Organic is good for the garden, but so is Roundup

Duane Campbell
Duane Campbell

In the past two weeks I have received seven e-mails, so far, from individuals, mail lists and organizations warning me of the Monsanto Protection Act and urging me to take action.

I wrote back, where I could, asking just what the Monsanto Protection Act did that was so bad, something not clear in any of the e-mails. I received two replies, neither of which explained what this legislation does, both of which said some quite colorful, things about me for even considering the question. It was Monsanto, after all; what more did I need to know!

As it happens, I have recently re-read, for the first time in decades, Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” which has given me considerable insight into things going on these days.

Regarding Monsanto, it is an application of Rule 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. It is far easier, especially when dealing with minimally informed people like those who couldn’t tell me why they wanted me to protest what they called the Monsanto Protection Act, to turn Monsanto into a monster than to have a grown up conversation about the merits and problems with genetic engineering. Nor do I intend to here, so you can breathe again.


Recently a very knowledgeable, very well respected garden writer, and an all around nice guy, wrote to other garden writers touting a new study on Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide which “proved” that it was dangerous and harmful and called on us to get on the bandwagon, even calling on the Garden Writers Association to mount a campaign against it.

Here is what he left out. The “study” was not peer-reviewed and ran in journal where authors paid a fee to be published, sort of a vanity press for academics. Nor did he mention the many, many legitimate studies that showed no significant threat to people or the environment, nor did he mention the decades of safe Roundup use by home owners and commercial growers and farmers. But it was Monsanto.

I consider myself an organic gardener, but not an organic zealot. I put great effort into constantly improving my soil, I make yards of compost, I practice IPM, and I use Roundup. In fact, I know several organic gardeners more orthodox than me who also use Roundup (hiding it in a sprayer labeled vinegar, which incidentally is considerably more toxic) because Roundup is less harmful to the environment than the canonical organic method of solar soil sterilization which kills all of the good and necessary soil microorganisms in the process.

I also use Preen to prevent weeds from coming back. Preen comes in two formulations, one organic prominently labeled for vegetables, the other chemical, also labeled for vegetables but in much smaller print. The organic product is basically corn gluten and costs roughly the same as the chemical product. But it lasts only one month, while the other lasts three months, so in effect the organic form costs three times more. My organic preference comes up against a brick wall there.

I feed my garden with a combination of compost and half strength commercial fertilizer. I don’t use manure. I mean, really … do you know what that stuff is? And you’re growing your food in it? Give me a nice clean bag of 5-10-5. On numerous occasions I have given pure organic gardening friends – yes, I have some – divisions from my garden, and in their gardens they are consistently smaller and less productive. Chemical withcompost is the magic formula.

For insects, I follow the maxim to use the least aggressive approach that gets the job done. Sometimes that is as simple as hosing aphids off. Sometimes it means accepting a small amount of damage, a few holes in the leaves, and not fussing about it. But in a week or two the Japanese beetles are going to wake up and make a bee line, or a beetle line, for my roses. So organic-smorganic, the chemicals are coming out of the garage.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at 12 Burgess Drive, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at