When Gardening Organically, You Need To Think Differently

We don’t know exactly how life on earth got started.

Some people believe God created it all about 10,000 years ago.

Others believe it evolved – starting 3.5-4 billion years ago – as bacteria, microscopic organisms that are composed of only 1 cell.

(For comparison, our current best guess is that the average human body has over 30 trillion cells, and incidentally, there are in the neighborhood of 40 trillion microorganisms living in our bodies – more of them than cells – most of them bacteria, and most of them probably integral to our health.) Space From Earth

This article about gardening organically is based on evolution, and is open to a God who created that evolution, but for most of the article, that’s not really what matters.

Whatever you believe, this page is still one of the most important for you to read on this site because it teaches you what to always keep in mind when you’re growing an organic garden.

If you can internalize these ideas, you’ll be much more successful with your garden and you’ll enjoy the process so much more. Bacteria

According to evolutionary theory, bacteria came first, and then:

  • Between 1 and 2 billion years ago, they joined together to form multicellular organisms.
  • About 500 million years ago, animals and land plants evolved.
  • About 2-3 million years ago, humans (the genus Homo) evolved.
  • About 250,000 years ago, Homo sapiens (that’s us) evolved.
  • About 12,000 years ago, we started gardening – growing our own food instead of only hunting and foraging for it.

Here’s a cool overview: Geological Time SpiralClick the image for a closer look.

The reason it’s so interesting to look back at this is because it reminds us that:

  • Although bacteria and other microorganisms are small and simple, they’ve been around for a long time, and they still rule the world – and our gardens.
  • Animals and plants evolved together and depend fully on each other (as well as on microorganisms) for survival.
  • When you look at the whole history of planet earth, we sapiens were practically just born, and although we’ve learned a lot about how microorganisms, animals and plants function, we don’t know as much about how they function as they do.

And what all of that says to me is we should work with them (rather than against them) – that’s what gardening organically is really all about.

We’ll come back to this point later, but first let’s look at when growing our own food started 10,000 years ago. Was it good for us? History Of Growing FoodFarmers with wheat and cattle – Ancient Egyptian art, circa 1422-1411 BCE

On the one hand, agriculture helped our population explode and is one of the main reasons we have modern civilization, with art, science and everything in between.

Lots of cool advancements came from that, although also more war, disease and environmental destruction.

And in many ways, the main food crops we developed haven’t been all that great for our health. We started eating a lot of grains (which may have their place, but are relatively nutrient poor) and a less diverse diet overall, and we got less exercise.

So again that means more disease, teeth problems, obesity, and on and on.

And when it comes to modern agriculture in the last hundred years, while we do get more calories (so our population continues to grow), our food is much less nutritious (over 60% in some cases), and we get even more environmental devastation, with more pollution of everything – the land, water, air, animals and plants.

Of course the human repercussions of this are even more sickness – and even overall unhappiness.

At this point we could get into the facts about all of these environmental and human health problems, and it’s certainly worthwhile to learn about them because it gives you that extra motivation to do something about it, but this is Smiling Gardener and I have more fun spending time on solutions, so let’s do that.

My solution to all of this is organic gardening itself, as long as we:

  • Grow the foods that improve our health – the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and mushrooms that are highly nutritious.
  • Grow them so they’re not toxic to us.
  • Grow them in a way that maximizes their nutritional content.

Kids Gardening OrganicallyOrganic carrots.

The word organic has many definitions. For example:

  • In chemistry, organic refers to a compound whose molecules contain carbon. Some of these are good for us (e.g. glucose) and some are toxic (e.g. formaldehyde), so this definition alone isn’t what we’re referring to in the gardening world. Also note that in chemistry, an ‘organic pesticide’ is just a pesticide that contains carbon – some of these organic pesticides are highly toxic.
  • In biology, organic refers to anything that’s living (like a dog or an apple tree) or was once alive (like cow manure, which at some point was living plants). Some of these are good for us (e.g. kale) and some are toxic (e.g. sewage sludge), so this definition alone isn’t what we’re referring to in the gardening world. Also note that in biology, an ‘organic pesticide’ is just a pesticide that’s derived from plants – some of these organic pesticides are highly toxic.
  • In gardening, organic is used more broadly. It means “using practices and products that preserve and support the health of ecosystems and human communities,” according to the SOUL Organic Land Care Standard… Basically, it means growing healthy, non-toxic gardens.

Then there are words like ecological/biological/sustainable/natural that are not legally defined like organic is, but should also mean “using practices and products that preserve and support the health of ecosystems and human communities,” even if those practices and products are a little different for each camp.

Personally, it doesn’t matter to me what we call it – all of us are trying to grow gardens that are good for us and the environment.

On this website, I mostly focus on teaching you how to grow organic food, and I take it a step further by focusing on highly nutrient-dense food, which is where things get a little more advanced.

Although organic food is often higher in nutrition than conventional food, and lower in toxins, most of it still falls far short of where it could be, and that’s what this site is for – to help you grow food to its full nutritional potential.

And may I just say – that is EXCITING!

I can think of nothing better to improve my own health and happiness – and the health and happiness of my family and friends – than to grow a nutrient-dense organic vegetable garden.

It means whoever eats from that garden and spends time there gets better nutrition, more exercise and more time in nature (even if your nature is only a few hundred square feet).

All of those are exciting to me, and that nature part may be the most important of all, but what especially gets me up in the morning is the nutrition part because for some nutrients, we’re talking about getting 100s of times more of them into our own food than we can get from grocery store food (including organic food). Eating Organic Food From The GardenEating food from the garden.

Okay, so how do we successfully garden organically?

That’s the purpose of this whole series of lessons I’ll be creating over the next while.

Today I want to share with you a couple of key points to keep in mind as you spend time in your organic garden. These are often skipped over, but they’re huge!

One of the most important shifts to make in our thinking is around the concept of health in the garden. To look at that, it helps to consider how we deal with garden pests.

The ‘eco-friendly’ approach that’s been adopted by the conventional gardening industry is called integrated pest management, or IPM. A simplified explanation of IPM is that it means we take a multi-faceted approach for controlling insects, diseases and weeds in the garden – including using the least-toxic methods available.

It seems like a great idea on the surface, and although it does ultimately allow gardening professionals to jump right to their favorite tried and true synthetic pesticides (which may be why the conventional gardening industry is so supportive of IPM), for the people who use it correctly, it certainly has provided them with a framework for reducing the use of toxic chemicals.

The problem, however, is that it stops people from fully understanding why the pests are there in the first place, which is because of some kind of imbalance in the system.

We try to fight to pests – who have been on this planet for thousands of times longer than we have – instead of understanding why they’re there, and working with them. Mormon Caterpillar Becoming A ButterflyCaterpillars become butterflies.

Incidentally, we do the same thing in conventional medicine for human sickness – cutting, burning and drugging the disease, hopefully choosing the least invasive method for each patient, but often skipping over why the disease is there in the first place.

Fortunately, we have naturopathic doctors and other ‘alternative’ practitioners who can help us get to the root cause of our health problems, and we have organic land care professionals who can help us get to the root of our garden problems.

And for the do-it-yourselfers like you, there are books and websites to help with all of this, too, which I suppose is why you’re here.

That root cause, in people and plants, is always some type of imbalance, whether it be nutritional, biological, physical or other.

That’s not to say it’s always our fault if we (or our plants) get sick – on the contrary, health is a complex thing.

But it is important to remember that there is a reason somewhere in there, and if we can figure out that reason, we can often solve the problem.

Here’s the most interesting part to me:

Insects and diseases eat only unhealthy plants!

I’m not talking about deer, rabbits, or humans – we all prefer healthy plants (if our brains are working properly).

But disease and insect pests evolved differently. They evolved to eat the imbalanced plants, which is a good thing for us because it keeps the genes of the healthy plants in the food supply.

If the pests didn’t eat them, nutritionally-poor plants would continue to reproduce, which would be bad for the survival of their species and the animals who depend on them, which ultimately means all of them.

On top of that, many of these pests are actually beneficial for plants at one point in their life, such as the plant-feeding caterpillar who becomes the plant-pollinating butterfly.

Really, we call them pests because they eat our gardens, but they’re not considered pests in nature – they’re just part of the system, and an important part. They’re more accurately called plant predators, like a lion is an animal predator.

I’ll share more of this intriguing topic with you in an upcoming lesson on organic pest control.

For now, let’s take a tomato as an example. Sliced Tomato With Basil

It seems most everyone love to grow tomatoes, and I don’t blame them – tomatoes from my organic garden that have been sliced and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper taste better than just about anything, while tomatoes from the grocery store taste like the cardboard box they were shipped in from Florida.

