Monday, March 22, 2010

The Benefits of Organic Mulching

What is organic mulching?  Some people get composting and mulching confused as related to growing vegetables organically.  For clarification, composting is the process of turning organic matter into compost.  Mulching, on the other hand, refers to the application of compost or other organic material.  Let's look at some of the benefits, as well as a few don'ts of organic mulching.

Benefits of mulching include:
  • cuts down on weed growth
  • helps soil maintain nutrients and moisture
  • controls temperature of the soil
  • raises organic matter volume in the soil
Things to avoid when mulching: 
  • fresh sawdust can limit the amount of nitrogen in the soil
  • materials that could contain weed seeds, such as fresh grass
  • any organic material that is suspected of having toxins
  • applying to early in the spring can prevent proper soil heating, wait until the soil is 65 degrees at 4 inches
  • getting mulch to close to the stems of plants, 2-3 inches away is a good rule of thumb.
When you are using compost as mulch, it is not necessary for it to be broken down completely.  At the end of your first season, organic mulching should be performed to improve your quality of soil for the next year.  As with any gardening topic, check with local professionals to see exactly what may be best for your area.  Ask for these recommendations when getting your soil tested.  With proper use of mulch, you will find growing vegetables organically to be a more enjoyable experience. 

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Friday, March 19, 2010

What is Organic Compost?

As we are preparing our soil for growing vegetables organically, it is important that we add organic matter to the soil as it is turned.  Organic compost is the most commonly used form of organic matter.  Some gardeners prefer to buy their own compost, while other prefer to make it.  Compost is made from a variety of things. (see below)  Let's look at a few general tips for making your own compost:

  • Composting requires proper oxygen.  You should turn your pile 2-3 times a month.
  • Moisture is required of effective decomposing.  If there is little rainfall in your area, you should water the pile.  
  • Larger materials, such as tree branches, should be shredded.  Smaller particles breakdown at a quicker rate.  
  • Temperature plays a key role in material breakdown.  The cooler the weather the slower the process will be.  High temperature also plays a role in destruction of weed seeds and disease.  
Common materials for organic compost include:
  • Leaves
  • Animal manures
  • Grass clippings
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Tree limbs
  • Sawdust
  • Coffee grounds
Once compost in ready, it is applied to the area through a process that is called mulching.  Mulching serves several purpose for growing vegetables organically.  We will take a look at mulching in the next article in this series.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Organic Gardening Soil Preparation: Let's Get Dirty!

So, having had our soil tested, it's time to start our garden soil preparation.  The recommendations of your soil testing site will allow you to properly prep the soil for growing vegetables organically.  It may take a couple of seasons for your soil to reach "ideal" results, so don't give up if the first time or two is not the best.  It does get better!  Here are the general steps involved with prepping the soil:
  • Areas with invasive plants should be turned well and all plant matter should be removed.  Additionally, for areas which have hard to control weeds, solarization of soil is an option.
  • A "hardpan" is compacted soil that lies a few inches beneath the surface.  These need to be broken up. 
  • Soil should be turned 10-12 inches.  Organic matter should be added to the soil as it is turned.  
So what is organic matter?  What does it do?   What is compost?   Organic matter plays two major roles in growing vegetables organically.  It helps to release nutrients within the soil and it improves the water and nutrient holding capacity in the soil.  The next insert in this series we will take a look at one of the most popular sources of organic materials, compost.

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    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Choosing an Organic Vegetable Garden Location

    Having gotten a few of the basics of growing vegetables organically out of the way, it's time for some tips on choosing our vegetable garden location. The location of the garden is going to play a big part in the overall success of the garden.  

    •  First, make sure the area is going to get plenty of sunlight. At least 6 hours a day is ideal. If you are planting near the house, the side with southern exposure will work best.
    • Make sure the area is a site that will drain well. If the site does not drain well, there are several options available to improve this. Try to avoid planting on an incline. Erosion can ruin your garden. If it comes a big rain right after planting seeds, you run the risk of seeds washing away.
    •  Having a water supply nearby is very important.
    •  Sites that have excessive weeds, such as kudzu, should be avoided for growing vegetables organically.
    •  Fence of the garden area if you have a lot of wildlife in the area. 
    So, once you have picked out the spot, have the soil tested, especially if you are just beginning with growing vegetables organically.  Many seasoned organic gardeners are familiar with their vegetable garden location and know how to test their own soil.  I suggest using the nearest county extension office.  You can also use a local gardening center.  I prefer the extension office because they offer the best advice for growing in your area.  Very important:  regardless of where you are getting your soil tested, be sure to tell them that it is specifically for organic gardening.  After soil testing, it will be time to prep the soil for planting.  I will be back in a few days to discuss that a little further.  Until then, happy gardening!

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    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    What are Nematodes? | Where Do I Buy Nematodes?

    I remember when I first started growing vegetables organically I kept hearing and seeing the word nematodes.  Funny little word, don't ya think?  I found out that some nematodes are good and some are bad. The good nematodes are a form of organic gardening pesticide.  I was amazed when I found out that you can buy nematodes!  So, what are nematodes?  Nematodes are roundworms and flatworms.

    I guess if I really had to think about it, I studied nematodes in high school biology.  I mean I paid attention and got good grades, but I wasn't particularly worried about worms.  A few scientific facts about nematodes:
    • They are the largest class of animals, with over 28,000 species.
    • 16,000 of these species are parasitic.
    • Nematodes are found everywhere, even Antarctica.
    So how does all of this relate to growing vegetables organically?  Since nematodes are found everywhere, they are in the soil where we plant our vegetables. Nematodes, such as the cutworms, are predators and prey on garden pests.  Remember, organic gardening is about using our natural resources to grow.  So use those little cutworms, they will enjoy it!  On the other hand, the root-knot nematode spreads disease between plants in the roots.

