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Your guide to Chesaeake Country's freshest produce and more!

Can Organics Feed the Nation?

Not until we compost everything, including Uncle Charlie

I’ve been chastised by a Bay Weekly reader for not supporting commercial organic farming. So I’m explaining my position. I have conducted research in composting and in compost utilization for more than 30 years, so I am very familiar with the limitations of organic farming.
    Under the present rules and regulations for producing organically grown crops and animals, it would be impossible for American agriculture to produce the wide variety of fruits and vegetables now available; the volume of grains used and exported; and meat affordable to most of the population.

In the Garden this Week

Make an early attack on creeping Charlie and wood strawberries

If you notice a pungent smell every time you mow your lawn, most likely you have Creeping Charlie or ground ivy invading. The leaves of Creeping Charlie are about a silver dollar in diameter with scalloped edges. Olive green, they grow on a vine that can be several feet in length. If you crush the leaf or vine, you will immediately notice a pungent odor. Once this vine becomes established, it becomes increasingly difficult to control. If your neighbor has it, you will be spending the rest of your years controlling it along the property line.
    The wood strawberry is equally invasive and as difficult to control. Its leaves are dark green, and the plant resembles a cultivated strawberry plant in miniature. In the spring it has yellow flowers that produces a bright red berry the size of a pea.
    Both of these weeds are best controlled during the months of September and October, but partial control can be obtained in June and July.
    Weed-B-Gon, Tri-Mec and Speedzone are equally effective when applied on actively growing weeds — not on plants that are drought stressed. Make sure yoiur lawn is well irrigated before applying weed killers. The same growing conditions must exist if these herbicides are applied in September or October.

    Organic farming requires that crops and animals be grown without pesticides or fertilizers. To be officially recognized as an organic farm, the land must not have been treated with agricultural chemicals or chemical fertilizer for a minimum of three years. The farm must be inspected yearly and found free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
    Organic growers are also prohibited from using sewage sludge or composted sewage sludge or composted garbage. Also prohibited is chicken manure from broiler or laying farms and manure from pork or beef animals fed hay or grains grown on chemically fertilized or pesticide-treated land. Yet all of these sources provide nutrients essential for plant growth. Even if they were allowed, the cost of processing and shipping to where they are needed would make them prohibitive except in areas of high populations.
    To produce a crop, between 80 and 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year is required. Ten pounds of nitrogen is released for each percent organic matter present in the soil. Obtaining these levels organically would require farmers to maintain organic matter levels of eight to 12 percent in their soils. It would be impossible to achieve these goals on a nationwide basis.
    Feeding only America by organic farming would require total recycling of all organic substances, including sludges, garbage and even Uncle Charlie.
    As it stands, when Uncle Charlie dies, we put him is a steel casket, which is placed in a cement vault buried several feet underground where he decomposes and does no good. I have long been a strong advocate of composting Uncle Charlie so that his remains could be returned to the garden where he grew his vegetables and fruits. We spread Uncle Charlie’s ashes; why not his compost? “Thou is organic and upon composting you shall return to the earth.”
    I support good agriculture, which requires periodic soil testing, minimum use of pesticides, fertilizing and liming based on soil test results, planting cover crops and green manure crops to protect and maintain soils and never allowing land to remain fallow. It should be made unlawful to allow soil, even in the home vegetable garden to remain bare at any time.
    Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.