Organic Gardening and Its Benefits
Organic gardening is the practice of growing fruits, vegetables or flowers using only natural fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and soils. No chemicals or man made products are used in organic gardening. In every other aspect, such as planning, preparing, planting and maintenance, organic gardening is the same as regular gardening.
Organic gardening is much more than simply replacing man-made materials with those obtained from natural sources. Organic gardening is a credo of gardening that supports the health of the ecosystem as a whole. As such, organic gardening offers significant environmental and health benefits.
From an environmental point of view, organic gardening reduces chemical runoff, reduces waste by recycling organic matter, protects and enriches the soil. As for health benefits, organic gardening provides chemical-free, natural food and reduces the risk of getting serious diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, birth defects, miscarriages, infertility and many others as a result of digesting food grown by using chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Organic Fertilizers and Compost
The terms of “organic fertilizers” and “compost” may sound intimidating to novice gardeners. In fact, there is nothing simpler because compost is just a combination of leaves, plants, twigs and other organic matter that have decomposed into a rich fertilizer. Any organic matter such as grass clippings, leaves, weeds and even kitchen scraps can be composted and used as a fertilizer in your garden.
One of the most effective ways to nurture your plants is to use compost tea. Compost tea is a blend of liquid, nutrient rich organic supplement for flowers, vegetables and houseplants that is made by steeping aged compost in water.
Compost is by nature bulky and generally has the consistency of soil. Soil consistency is a qualitative measure of the degree of firmness or resistance of the soil to deformation. Therefore, adding straight compost to the garden as a fertilizer is not practical. Instead you can get all the benefits of compost by making a compost tea to periodically fertilize your garden.
Compost tea is very easy to make. Simply wrap a quantity of compost in a porous material like cheesecloth and soak it overnight in a bucket of water. Remove the compost the next day and pour the resulting liquid, the compost tea, around the base of your plants. Before applying the compost tea, water the area you intend to fertilize to allow the soil to absorb the tea more easily. Apply the tea thinly and evenly over the entire garden.
Benefits of compost tea
As an all natural fertilizer, compost tea offers several benefits for you plants and garden:
- Supports plant growth with stronger root system by improving nutrient retention in the soil.
- Augments the amount of nutrients available to the plants by increasing nutrient availability in the root system.
- Suppress foliar diseases by boosting the immune system of the plants.
- Reduces the adverse impacts of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on beneficial microorganisms in the garden.
- Reduces water loss by improving the water-holding capacity of the soil.
- Reduces tillage by improving the soil structure.
How To Create Your Own Compost
Compost can be purchased at your local garden center in bags and often in bulk. Your city’s parks department can also provide compost in bulk. You can maintain your compost heap in a corner of your garden. It is also a good idea to buy a composter which is a plastic or metal container that makes composting easier and faster. Composters can be found at your local garden center and in a variety of online garden supply shops.
To begin your own compost pile, you will need to begin collecting grass cuttings, young weeds, leaves and clippings from your plants. Anything that grows can be added to the compost heap. You can also add kitchen scraps to your compost heap such as fruit and vegetable peelings.
Things to avoid when making compost
- When adding kitchen scraps to your compost heap, it is best to avoid adding any kind of meat as meat will attract mice, rats and even snakes.
- Add only weeds that have not bloomed or produced seeds. While the heat produced by the compost heap is generally enough to kill any seeds, it is just best not to take any chances with a substance that you will be incorporating back into your garden.
Make a compact pile of all your clippings and garden debris adding a shovel full of garden dirt to each layer. Add enough water to the finished pile to wet the pile slightly. Each week, add your grass clippings and other garden cuttings to the top of the pile with a little bit more garden soil. Your clippings and leaves will begin to decompose and will generate heat in the middle of the heap that breaks the material down even further.
Once every week or two, you will need to turn your compost heap to let in oxygen and rotate material from the cooler outer layers to the inner hotter layer. This is where a composter comes in very handy. Large composters are available that sit on stands and are easily rotated to keep the compost pile well mixed.
Organic Insecticides and Pest Control
There are a variety of organic insecticides on the market. In addition, soaking common chewing tobacco in water overnight will make an excellent insecticide. However, it should be noted that all insecticides, including organic ones, will kill all insects that come in contact with them, even the beneficial insects.
Preserving Beneficial Insects
All gardeners should be concerned with preserving and protecting beneficial insects. We all know that bees, wasps and butterflies are necessary for the pollination of our plants. In addition, Ladybug beetles, ground beetles, praying mantis, lacewing larvae and parasitoid wasps are valuable allies in the battle against destructive insects. All these beneficial insects actually prey on the harmful insects in the garden.
In order to attract a wide variety of beneficial insects, plant early blooming plants and shrubs as well as mid season and late season blooming plants that will offer shelter and food to these little creatures. This will encourage the beneficial insects to make your garden their home. You can also purchase some beneficial insects such as Ladybug beetles and parasitoid wasps at your local garden center.
Insect Repelling Plants
In addition to the beneficial insects that will help keep your organic garden free of destructive insects, certain plants will also discourage destructive pests.
- Annual Marigolds planted around the border of your vegetable gardens will discourage thrips, squash bugs, Mexican beetles, white flies and tomato hornworm. Marigold roots also produce a chemical that kills nematodes in the soil. Nematodes are microscopic white worms that live in the soil and can attach themselves to the roots of your plants.
- Chives planted in among your roses will discourage aphids and help roses resist fungi such as Blackspot.
- Basil as an insect-repelling herb will discourage mosquitoes.
- Peppermint will repel ants, aphids, flea beetles and white cabbage moths. However, mint is an invasive plant that can, if allowed, spread and take over your garden. So plant mint in containers and place the containers around your garden to prevent the mint from spreading.
Diatomaceous earth, also known as D.E. or diatomite, is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that consists of fossilized algae and is easily crumbled into a fine white powder. Diatomaceous earth when sprinkled in a thin line around the perimeter of your garden will keep slugs away from foliage.
Diatomaceous earth contains fossilized microscopic shells. These tiny shells have sharp edges that actually wear away the shells of some insects and cut the skin of slugs that come in contact with it killing them through dehydration. It is safe for pets and children and for most beneficial insects when used correctly. And it does not add any harmful substance to your soil. Diatomaceous earth can be the best friend of gardeners who grow heavily foliaged plants such as Hydrangeas and Hostas.