Encouragement (for Life as well as the Garden) Garden Organic Gardening

What you read — Is it hype or right?

You really do have to be carefully what you read and even more importantly — what you accept and believe. Especially if you want to make nature your partner and keep gardening simple and enjoyable.

Agricultural science usually = the Chemical industry’s mindset

So much out there stems from commercial interests who are selling a “fix” for what they perceive to be an earth (or body) that just “can’t do it alone”. Sometimes the articles seem so informative. You have to become skilled at thinking about some of the important questions that are always left unanswered and sorting right from hype.

Agricultural science (and other sciences) may have started off to show findings based on facts but is now under the influence of the chemical industry (or other named industries).  And that industry’s sole purpose is to make money by selling their products — whether you really need them or not. So words get turned around to sound like scientific fact —-only to help sell a product that supposedly you’re in need of to help nature — who just is “unable to do it by herself”.

Nature’s a Wonderful Teacher and Guide

What I do know is that for 35 years I’ve let nature guide me in the garden and am now pretty independent of what the conventional garden industry promotes. (And the other big tech industries as well.)

New Buzz Words

Lately I’ve come across some words and phrases about gardening that I’ve not heard in all these years. I love learning and always try to be open to information that is really of value and will benefit my garden.  It’s very rare however — that I immediately accept a new buzz word or idea as fact.   For the new information to be credible (at least with me) — it has to make sense based on my success over the past 35 years in gardening in partnership with nature.

I’ve seen quite a bit recently about how important “balancing the nutrient ratio in your soil” is.

In one article the adviser implied that if a new gardener didn’t have this done he might add too much organic matter to his soil and that would cause a lot of problem. (He had a product for sale.) (I wonder exactly what “too much” organic matter is?  I’ve never had enough.)

Another article explained how complicated soil science is and that by adding too much of one nutrient, you are almost certain to reduce the availability of one or more other nutrients. So far so good.

Then in the next paragraph they contradicted that statement by telling about the product they had that if added to your soil would balance the nutrients perfectly.  I wonder how this bagged product can balance all the different soils of the various buyers?  Magic I guess.  Anyway — it doesn’t make sense to me.

What I Do

In my 35 years of organic gardening successfully, I’ve never balanced my soil’s nutrient ratio. Sounds a bit too complicated and I’ve always let nature handle that for me.

There’s certainly not anything wrong with having a soil test done from an organically minded soil lab and following their advice if you want. (Keep in mind that most are chemically minded and conventional and will give advice based on that mindset.)

I’ve always had every confidence that nature could and would balance my soil for me. And if my success is any indication — she’s done just that.

To know all the whys and wherefores of how she does it is not required.  All I have to do is tend my garden and follow her example the best I’m able.


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


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  • No wonder you can get on with growing food, Theresa. Think of all the time you are saving by not reading / worrying and trying to fix what is not broken. A timely reminder at this time of year when the stores are full of these items for the unwary gardener!! Thanks.

  • Agreed, Theresa. We are in a time where “knowledge” is gained instantaneously, no longer needing to refer to the masters and their life’s work of gardening success. People write or read something on-line, and it becomes truth to them. I choose to read and apply what the masters (including you) have written, based on their experience of “mother nature knows best”. Everyone else will be chasing the next new thing that takes away the need for the knowledge gained through alot of hard work, weighing losses and sometimes learning the hard way! It will take me a lifetime to get there, but I am enjoying the journey…

  • I could probably write another post in reply to your comment Sandra. I read a lot — and although I have years of experience behind me that makes me stop, think and really evaluate what I’m reading before I’d take any action on it —- I am still prone to those same feelings that other gardeners are prone to. (I know I don’t have to further explain to any of you reading — because you know well what I’m talking about.)

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you spoke of not trying to fix what is not broken. Gardeners are very prone to that kind of thing. I got away from it years ago — but I still fill the pull. When I do — your words are exactly what I tell myself — “Theresa! You don’t need to fix that — it’s not broken!”

    No matter how much we know — there is always more to learn. And I want to learn. BUT — I want to learn based on what nature knows and does and accomplishes. Much of it can only be learned through experiencing it OR from hearing it from someone you know has experienced it. That’s the kind of stuff I want to know and tell you and other readers about.

    There’s a young man online — very smart — loves gardening — and makes a living helping others with it. When I come across his stuff — it’s interesting — but I know from being around so long that he is just repeating what he has been taught. He doesn’t have the background or experience to really know. He’s very sincere and believes wholeheartedly what he’s teaching. The danger in learning from someone like that —- you are taking in information as fact — when in reality — it is not fact and not necessary. It’s a very hard call for new gardeners especially. How are they to know?

    This IS turning into a post — so I’ll stop.
    Thanks for being so much a part of TMG Sandra!

  • Good to hear from you Suzanne.
    I think you are absolutely on target about folks accepting much of what’s online as truth — just because it’s written there.
    I think if we — like you — can read with an eye to what Mother Nature does — it’s an excellent criteria.

