Organic gardening is popular today, and for good reason: It works wonderfully! Organic gardeners shun the use of synthetic chemicals to keep their yards free from potential hazards. But the real success of organic gardens lies in the methods used to keep plants growing vigorously, without a heavy reliance on sprays. Organic gardening cuts right to the heart of the matter: soil.
Soil is the life force of the garden. When enriched with organic matter, the soil becomes moist, fertile, and airy -- ideal for healthy plants. It also nourishes a rich population of beneficial organisms such as earthworms and nutrient-releasing bacteria. And it harbors root-extending fungi that help make growing conditions optimal.
Organic gardeners also stress problem prevention in the garden. Putting plants in the right amount of sun, along with suitable soil, proper spacing, and ideal planting and watering, allows most plants to thrive with minimal upsets.
Techniques For A Natural Garden
Encourage the balance of nature at all times, and imitate the laws of nature to your benefit. When gardening by the moon, all normal rules for gardening apply, especially the health of your soil! Lunar planting has been proven to be more effective in organic, non-chemically treated soil. There is no substitute for creating a wonderfully rich microclimate by continually adding organic matter to your growing beds. This creates a living system that includes microbes to break down the soil, and adds nutrients and nitrogen content. This is the backbone of healthy, disease resistant plants. Think of your garden as a complete ecosystem that includes life and decay in the soil, the needs of the plants, and insect life cycle as well. Work in harmony with nature to duplicate and replenish the essential elements at the base of the food chain.
Protect our bee population!In order to create a more disease and pest free environment, try to cultivate favorable conditions for beneficial insects, butterflies and bees. Encourage a diverse environment where they will live, reproduce and prosper to do the work of bug control for you. Avoid chemical sprays, opting for the least invasive methods of control, such as hand picking pests, or using insecticidal soap, which, although it will kill the good bugs on contact, won't leave harmful residue and lasting effects. Provide crops that offer food and homes. These include many herbs like dill and parsley, yarrow, nasturtium, angelica, evening primrose, baby blue eyes, strawflowers, daisies, cosmos, Queen Anne's lace, even weeds. Let some lettuce, parsley, cilantro or dill go to seed, then scatter the seeds around the garden. This keeps the butterflies happy, providing a continuous supply of food (for both of you!). Bees love borage, oregano and thyme and are necessary for plant pollination.
Switching To Organic Gardening
If you have been chemically dependant for a long time, you need to make the changes in stages, because you have created a situation where the plants are artificially protected by those chemicals. They only get nutrients from what you feed it, and none from the natural breaking down of matter. If you take that away without compensating for it you could have problems. Too much nitrogen from chemical fertilizers can weaken plants. Even though they may look lush for a while, if they are putting too much energy into leaf growth, the resistance to disease suffers. The first step is to increase the health of the soil, so it becomes alive again. You need to add as much organic matter as you can. If you don't have snow on the ground it is not too late to do this. Pile on the shredded leaves, mulch, and manure and just let them break down over winter. Soon you will attract the worms, helpful fungi and other tiny creature that feed on the soil and break it down for you.
Healthy soil has trace minerals, which can be added through powders like kelp meal or bone meal, and gives a slow steady supply of nutrients. When the soil is improved, then you can back off the chemicals. If the soil is not compacted, the worms will even do the work of turning it in for you. I encourage you to create permanent beds that are never walked on. This concentrates the good amendments in one area. Keeping it uncompacted will pay off in the ease of turning, and the health of the root systems of plants. You don't even need to have solid sides to the bed. Just mound the soil to a width that you can reach across, and treat it as sacred ground. You need to replenish the nutrients that the plants have used every season. At least an inch of compost a year is a good rule of thumb.
You can get the upper hand on weeds by hoeing or pulling them young, and then adding mulch to smother them. For bugs, start early, before populations multiply, with the least invasive method first. Pick off and squish beetles, cabbage loopers; rinse off aphids with a strong blast of water. If you really need something for a situation that has gotten out of hand, try an insecticidal soap, or if you are desperate, Neem. Floating row covers are a great thing too. They are light weight blankets that create a protective barrier so the buggers can't get to your plants . Seal the edges well with dirt so they can't get in.
