10 Ways Growing an Organic Garden Can Help Your Health and Budget

  1. Get the nutrition you need & enjoy tastier food
    Many studies have shown that organically grown food has more minerals and nutrients than food grown with synthetic pesticides. And there’s a good reason why many chefs use organic foods in their recipes -- they taste better.
  2. Save money
    Growing your own food can help cut the cost of your grocery bill.
  3. Protect future generations
    The average child receives four times more exposure than an adult to at least eight widely used cancer-causing pesticides in food.
  4. Prevent soil erosion
    More than 3 billion tons of topsoil are eroded from the United States’ croplands each year. In conventional farming, the soil is used more as a medium for holding plants in a vertical position so they can be chemically fertilized. As a result, American farms are suffering from the worst soil erosion in history.
  5. Protect water quality
    Pesticides -- some cancer causing -- contaminate the groundwater in 38 states, polluting the primary source of drinking water for more than half the country’s population.
  6. Save energy
    Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12 percent of the country’s total energy supply. More energy is now used to produce synthetic fertilizers than to till, cultivate and harvest all the crops in the United States.
  7. Keep chemicals off your plate
    The EPA considers 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides and 30 percent of all insecticides carcinogenic. Pesticides may cause an extra 4 million cancer cases among Americans.
  8. Protect farm workers & help small farmers
    Farmers exposed to herbicides have six times more risk than non-farmers of contracting cancer. And organic farming could be one of the few survival tactics left for family farms.
  9. Promote biodiversity
    Mono-cropping is the practice of planting large plots of land with the same crop year after year. The lack of natural diversity of plant life has left the soil lacking in natural minerals and nutrients, and single crops are also much more susceptible to pests, making farmers more reliant on pesticides.
  10. Help beautify your community
    Besides being used to grow food, community gardens are also a great way to beautify a community, and to bring pride in ownership.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

You probably know already that organic foods are good for you. The major problem most people have with organic food is the expense. However, there are several different ways to reduce the cost of your food.

Growing your own is probably one of the best, and can be very satisfying.

Organic food now represents a $14-billion business in the United States. Unfortunately, the quality and meaning of the organic label is declining as fast as the popularity of organic is growing. Sadly, you are actually being ripped off by much of the organic food you buy.

Many people have realized this, and as food prices have risen, so has the increase in private backyard vegetable gardens. Few things can compare to the pleasure of picking guaranteed fresh, in season ingredients for your dinner right out of your backyard.

The Difference Between Conventional and Organic Growing Practices

Whereas a conventionally-grown garden might include the use of chemical fertilizers and potentially toxic insecticides to protect the crop, an organic gardener will forgo the chemicals and feed the soil with natural fertilizers and insect barriers.

The same goes for weed control. While a traditional gardener may apply synthetic herbicides to control weeds, an organic gardener, just like an organic farmer, will use crop rotation, tillage, hand weeding, and cover crops with mulches to control weeds.

For every toxic solution, there’s usually an equally effective non-toxic alternative.

For example, you can make your own ant control remedy by mixing a little honey or other type of sugar with boric acid to make a paste. Cut a few 2x2-inch cardboard squares and smear the paste on. Put these in the ant trail, where they will gobble it up and take the residues back to the nest. Boric acid works well on cockroaches too.

For a home-made garden spray that will discourage most pests, use some mashed garlic paste combined with a little cayenne pepper or horseradish. Add a small amount to a gallon jug of water and let it sit for a day or two, shaking it occasionally. Just spray a small amount onto a few leaves first to make sure it’s not so strong that it will burn them.

Another product used by many nurseries these days is Neem Oil, which is harmless to humans but when sprayed on garden plants discourages all types of fungi, molds and even ants.

For more details on these types of natural solutions to pests, I recommend the book Dead Snails Leave No Trails by Nancarrow and Taylor, or visit the website BetterBasics.com.

The Benefits of Organic Foods

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. Pesticides are also notoriously hazardous. Commonly used pesticides have been linked to health problems such as:

  • Neurotoxicity
  • Disruption of your endocrine system
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Immune system suppression
  • Male infertility and reduced reproductive function
  • Miscarriages

By eating organic and avoiding eating contaminated fruits and vegetables, you’re not only protecting your long-term health by reducing your body’s overall chemical load, which can have a significant impact on your level of health, but you’re also consuming far more nutrients in the same amount of food.

