Sunday, May 2, 2010

Since it's Sunday

I'm going to post an article I wrote recently that provides a solid overview of organic gardening practices and principles.

Organic gardening can be broken into these areas: Soil, Plants and Nurturing.

The basic idea of organic gardening is that chemicals that are harmful to the environment and potentially prejudicial to humans and animals are not used. So when you are preparing your soil, you basically just want to keep from using any chemical fertilizers.

Manure, that lovely waste product of equines and bovines, is the best fertilizer out there. What's more, you want to try to get manure from animals that have been fed on alfalfa, rather than on grain such as corn. This just yields better, more balanced manure.

You can get bagged steer manure from your local gardening center usually. When you've gotten some manure, the method of application is simple. Simply spread it over the top of your garden area. If you are doing container gardening, go ahead and put it on the top of the soil in the containers. You are looking for a layer of a couple inches of the manure.

With the manure spread out, you are ready to mix it in. So if your gardening area is small enough, do this by hand. Try to get about six inches down into the soil. What you do is dig down and then turn over each spadeful, breaking up the dirt clumps as you go. This will mix in the manure and loosen up the soil.

If your garden area is big, say larger than 75 square feet, you might want to use a roto-tiller. These are heavy-duty machines, but they save you time and do a good job.
Now you are ready to move to plants.

One of the hallmarks of organic gardening is the art and science of companion planting. This type of planting does three things: maintains soil/nutrient balance, encourages plants to support each other, and repels common garden pests.

First off, you can do as the American Indians did and plant corn, squash and beans together. Beans provide nitrogen and potassium to the soil, which corn needs since it is basically a grass. The tall, strong corn stalks provide poles for the beans to climb. The squash fills in spaces and shades the ground.

Another companion set is the tomato/pepper, onion and marigold set. If you plant your tomatoes and peppers with onions in amongst them and a border of marigolds, most common garden pests will keep away. Spiders will still show up, but these lovelies are wonderful because they eat bugs too!

The only other organic issue regarding your plants and their arrangement is the choice between organic seeds and non-organic. The truth is that organic is in the nurturing, not the seeds. So you can get any kind of plant you want and still raise an organic garden.

This is not to say that some organic seed and plant choices aren't worth it. If you can get heirloom seeds, your plants will actually provide seeds for each year's garden. This will not happen if you get regular old hybrid seeds and plants.

Your goal is to avoid all toxic pesticides and fertilizers. We say toxic because you can actually get mycelium (mushroom)-based pesticides that are in no way harmful to soil and animal (and human!) life.

As for fertilizer during the growing season, don't use Miracle-gro. Get another bag of manure or make a compost pile. Then, when the season is in full swing, spread the compost mulch or the manure around the base of your plants. Then just water as usual. The nutrients from these organic fertilizers will get the job done.

And that's pretty much it for this session of Organic Gardening. One final note about organic gardening is that it pays to be creative. Try new arrangements and experiment with lightweight row cloth to keep wicked pests away from your plants. For example, lightweight, water and sun permeable row cloth will keep quail from your lettuce and peas. So build a little framework and put some row cloth down. This is better than getting some nasty chemical that wards off quail.

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