    Enjoying the journey is one of the most important parts and I just loved hearing that you are indeed doing just that.
    Thanks for making me and TMG part of that journey Suzanne!


  • I am so very glad I found your blog before starting my garden this year. Thank you for what you do! You have given me a new perspective for looking at gardening and I can’t wait to get my hands into the dirt and learn more.

  • So nice to have you reading Samantha. I wish you every success in your garden this season!
    Keep me updated on how you are doing.

  • I haven’t done a soil test nor do I worry about “too much organics.” There is certainly a “party line” when it comes to “education” about gardening or running a small homestead farm. When I took the local Master Gardener course a few years back, one of my pet peeves was the amount of influence that both the methods of production/agrobusiness farming and the interests of the chemical companies have on the program. As I don’t use chemicals of any kind at home, I find it difficult to recommend them to others–and that was the expectation at the plant clinics we volunteered at after getting certified. I had to “censor” myself when I taught classes for the program also. I still teach classes for the home horticulture series, but I have let my MG certification lapse and as a guest teacher I don’t hold back on my opinions and experience anymore. A lot more simple and satisfying that way. People get too wound up about starting a garden, and think they need to have everything perfect. I just encourage them to give it a go.

  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience Kit. I was really glad to hear that you don’t hold back on your opinions and experience anymore. I think as important as gardening is becoming — new gardeners need some reliable advice that is not based on a chemical that someone wants to sell.

    Someone has to stand for something and it seems there are not many who want to.

    My heart felt thanks for what you’re doing.

  • Hi Theresa! It’s been a very busy spring with work and I’m only now catching up on all your recent articles. I’m actually heading out to plant some root crops here in a little bit, but wanted to stop long enough to commend you on so many fine articles lately!

    I’m another avid reader/gardener and I often read articles online that either do not answer the questions I have or they make it so complicated I feel like I’m back in 4th grade again trying to learn how to conjugate verbs! 😀

    At any rate, Theresa, I think your basic rule of keeping it simple is the best advice of all. I’ve had people ask me for many years how I came to “know so much” about gardening and when they ask that I have to remind them I only know what I know through actual trial and error.

    Basically, like you, I suggest they put some seeds in some soil, tend them properly, and then wait to see what happens. That, more than anything else, turned me into the gardener I am today…because, what happened was success, and it fueled within me a desire to achieve that success again and again with other kinds of seeds and plants/cuttings.

    And I have a question for you, Theresa. Do you use or have you ever used worm castings either as a supplement or as the main growing medium? My husband and I just recently bought our first truckload of the stuff and we’re going to be using it as both a supplement for existing beds and as the main growing medium for the new beds we’ll be building as time allows.

    Thanks for your wonderful information. It never fails to get me excited about gardening!


  • Good to hear from you Grace! Thanks for taking the time to let me know that you liked the articles I’ve been writing. (That keeps me writing you know. 🙂 )

    And yes, your advice to gardeners is absolutely the best: put some seeds in the soil, tend them, and wait to see what happens.

    For those reading who don’t know – worm castings are the excrement of earthworms. As worms work through and digest the organic material in the soil they leave behind their excrement — called castings.

    Worm Castings is organic matter that is said to contain all essential nutrients and more microorganisms.

    My earthworms add it to my soil but I have never purchased any additional. I think it would be a great supplement to add even more microbes and nutrients to the soil. Like all organic matter — it will improve soil structure as well.

    In spite of its glowing attributes and the good reports you read on worm castings, I would hesitate to equate it with soil (by using it as the main growing medium in new beds) because in reality — it is not soil. It feeds soil but is still not soil.

    For one thing — as you know organic matter has a short life span. In other words – its primary role is to feed the soil. It also helps structure, improves drainage, and retains water. The it’s gone. But it is the soil itself that remains behind to act as a conduit for nutrients and water to your plants.

    Building good soil is a long-term effort and I would be skeptical of any no-effort fast-results “magic bullets”.

    In spite of that – I think you’d probably have excellent results in the short term — but may run into various difficulties in the long term. You own soil is a precious asset that nothing can take the place of — especially after its been improved with organic matter like the worm castings.

    Let me know how things go and what you decide to do.

    Thanks again for taking time to comment.


  • Thanks for your comments, Theresa. It’s often difficult to explain gardening decisions without writing articles ourselves about our gardens/yards when we’re replying to your articles…;):D…so, I’ll try to be brief.

    My husband and I actually suffer from a lack of soil, as we live almost directly on the edge of a mountain, and what soil is here is minimal – it ranges in depth from less than 6 inches to about 4 feet over much of the area we use as a yard and garden and below that is solid rock. It’s also an area subject to both flooding and erosion, and I’ve been formulating a plan to control both for over a year now, with the worm castings being one of my best tools yet, as it will be the foundation for new soil held in place by strategically-placed beds and walls.

