Philosophy and Goals
Organic gardening means no pesticides (because you need lots of bugs), no fungicides (because fungi are super important), no herbicides, and no chemical fertilizers. It’s a philosophy of growing that stresses increasing the natural health of the soil, choosing appropriate plants that are suited to your area, and working with nature to produce a healthy and productive garden.
The goal is to work within ecological systems that are in place rather than creating your own artificial replacement for a natural system. For example, use compost instead of chemical fertilizers to increase soil fertility. It is important that all members of the WPCG follow these organic growing guidelines because of the close proximity of plots in a community garden.
Why No Fertilizers?
Chemical fertilizers like Miracle Gro and others appear to be beneficial in the short term because they feed the plant, not the soil. But for the long term, successful gardening depends far more on the health of the soil.
Chemical fertilizers provide three nutrients that were identified by scientists years ago as the three main requirements for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). This discovery started the fertlilizer industry, which has been telling people for years that plants only need NPK to grow.
Of course, this is not true, which current research can back up. There are tons of micronutrients which are not provided by fertilizers like Miracle Gro. These micronutrients are required to maintain healthy soil which is essential for the continued use of a garden. The only way to ensure that you are putting back into the soil everything that gets taken out each season by the growing plants is by using materials like compost, manure, straw, etc.
So back to the idea of feeding the plant and not the soil, fertilizers provide the major nutrients needed for growth, so your plants will grow with fertilizer the first year, and the second, but after not too long, the soil will be depleted of the necessary micronutrients for healthy plant growth because they were not added back to the soil. Also, chemical fertilizers do not put organic material into the soil, which is part of what gives soil its nice texture and smell. And most importantly, a high organic material content is critical for water retention. Soils low in organic material do not hold onto water, and therefore you need to water your plants more.
So think of it this way. You have soil, you plant seeds or seedlings and your plants grow. The roots take up nutrients from the soil, as well as water which are held in a matrix of organic matter. The plants grow, you harvest food and flowers. Now, there are lower concentrations of nutrients because some of them were used. So, the only way to ensure that you replace everything that the plants took out, is to put in more plant material (usually in composted form).
Keys to Organic Gardening
Decaying plant wastes, such as grass clippings (that have not been chemically treated!), fall leaves and vegetable scraps from your kitchen, are the building blocks of compost, the ideal organic matter for your garden soil. If you add compost to your soil, you're already well on your way to raising a beautiful, healthy garden organically.
Another key to growing organically is to choose plants adapted to our climate and growing conditions. They will thrive with less attention.
Weed Control the Organic Way
Left alone, weeds will overrun your garden. But a healthy tolerance for a few weeds will make your entire gardening experience more relaxed and enjoyable. And your garden will still be beautiful!
Some weeds, such as milkweed and knotweed are highly attractive to beneficial insects that will help pollinate your plants and eat aphids, thrips, and mites. For the rest of your weeds, try the following techniques.
Pulling and Hoeing
Pull or hoe weeds before they get established. Annual weeds are easily killed with a sharp hoe by severing the stems from the roots just below the soil surface. An oscillating or a swan neck hoe works better than the square-headed traditional garden hoe.
Stop the seed
If you don't get them as babies, at least don't let them go to seed. As the old gardening saw goes, "One year's seeding makes seven years' weeding."
Prevent germination of weed seeds by blocking sunlight with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, Apply mulch immediately after weeding or digging your soil. Take care to keep mulch an inch or two away from plant stems to prevent rot caused by moisture retained in the mulch. Your mulch material will also conserve water, keep roots cool, and nourish the soil as it decomposes.
Use organic mulches like leaves, straw, and grass clippings (that haven’t been chemically treated), and that will nourish the soil as they decompose. For even better weed protection, use sheets of newspaper, paper grocery bags, or cardboard under these mulches.
Consistently mulching, pulling, and hoeing for a few minutes whenever you visit your garden for a few seasons will go a long way towards ridding your garden of weeds for good.
Remember these five words when making compost: brown, green, chopped (ideally smaller than 6 inches), water, and air.
“Brown” materials provide carbon (the fuel) and include dead leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden and shredded newspaper.
"Green" materials provide nitrogen (the fire) and include grass clippings that have not been chemically treated, plant-based kitchen waste (vegetable peelings and fruit rinds), or barnyard animal manure (not pet manure which may contain pathogens).
Here's what to do:
· Layer several inches of chopped brown stuff, then several inches of chopped green stuff, and top with a thin layer of soil (for a head start on the microorganisms that will do the composting). Add stuff in a ratio of approximately three parts brown to one part green.
· Moisten and repeat layers.
· Fluff it with a garden fork when you add more stuff, mixing old and new thoroughly. Not mixing will still yield compost; it will just take longer.
· Keep the pile moist, but not soggy.
The carbon/nitrogen ratio
If you are a compost nerd, you might already know that the ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen in a compost pile is about 30:1. A pile with that balance of materials will rot steadily, and it will yield nutrient-rich compost.
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