So you want to go organic!
Organic gardening does’nt just mean no chemicals, fungicides, insecticides, or herbicides. It means creating a natural balance in our gardens. An organic gardener strives to work with Mother Nature to keep harmony within the natural growing cycle.
There are many ways to start organic gardening. Here are five quick and easy steps to get you started.
Organic gardening starts with soil.
It’s important to know your soil. It’s the life of your garden. Plants require light, air, water, and nutrients. Your soil is the life force that feeds a balanced diet of nutrients to plants that help them fight off insect and soil born diseases
Improving your soil is the first step to organic gardening and that means compost! Compost is not hard once you know how. Just look at our forests and grasslands. Mother Nature composts material everyday to keep a natural balance, yet our forests and grasslands are not buried beneath mounds of uncomposted material. The more time and trouble you put into composting, the less natural it becomes.
Great soil means recycling; recycling plants, weeds, flowers, vegetables, kitchen waste, newspapers and anything else that will break down into compost. Compost is the heart of organic gardening. What goes into the soil comes out as beautiful vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees. Building and maintaining soil quality is the basis for successful organic gardening.
Start simple. Every garden has composting material. Start by making a pile of weeds you pulled, add trimmings from plants, grass clippings, kitchen waste, spent flowers, straw, hay, newspaper, cardboard boxes, and yes, even your junk mail. (To bad we can’t put our junk email into our gardens). The smaller the pieces the faster it will decompose. Compost really contains all the nutrients plants need for their life cycle. Notice how Mother Nature doesn’t use fertilizer, just good old fashion compost.
If you are an apartment dweller, you can still make compost. A small bucket (or large) can hold your kitchen waste, newspaper, junk mail, pizza crust, and spent flowers and plants. Remember to add equal amounts of green and brown material to make great compost. You can use Batch Banner, Pit-a-Plenty, Trough or Bin composting methods.
If you do not want to mess with making compost, your local landfill usually has compost for free. Just pick it up and mix into your garden. You can also buy compost at your local nursery or garden shop.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch!
Mulching reduces weeds, saves water and nourishes the soil. Notice how Mother Nature keeps our forests. She drops leaves, branches, and spent flowers on top of the soil and lets them pile up while the bottom decomposes. You can do the same.
Instead of raking up those leaves and throwing them way, run your mower over them to break them up and put them on your plants as mulch. They will not only reduce weeds and save water, they will put back nutrients while they biodegrade. You can also put them in a pile and they will biodegrade while they winter over supplying you with compost in time for spring planting.
Using rock, wood chips, beauty bark, or sand does nothing for the soil. But if you must use them, get them from your local landfill or a tree trimming company. They have tons of it and usually give it away free. Most store bought chips have been processed with chemicals to make them last longer.
Don’t Panic at the First Sign of Bugs!
Pesticides kill almost any bug they touch including the good bugs that prey on the bad bugs. Bug killers do not differentiate between good and bad bugs. They kill them all! Birds, ladybugs, spiders, dragonflies, wasps, praying mantis, and worms eat harmful bugs. Bees and flies are the pollinators of our gardens…so be kind to them and Don’t Panic!
If the bug damage is minor, there is no need to act. Sometimes a weather change or good bugs will take care of the problem. If you must use bug spray, make it a natural one. A little garlic water with a few drops of dish soap will usually take care of the problem. If not, cut the plant back to an inch above the ground and bury it in your compost heap and let it grow back.
Find a natural bug spray you like, or use companion planting. If left alone, Mother Nature usually takes care of her own. The good bugs will come along to eat the bad bugs. If you just cannot stand it, put the buggy plant in a clear plastic bag (after spraying with garlic water), for a couple of days but no longer than a week and not in direct sunlight. Remember though, we need bad bugs for good bugs to survive.
Don’t Waste those Weeds!
It is impossible to rid a garden of weeds! Accept that you will always have some weeds. There, say it out loud…I will always have weeds! Now you can stop trying to get rid of those weeds. Instead of trying to get rid of weeds…use them to amend your soil!
Weeds require the same elements your beautiful garden does; light, air, water, and nutrients. Weeds are just better at pulling these elements from poor soil. If your soil is poor, meaning there is not enough organic matter, you will have a lot of weeds. Weeds find it very hard to grow in good organic soil but that is the way Mother Nature made them.
What we call weeds, Mother Nature calls fast composters. Where it takes a vegetable or flower 60 to 120 days to produce fruit or flower, some weeds can go from seed to flower in two weeks and then start over again. Weeds live and grow to help amend soil faster than leaves or plants because they biodegrade faster.
Weeds can pull nutrients from the poorest of soil but when they die down, they replenish the soil by decomposing and putting the nutrients back where other plants can use the nutrients. So rather than pulling weeds and throwing them away, try tilling them back into the soil to create organic matter that your vegetables need.
Water, Water, Water!
There are chemicals everywhere! The roof of your house has been chemically treated to withstand Mother Nature. The paint on your house is treated with chemicals, your concrete driveway leaches chemicals, your automobile leaks gas and oil, pesticides, weed killers, man made fertilizers, and a host of other chemically treated objects all work to contaminate our water supply. Chemicals disrupt the ecosystem by killing the millions of micro-organism, fungi, and other bacteria Mother Nature uses to biodegrade plant matter. You can help by using these methods to conserve and help purify your water supply.
All plants appreciate a gentle and thorough watering. Letting plants get wilted before watering stresses them and makes them open season for bugs and diseases. Using a slow drip system will supply constant water. A low tech drip system consists of a gallon/liter size juice or milk jug. Poke a few holes in the bottom with a pin, fill it with water and sit it beside your plant, shrub, or tree. Loosen the lid to release the pressure and the water will drip out slowly right where the plant needs it the most; the roots.
Rain barrels are the most efficient of water collectors. Connect them to your downspout to collect water from your roof or connect them together. As the average home yields over 200 gallons of wasted water from the roof, using a rain barrel to collect it will save water when you need it for your organic garden.
Another method is a rain garden or bog garden. Rain gardens are holding areas for water that will not run into our already stressed water sewer systems. It will hold the rain water and let it seep into the ground while purifying it at the same time.
So that’s it…5 quick and easy steps to organic gardening. Mother Nature has provided for us for millions of years by recycling. Recycling plant waste is the basis for organic gardening. It is the heart of Mother Nature and it behooves us to follow her direction for our organic gardens. Good luck and enjoy your organic garden.