It’s important to note that the great taste also signifies great nutrition. The phytonutrients responsible for flavor and aroma can only be manufactured by plants if they have adequate nutrition from which to make them.

So how do we get that nutrition? It’s useful to look at how we deal with disease to understand how we can get more nutrition into food. As we go through the following example, just keep in mind that nutrition and disease are related.

Tomatoes in the home vegetable garden sometimes get eaten by diseases like blight and insects like tomato hornworms.

Let’s look at the blight for today. Tomato Late Blight(Photo by Downtowngal, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license)

How do we get rid of it?

  • A conventional gardener might spray it with Chlorothalonil, a very common fungicide that’s a human carcinogen, implicated in the decline of honeybees, highly toxic to fish and many other animals, and when it eventually gets broken down in the environment, it becomes 30 times more toxic. It does help kill the blight, unfortunately along with the thousands of other species of beneficial fungi on the plants and in the soil, and like most pesticides, it probably harms the plants to some degree as well.
  • An IPM gardener might eschew the Chlorothalonil and instead spray the blight with Copper, another common fungicide, also highly toxic. As an aside, some of us in the ‘ecological’ gardening world think the copper may not only be suppressing the fungus directly, but also correcting a deficiency of copper in the plant, thereby making the plant less susceptible to the blight in the first place. So if you have a documented deficiency of copper, then using a copper spray might very well make sense – it’s just than the vast majority of users aren’t using it this way, and although there are even a couple of copper products allowed in organic growing, it’s easy to bring about a copper toxicity in the plant and soil if you rely on it too frequently, which will tend to happen if you aren’t addressing the reason the blight is there in the first place. So yes, use copper as a nutrient, not just as a pesticide. Actually, this is a good glimpse at where we’re heading with this discussion.
  • A casual organic gardener might spray them with Actinovate, a non-toxic, organic product made up of a beneficial bacteria called Streptomyces lydicus. The bacteria will outcompete the blight on the leaf surface and may also do something to boost plant health at the same time. Wonderful! Except… the product is made by Monsanto, which most organic gardeners don’t want to support, and more importantly, it’s still by and large missing the point I’ve been working towards here, which is that the reason the blight is there in the first place is because of a deficiency in plant health. I will say though, that like the copper, we are on the right track, even if we haven’t quite made it yet.

What would a more educated and experienced organic gardener do with tomato blight?

First, I want to reiterate that ‘organic’ is just the main word I tend to use to describe a gardener who’s thinking in more of a holistic way – I’m a certified organic gardener, so that’s the word that’s stuck with me. A certified organic farm wouldn’t have any synthetics sprayed on it, while a holistically-minded farmer may occasionally spray them on his non-certified farm, but with an understanding of how it fits into the overall health management plan – and that’s okay with me. What matters is the final impact on the whole environment – soil, microbes, plants, animals and humans – not the techniques used to get there.

So how would someone who thinks holistically go about handling blight? Well, I’ll tell you how I would go about it. I find it very useful to think about things in terms of physics, chemistry, and biology:

Physics Physics. To be fair, many experienced gardeners also look at physics when there’s a disease problem – not just organic gardeners. The main areas I think of are sun, temperature, air and wind. For example, have my tomatoes been sitting in a little too much shade since the mulberry leafed out? Has it been too hot for them this summer? I also think of other physical things in the environment, like the mulch. When soil gets on the leaves (even organic soil), it often brings disease, so can I increase my mulch layer to stop that, and/or can I prune the bottom branches without harming the plant too much? When it comes to air and wind, a lot of disease crops up under moist, stagnant conditions, so can I somehow improve the airflow, if not this year than at least next? Speaking of moisture, now we’re onto…

Chemistry Chemistry. The importance of proper watering is often undervalued in the garden. Whether too much, too little, or getting water on the leaves – all of these are common contributors to disease. Even blossom end rot of tomatoes, which is often partially the result of a calcium deficiency, is not necessarily because of insufficient soil calcium, but often because of improper watering that caused the plant to not be able to take up enough calcium. But beyond water, where a more experienced holistic-minded gardener will start to really separate from their neighbors is in linking plant health, disease and insect pest problems to chemical imbalances in their soil and plants. For example with blight on tomatoes, that points to a deficiency of phosphorus and vitamin C, according to soil consultant Dr. Arden Andersen. Get more P into the plant and you very well may not have any new blight tomorrow.

Biology Biology. The other science to which organic gardeners are looking is biology. A garden is an ecosystem with many plants, animals and microorganisms all interacting. Sometimes they’re competing, but often they’re cooperating, and even when they are competing, there are many more winners than losers. For a garden to be healthy and free of pest problems, it needs to be bursting with a huge diversity of beneficial organisms. One of our main jobs is to encourage as many of these organisms as possible, and sometimes, we benefit from bringing in the right ones for the types of organic plants we’re trying to grow. The Streptomyces mentioned up above was definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s still coming from a mindset of “give me an organic product so I can kill this disease” rather than “how can I make this plant healthy so it doesn’t get disease?” On top of that, it’s just one species, but we need tens of thousands of different species in the soil and on plant leaves. Well-made organic compost and compost tea are two examples of inputs we can make ourselves to bring in these species. Organic gardening has been shifting in the last couple of decades from a chemistry focus to include more of the biological focus as well.

Each plant has preferences for sun/temperature/air (physics), water/nutrients (chemistry) and microorganisms/animals/plants with which to cooperate (biology).

The good news is we can get most of the way there by following some best practices, especially when it comes to balancing chemistry and biology in our organic gardens.

The occasional pest or other plant problem can be remedied with a little more in-depth research on that plant-pest relationship, or in some cases, just by hitting the plants with all the good nutritional and biological organic gardening tips we know of.

The coolest part is that all of these things that keep away pests and diseases are also what grows the thing we really want – non-toxic, highly nutritious organic food.

And also more of that food – like a lot more. Optimally healthy plants can grow to their genetic potential and produce optimal yields of garden vegetables, fruits and whatever else you want to grow. Huge Tomato PlantTomato plants can get big if they’re given what they need
(Photo by sylvar, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license).

Plus they taste better.

And they store longer.

And eating them decreases your chance of having to see a naturopath, a therapist, a chiropractor, a dentist, or a funeral home – well, that last one has to come eventually for all of us, but what’s the rush?

I can’t say it better than Heide Hermary did in her book ‘Working With Nature’:

“Pest management decreases biodiversity, health management increases biodiversity. Pest management views health as an absence of disease, health management views disease as an absence of health. Pest management is a warfare approach, health management is a welfare approach.”

In summary, here’s what I’d like us all to keep in mind as you spend time in your organic garden this year:

  • Plants have been around about 2000 times longer than we homo sapiens, and bacteria about 16,000 times longer. They know how to create healthy ecosystems and they’ll do it for us if we give them what they need.
  • Most garden problems are due to an imbalance somewhere in the system, so let’s focus as much as we can on improving garden health rather than fighting garden problems.
  • Taking a health management approach – instead of pest management – will allow us to grow food that is so much more nutritious than the food we can buy anywhere else.

And that is fun! Kids Harvesting Vegetables

Do you have any questions for me after reading this article? Feel free to ask down below.

Or if not, let me ask you, how do you deal with pest problems in your garden?

39 Comments

  1. Scott on July 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Very good in depth report on organics and a brief history! I would like to comment on your statement that the tomatoes from Florida taste like the box. Yes! You are absolutely right! I live in S. Fl. and see tens of thousands of acres of tomatoes growing during our winter growing season, same in Mexico. They are picked green and the massive trucks transporting them to distribution look like they are moving tennis balls. They have no taste and no smell and I can’t comment on the nutritional value. One variety is known as “Homestead”, tolerant to heat and pests in this area. It is a very lucrative product for the factory-corporate farm system. That said– there are many-many farmers down here exploring the organic market and doing very well as people like you spread the word on organics and our health!Keep on keeping on!!!!

    • Phil on July 14, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks for sharing Scott! Indeed, I’m sure there are excellent tomatoes in Florida too – it’s just that it’s also where a majority of the bad ones come from. It’s not Florida’s fault though 🙂

  2. Steven Dragoo on July 15, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Evolution cannot be supported and is a wishful thinking guess…

    • Mary Beth Akers on July 16, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      I would encourage The Smiling Gardener to do more research on the theories of origins. Please contact me if you’d like some information. There is a great deal of evidence to support creation.

  3. Smitty Wolf on July 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

    This is my third season gardening. I still consider myself a rookie. I started out as organic as my knowledge allowed, made a few mistakes along the way, but am starting to work out the kinks. The first year, I sprayed a store bought OMRI certified pest management product. I noticed that there weren’t just less bad bugs, but no bugs, none at all. Even though the label said it wouldn’t kill beneficials, it seemed to have done just that, or at least kept them away.I discovered some “home remedies” that seemed “better” to me at the time, and tried a couple for the rest of that first season, to varying degrees of success. Overall my first year gardening was a failure, with many plants dying, and a very unsatisfying harvest from whatever plants did survive.Moving along, trying to get to the point, (although somehow I think you appreciate the back story), I was determined to make progress in my second year. I was fortunate to stumble on one of your youtube videos that talked about the importance of soil help. Thanks to your and a few others advice, I starting using compost tea in my second year…combine with a few other adjustment in basic gardening practice that I was missing in year 1, my garden improved tenfold. I did however occasional a neem (cold pressed) and other essential oil blend to my foliar compost tea spray (with pure protein fish hydrostate added), as a pest management method, although I guess its part health management as well. This didn’t seem to effect any beneficials.This season (year 3), I hit the ground running, and I am trying to use less neem.Again, I feel so fortunate to have found you online to have such a good foundation to grow from. This year I am really trying to tweak my soil health. I found your article on why specific pests attack specific imbalances, fascinating and I’m really trying to embrace those concepts and use them to my advantage. It is quite challenging at times to assess. Beetles seem to be my biggest nuisance as of late. I’ve managed to avoid a vine borer problem, which has plagued my squash the past 2 years, so I must be doing something right. Overall, my garden seem pretty healthy, although I know it can be better.Thank you so much for all you do for us gardeners!I do have a couple questions:1) Does the neem help or harm the beneficial microbes in my compost tea foliar spray, and on the plants/in the soil? I seem to have found conflicting research online.2) About water on the leaves being a bad thing: I always water the soil, not the leaves, but my question is what about when it rains? I tend to think of rain as good for the garden. Does it do more harm than good?Thanks again, Phil!!!!Chris

    • Phil on July 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing Chris! Sounds like you’re learning new things every growing season, which is the way it goes. Year 1 is often quite a challenge.1) I’ve found conflicting advise about neem oil and microbes, too. My guess is that it harms some and helps others, so personally, I apply it separately from the compost tea, the tea perhaps a couple of days after the neem just in case that separation is better for either or both of them (the 2 days is admittedly an arbitrary number).2) Water on the leaves isn’t inherently bad – it’s just that if you have plants that are close to being diseased, wet leaves may push them over the edge. For healthy plants, it probably doesn’t matter. It’s worth noting, though, that if the water has chlorine in it from municipal treatment, that may not be ideal for the leaves (or the soil for that matter) – it doesn’t seem to be too big of a problem, but worth considering. And yes, a rain is often like magic for the garden!

      • Smitty Wolf on July 15, 2016 at 6:13 pm

        Thanks, Phil! Can you please link that article that talk about which pests attack which deficiencies, i.e.. beetles attack a plant who can’t make protein. This may be incorrect, but just an example of the type of info the article contained. Thanks!!

        • Phil on July 15, 2016 at 11:20 pm
          • Smitty Wolf on August 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm

            Thanks a lot Phil!So, that article, and the gardening book have me pondering a couple things.1) If my plants are mostly being attacked by beetles, is it safe to assume that they are having trouble developing those higher level compounds (phytochemicals), and if that is true, is it safe to assume that they are doing a pretty good job of making the lower level stuff (sugar/carb protein, fat)? And if so, how can I help my plants get to that next level and produce the phytochemicals?2) I was reading the chapter in the E-book on compost tea. The application rate though me for a loop. I have about a 100 sq. foot garden that I use a hand pump sprayer to apply 2 gallons of 1:6 diluted compost tea. So, first, I was interested to learn that I should not be diluting my brew to foliar feed. But that would be even less liquid, and I have a hard time imagining getting 500ml to cover my 100 sq. feet. Am I doing something horribly wrong?I also use the tea as a soil drench, but usually at little more concentrated at only a 1:3 or 1:4 dilution.This is separate, but related. Sometimes I add Pure Protein, a 15-1-1 fish hydroslate, usually a teaspoon per gallon, Would this be excessive nitrogen, and perhaps attract bugs? My understanding is that acts as a food supply for microbes, bolstering their numbers and effectiveness. Am I way off here?Thanks again!!



