According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary- organic “means of, relating to, or derived from living organisms”.
In terms of organic gardening, that explanation has expanded from 1) growing only with fertilizers derived from animal or plant materials or naturally occurring elements to include 2) avoiding the use of environmentally destructive chemical (traditional) pesticides and fertilizers and 3) using good cultural practices by choosing the right plants, composting to build healthy soil, attracting beneficial insects and other organisms, crop rotation, and mulching to prevent runoff and conserve water. Organic Gardeners choose plants that will work in the neighborhood, not picky, temperamental plants that need constant fertilizing. They aim for biological diversity with plants that will attract a wide variety of beneficial organisms.
Organic gardeners mimic Mother Nature by adding decomposing materials (organic fertilizers) to the soil that slowly permeate and help build the soil (encourage beneficial soil organisms). They are patient, observant people that check their plants frequently for any signs of pests.
In terms of pests, most of us practice Integrated Pest Management. After first choosing the best plant for the site, watering correctly, building the soil and using biological, mechanical and physical controls for pests, it is sometimes necessary to use a pesticide as a last resort. However there are now numerous less toxic materials like insecticidal soaps, narrow-range or horticultural oils, microbials and botanicals like Serenade, Spinosad, Copper Soap and Bt available.
Interestingly, products labeled organic can also include naturally occurring elements like green sand, sulfur, volcanic pumice, agricultural lime and gypsum. Sulfur, for example, is mined from natural mineral deposits. It is not only a basic element but also an essential plant nutrient. It has been used in agriculture for well over a hundred years as an insecticide, fungicide and miticide.
Finally, “Organic” definitions and standards are evolving all over our country as we deal with environmental issues-don’t let semantics keep you from enjoying your garden.