Organic Gardening Soil ammendments Soil Improvement and/or preparation

“Inputs” – What You Really Need vs. What’s Often Promoted

Its energy restored after a wintry rest, the earth is responding to the change of seasons and signs of spring are everywhere.  In a few days the birds will start to announce the change and begin the ancient pattern of renewing life.

All beings feel the change; humans included.  But most of all I think it’s felt more by those who have within them the desire to garden.

Google’s statistics back this up showing increased “googling” for gardening information starting at the end of January and continuing to rise until it peaks in mid-July.

Videos and Articles Can Be Misleading

When you consider all the information (good and bad) that’s out there, one can see it’s easy to be mislead by an article or video that one considers produced by a popular personality who is perceived as being an authority or expert on the subject.

Some months ago I was googling something or other and in the process came across a video by one of the current popular garden personalities.  At the end of the video he was telling his audience all that they needed to buy to raise healthy produce.  He finally ended up with so many bags of this, that, or the other on the table that he didn’t have room for them all.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  Even for container-gardening , you don’t need all that he said you did to be successful and grow nutrient dense food.

Most of what he had was just something else to buy.

Made Popular by Marketing

Much of the information you find today is based on what’s been made popular by marketing. More often than not, an article is about a product that someone has successfully promoted.  It’s become so popular that it’s considered a necessity rather than an option.

New gardeners especially, may end up coming to the conclusion that’s the way you “have to” garden.

As a result of all this marketing, gardening can appear quite complicated.

Two Well-known Personalities who Kept/Keep it Simple

J.I. Rodale inspired by Sir Albert Howard, a British Soil Scientist

I’m sure most readers recognize the name J.I Rodale as founder of the magazine that was to become known as Organic Gardening Magazine.  Starting with only 12 subscribers, the magazine boasted a million readers after 50 years.  (At 70 plus years, it has changed names and focus in an effort to be (stay?) profitable.)

I found it interesting that J.I. Rodale started his professional life in an accounting practice in New York City. By 1923 he and his brother formed Rodale Manufacturing, producing commercial and residential electrical connectors. From a corner of the floor of that company began what would later blossom into Rodale Publishing Company.

In 1940, Mr. Rodale was inspired by the 40 year research and experiments of Sir Albert Howard, who is considered the founder of the organic farming movement.

Rodale was so inspired in fact, that he decided to buy farm land and raise as much of his family’s food as possible, using the organic method.

A convenient location was chosen, half way between Allentown and Emmaus Pennsylvania. Then he purchased a run-down farm of 60 acres that the government farm agency in the area considered incapable of producing profitable crops.

At least one person to help was needed, but farmhands were difficult to come by.  The person he finally hired was considered an “unemployable”, but together they started farming organically. And like most new farmers, they made lots of mistakes. (By the way, I hope it’s obvious that mistakes come with success.)

They gathered organic material from wherever they could find it. They made compost with weeds, spoiled hay, leaves, and animal manures.

In Mr. Rodale’s own words, “The results, for a couple of amateurs, were simply remarkable.”

He felt he had to share this information with the rest of country.  In 1942, Organic Farming and Gardening was first published with none other than Sir Albert Howard as the associate editor! (It later became Organic Gardening Magazine.) It’s the magazine that is said to have introduced the organic movement to this country.

Eliot Coleman – Local Organic “inputs” Were All that He Needed

Eliot Coleman, farmer and author, considered himself an adventurer. He was introduced to Organic gardening, I think, by Helen and Scott Nearing. (They wrote Living the Good Life and many other books.)

They sold Mr. Coleman a forested piece of their property when they lived in Maine for exactly what they paid for it. Coleman looked at making the property into an organic vegetable farm as another adventure.

When he started, he was amazed at not needing any “inputs” that all of conventional agriculture think of as being indispensable. His inputs were local organic materials such as seaweed, spoiled hay, leaves, and good animal manures from neighbors.

He constantly looked towards building long term fertility. And the once 3 inches of top soil is now 12 inches of top soil.

As Mr. Coleman explained to an interviewer in a video, all plants need is proper air, moisture and nutrients. Compost (totally decayed organic materials) makes all that possible.

Eliot Coleman also knows that “Mother Nature is on our side. She wants us to be well fed.” All you need do is work with her. Not a lot to buy at all, since she’ll provide most all of it.

