Conventional Gardening or Organic

Do you want a conventional garden or an organic garden? The vast majority of urban homesteaders want to grow gardens with organic or beyond organic methods.  As an example, many people may not understand the amount of spraying that is allowed in organic agriculture.  Upon learning about what is allowed they may decide even though methods are organic they want to grow without sprays altogether.  However, some crops can be nearly impossible to grow in some climates without the use of conventional pest control methods and that will present a choice.  Either continue using organic methods and grow bug-infested crops or utilize what is necessary to get a crop.

Most Choose Organic Methods

Another aspect of conventional gardening that may be used by some urban homesteaders is conventional fertilizers.  While avoiding products as miracle grow or other fertilizers might be ideal they can be very cheap and cost-effective.  Using a traditional 10-10-10 fertilizer to get your garden up and running today instead of waiting until you have resources or the time to create more on-site organic fertilizers is a better alternative than not growing anything at all.  

It is smart to strive for a more self-sufficient urban homestead.  By following the permaculture principles of people care, earth care, and fair shares.  Nevertheless, do what you can now with what you have.  Growing an abundance of fruit and vegetables outside of the supermarket is still going to be way better for yourself and the earth than all the inputs it takes to get the same crops from the store.

What is Conventional Gardening

Conventional gardening practices use chemical fertilizers to assist plant growth and use synthetic pesticides and insecticides to kill bugs.  The application of synthetic herbicides is used to kill or control weeds while avoiding damage to the desired crop.  Most urban homesteaders will not be growing mono-crop gardens that tend to utilize the most extreme applications of a conventional agriculture approach.  

Many conventional farmers are using GMO crops that are specifically bred to withstand the spraying of specific chemicals on the crops to kill bugs and weeds without damaging the crop.  These sprays cause significant damage to the local pollinator insects and vital soil microbiology.  Consequently, most urban homesteaders will avoid these aggressive practices in their land.  However, some people may decide to utilize a specific spray or fertilizer due to the economics and the desire to grow a crop that is hard to grow in their region.

An example of a fruit tree that some people may choose to spray is a peach tree susceptible to peach leaf curl.  Without the conventional spray, it may be very difficult to grow a peach in your wet climate due to this fungus, however precise and selective spray may mean getting to enjoy homegrown tree-ripened fruit.  

While I will always recommend organic practices for urban homesteaders, I understand that conventional fertilizer is cheap compared to organic options and maybe the best financial decision for some gardeners.  We should all try and work towards being as organic as possible and educate others on practices to make their own cheap fertilizers and pest solutions without chastising the gardener that takes a conventional approach when their context demands it.

What is Organic

Organic gardening has very specific meanings and definitions when selling crops as certified organic.  However, for the average urban homesteader growing an organic garden may simply mean not using any chemicals for fertilizing the crops and for pest and weed control.  If you are interested in selling what you grow as certified organic please refer to the USDA certified organic program.

In essence, an organic garden can be defined as a production system that regenerates the health of soils, ecosystems, and the people and animals that enjoy the surplus.  Organic gardening relies on using natural processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions to grow an abundance.  This is contrary to conventional agriculture that utilizes synthetic inputs such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other herbicides.  

One strategy many urban homesteaders use to create organic garden beds is by building hugelkultur raised bed layers adding tons of material to the soil that feeds the microbiology of the soil over time.


Some common examples of organic solutions versus conventional.  An organic gardener may choose to use a fish emulsion that is sprayed on the plants or used to water the ground to inject nutrients to the soil to grow the plants.  On the other hand, a conventional gardener may use miracle grow or apply a 10-10-10 all-purpose fertilizer that is not marked as an OMRI-approved product.  Conventional Fertilizers

Conventional fertilizers are made in a synthetic process.  These fertilizers are generally very concentrated and in a form that is readily accessible for the plant.  As an example, a plant that is showing signs of nitrogen deficiency is given a dose of conventional fertilizer and will respond very quickly.  These products may be made from petroleum, rocks, or even organic sources.  However, even though they may be from natural sources the nutrients in chemical fertilizers are heavily refined and stripped of all the other substances that they were previously made from.  

The biggest advantage that they provide is they are low-cost and can rapidly grow your plants.  There are several real downsides to their use in terms of runoff into local waterways being polluted and their ability to harm or even eliminate altogether the soil’s natural microbiology.

Organic Fertilizers

The organic farmer is dedicated to growing their soil’s microbiology and the fertilizers that are organic are designed to feed the soil and then in return feed the plants.  This is a longer cycle process, but one that builds up year over year and allows the organic grower to reap several compounding benefits that the conventional grower does not get.

Conventional vs. Organic Pest Management

Many conventional growers spray chemicals on a scheduled plan to prevent pest insects and eliminate weeds.  On the other hand, organic gardeners generally will be closely watching their crops and use a very targeted approach to eliminate pests with organically approved solutions.  Organic weed removal is often done with mechanical or manual labor that physically removes the weeds versus spraying and killing them with a chemical.  

As an example, an organic grower may use a sprayer with neem oil to repel cabbage moths from brassica plants or sprinkle BT on the plants. A conventional gardener may use a spray every year to soak the plants in anticipation of the arrival of the cabbage moth and not wait for them to ever even surface before deciding to utilize a chemical approach to stopping them.

The organic method for controlling weeds is a lot of hand tools.  If you have a garden shed with the best tools for weeds then you are ready for whatever may pop up in your vegetable gardens.  A few favorite hand-weeding tools include a hori hori gardening knife, the classic rake, and the stirrup hoe.

Organic Garden Design – Permaculture

Designing an organic garden can take on many forms.  One of the driving methods in modern organic growing at the homestead level is permaculture.  A permaculture-designed garden is an attempt at replicating the natural process with thoughtful design and appropriate cultivation and management to produce an abundance for people and be good for the earth.  

A permaculture homestead will be designed with a series of operating zones close to the home zones being designed for kitchen gardens and backyard poultry while further out zones may be reserved for perennial gardens, fruit trees, and even wild nature.  The principles of permaculture as outlined by Bill Mollison in the designer manual fit well with the ethos of most urban homesteaders looking to reduce their impact on the environment, produce their own food, and live thoughtful and intentional lives. 

Plant Selection

The urban homesteader has thousands of plants to choose from and while many crops may not be suitable for a larger farm operation they can be a joy to grow at home.  Most of the crops in the supermarket are designed for shelf life and good looks, not for flavor and nutritional benefits.  Therefore, an important element of planting your own garden food forest is to choose varieties that are unique and deliver deliciousness even if they may be harder to grow than a commercial crop.  

While organic gardening can utilize hybrid seeds, most urban homesteaders choose heirloom varieties that allow for seed saving.  Genetically modified plants known as GMOs are not organic.