On average, conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrients of organic produce. Studies have found significantly higher levels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and significantly less nitrates (a toxin) in organic crops.

Higher nutrient content naturally means greater health benefits. A 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry concluded that organic foods are better for fighting cancer. And in 2005, scientists found that, compared to rats that ate conventional diets, organically fed rats experienced a variety of health benefits.

Rats that ate organic or minimally fertilized diets had:

  • Improved immune system status
  • Better sleeping habits
  • Less weight and were slimmer than rats fed other diets
  • Higher vitamin E content in their blood (for organically fed rats)

Special Precautions for Organic Home Gardeners

Although creating a home garden is typically not all that difficult, there are certain issues you should consider before you start. The general quality of your soil is one of course, but you also need to be aware that lead contamination in soil is a very common problem nowadays.

Flakes of lead paint from old homes often create contamination around houses that vegetables can absorb. Remnants of leaded gasoline might also be present in your soil if you live near a busy road.

While the problem is pervasive in urban areas, suburban homes that were built near apple orchards are also at risk, because lead arsenate was once used regularly as a pesticide.

Soil around your home may contain everything from arsenic to motor oil, but lead is one of the most common contaminants, and to children, one of the most dangerous. Even tiny amounts of lead in blood can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

In adults, lead can contribute to high blood pressure, reproductive problems, and memory loss.

Strategies for Reducing Heavy Metal Contamination in Your Garden

If you live in an urban area, it’s probably best to assume that your soil is contaminated with lead to some extent or another. On average, about 10 percent of soil samples taken across the country test positive for unsafe levels of lead.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers garden soil contaminated if it contains more than 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead. Some urban areas test as high as 1,000 ppm on average.

Unfortunately, lead can persist in soil for hundreds of years, so waiting for it to clear up won’t do you much good. Instead, if you’re planting a garden, it’s wise to take precautions to prevent your vegetables from absorbing the heavy metal.

Implementing these strategies can help make your garden as safe as possible.

Use raised garden beds -- Your best bet is to build or buy a raised garden container, and fill it with organic topsoil. That way you know what your vegetables are growing in. Adding mulch on top of other areas of your yard, such as your flowerbeds, will keep any contamination there from spreading to your vegetable garden.

This HGTV.com article shows you how to build a stylish and functional raised garden from scratch.

Test your soil for lead contamination -- There are a couple of options available to test your soil for lead contamination, if you do decide you don't want a raised garden. You can pick up home test kits at reasonable prices, however, as with most home tests, the various solutions and swabs leave a lot of room for non-professional human error.

If you suspect high levels of lead in your soil, you may want to send your soil sample out to a professional lab. IATL offers several different types of testing worldwide, including lead tests. Several laboratories in Minnesota also have the facilities to analyze soils for lead content, including the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory.

The Ecology Center website offers a directory of various California labs that provide lead testing, or you can look in the phone directory under “Laboratories” to obtain information about testing laboratories in your local area.

Be selective with the crops you plant -- Plants absorb soil lead very efficiently, and also retain the lead they have absorbed. Approximately 7 percent of the lead in the soil will be taken up by the plants growing in it. Excessive lead levels will kill the plant entirely.

Additional lead fallout from the air tends to remain in the top inch of the soil, making shallow-rooted plants such as root vegetables, potatoes, and leafy vegetables particularly vulnerable to higher contamination levels.

Good varieties to grow due to their reduced lead uptake include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Peas

Additional Resources

Many people report getting tremendous satisfaction from their home gardens, and knowing exactly how your food was grown can take away many worries about its quality. I have tried extensive gardening in the past, but had to abandon it due to my hectic schedule.

I started a much smaller version of my previous garden earlier this year, as you can see from my video. The smaller garden is far more in line with my time constraints and travel schedule.

For more information to get you started, or help you along the way if you’re already growing a garden, these websites offer helpful tips and guidelines for the organic gardener:

Good luck, and most of all, ENJOY!

+ Sources and References