As a home gardener, you have a lot to consider when choosing the right resources to fuel your hobby – everything from location, to fertilizers, to pest control, and even seeds. For years commercial farmers have used a variety of heavy salts to grow cash crops such as tobacco, corn, and soybeans to keep up with increasingly high demand. Unfortunately for the environment, these salts can build up over time and runoff into the water tables causing irreversible collateral damage. Fortunately, there is an alternative to gardening with these kinds of chemicals, one that also provides a host of collateral benefits for the earth and for the people consuming the plants. Organic gardening practices are becoming more and more widespread, and allow beneficial bacteria, rather than artificial chemicals, to be the driving force behind growing healthy plants.
A soil science teacher once told me that the answer to 95% of all soil issues is…. get ready…. Organic Matter. That’s it. Now what is organic matter you might ask. Well it’s a general term for “natural compost” or the biodegradation of dead waste products in the environment. These natural waste products are recycled and broken down via composting, so they can be turned into a useable substrate for planting in your garden. This compost is a host for beneficial bacteria that is essential for plant growth and health. For now we will cover just a few reasons why adding organic practices into your gardening regimen can improve results and promote higher-quality produce.
- Health – Consuming produce that is certified USDA Organic, or growing your own organic produce, means that you aren’t consuming artificial pesticides, herbicides, or petroleum-based fertilizers with your food.
- Environment – Organic farming can be considered a technique which avoids the use of synthetic substances and focuses on maintaining fertile soil to cultivate plants. This method greatly decreases pollution and waste by creating an ecological balance that can be renewed each season with the help of animals and cover crops.
- Quality and Flavor – Many people don’t care for these if there is enough sauce, but for someone who likes to eat tomatoes and snow peas fresh off the vine (me) there is a noticeable difference that I feel is worth mentioning. Minerals in the soil medium play a large role when trying to achieve robust flavors in the kitchen. Do not be fooled by grocery store produce that looks immaculate and perfectly preserved – these “beauties” often can prove quite flavorless and may have preservatives to increase shelf life. Specifically items such as onions, potatoes, garlic, and most root crops have been sprayed with a “no sprout” additive which sterilizes the active properties of the product.
- Organic Practices
- Crop Rotation – This is a great way to effectively introduce diversity to your garden. Crop rotation is the act of planting dissimilar crops in the same area over different seasons to help prevent reoccurring pests, soil erosion, and even disease. Many farmers experience infestations and total loss when planting the same crop year after year in the same spot, and are forced to use strong chemicals to correct the problem. Plants will become weak from pathogens that are being harbored in the soil and will become prone to insects and disease. Rotating different crops can break up pest life cycles and increase biodiversity to create a stronger barrier for your plants. Keep in mind that when planning a rotation, consider in what condition the current crop will leave the soil and how the next crop can give back to the soil. For example, if my current crop is a heavy nitrogen consumer like tomatoes, they should be followed by a nitrogen-fixing legume like lentils or beans.
- Companion Planting – This can be done to help maximize valuable space on a small farm where the farmer plants two different crop species in the same area to increase biomass. Not only is he/she able to harvest a crop from this, but they are able to replenish the area with green manure at the same time. For example, corn is a tall heavy nitrogen-feeding crop that needs full sun and plenty of water for a worthwhile product. Clover can be under seeded to help retain moisture from evaporating, clinging onto soil to prevent erosion, and even fixing nitrogen! That’s a true friend for corn.
- Composting – Normally I recommend to beginning gardeners to skip the composter and head straight for the organic bagged compost in our stores for immediate results and low prices. Personally, I find composting to be a very useful tool and should always be considered. Composting is the act of recycling plant-based materials to be broken down over time for use in the garden. These materials contain left over nutrients and fiber that can be reused and become available to plants in the soil. It is especially important to exclude any dairy, bread, or meat products from your composter due to inviting flies and souring smell. Dried and crushed eggshells are not plant based, but provide calcium and small amounts of protein to the mix. A good rule of thumb to maintain a productive compost heap or bin is 2 parts brown/carbon (dried leaves, coco coir, newspaper strips, etc) to 1 part green/nitrogen (food scraps, green grass clippings, etc).
- Products to stay away from
- Using general-purpose fertilizers that contain equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in high quantities: ie 10-10-10 can be problematic when being applied year after year. These macro-nutrients can build up over time and leech into the water tables if the nutrient is not being used up quickly enough. Be sure to get your soil tested with your local agricultural university before applying fertilizers in large amounts.
- Toxic pesticides that wipe out all insect life, and herbicides with glyphosate that can end up in our ground water. Fortunately there are great alternatives to these broad-band killers that can take care of pest or disease or weed problems while also doing minimal harm to everything else in our environment. There are many choices when using pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, etc. so be sure to look out for the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) label on all of our bottles.
- Products to look out for
- Chicken Manure – HARMONY takes out all of the hard work of maintaining chickens and provides an organic, ready to use, pelletized 50lb bag with an affordable price! With pelletized manure application of the product becomes incredibly easy with a broadcast spreader and acts as a buffer to slow down the release of nitrogen to prevent burning. This is perfect for spreading on lawns and can also be used as a side dressing for many vegetable rows. HARMONY gives an added bonus by including 9.0% calcium to help correct deficiencies for your plant! So get out there and spread the love!
- AZOMITE – This soil addition is resourced from an ancient mineral deposit in Utah that gives back trace minerals to depleted soils. These minerals improve root systems and increase general plant vigor for a healthy garden.
- Worm Castings – a slow-release way to get nitrogen into your soil and attract your own colony of worms that will continue to enrich your soil for years to come.