Create a friendly city garden in which every possible creature, plant and person lives in harmony and you have an organic garden. The general idea has been promoted for at least twenty years, but is still often regarded as time consuming with unsatisfactory results.

Know the Basics

Plants need oxygen, water and food (humus) and are able to produce organic material from inorganic substances. We depend on organic material for food, directly by eating vegetables and grains and indirectly by consuming meat.

During the nineteenth century scientists developed chemical fertilisers and soon it was manufactured commercially. These chemicals would help yield better crops and a dream to achieve a world without hunger would be fulfilled (or so they thought).

By 1940 the green revolution followed. Traditional practices of mixing and rotating crops were abandoned. Due to massive input of chemical fertiliser, crop yield increased dramatically and so did plant diseases and weed problems.

Toxic sprays were developed, but pests and diseases soon showed resistance and more toxic sprays had to be used.

The long term effect was soils that turned acidic and a soil structure that collapsed. Soil erosion became a big problem (and still is).

Why would this Be Important to a Week-End Gardener Growing a Few Plants in a Small Space?

There are billions of suburban gardeners that use chemical fertilisers and toxic sprays, often incorrectly, resulting in a collapsed garden soil structure. The unhealthy soil is unable to utilize water and nutrients correctly and the chemical overflow is washed into our rivers and dams.

Healthy Plants Need Healthy Soil as Starting Point

All plants are grown in top soil. This is where the nutrients are produced and stored for plant growth.

Healthy top soil consists of:

  • A top layer of mulch.
  • Middle layer of decay.


This would be the blanket created by leaves, twigs and dead flowers spread over the ground around the plant. In summer a layer of mulch will have a cooling effect on the plant root system and during winter prevent the cold from penetrating into the ground. It will allow rainwater to filter into the root system slowly and a multitude of insects will call mulch “home”. Insect activities will break down the dead leaves and organic litter and start the recycling process.

Middle Layer of Decay

This soil is populated by microscopic organisms that chemically break up the litter particles and complete the recycling process.


Organic litter has become food. Bacteria and fungi multiply and the gather the free nitrogen. In humus nutrients will not decompose further. This is a reservoir that can be used by the plant when needed. It will not leach away like chemical products.

How Can Suburban Gardeners Improve the Soil Structure in their Gardens?

  • Avoid digging and turning your soil.
  • Encourage soil organisms by not removing organic matter.
  • Supply a blanket (mulch) to your soil at all times.
  • Keep your soil planted, open soil will erode and deteriorate.

Part 2

Next month: Creating balance when treating pests and understanding weeds.


“One of the heathiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a package of garden seed”- Dan Bennett