Going Organic in the Herb Garden

| February/March 1999

My first garden was located to the south of an old barn, next to and just a few feet above a wetland area. Although I was a novice gardener, that wonderful patch of earth easily brought forth abundant herbs and vegetables without a spritz of herbicide or a spray of insecticide. I didn’t fully understand at the time that I owed this satisfying experience not so much to my innate gardening skills as to the long-ago chickens, turkeys, goats, cattle, and pigs that had once trod there. The soil was rich with their well-composted manure and bedding materials. The parsley produced by that first garden was the best crop I’ve ever had.

Flush with the success of this happy accident, I set out to learn more about organic methods of growing herbs. My first surprise came as I rambled through the lush woods surrounding the farmhouse: I discovered that wonderful, useful herbs can grow freely without one moment of human encouragement. Mints, yarrow, bee balm, dandelions, nettle, lobelia, and calamus grew wildly and exuberantly on that old farm because nature had provided conditions appropriate for their growth. I understood then that a garden should mimic nature’s optimum conditions to foster growing herbs.

My explorations of nearby wetlands and overgrown pastures were influenced by Euell Gibbons’s books Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Healthful Herbs, published just a few years before. With new eyes, I saw the wild herbs in relationship to humans and ecosystems. “Weeds” could be nutritious and healing herbs, not unwanted plants; I continue to consult these classics when making wine and jams from wild flowers and fruits.

My resolve to avoid synthetic pesticides and herbicides was affirmed when I?read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a frightening treatise revealing that the misuse of these products can cause devastating effects far beyond the garden. Other readings expanded my ­respect for the way some weeds penetrate the soil and accumulate minerals for the use of other plants.

Even the most solitary gardener does not work alone. Each teaspoonful of fertile soil contains up to six billion living creatures--bacteria, fungi, free-living nitrogen-fixers, algae, springtails, mites, worms, millipedes, ants, spiders, and hundreds of other creatures.

Organic Herbs

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