          • Phil on August 2, 2016 at 1:20 pm

            1. It’s still a rough science, but yes, that makes sense. To get your plants to the next level requires some combination of all the things I teach in the ebook and on the site. We don’t know exactly which, so we try to do as many as we can – improving garden physics, chemistry and biology.2. I’m not sure why you have only 500ml of compost tea (I’m guessing it’s not aerated compost tea as I describe it in the book), but if you need to dilute to get it out there, that’s okay. We just want to get sufficient microbes on the leaves to do what they do, which is why less dilution is often preferred.3. Fish hydrolysate is generally good stuff. If you’re using a teaspoon per gallon, I expect it’s a great addition to the mix.



          • Smitty Wolf on August 3, 2016 at 4:51 pm

            Thanks for the reply Phil! Sorry if I didn’t explain well. I brew 2, 5 gallon buckets of aerated tea. I dilute that and wind up with about 30-40 gallons of diluted tea, whicu gets used as a soil drench.My confusion was that the book says that 500 ml of tea is enough for 1000sq ft. Even if I don’t dilute, I’m using 10 gallons on only 100sq feet. I guess my question is how to you get 500 ml of tea to cover 1000 sq ft of plants? And is there a such thing as too much tea, or too many microbes at a time? Recently reading about which plants prefer which type of tea, i.e. apparently brassicas prefer a bacterial dominated tea. Interesting stuff!



          • Phil on August 4, 2016 at 1:28 pm

            Note that if the tea is a good tea, then 500ml of the ‘undiluted’ tea is a good amount for 1000 sq ft. If you’re diluting the tea, you’ll want to spray more to get sufficient numbers of microbes out there.Undiluted is best for foliar applications because it gets the maximum number of microbes on the leaf surface, but yes, it can be hard to get 500ml sprayed evenly over 1000 sq ft with basic equipment. Commercial growers (farmers, vineyards, etc.) have better sprayers that are great at spreading a small amount of liquid over a big area.Anyway, when it comes to compost tea, you can’t use too much, so nothing to worry about there. You may want to dilute it less if possible just to get more microbes on the leaves (a leaf can only hang on to so much water, so more dilution means fewer microbes). Side note: it is possible to use too much EM, because of how concentrated it is, but that’s not a concern with compost tea.



  4. Bruce Turner on July 15, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I am an ageing member of at least 4 generations of careful minded gardeners and food animal growers that have been using methods you have touched on. We have always used dried animal manure mixed with clean vegetation as our fertilizer and the only bug spray we use is water with Brown soap, only when needed. Yes, we from year to year, have to deal with infestations of plant eating and boring bugs and air born viruses etc. The food we eat from our gardens is the best (in our opinion) we can provide our families and friends and neighbors. We love your basic products and always listen to your advice. Thank You.

    • Phil on July 16, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks for sharing Bruce.

  5. John D'Antuono on July 15, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Great article well said! We started back in 1992 gardening organically, eating organically and using alternative medicine. I read Eliot Coleman’s book back in 1992 and was hooked. I will hand this article out to people when they look at me funny when I tell how we live and eat. We were butt of many a joke when we went organic / healthy (and still are) although still most do not believe in truly living right and living with nature instead of against nature. In fact I rid myself of Graves disease through diet and nutrition which conventional medicine said could not be done. I said no thanks to radioactive iodine and I still have my thyroid which is still working fine. We have a 1/3 acre garden here in Montana for growing our own food with a 900 sqft. hoop house, we also raise pastured chickens, ducks and goats. I have learned so much over the years regarding food and medicine but still have along way to go. The more I learn the less I know it seems. Keep up the good work love your information and enthusiasm!

    • Phil on July 15, 2016 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks John – great story!

    • driftergal on October 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      John, when you say pastured chickens, does that mean that you don’t feed them any store bought feed? I pasture mine during the day and give them laying feed in the evenings and when I’m not going to be home to let them out. I’ve lost quite a few to predators.

      • John D'Antuono on October 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        We feed them only in the evenings when we close up their coop for the night. That way they are forced to forage all day. The more they forage the brighter orange their yokes become. They get more feed in the AM also in winter when we have snow cover and the bugs a limited. We have fenced off a 1/2 acre for them that they share with the goats. However they do fly over the fence but stay close by. Worst predators are neighbors dogs, they ripped open the coop door and took one chicken only thankfully hence why we have the fence. Never had a wild predator (we have many here in Montana) come into the fenced area and get a chicken, however I did have two chickens who strayed into the woods this spring and did not return.

