Can Organic Be Too Organic?

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Yes. At least when it comes to dirt.

I knew something was awry in my garden, when, by my Garden Open House, I was explaining to people that my seedlings were so small because I started them a little later than usual this year. We did have a bitterly cold winter that took its time leaving.  I couldn’t even get to my greenhouse for all the snow!

I was very behind.

But when I sat there talking to a group of would be vegetable gardeners at my home, I knew something was amiss.  And, two weeks later, when I went to visit a friend’s garden, I knew something was terribly wrong.  Half my vegetables were not growing.  Not even getting past baby sprout in the ground growing.

Those little guys have not grown a smidge since beginning of May
Those little guys have not grown a smidge since beginning of May

My friends lettuce was 12 inches high, mine was a mere inch.  My peas and beans looked pale green.  My onions looked like wisps of hair coming out of the ground.

I started asking around. Because I know that my gardens get enough sun and water, something had to be wrong with the dirt my plants were growing in. I just expanded my garden a great deal and we needed a big pile of soil to fill my new beds.  Rumors started flying. Did my soil come mixed with all the street sludge from the winter (that was one guess)?  I called the farm where we got the soil from.  I must of have been a gullible good customer because the farmer himself agreed to come to my house.  Did he know something was wrong too?

These babies should be big by now.
These babies should be big by now.

He agreed, something was not right.  He told me that his soil is organic (FYI, a misleading term.  For a farm to become “certified” organic you have to jump through hoops with government agencies as well as pay loads of money for the privilege).  He also told me that his organic soil had been amended with even more compost and organic matter and that the dirt could be too organic. Too organic?

I never considered that anything, let alone dirt, could be too organic.  The word organic itself is such a buzzword these days.  If a food product says its organic, it must be good for you, right?

I started researching. And it actually is true, you can make your soil too organic.  I always assumed that you could never have enough compost, dead leaves, chicken manure or cow poop in your dirt.  I was wrong.

Is an unbalanced ratio of minerals making these beans look half dead?
Is an unbalanced ratio of minerals making these beans look half dead?

Turns out, there is a certain percentage of your soil that should come from things like manure and dead leaf mold.  But once you cross a certain threshold to make your healthy soil even healthier, this can throw all sorts of minerals way off balance.  And thus, stop the growing process of some plants.

I am waiting to hear back from the farmer with the results of my soil test we are having done.  If you have read any of my past posts on gardening (here and here) you can get a pretty good idea that gardening puts me in my happy place. I have been organic vegetable gardening for almost twenty years and have never had this experience. This whole upset of soil is setting back my garden a whole month at least.  These veggies and I, we had big plans!

A bed that has our original soil – growing great.

I suppose if this did not happen with my dirt I would never know that organic can be too organic. Which is getting me thinking. Can we eat too many organic foods? What happens to the vegetables that are grown with too much organic substances?  More research needs to be done.  I’ll keep you posted on what the lab sends back. And more thoughts on what it means to be organic.  In the meantime, it is off to the farmer’s market!

What about you?  Have you had problems with your garden that you could not solve? Let me know in the comments below!

1 comment to " Can Organic Be Too Organic? "

  • Great article Heather. I am growing two pots of strawberries so that’s the extent of my garden! But I think our bodies do match the soil. Organic has become such a buzzword we’ve lost sight of what we’re trying to achieve and how we want to feel. I’m lucky to live in the SF Bsy area where we are blessed with farm direct produce and meat. I eat organic and non organic. At times the non organic is riper, tastier and cheaper than the organic. Do I feel different? Not that I can detect. Can the word organic have become a placebo for feeling good? I’m not for all the chemicals we use on crops and am concerned about those that have to apply it. I think we’ve gone overboard with organic! Essentially, we are the soil. Eager to hear your results! Francesca

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