As you begin your gardening activities this year, I encourage you to switch in the direction of using practices that are more organic, more nutrient-dense for vegetables, and more sustainable. This article sets the stage for gardening with some general conceptual material. F.A.S.T.E.R. is simply the acronym for the key words in my 2009 organic gardening course introduction. It sets the stage for sharing of ecological principles and organic gardening practices.
F is for Forgiveness.
In regards to gardening, it is the direction you are headed that is really important, not how organic or sustainable your practices have been in the past. Though we are all at different points on the "organic scale," comparisons are unnecessary. I like to think of everyone at the same starting line. Forget the past and think about the future. Don't feel guilty if you have not used organic gardening practices in the past. Forgive yourself of past practices; don't live with the past as a burden, and save your energy for increased efforts in your new and/or continuing goals.
A is for Adventure. Think and practice organic gardening as an adventure. It is an adventure that includes learning, discovery, surprises, Laws of Nature, sharing, fun, community building, and more. Organic gardening is not a "project" like washing the car, with a definite beginning and ending point. It is complex, diverse and often challenging. The adventure develops it own persona, it pulses with the moon and the seasons, and it never ends. For us the gardeners, it is about our development and relationship to Nature. The adventure is meant to be enjoyed.
S is for Soil.
Organic gardening is built on the premise of the development of a healthy soil. I like to say that organic garden is all about health care. From that healthy soil, comes healthy plants, healthy produce and healthy consumers. The journey though the various stages will vary in time, space, and complexity of the gardening practices, but there is no substitute for the building of the proper foundation of a healthy soil.
T is for Time.
The time for converting to organics is now, not later. There is a real urgency. Soil is a finite resource. Yes, it can be developed, but it continues to be depleted and polluted. For the US, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service reports that we are still losing soil at the rate of almost 1 percent per year. Our average original top soil depth of 20 inches is now down to 7 inches, and at current erosion rates will be 3.5 inches in 100 years. Our average original soil organic matter content of 5 to 10 percent is now less than 2 percent. In Arkansas, it now averages 1.25 percent. The well being and standard of living for our civilization is directly dependent on this finite soil resource. Bluntly stated, continued depletion and pollution will lead to the collapse of our civilization as we now know it. It's happened in other places and it can happen here. The clock is ticking.
E is Everything Else.
After the stated urgency and focus on the development of a healthy soil, everything else is details. Paying attention to the details is important. In organic gardening there are some substitution practices and self-correcting systems, but if we don't pay attention to the details, we can find ourselves working against the Laws of Nature, rather than with them. For example, when working for the ultimate goal of producing nutrient dense produce, all the soil nutrient amounts and ratios need to be correct. The numbers are not right until all the numbers are right.
R is for Rewards. The rewards for being an organic gardener are as diverse and complex as the gardening is itself. They begin with the self-satisfaction that you are being gentle on the land. They come with the feeling of being a cooperator with Nature, and as you begin to understand that in Nature the default position is Health. The rewards come with new understandings of natural relationships and in the sharing of new knowledge. The rewards are there when your bare hands are covered with soil, and when you bite into the first-pulled carrot or when you sit down with friends to enjoy fresh sweet corn. They come in unexpected times and places.