Austin Organic Gardeners: 75 Years Growing Good!

In response to the garden chemical craze after WW II, Josephine and Charles Huntley founded the Austin Organic Gardeners in 1945 with a passionate mission: grow soil health for healthy food. On AOG’s 75th anniversary, climate challenges and stressed water resources contribute to their educational mission, especially this year when the pandemic has led to ever-growing numbers of new gardeners.
Austin Organic Gardeners logo Central Texas Gardener
Once again behind the Zoom cam, I join AOG President Mary Kraemer who explains what organic gardening means and why it matters even more today.
Linda Lehmusvirta Central Texas Gardener and Mary Kraemer Austin Organic Gardeners
It goes beyond avoiding synthetic fertilizers and zapping every pest. It’s recognizing nature’s teamwork and supporting the organisms above and below ground that comprise the complex soil food web.
beneficial soil mushrooms microbial fungi
food and flower gardens Boggy Creek Farm Central Texas Gardener
“Organic gardening is something I like to think of as a forest. You see the cumulation of the thick layer on the forest floor. And the trees have that great resource of all the leftover bark and rotting trees, manure, leaves, dead animals,” Mary says.

She refers us to the Rodale Institute for their extensive resources about how organic practices lead to responsible ecological stewardship that also helps plants better withstand our dramatic temperature swings.
Rodale Institute organic practices
Soil tests reveal nutrient deficiencies that we can amend with organic fertilizers. But that’s a temporary solution. Compost supports soil microbes for on-going plant health and assists with water retention.
soil, compost, mulch
Mary champions the recent PBS series The Molecule that Made Us, the human story of our relationship to water, and how important it is that we become more cognizant about our water security. In her garden, she employs gray water, rain gardens, and rainwater catchment.
The Molecule that Made Us
What’s your water footprint? Take this quiz to find out.
Water footprint calculator
Now, about those “pests.” First, even if a pesticide is called organic, whether derived from plants (like Neem oil) or microbes (like Bacillus thuringiensis for caterpillar control), it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Indiscriminate use can kill your beneficials, too, including bees and butterfly caterpillars, like this Swallowtail butterfly larva stripping leaves on bolting parsley. Bolting is when plants flower and go to seed. Those flowers attract countless pollinators.
Swallowtail caterpillar on parsley Central Texas Gardener
“It’s really important to be observant of what comes into your garden and know how you can get your needs met with your plants and the creatures that come to get their needs met as well. I really love the film, The Biggest Little Farm. They talk a lot about the balance you can achieve with nature in that farm,” Mary says. This one’s at the top of my watchlist!
The Biggest Little Farm movie
So, let’s think in terms of teamwork, where every creature contributes in its own beneficial way. That’s what author Sharon Lovejoy (beloved CTG guest) passionately encourages in a recent AOG Zoom meeting, advocating that we end the “us versus them” concept in the garden.
Sharon Lovejoy at Austin Organic Gardeners zoom meeting
That’s been my philosophy for many years. I delegate to my busy little team that keeps things in balance while I’m at work. Ladybugs cleaned up these aphids so fast one spring that I was lucky to even get a picture.
Ladybug beneficial insect natural control on aphids
A few weeks ago, I spotted this wheel bug, a beneficial assassin bug. I don’t know if the insect just below it was the object of its dinner desire, but obviously it’s finding something to eat.
Wheel bug beneficial insect predator Central Texas Gardener
Attract and keep a diverse team by allowing natural habitats from the ground up and by choosing plants that supply food in all seasons. My yaupon holly tree’s spring flowers feed pollinators. In fall and winter, mockingbirds grab the fruits and cedar waxwings clean out the rest when they migrate north in February.
Yaupon holly fruits red berries Central Texas Gardener
This mockingbird was heading to lunch when I got in line first with the camera, but it was back soon.
Mockingbird waiting for yaupon holly berries Central Texas Gardener
Working with nature, rather than against it, has made a huge difference in my yard. Never do I get infestations like I did in the early years, when June bugs made patio life impossible and I collected snails by the bucketful. One of my first CTG lessons was when we visited Carolyn Panak’s garden, then president of Austin Organic Gardeners. When she spotted a tomato hornworm, she told me, “This is how I deal with pests like this. Squish.” With her bare hands! It took me a few squeamish tries, but eventually I did it myself.

The Austin Organic Gardeners have always been a part of CTG, though many segments were recorded before archival permanence. Organic farmer Tim Miller has been a long-term mentor, along with Forrest Arnold (here with Tom Spencer), and Venkappa and Ratna Gani.
Tim Miller, Forrest Arnold, Tom Spencer, Venkappa and Ratna Gani Central Texas Gardener
In 1945, AOG members met in each other’s homes until the Austin Area Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden was built in 1965. During the pandemic, they’ve resumed monthly meetings at home via Zoom talks, reaching a larger audience than ever before.
Austin Organic Gardeners Zoom meetings
Watch their fantastic hands-on videos created for the 75th anniversary, produced, shot, and edited by Angel Schatz, Vice President of Austin Organic Gardeners. Also thanks to Ben Bertram for his video contribution!
Austin Organic Gardeners Fall Garden Series Central Texas Gardener
You can also volunteer at AOG’s Zilker Botanical Teaching Gardens to safely learn in person. Check out their website to sign up, view resources, watch videos, and become a member (less than $11/year!).
Austin Organic Gardeners website
Mary invites you to follow the Austin Organic Gardeners on Instagram and Facebook, where they also host a very active Facebook group. “I think when we really develop our inner world which the pandemic has forced us to do, we realize the most important thing is feeding ourselves well, and having a relationship with our food in the environment.”

Watch now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time, Linda