Organic Gardening is a good way to ensure that the food you eat is free of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and that the flowers, shrubs, and trees you grow will thrive without extra expense and danger.
Before the 1940s gardening was always organic – gardeners mixed animal manure into the soil to increase fertility, picked off bugs, and weeded by hand.
The modern use of chemicals can pollute water, air, and even our bodies when we ingest products that are grown chemically.
Feeding the Soil
Organic gardening is about soil first.
Soil has a number of constituents: various minerals from weathered rock combined with organic matter, water, and air.
Organic matter improves the workability and structure of all soils. It helps break apart tightly packed clay particles and allows water and air to move through the soil. It also improves sandy soil, allowing it to better retain water and nutrients.
Organic matter is the most dynamic component of soil. It may be living or dead, plant or animal. Healthy soil also contains a universe of microorganisms. These microorganisms work to decompose the plant and animal matter. When organic matter stabilises and stops decomposing, the result is humus – a naturally rich, dark, crumbly material that increases soil fertility and helps retain water.
Composting is a good way to develop organic matter for your soil. You can create your own compost beds to make your own, buy it in bulk or in bags.
Other organic nutrient sources include blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, seaweed and manure. Also cover crops, such as annual ryegrass or oats, can be grown and tilled into soil two to three weeks before planting vegetables or other garden plants.
Use organic mulch – such as wood chips, bark chips, straw and chopped leaves – after planting to conserve moisture. As the mulch decomposes, it adds organic material to the soil.
You may also want to test your soil to find out whether it is alkaline or acidic and to correct any other imbalances or deficiencies with the addition of mineral fertilisers such as phosphate, gypsum and lime.
Organic Gardening: Pest Control
Some insects and other animals are good and some aren’t. Some insects and animals act as patrol guards, protecting your garden from raiding pests. Other insects and animals are the actual pests and can strip your plants and still not be satisfied. Plants diseases can also be considered pests.
The scientific term for managing insect and disease pests is integrated pest management, or IPM. IPM starts with the easiest methods and funnels down to using chemicals as a temporary, rarely used, very last resort.
The easiest approach of all is to prevent problems. Give plants the right soil, sun, and moisture. As you work in the garden, check for any problems, and use a variety of trusted resources to identify the cause and solution.
If you think a plant has a pest problem, decide if the damage is enough to warrant action. If so, start with the least toxic method of control first.
You can physically remove affected leaves. Handpick bugs, tossing them into a bowl of soapy water. Remove small insects such as aphids and spider mites with a sharp blast of water from a hose.
Floating row covers – lightweight woven materials – placed over plants can be effective barriers.
Use commercial sticky traps to attract and capture leafhoppers, flea beetles, and whiteflies, but they may not be effective enough to control a large infestation.
Biological controls involve beneficial or predator insects such as ladybugs, nematodes, and praying mantises.
Organic Gardening: Earthworms
Earthworms are a gardener’s best friends. Their tunneling keeps soil loose, and their production of nitrogen-rich excrement adds fertility. Earthworms flourish in an organic garden and especially love a 2-inch-deep layer of compost atop the soil.
If your soil does not already have earthworms, take steps to improve the tilth – proper soil structure – with the addition of organic materials, then buy earthworms to release into your soil.
Organic Gardening: Weeds
The easiest way to prevent weeds is to add 2 inches of organic mulch atop the soil. It conserves moisture, adds organic material to the soil as it breaks down, and serves as a natural weed barrier. Newsprint can also be an effective weed barrier, but it usually needs heavier mulch on top to keep it from blowing away.
Plant your plants as close together as you can without crowding them. When plants grow thick enough, the leaves will shade out weeds, which also need sunlight to flourish.
Do a little bit of hand weeding every day. Many gardeners find weeding to be relaxing and oddly therapeutic. Regular weeding keeps weeds small and prevents large ones from developing and shedding seeds, creating hundreds of new weed problems.