We have all heard news reports about pesticides being in our food and pesticides ruining our environment.
For this reason many Americans have made a conscious decision to buy only organically grown food. Some gardeners have vowed to grow fruits and vegetables organically at home. For this reason I hope to dispel some of the myths about organic gardening and help all gardeners learn to grow food in a more sustainable manner using less inputs.
Organic gardening is not a method of pest control. Organic gardening is not gardening without the use of pesticides, but rather using pesticides only as a last resort.
Organic gardening is the combining of methods for producing healthy plants and the organisms that share space in an overall balance. Organic gardening is more labor intensive, requires more learning of the relationships between soil, plants, insects and disease organisms.
Organic gardening also requires more planning and attention to detail. Just like there are varying degrees of vegetarianism, there are some organic gardeners who use fertilizer while some rely on manures or plant / animal derived nutrients.
The foundation of a successful organically-grown garden is the soil. Healthy soil contains rock particles (the minerals that make up the soil), organic matter (leaves, straw, compost, decomposing plant material), water, air, micro-organisms (they help with breaking down organic material) , and insects.
The most important step in starting to garden organically is to improve the soil first. Clay soils in Georgia are typically around 1% organic matter or less while the rich soils in the midwest have greater than 3% organic matter. Organic matter can improve the color, texture and tilth of your soil, plus some can add nutrients as well.
Speaking of nutrients we cannot forget soil fertility. Most organic gardeners use natural fertilizers and mineral amendments to improve soil fertility. Most natural fertilizers are slow release and have little potential for burning sensitive seedlings. Synthetic fertilizers contain nutrients that are immediately available to the plant, but do nothing to improve soil fertility and leach through the soil easily, not remaining in the soil very long.
Cover-cropping is a method to prevent soil erosion and weed growth during the winter, but also helps move nutrients from lower soil layers to upper soil layers, prevents nutrient loss, and the tilled-under plant material becomes a rich nitrogen source in the soil (green manure).
Clovers, winter peas and vetch make great cover crops. Before planting your garden, have a soil test done so you will know your soil pH and what amendments are necessary to provide your plants with the nutrients they will need to grow and produce well. Utilize Plant Diversity – different families of plants utilize different nutrients and attract different pests. Crop Rotation - Two successive crops will not use the same amounts and types of nutrients, and also will not be attractive to the same pest organisms.
This technique is often used to improve soil fertility or to reduce disease and pest problems. Use Good Management Practices : use resistant varieties- some plants have been bred for resistance to certain disease or insect pests; follow correct planting dates-some pest problems can be avoided by planting susceptible crops earlier or later in the season; space row / plants properly — plants to close will increase moisture and thereby increase disease potential; don’t work around wet plants — you can spread leaf diseases.
Organic gardening is good for us and good for the environment but definitely require more work and planning. Next time we will cover organic vegetable garden pest control strategies.
Britt West is the extension agent for Barrow County. You can reach him at email@example.com.
I'm using your article for the summer gardening class I'm teaching at my N. Calif. junior college. Some people can be almost neurotically "organic" up here, and many have given up trying to grow their own food, even think adding phosphate to soil is an environmental crime. Since few can afford to eat 100% from the health food store, they simply eat LESS fruits and vegetables. This is not what a dietitian like myself likes to hear. I use a little copper sulfate or esenvalorate on blueberry plants in an emergency rather than lose the mature plant altogether. The big picture is to eat a more plant-based diet, lose weight, stop smoking and fret less about 2 parts per billion pesticide on a radish.