        • driftergal on October 21, 2016 at 2:58 pm

          Thanks. Looks like we do things pretty much the same. I’m in south Louisiana. We have feral cats, coons, red hawks, owls, coyotes, and a dog or two that come around. The property next to ours was abandoned so the grass and weeds are head high, predators have no problem hiding over there.

  6. Jacqui P on July 16, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you for all of the time you put into this article so we could all benefit from the information you shared.

  7. Patch on July 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Phil,I found out about you from a friend 2 or 3 years ago and through your site and videos I’ve got invaluable advice! As a senior I thought I knew all I needed to grow a garden. I’m happy to say last year was the best results ever from my container garden! I used M.F. and fish fertilizer I could not believe how much I was able to put in the freezer. This year 3 of my 7 container tomato plants are having problems due to my own carelessness of re-using ‘dead’ soil in these 3 containers! I’m currently treating the tomato leaf deficiency (yellowing and white spotting) with blackstrap molasses and pacific fish fertilizer and hoping for the best. Otherwise my little garden of 25 pepper plants, lettuce and celery is happy!! So thanks again for your wisdom and the referral to the west coast Canadian link for ordering MF, fish fertilizer etc.

    • Phil on July 19, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Cool, thanks for sharing Patch!

  8. cara hob on July 19, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Hi Phil. I’m a Master Gardener graduate, but found it hard to accept when they didn’t and I couldn’t recommend seaweed extract to people as volunteering as a mg.I’m so sold and appreciative on seaweed, fish fert for my garden that you shared with me! Yes, this year has been fantastic for berries. The weather has not been so hot, which did create a ripening sooner than expected on some. BUT! With all the berries, I usually have bugs and white flies are impossible this time of year. Well, this year I had 5 different varieties of berries growing and ripening at the same time. Bug issues are minimal, including white flies. The next time I go to the coast for rock hunting, seaweed will come home with me, too! Fortunately, it’s legal in Oregon to remove stuff that washes up on the sand..I’m curious about the codling moth. Are theyless likely to get into healthy apples? I was curious because they go for the seeds. Thanks for your help.

    • Phil on July 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing Cara. That’s an interesting question about codling moth. I know they feed on the fruit and seeds, but I’m not sure if the seeds are the entree for them or just a side dish. Regardless, my intuition tells me that they go for the imbalanced plants like other insects, but I’m not sure where the seeds fit into all of this. There are different hypotheses about exactly what insects are looking for in their food, but we still don’t know the whole story. What we do know is once you get a plant above a certain threshold of health (measurable by a refractometer), insects go away.

    • cara hob on July 20, 2016 at 7:59 am

      Phil, I totally agree! Now I haven’t done a soil test, but I’m SOO convinced about sea products because my berries have never been so tastee and plentiful. Usually I’ve got a ton of earwigs, and I’ve seen only a few! WOW! That’s a biggy! Even on my strawberries. I’m gonna try corn next year, again. I’ve tried it 3 times and the earwigs get the silks; but I’ll try again!For the last few years I’ve been saving my egg shells. I crushed them up, boiled them and added the water and shells to a couple of rain barrels full of water. I drained the barrels on the front yard and the nutsedge is dying. I just love these tidbits! I know much more needs to be done, but this fixer has been a learning experience. Thank you so much, Phil. I’m so glad I didn’t co sign MG way, 100% ! This way is so much easier, even with back issues!I’ll dedicate more time to my apple treesReally, Phil, thanks a MILLION!!

  9. Tom Lampman on July 19, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    I find that I have enough nutrients right here in my garden to supply all the fertilizer I need. However, I am using vermiculture to supply the humic acids required for my crops. I also top dress with wood chips from my walkways that are at least 3 years old. A tremendous source of molds, fungi and other critters that supply the diversity of life that is required by my plants. Last years composted leaves mixed with grass clippings and pulled weeds make for a pretty nice top dressing, as well. Only down side is time and effort. Cracking a bottle of fish emulsion or opening a bag of minerals is easier, but not cost effective for me. But then I work cheap!

    • Phil on July 22, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Yes, quality organic matter is definitely one of the top priorities – sounds like you’re on top of it 🙂

  10. Safwat on July 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Cabbage worms and their butterflies are not welcome in our organic garden! How to get rid of this infestation?

  11. hgsl1234 on July 24, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    hi Phil, i have 3 citrus trees (lemon, orange and mandarine) in my garden that don’t look very well. they are planted close to each other, and are relatively young (~5 years old). the problem is that there are ants all over the tree, together with Aphids and also leaf-miners. i am trying to adopt the holistic approach that you are presenting here. it is hard to me to connect between the pest and the potential plant deficit. do you have any relevant table showing pest and potential soil deficits? i guess it could be helpful to many people here 🙂

    • Phil on July 31, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      There’s data for some plants in Arden Andersen’s book “The Anatomy of Life & Energy in Agriculture”, but not for many plants. That’s one reason why I always send a soil sample into a good organic soil lab and get to help me with nutrient balancing because they know what to aim for overall, and may have specific knowledge about specific plants.

  12. JCLincoln on July 31, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    That evolution chart is amazing. I hope there room for God in there. Still love your site, though. I’m one of those that doesn’t see a problem with the Earth being 4 Billion years old and with God having created it. And in charge of the changes in ecological systems throughout that time. Notice, I didn’t say evolution.

    • Smitty Wolf on August 1, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Oh, boy, I don’t think is the right forum for this conversation.

      • JCLincoln on August 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm

        So we should extend our divorce of God beyond our schools and government, now into how we grow our food? I was commenting the way I did because so many nowadays take a presumptive avenue in their writing that evolution is a given truth with no opposition and if there IS a God, He should stay far away from everything we do. I take deference to that. And I believe there are so many problems in the world because much of the world has come to believe that way. One of Darwin’s primary motivations was to concoct theories and show ways that the natural world doesn’t need God to explain its processes. Darwin was an atheist and a fool.

        • Smitty Wolf on August 1, 2016 at 3:15 pm

          No sir, you love god, that’s great. Grow your food with all the god you want. I was just saying that the organic gardening forum isn’t the place to discuss it. I’m happy to discuss any and all things “god.” But first, I feel it prudent to clarify a few terms. Clearly, you have an axe to grind with….well lot of different types of people, but is it all people who don’t agree with your interpretation of god, or only specific groups? Also, which interpretation of god are you so vehemently defending?

          • Smitty Wolf on August 1, 2016 at 3:33 pm

            Shit, sorry Phil. I thought I replied directly to JCLincoln. I didn’t mean to perpetuate his post in your forum. My apologies.



          • JCLincoln on August 1, 2016 at 3:42 pm

            I don’t have an axe to grind. But if someone is going to perpetuate an agenda of anti-God anywhere, they’re gonna have a problem with me. Don’t want the problem, then stick to organic gardening as you say you claim and stay out of the debate that’s ravaging our nation’s youth with LGBTQOIUWEH and murdering of MILLIONS human beings before they can take their first breath. Maybe you and your buddy, the author of this article, should consider rewriting it staying away from propounding your own religion of evolution. And Yes it is…..it’s the religion of anti-God.



          • Phil on August 2, 2016 at 1:11 pm

            While I do want this discussion area to be more about gardening than faith – and even more important than that, more about acceptance and love than the alternatives – I thank you both for your thoughts. Hope you have a great week!



  13. Cara hob on August 22, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Ok, Phil. I believe I’ve got another stumper of a question, but maybe not. I purchased 12lbs. Of Neptunes Harvest dried seaweed, 4 lbs. of crab shells. How much of the seaweed do I put into the org. Chic doo, compost, sea potting soil, fox farm clay conditioner (can’t remember actual name)? In a 5 gal container I added all the above with handful of crushed egg shells,2 handfuls of seaweed and 1 handful of crab shells. It all amounted to about 1/3 of the container.I watered well and dug up soil in and around plants. On 3 plants I divided it up and worked it into the soil. I’m trying to prevent death, as neighbor won’t stop spraying. At least my hydrangeas made it through 4 spraying before they showed any ill effects. They are out of line of fire. Lilacs, are not as fortunate. Even though these plants are harder to kill with this sea vert., what is the best way to make them fire proof, so to speak?Thx,Cara

    • Phil on August 24, 2016 at 12:36 am

      The best thing would obviously be to put something up that blocks the spray. Otherwise, you seem to be on the right track. Monthly applications of effective microorganisms to the leaves could be helpful. And then just good old proper watering and mulching. I’m not sure how much of that seaweed to use, but it should say on the box.

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