Modern technology has its uses and cannot be broadly condemned, but there have been many mistakes. The dramatic turnaround from scarcity to plenty over the past century has been achieved at the expense of a massive and ever-increasing input of chemicals and with little thought for tomorrow.
Where corn has proven more profitable than cows, the practice of replacing organic matter on the land has died out. The result is that soils are becoming lifeless and, in many instances, simply disappearing into the sea. Larger agricultural machines have demanded larger fields and, as a result, trees and shrubbery have disappeared taking their dependent wildlife with them.
Plants need a certain level of nutrients for healthy growth so, in order to maintain these levels, more and more chemical fertilizers are poured on to the land year after year, filling the plants we eat with alien chemicals and polluting our waterways.
The traditional practice of mixing and rotating crops has been abandoned for short-term profit with the result that pests and diseases build up to uncontrollable proportions. Killing them with poison sprays becomes essential and, as resistant strains of both pests and diseases develop, more powerful chemicals have to be used. It is this aspect that is most troubling to us, the consumers of food produced in this way.
Every year, some chemical previously thought to have been safe is banned somewhere in the world. One of the early cases was the insecticide DDT. There is no doubt that it saved many thousands of lives by killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but it was also found to build up in the bodies of animals and birds, causing untold losses of wildlife; it was banned in most Western countries before it caused any deaths in humans. This was followed by the soil insecticide dieldrin, the selective weedkiller loxynil, suspected of causing birth defects, and, in most Western countries, the herbicide, trichlorophenoxy-acetic acid, or 2,4,5-T, which has been linked with cancer. Not only have these chemicals been shown to cause untold damage to wildlife, but some have also been found in alarming quantities in food, even after processing and cooking.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
For anyone with a garden, the solution seems simple: grow your own produce. But the chemical industry is big business, so gardeners have, over the years, been persuaded that they too can “benefit” from research carried out by the commercial growers and farmers. After all, what is good for the professional must be good for amateurs—but nothing is further from the truth.
While we can certainly benefit in some ways from research, there is absolutely no need for the home gardener to follow commercial practices blindly. Remember the professional grows on a large scale for profit, while we do so on a small scale for pleasure. He needs all his harvest to be ready at the same time, while we want to stagger it. What’s more, there is no need to sacrifice anything in terms of yield and quality. Let me give you an example.
If a farmer has 20 acres of cabbages, he can almost certainly expect an attack of cabbage white butterfly; no self-respecting butterfly could miss such an opportunity. So, to avoid the hungry caterpillars devouring the entire crop, the farmer may have no alternative but to spray. The gardener, on the other hand, has perhaps only ten or a dozen plants. And, if he is an organic gardener, they’ll be interplanted with other crops and so effectively camouflaged from the butterflies, who recognize them by sight and perhaps smell. The chances are the cabbages will be missed altogether but, if a butterfly does see them and lay her eggs, there is still no need to reach for a spray. All you need to do is walk down the row occasionally, pick off the offending caterpillars, and drop them into a jar of paraffin. You will get one hundred percent control and it will cost you nothing. What’s more, your cabbages will be perfectly clean and healthy. Even better, if you grow the right kind of plants in the ornamental borders and among the vegetables, the birds and the ground beetles will do the job for you.
The same philosophy applies to fertilizers. In a natural soil there are millions of microorganisms munching away on our behalf, producing the nutrients that plants need for healthy growth. Look after them by feeding the soil (rather than applying chemical fertilizers to feed the plants) and they’ll repay you a thousandfold. They’ll not thank you for a daily dose of paraquat.