Author: Aatmesh, Learner, Integral School, Hyderabad. A self directed exploration on organic farming.
The art of farming has been around since 9000 B.C. It morphed the world and brought forth the era of cultivation and agriculture. Once discovered, farming began to spread. Soon enough, people were planting crops and raising animals all over the world. The transition from being nomadic foragers, to tending crops and having homes was a very significant change in human history. The world has never been the same since.
Since its origin, farming has grown larger and more essential. Farming is defined as “The activity of growing crops and raising livestock”, meaning almost all our food is a result of farming. In present times, our knowledge of farming has increased exponentially. We are able to understand the science behind it, which allows us to improve and analyze our system of farming. The science or practice of farming is called agriculture. Agriculture is more broad than farming and deals with everything behind it, not only the physical process of growing crops/raising livestock but the ideal conditions for certain plants, transporting food to markets, pests and pesticides etc. The purpose of agriculture and farming, is to cultivate animals, plants and/or other products to sustain and enhance human life.Through the study of agriculture, various methods of farming have sprung forth. The best way to sustain and enhance human life through farming is debatable, but the focus for this essay is organic farming. In particular what it means and the methods by which it is achieved. The reason behind this essay is to give readers insights to the process of organic farming, what it entails and how it can be achieved.
The idea and methods of organic farming
Organic farming is a form of farming that uses ‘natural’ (existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind) resources and is environmentally friendly. It focuses on improving soil fertility, plant diversity and growing healthy crops without the use of chemical and synthetic fertilizers. A common misconception, is that organic farming does not involve pesticides. Organic farming only involves pesticides that are derived from natural sources. Organic farming arose in order to make safer consumables for humans.
Farming was an organic process to begin with, as there were no unnatural substances. During the industrial revolution people began using machines and chemicals in order to grow more crops and increase harvests. This brought forth methods like, mass animal breeding, toxic pesticides, gasoline powered tractors etc. which were increasingly popular due to the massive amounts of food they generated. In the 20th century, people began to feel the negative effects of chemically enhance food. They decided that unnatural substances had harmful effects on people. Thereafter, organic farming became its own category, separated from conventional farming.
Although it seems simple, organic farming poses its own set of challenges as many economical products contain unnatural substances. This means that farmers need to be smart and devise methods to make it easier. The most used and effective methods so far are, crop rotation, companion planting and biological pest control.
Crop rotation – Crop rotation is a process that optimizes space and increases soil fertility. When the same crop is grown in a certain area for a long time, the soil in that area loses its capacity to supply different nutrients. This means that other crops may not grow well in that area. In order to keep soil fertile, farmers devised an ingenious method, they would seasonally plant different crops in a certain area. This would allow the soil to be used to nutrients from various plants and retain its fertility. The process of using different crops is called crop rotation. Although crop rotation is a very clever way of maintaining soil fertility, it is not unique to only organic farming. It is used in conventional farming as well.
The most typical crop rotation scheme is a 1:1:1 throughout the span of a year. Meaning that in the span of one year, a crop from a certain family will be planted for a third of the year. A crop from a different family will be planted the following third, and so on. Crops from the same family require the same nutrients, so the rotation should occur with different families. Another factor that plays a role in crop rotation is the season (or climate). Crops (from their respective families) should be planted in the season that best suits their growth, keeping the scheme of 1:1:1. For example, if a crop from the legume family, lentil grows better than garbanzo (from the same family) in winter, the farmer should plant more of that crop (the one that grows best in winter). The different families are numerous.
– “Allium” is the family that contains plants such as garlic, chives, leeks, onions and shallots.
– “Cucurbit” is the gourd family, it contains all the gourds as well as melons and pumpkins.
– “Crucifer” or “Brassica” is another family, containing bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard, radish and a couple more.
– The most well known family is the “Legume” family, it is made up of common beans, black beans, broad beans (Fava), clovers, cowpeas, garbanzo, hyacinth beans, kidney beans, Lima beans, lentils, mung beans, peanuts, pigeon peas, pinto beans, runner beans, snap peas, snow peas, soybeans, string beans and white beans.
– The “Aster” family contains only lettuce and artichoke.
– The “Solanaceous” or the “Nightshade family consists of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and
– “Grains and cereals” is the family which contains corn, rice, sorghum, wheat, barley, oats and millet.
– The “Carrot family” contains carrots, celery, dill, parsnips and parsley.
– “Root crops” are sweet potato, taro, water chestnut and cassava.
– The “Mallow family” contains only cotton and okra.
Crop rotation also depends on the value of a certain crop in a given region. Crops with more (monetary and health too.) value are grown more and other crops from the same family less. Along with crop rotation, a method called companion planting can be used to further optimize space.
Companion planting – Companion planting is another enterprising idea that is also used in conventional farming. Companion farming is the planting of different crops together or in close proximity. It is defined as “the establishment of two or more plant species in close proximity so that some cultural benefit is derived. Planting two different plants close to each other (if done correctly) enhances the growth of both plants, dissuades pests, invites needed animals/insects, improves soil conditions. For example, if certain pests hate potatoes but love tomatoes, the farmer would plant them close together so that the amount of pests would reduce. But, if the potato’s roots somehow make the tomato less stable, the farmer would have to think about what to do next. Ideal companion planting would be achieved, when two crops benefit from each other’s presence.
Here is a list of crops that can be farmed side by side, as well as ones that can’t.
Plant near: broccoli, brussels sprouts, bush beans, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kohlrabi, onions
Keep away from: charlock, field mustard, pole beans.
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts –
Plant near: beets, buckwheat, calendula, carrots, chamomile, dill, hyssop, marigolds, mints, nasturtiums, onions, rosemary, sage, thyme, wormwood.
Keep away from: strawberries
Marigolds repel cabbage moths. Nasturtiums repel aphids.
Cabbage and Cauliflower –
Plant near: broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery, chard, spinach, tomatoes.
Keep away from: strawberries
Tomatoes and celery repel cabbage worms.
Plant near : cabbage, chives, early potatoes, leeks, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, rosemary, sage, salsify, wormwood.
Onions, leeks and wormwood repel carrot flies.
Companion planting can also been done with crop rotation, maximizing space to its fullest.
Biological pest control – Biological pest control is a method used to naturally reduce pests, with the help of living organisms. Typically a predator, parasite, disease or organism that preys upon pests (of a certain kind) is unleashed, to destroy the pests and protect the crops. Biological pest control is used instead of pesticides in conventional farming, as ordinary pesticides have a harmful effect on the end product (the food). An important factor of biological pest control is the ability to control not only the pests, but their exterminator as well. Also, ensuring that the predator does not harm the plant is an unspoken rule. There are three types of biological pest control, each one a specific of the definition above. They are called, augmentation, conservation and classic biological control.
Classic biological control involves importing foreign enemies to take care of pests. Augmentation increases the amount of natural enemies for a pest. It is done through breeding. Conservation removes any barriers the enemy has and makes it easier to eliminate pests. All these methods have their own purposes, but a combination of all three reap the most rewards.
Organic farming focuses on natural products and produce that are believed to be healthier (than unnatural ones). The process of organic farming can be achieved through a multitude of ways. Some of which are crop rotation, companion planting and biological pest control. As we know, each method has its own advantages, and all methods can be used together. The aim for organic farming is to integrate the optimization of space and natural resources to achieve ecological balance.