 Final Thoughts

As excitement for the season ahead builds, make a mental note to be slow to take to heart what some of the garden personalities say you absolutely need for your garden.  More than likely all you need is organic materials that often can be obtained from your own property or at least close by.


Two of the sources I used for the information on J.I. Rodale are

#1 – the book, The Best of Organic Gardening c 1996 Rodale Press

#2 –


Suggested reading for an even better understanding of what is needed for soil fertility:

Soil Fertility Without Manure or Compost

Compost – What it is and Methods Used to Get It

Composting – The Whys and Why Nots

The book Organic Gardening – Cutting Through the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening
All content including photos are copyrighted by  All Rights Reserved.


  • Good morning, Theresa. It is minus 14 degrees here in Illinois and we have a deep blanket of snow, so it’s difficult to see signs of spring. You are, however, correct about feeling those gardening biorhythms stirring. I am so eager to be outside planting. Seed orders are arriving daily, and that is exciting. Enjoy your day!

  • Theresa, I always love reading your posts, this time of year especially! I recommend to all of your readers that, if you have the means and even the slightest inclination to raise some chickens or other live stock, they can provide the home gardener with an excellent source of inputs (and outputs – eggs!). Many suburbs and even urban areas allow up to a certain sized flock of hens… your neighbors might think you’re crazy, but bring them a dozen fresh eggs with bright-orange, flavorful yolks, and they’ll soon be on your side. We scoop out the litter (pine shavings) with the manure every so often, mixing it with leaves, weeds, grass clippings and what not, leaving it for a few months to completely decompose, and it becomes a wonderful mix come next season. Another option is to use a moveable coop, open at the bottom (called a chicken tractor), and let the chickens just have at the place you’ll be planting a garden in the future. They will completely scratch it up, eat all the bugs and grass, and leave you with the good stuff. Then you can just move them to the next patch. I see our relationship with live stock, if it’s a healthy, earth-friendly relationship, as just another way humans can work WITH Nature instead of against Her.

  • Good morning, Theresa,

    I second your choices…I think I would add Carol Deppe and a Theresa Martz from VA!

  • Thank you. Though living in the tropics, I learn very much from what you share with us!

  • Hi Theresa,

    Wonderful post, so timely. I am having an internal struggle with my experience. Let me explain. I grow from seed all of my garden plants and I share those with my good friend Trish. My struggle is this, her tomatoes are so much sweeter and more flavorful then mine. She is trying to switch to all organic and fewer inputs. She does however still fertilize to some extent. I won’t use chemicals but I am so perplexed as to how I can improve the flavor of my tomatoes.
    Take good care,

  • Hey Betty!

    Mary, if you could only see under the snow!
    I know you are eagerly awaiting the warmth needed to melt that white stuff.

    Gabriel, I agree. If someone is able to have chickens they’re a great
    source of inputs!

    Made me smile Gail!

    Gunvor – glad you’re benefiting from TMG there in the tropics.

    Toni, you do indeed have a most unusual situation. There has to be some variable that you don’t know about. Usually, food grown without chemicals tastes a lot better than food grown with chemicals. You’ll have to put your detective hat on and see if you can find what is making the difference. If you discover it, please let me know. I’m very curious to know what’s causing that.

  • Great comment Gail, I agree. I’ve heard a lot about Eliot Coleman, and I respect anyone who can have fresh veg year-round in Maine, burr!

  • Theresa

    I too, living in Michigan still have snow, but I have ordered all of my seeds already and am about ready to start them indoors to transplant later when it really does warm up outside. I remember the game we played as kids, HIDE THE THIMBLE, “you’re getting warmer” is what we said as they got closer to where it was hidden. Well, were getting warmer.

  • I have been a lifelong gardener in Vermont but have recently transplanted to Virginia. I have just ordered your book and am very excited as I have much to learn about Virginia gardening. I too garden organically and have been reading your posts for months now. Can’t wait to get started ! Thanks Theresa.

  • Jacinth Fish – Welcome to Virginia and congrats on ordering the book! I’m snow bound at the moment, but will get it out to you as soon as I can.
    Know that the principles in the book are good world wide for gardening, not just Virginia. Only slight adjustments in methods (how you apply the principles) have to be made for the areas that maybe “undigable” and extremes like that. But again – nature’s principles (the keys to success) can be applied everywhere!
    Glad to have you reading TMG. If you have questions as you read the book, feel free to email me and ask.
    Again, welcome to Virginia and welcome to TMG!

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