Rodale, founder of organic gardening movement

Jerome Irving Rodale, zealous founder of the organic gardening movement, once made this prediction:  “I’m going to live to be 100 unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver.”   But when he was only 72, Rodale died while being interviewed for a television talk show. How the mighty have fallen.
Rodale’s untimely demise notwithstanding, his philosophy gains more adherents daily. Organic gardening favors compost over factory-made fertilizers and disparages the use of pesticides. Whether people who eat organically raised produce live longer than others is still an open question. But one thing is certain: soil that has been organically amended and mulched for many years yields more vegetables, fruits and flowers per square foot than soil that is just turned over, planted and chemically adulterated. Plants grown in organically developed soil also will be virtually immune to fungus and bacterial diseases.
“Maria Rodale’s Organic Gardening” (Rodale Press, 1998) was written by the granddaughter of organic gardening’s founding father. This volume is largely impressionistic and, unfortunately, Rodale’s impressions are somewhat ordinary. However, one feature of this book makes it worth a careful perusal. Interspersed among the author’s own prosaic observations are quotations and interviews that offer unique insights – from a select group of gardening professionals and eco-thinkers – into various gardening practices and philosophies.
Cyane Gresham, who is in charge of composting at the Rodale Institute in Emmaus, Pa., reveals the truth about what it takes to create a hot compost pile, the kind that almost burns your hand with its heat because of the intense microbial activity going on within it. Finished compost from such a pile is the best kind of compost for your garden. Says Gresham:   “The key in composting is to have a big enough pile. If your pile is less than 3 feet high, it’s not going to heat up. … Most (commercially available compost) bins don’t get any bigger than 27 cubic feet, but I feel that is the minimum size for hot composting.”
Reds Bailey, a tree planting and pruning expert, tells Rodale that “soil amendments for tree planting are on the way out. Amending the soil in the planting hole is not recommended. It creates a different soil texture, which causes water to fill up the hole and rot the roots. … Tamping is another notion that is often carried to extremes. People tamp the daylights out of the soil to keep air pockets away from the roots. You want the tree to have oxygen; you just don’t want so many air pockets that the tree isn’t secure. You want to tamp the soil to the degree that you’ve gotten rid of pockets that may allow the tree to list from one side to another. But that’s about it.”
Bob Hofstetter, who has been gardening at the Rodale organic farm for almost 30 years, offers these most helpful hints:
“Start small: Restrain yourself. Don’t plant more (vegetables) than you need or can use. … The home gardener doesn’t really need to worry about phosphates and potassium. Compost should take care of it. … If you are saving seeds, you might also be saving diseases. Only save the seeds from healthy, vigorous plants.”
Eileen Weinsteiger grows vegetables and ornamentals to perfection and uses fresh grass clippings as both fertilizer and mulch. “You know,” she says, “some people don’t have a lot of time to mess with making compost. So, this is really a quick fix. … It’s expensive to go out and buy bark mulch. Plus, I don’t think the bark mulch breaks down as well and builds the soil as well as the grass. There is a lot of nitrogen and moisture in the grass. And I find that if you have an area where the soil is really bad, grass is a good way to build it up.”
Each expert Rodale interviews is asked, “If you could have only one gardening tool, what would it be?” Several single out the spade – which looks like a shovel but with a flat blade – as all-important, to be used for cultivating, planting and weeding. Other favorite tools include: a Japanese weeding knife, useful especially for weeding but also for planting small flowers and pruning stray branches; a hoe, for making furrows, planting and weeding; a bypass pruning shears, as opposed to anvil pruning shears, the latter of which are liable to crush stems instead of cutting them cleanly.
Bill Mollison, from Tasmania, is the founder of permaculture (permanent agriculture). Mollison, who insists that “organic isn’t enough,” demands complete re-evaluation and more efficient utilization of building materials, water and energy, in addition to rigorously organic farming techniques.
Finally, there is this: “Rather than ask what you need to do, he asks what you don’t need to do.” Thus Rodale summarizes the philosophy of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka has disposed of his shovels and cultivators and does not disturb the soil in any way. Instead, he coats seeds with clay and sprinkles them on the soil surface.

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