Myths and misconceptions:
There are many misconceptions around “organic” gardening practices. Going organic does not mean that you do not use pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides; it means that you use products that contain substances naturally occurring in nature. It does not mean that these products are not toxic or dangerous either. They are less harsh and are friendlier for the environment. With any “chemical” care should be taken around children and animals. Many of these products can be identified by the “OMRI” label, or a 100% organic label. Sometimes the best “insecticide” is a strong jolt of water, the best fertilizer is nice handful of well aged “chicken poop”, and kelp has been shown to have “fungicidal” properties. All of these occur in nature.
It takes a few seasons to convert from conventional gardening to organic methods. As your garden begins to return to its natural cycle-you will use fewer products. One needs to learn to accept a minimal amount of damage and unsightliness and to plant a little extra for the “critters”.
Why go organic?
Plain and simple: it is the right thing to do. If everyone makes a few simple changes in their life, everyone benefits in the long run. Studies show that plants grown with organic fertilizers and soil conditioners, grow stronger, bigger, and produce more flowers and fruit. It is time to “get back with nature” and go organic.
How do we start to get “organic”?
Organic gardening begins with the soil-healthy soil grows healthy plants-healthy plants need less fertilizers, insecticides etc. Adding compost to your soil is the first step to bringing your garden back to life. Plants need oxygen to breathe-adding organic matter (compost, manure, rotting leaf litter) adds air space to your soil. This holds true for containers, raised beds, and your yard. Work it in gently. When the compost breaks down, nutrients are added to the soil, roots absorb the nutrients and the plants grow. Actively growing plants need food-using organic fertilizers will feed your plants slowly and steadily, the way Mother Nature does. (Think of the forest-no one is “feeding” it, yet it continues to grow)
Choose the “right” plants for your area!
Veggies need sunlight to grow, not getting enough will lead to weak/stressed plants. Weak/stressed plants get sick-sick plants need chemicals to get better or they die! Stressed out plants send out messages to insects that invite attack.
Use your sunlight accordingly, use taller plants to help shade things that need more shade and do not plant things that need sun in the shade (ie tomatoes in sun, artichokes with less sun). Plant things that do well in our zone and plant things that you like to eat.
What to plant and when to plant it?
Many gardeners get Spring Fever once we get a few warm days-Spring arrives in the foothills about a month later than Sacramento. Most seasoned gardeners start planting in April. Visit the nursery often and see what has come in, if you can’t wait-there are a few things that can be planted in your garden in late winter. Fruit trees, berries, and grapes will arrive in January-the best selection will be late winter/early spring. Veggies and herbs should be planted after the last frost date and when the soil is warm enough to “sit your bare bottom on it for 20 minutes”. Planting your “baby” veggies too soon does not give you veggies any earlier-they will not grow until the soil is ready. Remember that Mother Nature knows best and she always wins.
Veggies-there are spring/summer veggies, and fall/winter veggies.
Water plants when they need it-not just because your “timer” tells you to.
90% of plant failure is because of watering inconsistently. Water deeply and infrequently and use mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and help it from drying out. Use your 10 finger moisture meter to “see” if you need to water. Pay attention to your garden and the weather. Your plants should be wilting when it is 105 degrees out, by the evening, they should perk up, if they did not-they probably need water. Wilting is a way for a plant to survive the heat. Water in the morning hours and never after 3pm.
Monitor your garden for “pests”.
Let’s face it-there are more bugs than people on this planet. Most of them are good guys and actually serve a purpose, so stop killing them all and just control the ones that are “bugging you”.
Organic control methods can be as easy as hand picking hornworms, beer baths for snails, wet rolled up newspapers for earwigs, tangle foot for ants, and wire cages for gophers. Adding bird houses to your yard will help keep many insects away and feed the birds. A strong spray of water will wipe out aphids. For harder to control infestations-try using an organic insecticide that is species specific and will not kill the good guys.
Watch for disease and stop it before it starts by using dormant sprays, healthy pruning, crop rotation, and removing “sick” plants immediately. Do not compost “sick” plants. Clean up your beds, containers, and garden after the season.
Going “green” or “organic” takes time and a little more work, but can be very rewarding. Sometimes you may have to bring in the big guns and use a “non organic” product, use it wisely and no one gets hurt. By making a few simple changes in your routine, you can help the environment and feel better while doing it. Let’s face it, home grown fruits and veggies just taste better. I like to think that the old saying “one hour in the garden, put life’s problems in perspective” sums it up in a nut shell why gardening is one of our favorite pastimes.
El Dorado Nursery & Garden, Inc.
530 676 6555