Thursday, May 7, 2015

Organic Gardening Tips

Today I’ll be offering some tips for organic gardening. There seems to be a misconception that organic gardening is harder than *regular* gardening, but honestly I don’t see it. Applying potentially harmful chemicals, then making sure you are scrubbed clean after application, and supervising children so they don’t snack on veggies that haven’t been washed, is much more a hassle in my book. Not to mention you’re doing happy little bees, birds, and butterflies (your garden’s b/f/fs!) a huge favor by going organic.
Let’s start with the proper fertilizers. I know there’s a lot of pH stuff that’s important for this vegetable vs that vegetable, but I never get that complicated since it’s only for my family and not a mass production. My favorite, and most readily available to me, is horse poop. Yup, my four hay burners actually earn their keep by making huge quantities of fertilizer. I don’t use it straight, I find where it’s been mixed with pasture dirt and has had time to become rich black top soil.
   Lots of stables and farms will offer you all the horse/goat/chicken/rabbit/etc. poop you can shovel for free. Check your area resources or Craigslist. A word of caution, if the poop hasn’t had a chance to mulch into the soil for a year don’t use too much. Also, chicken poop is strong stuff—a little goes a loooong way. You can also shortcut and buy premade organic fertilizer by the bag if shoveling poop ain’t your thang. And no, your dog and cat can’t contribute, plants don’t like their poop.
When it comes to weeds, well roll up your sleeves and get ready for fresh air and sunshine. I personally find pulling weeds meditative, and also it’s a great way to get kids away from the internet for a few hours. Keep the dirt loosened around your plants and it helps keep weeds at bay and also makes them easier to pull. Not to mention getting water and oxygen into the soil. You can always lay down straw, old newspaper, or mulch between rows for weed control.
And those pesky bugs that want to make a meal of your plants? What I’ve found is absolute gold is garlic powder. Apply directly to plant leaves to deter pests like persistent leaf hoppers, or mix a few tablespoons in a spray bottle with water to make a spray. I also plant marigolds around my plants, not only do they attract good critters, they also help repel the bad. Plus if you plant radishes with your plants, the radish tops will attract the bugs.
With larger pests like tomato worms you’ll have to inspect your plants if you find leaves that have been nipped off and pull the large green caterpillars off. Which is another thing young children seem to enjoy doing if you make it a game.
    Which flows into my next tip—invite the good critters to your garden! Song birds LOVE those tomato worms, caterpillars and grasshoppers which you don’t want. I love watching Cardinals dart in and out of my tomato plants looking for snacks. Consider growing a couple of sunflowers if birds don’t naturally hang around your garden spot to attract them. Also, plant lots of different types of flowers (word of caution: if you have young children or pets, make sure they aren’t poisonous like hemlock) which hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies like. They happily pollinate your garden. And one last must have is earthworms. They work tirelessly beneath the ground to keep the soil conditioned.
    Lastly try to buy heirloom varieties of plants. These are plant species that’ve been around for a long, long time. They tend to be hardy and more pest/disease resistant than newer types. I’ve also found they readily “volunteer” which means they sprout from seeds dropped on the ground year after year (which is why I end up with a ridiculous amount of tomato plants every year.)
    So there you have it, I hope this inspires you to try to grow a few plants, and to try the cool new rage of organic gardening. It’s not hype, and it’s not a lot of hard work! I love pulling a plump ripe tomato off the vine and digging in right on the spot—not really something you can do if it’s coated with pesticide. J

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