    A few ways to control nematodes are :
    So there you have it, nematodes in a nutshell. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave them.  In addition, I plan to look a little bit deeper at specific types on nematodes in later posts.  Until then, be safe and happy gardening!

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Organic Companion Planting

    I was really surprised when I got into growing vegetables organically and found out the plant world behaves very much like the animal world.  With organic gardening, it is referred to as organic companion planting.  There are many benefits to organic companion planting.  Two examples are:  certain plants protect each other and enhance the taste of other.  But it can also be bad to pair certain plants, and these are the pairing to really watch out for.

    Marigolds are a good example of a plant that will help protect your garden.  The scent of these flowers are so strong that it actually detours certain pests from the area.  You should plant them around the borders, as well as various places within the garden.  Certain other plants produce natural pesticides.

    Other plants help each other.  Corn provides something for climbing beans and peas to climb.  Pumpkin goes well under corn because the shade the corn will provide protects the plants.  In addition, certain plants should not be planted together.  For example, tomatoes and cabbage attract the same pest.  You can find more information specific to organic companion planting here.

    There are many different do and don't s to organic gardening.  If you are a beginner to organic gardening, two books I recommend are My Organic Food Garden and Organic Food Gardening Beginners Manual.  Good luck and have a great gardening year!

    Organic Gardening Pesticide

    One of the things that differentiates growing vegetables organically from non-organic gardening is the use of chemicals in the maintenance of the garden.  Organic gardening pesticide differs from regular pesticides.  Organic pesticides are made from plant or animal materials, while non-organic pesticide is made from minerals.  Some organic gardeners prefer to make their own, other prefer to buy their own organic gardening pesticide.

    There are several method one can go about to make their own pesticide.  Making these involve using some kind of organic matter.  These can be derived from things like tobacco, chilies, or even other bugs!  Most gardeners who make their own do it simply because they do not trust the corporations who may skimp on the recipe.  Organic gardeners are very proud gardeners.

    Most of the man made pesticides are approved by the EPA, and are specifically made for growing vegetables organically.  If you are looking at pesticides and trying to figure out if it is organic gardening approved, check for the EPA seal of approval.  If you do not see it, you can also can also see what ingredients are in the pesticide to determine if it is organic or not.  This is another article I have written on organic gardening pesticide.

    The topic of pesticide is an area where many organic gardeners draw hard-and-fast lines.  If you are new to organic gardening and need more information, two books that I recommend are My Organic Food Garden, and Organic Food Gardening Beginners Manual. A recommended book for Organic Gardening Pesticide is Organic Pest Control Secrets:  Get Rid of Pests Without Chemicals. 

    Beneficial Garden Insects

    Most people view insects as pests. But for growing vegetables organically, some of them are our best friends. Beneficial garden insects are are the ones that are helpful in a garden They help to keep the garden from being overrun with other pests. It is important to us, as gardeners, to recognize our beneficial garden insects and make them feel welcome in our garden.

    You should provide alternate sources of food for the beneficial garden insects. While these types of insects do like to eat pests, they also realize the importance of the balance of the bug ecosystem. It's amazing how they do that. They know that if they were to kill all of the prey, there would be no reproduction, thus there would be nothing to eat. A good source of alternative food for beneficials are plants that produce nectar and pollen.

    You should also provide them something to drink with there food as well. Place a few small bowls of water around the garden area, or perhaps a birdbath. Change the water every 2-3 days in order to keep mosquitoes away.

    Be sure to have shelter for these insects as well. This is where flower beds have a dual role. Not only can the beneficials use this supply of food, they can also use these beds as shelter. Another alternative is to place rocks within the garden or around the borders.  You can also get information about beneficial garden insects here.

    Examples of beneficial garden insects are ladybugs, bees, and praying mantis. These insects will help you have a healthy garden. They will also save you money on other types of organic pesticides. If you are just beginning with organic gardening, two books I recommend are My Organic Food Garden and Organic Food Gardening Beginners Manual.  Happy gardening!

    Growing Vegetables Organically

    Many people these days are worried about the consumption of harmful toxins in the foods they eat.  Growing vegetables organically is one such way of doing this.  There are many benefits to growing vegetables organically.

    The first benefit to growing vegetables organically is the time you will save.  With a properly planned organic garden, you will not have to put as much work into the garden.  You will also save money.  You will save money on your grocery bills, because you have grown your own vegetables in bulk.  Most importantly, you will be healthier.  Fresh vegetables will be healthier and contain more nutrients.  Vegetables that you find in stores could be no telling how old,  and are often treated with different types of chemicals in order to preserve them.  The older a vegetable gets, the more nutrients it loses through water loss.

    The most important aspect of any type of gardening goes into the planning.  In depth, information can be found here:  Growing Vegetables Organically:  It's All About Planning.  Planning is one of the most important aspects of any task that I do.  Without any plan of action,  I can lose sight of what I am doing, or worse, not take any action at all.  Choosing the location, getting the soil tested, and working the soil are all important tasks before the first seed is ever planted.   

    Gardening is about creativity and expression.  Serious gardeners really take pride in the appearance of their gardens and the types of vegetables produced.  If you are just beginning with organic gardening, the best resources I know are The Organic Food Gardening Beginner's Manual and My Organic Food Garden.  Being healthy can mean being happy!