    I have pretty much figured out how to channel the excess water through the beds without losing so much soil to the hillside in front of the house and the creek beyond. And this is pretty much a necessity, as the forest behind our house regularly floods, and I have witnessed as much as six-inches of water topped with white caps roaring across our driveway and front yard on its way to the creek below the house.

    I don’t want to stop this water from flowing through, because that’s what it’s supposed to do, I just want to slow it down so that more of it is absorbed up here where we grow our food and flowers. The worm castings are, as you say, not soil yet, but they are very close to being that already and will make an excellent filler material for the new beds, especially when combined with with other organic materials and topped with a layer of old wood chips.

    It’s a work-in-progress and, since we’re buying 2 cubic yards of the stuff at a time, it will go a long way toward improving both the quantity and the quality of the soil in our yard and garden areas. My hubby and I are excited to be able to use it, because not everyone has access to so much of it for so little, but we buy it directly from a worm farm and I’m completely impressed by it.

    I’ll let you know how things go with it for sure.


  • Grace, I’m so impressed with your genius in figuring out how to deal with the problem!
    Keep up the good work and I will anxiously await the “rest of the story”.

  • I’m at the point now where I am throwing out my ‘old’ gardening books. Too many strictures and do’s and don’ts. Why can’t things be simpler? I used to ask. They can be! Thank you for this blog. It always help to quell any doubts I may have about my ‘simpler’ gardening style. Mother Nature has the best answers, as always.

  • Thanks for commenting Cora. I’m in agreement and think keeping it simple is always the best way to go. It sure allows us to accomplish a lot more!

  • Thanks Theresa…:D! Although, I really don’t know how much of my genius is involved, since it often feels more like a case of desperation, with the occasional bout of despair thrown in for good measure.

    Truth be told, there’s nothing quite like the feeling I have when I stand on my porch during heavy rains and watch what little soil there is up here on this hillside rolling off toward the creek. It’s a mixture of extreme frustration and gardener’s fury, and I sometimes have to take a step back and laugh at myself over just how upset it makes me to lose that soil. I figure many people would laugh at me and say “It’s just dirt.”, but I know every gardener here knows there’s no such thing as “just dirt”…is there? 😉 😀

    Anyway, I wanted to say the real genius here is Mother Nature herself, because I got the idea from studying the patterns of the soil deposits left by the rain water on the ground in the area of the yard where I have the worst problem. I noticed how the soil had collected in fairly large amounts where there were winter-tolerant grasses/plants growing in drifts and clumps, but very little had been deposited in the winter-killed and more barren areas, and it got me to thinking I could do the same thing the plants were doing if I just built a series of small beds with flat stones (stood on their edges, side-by-side like books on a shelf) in between to help slow down the water and filter out a great deal of the particulate matter (i.e. my soil…:).

    If I had more time right now, I’d explain how the beds will be shaped, but I’m running late, so I’d best get busy.

    Have a great day…:).


  • You’re an excellent student of Mother Nature Grace. The more we can watch what she does an mimic it — the better our results will be.
    Proud of you!

  • Thank you, Theresa…:). If I am going to learn from the experts, then I am going to choose a teacher/mentor who’s been doing it for a long time, and Mother Nature’s certainly been at it longer than anyone else I can think of…;):D.

    I wanted to stop back by and report on my use of the worm castings. Though I am still keeping your words of wisdom in mind in your explanation of what the castings are…I really must say I am becoming increasingly impressed by this stuff. It is unlike any other planting substrate I’ve ever encountered/used and I’ve had access to some really good soil at various times, but this is something else entirely.

    Take, for instance, the way it compacts. It will compact with pressure from the hands or feet (when walked upon), but to my amazement, even the areas where I walked it down not once but several times, and this in various layers knocked down as I gathered the castings for transfer to the wheelbarrow and then the raised bed I built yesterday. The casting looked solidly packed and not at all fluffy, but all I had to do was run my fingers through it in a slightly firm manner and my fingers sank in all the way to the 2nd knuckle!

    Theresa, I have never…let me repeat, never…encountered a plant-able soil substrate that could be walked upon repeatedly and not compact to somewhere near the density of concrete in almost all cases. I’m so well trained against walking on worked soil that I will go to great pains/lengths to avoid it, but when I’m filling the wheelbarrow, I can’t avoid stepping on the castings, so I decided yesterday morning to investigate the compacted area before I stepped on it again…and I found the unexpected.

    The fact it had been stepped on repeatedly by myself and my puppy over a several day period…coupled with the fact I’d trampled numerous layers of the stuff knocked down over my several visits to the pile…and yet STILL found it easily worked with my fingers just floored me and almost made me wax quasi-Shakespearean, asking: “What manner of substance is this…?!”

    And, I must admit, I’m only partially joking about the feelings conveyed in that question, because I really was very surprised to find it was so easy to dig after I’d walked on it so many times. Also, in another test to see how it would compact, I took some into my hand and squeezed as hard as I could…the resulting clod was tight and dense, yet shattered into bits with only a small amount of pressure from my fingers.

    Well, it’s late and I think I’ve said enough for now.


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