Organic Gardening and More
The Plant Wellness Model -- The Heart of Organics and Eco-Agriculture
By Calvin F. Bey CFBey1936@aol.com
In dealing with many gardeners over the years, I find that most are wanting a recipe for good gardening practices. For those with beginning interest, I offer a general model with a few simple do and don’t rules to get them started… “Use compost, cover crops, rock minerals and avoid the pesticides.” Other gardeners, usually with some experience, want a lot of detail, including just exactly when and how much fertilizer they should adding each year. I have a more detailed list of rules for them, but I insist they do a soil test twice a year before deciding what fertilizers to apply. These folks usually stick with the system and soon are discovering that there is lot to learn about gardening.
In this article I go beyond the two levels of gardening practices described above and present the principles that underlie the practices that we talk about in organic/biological/ecological gardening. This is the foundation and should be useful for those dealing with this type (or in reality any type) of gardening.
In the description of the organic gardening certification process, the “organic standards” state that production must follow ecological principles. Ecological production entails materials and techniques that conserve and build soil resources, pollute little, and develop healthy and diverse ecosystems. For official certification, there are numerous rules about the products that can and cannot be used, as well as a required reporting system.
Before considering the principles, it is necessary to think about plant healthcare systems in general. I group healthcare systems into two categories -- the Wellness Model and the Welfare Model. In the Wellness Model, management practices fit with the way living systems have been designed, i.e. the way that they have evolved. That means we provide the environmental conditions (good gardening/farming practices) that allow the plants to sustain themselves and use their innate genetic potential for self-healing.
In the Welfare Model, we challenge the living systems with practices and synthetic additives that often interfere/destroy intricate internal mechanisms and the natural ecological balances. I call it the Welfare Model because it can lead to a difficult, vicious, downward cycle of the plant/soil environment where it is difficult to escape. In the Welfare Model, the natural systems become depleted and get out of balance forcing us to use rescue measures (generally chemistry) to “correct” problems, which in turn often causes more problems. In the end, the soil, plants, and produce all become unhealthy, as do those who consume the products. There are many examples of this Welfare Model for agriculture in this country and around the world.
In a generic sense, the following seven principles of the Plant Wellness Model apply to all living systems -- for gardens, agriculture, orchards, animals and people. They provide the framework for the organic and eco-agriculture practices, and are keyed on factors that contribute to that plant health.
SEVEN PRINCIPLES FOR THE PLANT WELLNESS MODEL
1. Plants have evolved to be well, i.e. to be healthy. This might also be called genetic predisposition. It’s a logical conclusion based on observations in nature. Consider the alternative principle, that plants have evolved to be unhealthy. If this was true, plant species would sooner or later cease to exist. From this principle it follows that unhealthy plants are the result of imposed stress, i.e. toxicity and/or deficiency conditions in the plant environment. Its clear that the environment determines how the genes are expressed. It is not a matter of the plant having faulty genes.
2. Genetic variability in plants exists for the purpose of adapting to the current variability in the environment, and through natural selection, to changes in the environment. In the natural environments, plant species tend to be genetically diverse, stable and healthy. The environment is the controlling force for genetic expression. When we narrow the genetic base through artificial selection, we lose the ability of the plants to adapt to diverse environments.
3. All components of the plant-soil system are interrelated. What effects one part, directly or indirectly effects all others. When the parts of the whole system are in “balance” (in equilibrium or homeostasis), we have a healthy ecosystem When we have the balance, we see that the whole is greater than the sum of the contribution of the individual parts. Assessing the contribution of individual components depends on understanding the contribution of the many intricate and synergistic plant-soil interactions.
4. Under natural conditions, plant-soil systems evolve and are self regulating. The characteristics of the system are dependent on the base material (type of rock/soil), species and genetic diversity present, and the climate. All interact to produce the ecosystem that exists in balance.
5. Harmful insects and disease are the result of weak or unbalanced soil-plant systems. They exists as an appropriate part of the environment in which they dwell. From a management point of view, they can very well be considered the clean-up crew, functioning as designed, to be the garbage collectors of the ecosystem. Insects are literally attracted to weak plants.
6. For ideal growth and fruit/seed production, plants need a continuous flow of nutrients. The nutrients that are needed for the plants will vary with the plants’ stage of development. The levels, ratios, and types of fertilizers that are needed for ideal growth are critical. As a rule, minimally processed rock minerals and organic matter (compost and cover crops) serve as the primary base materials for the development of a living, healthy (biologically active) soil system. Soil microbes are an intricate part of the soil system and are beneficial in their role as digesters of organic matter, uptake of nutrients, and keeping plants healthy. Organic matter and the resulting humus (digested organic matter plus the dead microbes) contributes to supplying plant nutrition, and has immense value for increasing holding water capacity in the soil.
7. Energy drives the plant-soil system. Sunlight, cosmic, magnetic, paramagnetic, chemical, and biological factors are the main contributors for supplying energy to the system. Each has an energy role in the plant Wellness Model.
The touchstone practices generally used in organic/eco-agriculture include the use of compost, cover crops, and rock minerals. Other practices are necessary to produce the ideal system and the production of nutrient-dense produce. Its a mistake to think that the organic/eco-agriculture system is simply an old fashioned farming model. Though it may include older methods, it also includes ecological understanding, close observation, and a concern for the entire plant/soil environment. The rewards for using the Plant Wellness Model are healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy produce and best of all, healthy animals and people.