The ''how to'' of organic gardening

It seems the weather has been an improvement for everyone's gardening efforts this year, rain interspersed with warm sunny days. Of course, most everyone's gardens are planted and sprouting, so if you've already fertilized your garden with synthetic fertilizer it's a little late to have a completely organic crop. But, if you don't chemicalize your lawn, instead of more synthetic fertilizer this season, why not mulch with your grass clippings. The clippings make great natural fertilizer, dramatically reduce weeding time and reduce the need for watering later when the heat of summer really sets in. Or, you can apply other organic mulches, like straw, compost or shredded leaves. A layer three to seven inches deep right over the top of that young weed crop will be sufficient.

For healthy disease-free plants, you need healthy soil, reason #2 for mulching. Instead of grinding up vegetable waste in the disposer try adding it to your garden. Add small amounts of pot ash and lime. Rotate plant sites, and if you have enough space, allow areas of the garden to lie foul a year or so. At the end of the season you can feed the soil by planting various ground covers that spare the soils nitrogen. Check with your local garden expert; they can tell you what covers would be best for your area.

To control weeds later in the season, first identify the weeds you need to control. If you learn to recognize the annuals from the perennials, you'll know whether you can till them in (annuals) or must pull them out (perennials.)

Remember, weeds have their own importance in the plant kingdom. They hold the soil in place - preventing erosion, break up compacted soil with their vigorous root systems and help to conserve nutrients that leach away when the soil is left bare. Many of the plants we call weeds have culinary or medicinal uses such as dandelion, lambs quarter and wild mint found in salads or made as tinctures on the herbalists' shelf.

Preventing pests and diseases in the garden is always the biggest challenge and the one where most individuals get a little wild with chemical use. Once a pest or disease has reached epidemic proportions, it will be difficult to control, so get in the habit of checking your crops weekly for pests or diseases. Don't worry if you find a few and don't immediately go running for the pesticides. Start by picking them off, or basting them off with a forceful stream of water. If pests or disease are limited to one plant or stem, prune away the infested part and destroy them along with the invaders.

If you have Yucca growing in your yard or garden, a one inch cube of the root chopped and mixed in a blender with 1 cup of water is a great pesticide. Blend the Yucca root until it is a foamy soapy mix, strain with a mesh strainer. Add one quart more water and strain again. Then pour into your sprayer. It can be used on apple trees and other fruit trees as well.

Try planting some herbs interspersed with your crops. Marigolds, parsley and dill are easy to use and all those little pests find their smell noxious. If your crop is truly infested and you don't have yucca root available try some insecticidal soap. Know your pests before you buy insecticides; different pests need different treatments.

If your pests are of the larger furry size, Mrs Rabbit and her family, and the usual deterrents-- the dog and the fence haven't worked-- try some blood meal. Sprinkle lightly in and around the young plants. Reapply after each rain.

Working your garden organically doesn't mean more work. In fact, if you follow a few simple rules such as the ones above, it should be a lot less work, more fun and great eating!

Happy gardening everyone.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website June 1, 1999

Back to The Zephyr home page at: