How to Garden Organically
Organic Gardening Basics
Organic gardening is the only way to go for good clean food. It is an approach to growing that centres on making earth healthy choices. The most important concept is that if we take care of the soil, the soil will takes care of the plants and we reap the rewards.
Organic gardening goes beyond avoidance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, although these factors are also very important.
What do all those organic sounding terms mean/
First, some definitions. A number of different terms are used which bear explanation.
Organic-From the simplest viewpoint, organic simply means something living or once living. Today, however, with concern over our food sources and our planet, organic tends to refer to those things grown/produced organically.
Certified Organic- An item, in Canada, can only be termed "Organic" if the producer has undergone a process of being certified. This involves a separate organization investigating the producer's practices and confirming that they meet an organic standard.
Canadian Organic Standard- This was based on the usual standards put in place by certifiers. There is now a law which states that in order to use the 'Organic' label one must be certified. The standard covers sustainable practices, production techniques, and permitted/non-permitted substances.
Ecosystem-We all live in the local ecosystem. Get to know it-number of days of rain, typical soil types, total rainfall, average temperatures, days of sun, etc.
Micro-Climate-Your yard is your micro-climate. This is the specific mini-ecosystem you have to deal with. You have your own soil type, sun and wind exposure and ground moisture.
Integrated Pest Management-Dealing with pests should be a year long approach, starting with the health of the soil and the plants. A healthy environment can go a long way towards avoiding pest problems. Chemicals are a last resort.
Biodiversity-The variety of life forms in our environment. In organic agriculture this is the concept that a farm does not grow just one mono-culture. As well, the manure from the chickens is composted and feeds the crops.
Organic Gardening Books
Some great books on how to garden organically.
Organic production can be defined as an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony. Foods are grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, modern genetic engineering techniques (including genetically modified crops), chemical fertilizers, or sewage sludge.
Organic farming methods to enhance or maintain soil fertility, such as crop rotation, tillage and cultivation practices, cover crops, and natural products (such as natural fertilizers, pesticides, and so on). The use of synthetic materials is not allowed in organic farming unless the materials are on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
November–December 2006 issue of the Journal of Food Science
So - use of sludge. That gives one a pause doesn't it. Who wants something that is grown in sludge? Well no one obviously but when we buy greens from the store that is what we sometimes get.
Using sludge - or chemical additives comes from a concept of feeding the plants what they need.
Organic gardening has a different perspective - Feed the Soil, Not the Plants—Healthy soil will sustain plants better, retain water better and generally be a more positive growing environment than soil that does not have good properties. Conversely, good properties are the ability to retain water, presence of natural fertilizers and micro nutrients and the presence of micro and non-micro organisms. You actually want the good big and little bugs.
So how do you feed the soil. Simple compost, compost and more compost. It really is hard to overdo it. The more you add the more natural and easy to get at nutrients you put into the soil. You also add the ability to retain water in the soil, where the plants need it.
You can add compost at any time, even if you are not digging a bed over entirely. Just take a little compost, dig a little hole beside the plant and put the compost in it. The nutrients will leach down to the roots of the plant and feed it.
Compost in a bin or a pile. Add leaves, green cuttings, egg shells, coffee grounds. But no meat or oil.
The Life of Your Soil
Healthy organic soil is populated by millions of organisms including different types of bacteria, fungi, yeast and earthworms. In just one teaspoon of healthy soil live over one billion bacteria and over 1.2 million other micro-organisms. All this life aerates the soil and breaks down organic matter, improving the structure and overall fertility of your soil.
- Richard Stehouwer, Department of Crop and Soil Science, Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, The Life in Your Soil: An Introduction to Soil Microbiology.
This is an indespensible book if you want to grow organically and use your own compost. This is really the way to go - and grow!
Getting Life Into Your Soil
And Preventing Problems
The obejctive is to create healthy soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy plants fight off pests and desease better. Just like people. Remember - feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants.
Methods for healthy soil and plants
- Compost, Compost, Compost
- Side dress with organic fertilizer - don't broadcast
- Pests? Use dish soap, cayenne, or cinnamon
- Cover crop
- Use other additives only as needed
Pests are best prevented rather than waiting an fighting a problem If you tend to get aphids or other chewing pests in your garden, spray every so oftern with one teaspoon of organic dish soap and one teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a litre of water. For extra protection against some viruses, add a teaspoon of cinnamon.
Diotomaeous earth (made from crunched up crustaceans) kills slugs and other crawling things. Its safe enough that it is given to horses and dogs to kill internal worms. Be careful not to breath it.
So what is a cover crop? A cover crop, or green manure as it is sometimes called, is plants you can grow that put life into the soil or work to break up the soil so it is easier for plants to grow - or both.
Buckwheat, red clover and vetch are all good cover crops to put nutrients into the soil. They also all break up the soil to in incredible depth which makes it easier for other plants to put out roots. Buckwheat will also strangle out other unwanted plants such as quack grass. Just make sure to mow them or turn them under before they make seed.
To green manure in a permenent perennial bed is more difficult unless you are very dilligent with pulling them out when they start to flower, I wouldn't do it.
Crop Rotation for Your Organic Vegetable Garden
One of the most important organic methods for maintaining soil health. Can be done even in small gardens. The simplest rule to follow is leaf, fruit, root, legume.
Leaf - herbs, lettuces, spinach, kale, etc-use nitrogen
Fruit - tomato, pepper, eggplant - heavy feeders of phosphorous
Root - radish, carrot, turnip - heavy feeders of potassium
Legume - peas, beans - put nutrients into soil
Those that don't follow the rule well-potatoes (best to put in with legumes), corn (best with leaf) and garlic (plant in October to December in the fruit bed-so its root the next year).
You don't have to be perfect with this but do the best you can. Even a parital implementation will help.
How do you feel about organics? Do you have questions?