficiency of green matter available now. If the problem becomes more acute later, the whole problem of the use of human excrement must be investigated thoroughly.
The organiculturist farmer must realize that in him is placed a sacred trust, the task of producing food that will impart health to the people who consume it. As a patriotic duty he assumes an obligation to preserve the fertility of the soil, a precious heritage that he must pass on, undefiled and even enriched, to subsequent generations.