Compost is crucial, it is not difficult to start a compost pile, especially if you are not in a hurry. The basic formula is to layer equal parts brown matter (straw, dried leaves) and green matter (grass clippings, plant matter, kitchen scraps, manure). Keep wet, but not too wet. The more you turn it, the faster it will work, but it will work eventually. Rot happens!
Remember to do succession plantings, especially of quick crops like lettuce, bush beans, radishes, spinach, carrots, and beets. That means planting again, as your first crop is reaching maturity. This will keep you in continual harvest during your season.
Stay attuned to the seasons. You can start seeds inside under lights or in a greenhouse, and have them ready to go in the ground when the time and temperature are right. Don't be afraid to plant beyond the usual times if it looks mild, or to use row covers and cold frames to extend the season. Or you may hope for a late warm spell in fall and see if you can get in another crop. Use the microclimates created by overhead cover, ground slope or bodies of water to plant marginal crops that need a warmer spot. Working with the forces of nature tips the balance in your favor.
Use your own judgment when planting by the moon
Life is full, however, and sometimes you just can't plant at the perfect time. You may have to choose if it is best to plant in the correct moon phase, or a fertile sign of the zodiac, as your time allows. Or if you have to plant in the wrong phase, at least give it any advantage possible by working in the fruitful signs. It may be more important to plant before a storm comes, before the plant has outgrown its container or before it is too late in the season. Feel free to use your best judgment.
How To Make Compost
* Make compost the lazy way by layering leaves, lawn clippings, and kitchen waste. Then simply leave it until it's ready. Nature's recyclers will take organic matter no matter how it is presented and turn it into rich, dark compost. This process just takes longer in an untended pile.To begin your compost heap, dump yard scraps in a far corner of the yard. An ideal blend would be equal amounts of soft or green material (manure and fresh leaves) and brown or hard material (dead leaves and chopped twigs). Or, if you prefer, keep the compost materials neatly contained in a wooden slat or wire mesh bin. If you put an access door on the bottom of the bin, you can scoop out the finished compost at the bottom while the rest is still decaying.
* Add compost starter or good garden soil to a new compost pile to help jump-start the decay of organic materials.Compost starter, available in garden centers or from mail-order garden catalogues, contains decay-causing microorganisms. Some brands also contain nutrients, enzymes, hormones, and other stimulants that help decomposers work as fast as possible. Special formulations can be particularly helpful for hard-to-compost, woody material like wood chips and sawdust or for quick decay of brown leaves.
* Good garden or woodland soil, although not as high-tech or as expensive as compost starter, contains native decomposers well able to tackle a compost pile. Sprinkle it among the yard scraps as you are building the pile.
* Use perforated PVC pipes to aerate compost piles. An ideal compost pile will reach three to four feet high, big enough to get warm from the heat of decay. Why is heat important? High temperatures -- when a pile is warm enough to steam on a cool morning -- semi-sterilize the developing compost, killing disease spores, hibernating pests, and weed seeds.But the problem is that in order for decomposers to work efficiently enough to create heat, they need plenty of air -- and not just at the surface of the pile. Aeration is traditionally provided by fluffing or turning the pile with a pitchfork, which can be hard work. But with a little advance planning and a perforated pipe, this can be avoided.
* Start a compost pile on a bed of branched sticks that will allow air to rise from below. Add a perforated pipe in the center, building layers of old leaves, grass clippings, and other garden leftovers around it. The air will flow through the pipe into the pile.
* Use on-site composting for easy soil improvement. Gather up old leaves, livestock manure, and/or green vegetable scraps and let them lie in or beside the garden until they rot, then work them into the soil. Or just heap them on the garden in the fall and till them into the soil. They will be decayed by spring. You can also dig a hole, dump in the yard waste, cover it with a little soil, and let it rot in privacy.