Conventional Gardening? Organic Gardening? The Differences

As home gardeners, there is a tendency to focus on the plants and practices in our own yards and on our own tables. 

But as you probably already know, there's so much more to gardening. Example: our readers often ask, "What's the difference between organic and conventional gardening?"

We agree: it can be a confusing subject, especially as different organizations, different farms, and different gardeners may have very different definitions. Let's break things down when it comes to organic v. conventional gardening.

What Do We Mean By "Conventional" and "Organic"?

For the purpose of this article, conventional gardening/farming refers to growing practices that may involve chemicals, artificial growth accelerators, or conditions that don't automatically take the future condition of the soil (post-growing) into account.

While that may sound ominous, please note that we salute ANY efforts toward gardening. You're off to a great start just by planting that first seedling. Nor does conventional gardening always involve chemicals or soil issues. The defining factor is that it considers them for possible use.

On the other hand, organic is a somewhat sensitive word. In the U.S., only certified methods yield a product that can be labeled "organic." However, there are ways to get around these issues too, making people distrustful of the label.

To make things easier, for this article we define "organic" as a sincere effort toward non-laboratory chemical gardening in an earth-friendly, sustainable way. 

Conventional Farming and Gardening

Conventional farming was originally a matter of a family farm that might be larger for a successful farmer, or smaller for a less prolific one, but was largely based on the cycle of the plants or animals.

Because of the constant problem of hunger, farming made what were considered big strides beginning in the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century things sped up further, and farming was all about bigger, better, faster, with forced early ripening, a focus on mass yields and more.

Much has happened to conventional farming during that time. Let's leave things on a more personal scale to say that many gardeners engage in conventional gardening simply because fertilizers and cross-breeding have come a long way.

While there's a place for conventional gardening and it's often a way to start, you may be ready for the next step. Which brings us to...

Organic Farming and Gardening

Organic gardening focuses first on the soil, building it up through the use of compost, leaves, grass, or manure.  This provides the soil with beneficial nutrients and organisms that will ultimately help the plants, and that do not leach out of the soil in a dangerous way.

During the growth period, most organic farmers and organic gardeners try to use organic pesticides, or even go pesticide-free, creating barriers like coffee grounds or spraying clinging eggs with diluted soaps.

Organic farming can be more expensive than grab-and-go chemical based formulations. For that reason, as well as labeling requirements, organic foods may be more expensive. However, better methods are always being developed, helping organic farmers close the gap.

As for your own garden, if you use compost, save seeds, and conserve water, you can actually grow your garden more inexpensively than you might with conventional gardening.

Which Should You Choose?

Think we're going to automatically say "organic"? We'd love to - but, surprise: we encourage ANY start in gardening.

Be as responsible as possible with water and with what you put into the soil, and come as close to natural as you can, but there's a learning curve here. Many gardeners experience an evolution, so to speak, from conventional to semi-organic to entirely organic gardening.

The more naturally you grow your veggies, the better they'll taste. And chemical-free blooms can be gorgeous. Don't get too hung up on the labels. Know what they mean, and begin to make small changes toward whatever your gardening goals are. You'll be surprised what you learn...and so very proud of the results.

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